Congressman Panetta Introduces Save Our Forests Act to Increase Staffing and Decrease Wildfire Risk in National Forests

November 9, 2020
Press Release
The Save Our Forests Act will direct the U.S. Forest Service to fill critical vacancies in National Forests such as the Los Padres National Forest to mitigate wildfire risk and safeguard our natural resources.

SALINAS, CA – Congressman Jimmy Panetta (D-Carmel Valley) has announced the introduction of the Save Our Forests Act to address chronic staffing shortages in National Forests, including the Central Coast’s Los Padres National Forest, to improve risk mitigation and response to wildfires.  The legislation directs the Chief of the Forest Service to fill vacancies in National Forests for recreation and management planning staff, authorizes funding to fill positions, and prioritizes filling vacancies in National Forests facing a high risk of wildfires.  Congressman Panetta announced the Save Our Forests Act at Friday’s Big Sur Multi-Agency Advisory Council meeting

 

“Staffing shortages have forced National Forests, including our own Los Padres National Forest in Big Sur, to suffer from and face increased wildfire risk,” said Congressman Panetta.  “2020 has brought with it a devastating wildfire season, impacting not just the Central Coast, but communities across the American West.  These staffing shortages, compounded by substantial increases in visitation and these wildfires, have created very dangerous circumstances for some of our state’s most precious public lands.”

 

“It is in the best interest of our National Forests and the safety of our communities to ensure our National Forests have the resources they need to respond to these threats and mitigate risk.  My legislation, the Save Our Forests Act, will help safeguard National Forests like Los Padres by ensuring they are properly staffed to keep our natural resources and our communities safe.”

 

“Our National Forests provide wildlife habitat, healthy recreation, clean water, fresh air, and other ecosystem services of incalculable value.  Bringing back the workforce capacity necessary to care for them will protect our collective natural heritage; it’s good for the economy, and it’s the right thing to do,” said Mike Splain, Executive Director, Ventana Wilderness Alliance.

 

“As Executive Director of CABS and a 30-year resident of Big Sur, I’m writing to express my strong support for the Save Our Forests Act of 2020.  This proposed legislation, if enacted, will be a game changer for those who live in and around the Los Padres National Forest, Monterey District, and those who manage those lands…illegal camping and campfires have been at epidemic proportion on the coast of Big Sur, leading to wildfires and resources destruction…  The Save our Forests Act of 2020 holds out promise of reversing a trend of neglect that is long overdue,” said Butch Kronlund, Executive Director, Community Association of Big Sur.

 

"I want to express my sincere appreciation to Representative Panetta for introducing the Save Our Forests Act, along with my strong support for this critically important legislation.  For decades, the United States Forest Service has been doing their best to properly manage the Los Padres National Forest on a budget that grows smaller each year.  All this, while visitation to the Forest in the very popular Big Sur area of California has increased significantly.  This combination has created an untenable, and potentially very dangerous situation, where visitors far outnumber the Forest Service's ability to keep the Forest safe.  Wildfires are far too common when visitors are not properly educated, and their behavior cannot be monitored.  Outside of simply closing the Forests, additional staffing for public outreach and for the enforcement of regulations is desperately needed. I strongly urge the Legislature to support this Act, and to advance it to a successful conclusion,” said Rick Aldinger, General Manager, Big Sur River Inn.

  

“Our National Forests are undeniably facing an increased threat of wildfire, especially in California as has been seen over the last several years.  Management of these National Forest lands has been an ongoing challenge for some time now.  To help fill the void specifically in the Los Padres Forest, Big Sur Fire voluntarily launched an educational and fire patrol campaign with hopes of preventing the next large human caused wildfire.  The Save Our Forests Act will help provide specific training and sufficient personnel to adequately manage and enforce laws on these lands which is more important than ever before.  Big Sur Fire supports the Save Our Forests Act,” said Big Sur Fire Chief Matt Harris.

 

“The Save Our Forests Act will increase national recreation management and planning staff, including recreation technicians, recreation officers, and natural resource managers, all of which will help to mitigate the current challenges experienced due to the increase in visitors to the Los Padres National Forest.  Improving the experience of all visitors to all our forests will benefit their long term health and sustainability and the Save Our Forests Act is a step to making these much need improvements,” said Senator Bill Monning (D-Carmel).

 

“As climate change continues to impact our environment in unprecedented and devastating ways, it is extremely important that we ensure our federal forests are well-managed and adequately staffed.  I am proud to support the Save Our Forests Act.  This legislation will help increase staff at our National Forests where it is needed the most and ensure that they have the necessary training to better address the challenges brought on by increased park usage and by longer and more devastating wildfire seasons. I thank Congressman Jimmy Panetta for his leadership on this issue,” said Assemblymember Robert Rivas.

 

“With an end goal of driving utilization, conservation, and the safety of our communities, I wholeheartedly support the Save Our Forests Act.  COVID-19 has driven a rediscovery of the outdoors in our country, however the impact of wildfires across the Nation reminds us that visiting responsibly is critical.  Our Forest Service staff is our frontline to help avoid billions of dollars of impacts from fires, not just to our Federal Government, but to neighboring communities and industries, such as agriculture impacted by smoke taint and fallen ash, and farmworkers impact by loss of crops and thus work.  The prioritization and investment in our National Forests through SOFA would be an incredible demonstration of support, and care for not just our National Forests, but the communities who are proud to call them neighbors,” said Monterey County District 3 Chair Chris Lopez.

