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House Passes Wildfire Legislation After The Most Expensive Fire Season Ever

FILE PHOTO: Firefighters battle a wildfire near Santa Rosa, CaliforniaFILE PHOTO: Firefighters battle a wildfire near Santa Rosa, California, U.S., October 14, 2017. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart/File Photo

The House passed a bill Tuesday to protect forest management funds often reallocated to fight wildfires, and ease regulations on clearing forest areas of 30,000 acres or less.

“This year has proven to be another catastrophic year for wildfires,” GOP Rep. Bruce Westerman of Arkansas, the bill’s sponsor, said in a statement. “Dozens of lives have been lost, thousands of homes destroyed and millions of acres burned. Congress spoke today and said enough is enough.”

The Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2017 passed the House with bipartisan support 232-188. The bill ends the practice of fire borrowing by allowing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to supply emergency funding to the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management after the agency’s burn through their fire-fighting funds.

The bill also would expedite thinning, clearing, and treating projects on limited forest areas and restructures how litigation over forest management activities is handled, obliging litigants to come up with an alternate management plan in order to prevent another.

“The Resilient Federal Forests Act addresses the obstructionist litigation by requiring litigants opposing forest management activity to come to the table rather than just saying ‘no,'” House Speaker Paul Ryan said in a statement.

“The legislation also incentivizes and rewards collaboration and encourages local participation in forest health projects,” Ryan added. “This legislation also fixes the fire “borrowing” issue, making sure these agencies have the funds they need to fight wildfires throughout the summer, and to start managing our forests proactively.”

Fire suppression in 2017 cost around $2.5 billion, a new record, as fires torched about 8.8 million acres of land, an area larger than the state of Maryland. More $500 million of the total cost was originally intended for management programs.

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