A bipartisan group of lawmakers in Western states introduced a bill Thursday allowing forest managers to thin overgrown woods that are potential tinderboxes for wildfires.
Republican Sen. Michael Crapo of Idaho and Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon are expected to propose a compromise measure between Republicans worried about regulations preventing thinning and Democrats wary of loggers.
Congress would direct the Forest Service and Department of the Interior to treat the areas at risk of wildfires. Forest managers would then be able to thin out the pine forests near populated areas, while doing controlled burns in rural areas.
Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington joined Wyden and Crapo’s proposal, which also calls for evaluation reviews of any wildfire that burns more than 100,000 acres.
“It’s time to create new tools to reduce fire risk and help better protect our communities,” Cantwell said in a press statement to reporters. “By targeting our most vulnerable pine forests, this science-based pilot program gives the Forest Service tools to address fire in our most vulnerable forests and prioritizes cross-laminated timber.”
Their proposal came as Western wildfires showed no sign of slowing down. Raging fires have blasted more than 200,000 acres in Northern California and killed at least 40 people. Similar wildfires have scorched Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.
California has also experienced deadly fires in the past. Wildfires barreled through the state in 1991, killing 25 people, and in 1933, killing 29. This recent spate of fires, however, has been deadlier than any other fire or group of fires in the state’s history.
Thousands of homes and businesses have been reduced to ash. Hundreds of people are still missing after fires swept through and leveled whole neighborhoods without warning, driven by hurricane-force winds.
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