LOGAN — A panel discussion Monday on public lands detailed the importance of collaborative partnerships and active land management strategies to confront catastrophic wildfires.
The event was hosted by the Sutherland Institute as part of its 2018 Congressional Event Series, featuring Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources.
Bishop pressed the importance of codifying provisions of the Resilient Federal Forests Act sponsored by Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Ark., which passed in the House but got held up in the Senate.
Bishop said he is trying to get its core provisions folded into the farm bill.
"The federal forests have a goal of trying to treat 20 percent of their critical area," Bishop said. "They only get to treat 2 percent."
Bishop said while the federal government manages a third of the United States, only 4 percent of that land is east of Denver.
"The problem we have is the federal forests are predominantly in the West," Bishop said, and East Coast senators are not "keen" on giving the Forest Service the tools it needs.
Resistance to forest management reforms, however, is not so much political as it is steeped in geography, Bishop said.
"The partisan divide is not as significant as the geographical divide," he said.
"The forest land we have in the northwest is remarkably different," Bishop said. "If you have a sick forest, that is the one that dies the quickest. "
Panelist Casey Snider, Bishop's former legislative director and a volunteer firefighter, said status quo management of the forests will only lead to more catastrophic wildfires.
"When it comes to fire, you are either going to graze it, log it or burn it out on public lands," Snider said. "The idea that everything is fine if we just do nothing is completely, factually inaccurate."
Snider stressed that there are substantive policy decisions that need to be made to improve the health of Western forests.
"(The forests) will burn in a catastrophic way that will limit all future uses."
Wade Garrett, director of public policy at the Utah Farm Bureau, said the encroachment of pinyon and juniper has to be tackled head-on because of how it damages the landscapes for logging, grazing and wildlife.
The panelists, which also included Randy Simmons, president of Strata Policy and a Utah State University professor, agreed that relocation of Bureau of Land Management headquarters to the West is the right move.
"If folks out there making the decisions are seeing the effects of their decisions, one way or another, that becomes very helpful," Garrett said.