In addition to the bill introduced last week that would provide for contract wildland firefighters to be covered for death and disability benefits under the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Act (PSOB), there are at least two other pending pieces of legislation at the federal level that would affect wildland fire management.
H.R.2858: Wildland Firefighters Protection Act
Status: Introduced by Rep. Diana DeGette, Colorado, July 30, 2013; referred to House committee
Key provisions: It would establish a “wildland firefighter occupational series that would more accurately reflect the variety of duties performed by wildland firefighters”. For decades federal wildland firefighters have worked in various technician or professional job series that are not specifically related to firefighting. The bill would also begin a pilot program during which firefighters would receive “portal to portal” pay while they are assigned to an emergency incident.
H.R.1526: Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act
Status: Introduced by Rep. Doc Hastings, Washington, April 12, 2013; passed by the House September 23, 2013; referred to Senate committee.
Key provisions: Through several different strategies and changes in the law, the bill would increase logging on national forests, and reduce or eliminate environmental restrictions in some cases, including logging after a wildfire. Below is an excerpt:
SEC. 204. ENVIRONMENTAL ANALYSIS.
Subsections (b) through (f) of section 104 shall apply to the implementation of a hazardous fuel reduction project or a forest health project under this title. In addition, if the primary purpose of a hazardous fuel reduction project or a forest health project under this title is the salvage of dead, damaged, or down timber resulting from wildfire occurring in 2013, the hazardous fuel reduction project or forest health project, and any decision of the Secretary concerned in connection with the project, shall not be subject to judicial review or to any restraining order or injunction issued by a United States court.
and, from Sec. 104, Management of Forest Reserve Revenue Areas:
(6) CATEGORICAL EXCLUSION- A covered forest reserve project that is proposed in response to a catastrophic event, that covers an area of 10,000 acres or less, or an eligible hazardous fuel reduction or forest health project proposed under title II that involves the removal of insect-infected trees, dead or dying trees, trees presenting a threat to public safety, or other hazardous fuels within 500 feet of utility or telephone infrastructure, campgrounds, roadsides, heritage sites, recreation sites, schools, or other infrastructure, shall be categorically excluded from the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (42 U.S.C. 4331 et seq.).
UPDATE November 9, 2013: 250 fire, forestry, and ecology experts have signed a letter opposing this legislation.
Representative Hastings, who introduced this bill, is a familiar name to many firefighters. He introduced with Senator Maria Cantwell the bill which became Public Law 107-203 in 2002, which requires fatalities of U.S. Forest Service employees due to a wildfire entrapment or burnover to be investigated by the office of the Inspector General of the Department of Agriculture, turning it into a law enforcement investigation rather than a lessons learned opportunity. The Cantwell-Hastings bill was a knee-jerk reaction to the fatalities on the Thirtymile fire the previous year. The law resulted in a firefighter being charged with 11 felonies, including four counts of manslaughter. The new atmosphere created by the unintended consequences of Cantwell-Hastings has now made it difficult to obtain and publish lessons learned after serious accidents and fatalities on wildland fires.