 

"The Save Our Forests Act of 2020 is of critical importance to the County of Monterey.  Many of the people I represent live in or near the wildland-urban interface with the Monterey Ranger District of the Los Padres National Forest.  Since being elected to office, there have been two catastrophic fires in the Los Padres National Forest and adjacent communities, resulting in hundreds of millions of dollars in damages to public and personal property.  Federal investment in staffing to manage the National Forest could have lessened the impact. We must learn from our past missteps to take action now and provide for adequate personnel to manage our public lands.  I strongly support the adoption of the Save Our Forests Act of 2020,” said Monterey County District 5 Supervisor Mary Adams.

 

“As a lifelong resident of Big Sur and local business owner, I strongly support Congressman Panetta's proposed Save Our Forests Act legislation.  The Save Our Forests Act can begin to restore the balance of resources management with fire management and by doing so improve the recreational values of our national forests, work to prevent fires and reduce the risk and costs of fire mitigation,” said Kirk Gafill
President/CFO, Nepenthe/Phoenix Corporation.

 

“Forests have always been important habitat for birds like the Northern Spotted Owl,” said Mike Lynes, Director of Public Policy for Audubon California, “but in the face of worsening climate change and expanding development, work must be done to ensure that forests are safe, accessible, and managed properly to avoid disasters . After a historic season of destructive forest fires, the U.S. Forest Service needs more recreation staff to meet the moment.  Audubon California thanks Congressman Panetta for his leadership on this issue, which is one step in the fight to protect our forests from unmanageable wildfires.” 

   

“Engaging the public on-the-ground is an effective approach to prevent the number one source of wildfires: careless human behavior,” Daniel Rossman, CA Deputy Director for The Wilderness Society said.  “Thanks to Rep. Panetta for a common-sense bill to prevent needless wildfires before they start.”

 

"Research shows that capacity constraints are the top barrier to using prescribed fire on federal lands.  The Save Our Forests Act would provide a much-needed boost to Forest Service staff, enabling them to restore resiliency to more acres of our national forests each year,” said Jamie Ervin, Fire Restoration Advocate, Sierra Forest Legacy.

 

“Over 80% of wildfires are started by humans, and often it's because people aren't following the rules that protect us all, like ignoring a fire ban.  With climate change making fires hotter and faster, if we want to protect communities from the destruction we are seeing throughout the West, we must put additional resources into reducing the number of fires that are started by people.  We applaud Representative Panetta for introducing this legislation that does that responsibly,” said Blaine Miller-McFeeley, Legislative Representative, Earthjustice.

 

“Forests are tremendous carbon sponges, sequestering the equivalent of 15% of carbon dioxide emissions annually.  Let’s not let that go up in smoke,” said Jad Daley, CEO and President, American Forests. “The Save Our Forests Act invests in a workforce that ensures our forests are as resilient as possible in the face of unhealthy wildfires.”

 

“Sufficient Forest Service funding and staffing are essential to delivering on the agency’s mission of caring for the land and serving people,” said Susan Jane Brown, Wildlands Program Director and Staff Attorney, Western Environmental Law Center.  “Rep. Panetta’s legislation highlights the importance of ensuring that the Forest Service has the resources it needs to deliver excellent public service for all Americans who use our national forests.”

 

“The National Wildfire Institute is proud to endorse Congressman Panetta’s Save Our Forests Act.  As wildfires continue to devastate our forests and natural landscapes it is imperative that the United States Forest Service has the resources required to enable sound forest maintenance initiatives.  This bill is a solid step to ensure the United States Forest Service has the necessary skills at the ground level to accomplish its mission of maintaining and protecting America’s great forests and wildlands.  We thank Congressman Panetta and his staff for authoring and introducing this bill,” said Bruce Courtright, Chairman, National Wildfire Institute.

   

"Recreational activities are one of the many multiple uses of our nation's public lands.  Over the past decade, conservation districts have seen the increase in recreation and its effect on stewardship.  The National Association of Conservation Districts welcomes the Save Our Forests Act, which is aimed to ensure the U.S. Forest Service is well staffed and able to conduct critical work, especially in highly visited and high-risk areas, while continuing to promote the benefits of recreation on public lands,” said Tim Palmer, President, National Association of Conservation Districts.

 

“Rep. Panetta’s bill will put trained staff where they’re most needed to protect our beloved national forests from human-caused wildfires,” said Randi Spivak, Public Lands Director at the Center for Biological Diversity.  “The most popular National Forests are woefully understaffed and near communities that could be threatened by fire.  Most wildfires are caused by people, including illegal campfires, and the Forest Service must have the staff it needs to prevent these fires and keep people safe.”

 

National Forests located in or near the wildland-urban interface that have experienced an increase in visitation over the past decade will benefit from the Save Our Forests Act.  Congressman Panetta’s legislation will also direct the Forest Service to provide Forest Protection Officer (FPO) training and certification opportunities for individuals filling these vacancies.

 

Congressman Panetta has worked to deploy a comprehensive federal response to wildfires on the Central Coast in 2020.  Last month, he helped secure a 30-day extension of FEMA’s non-congregate shelter program for CZU Lightning Complex Fire survivors in Santa Cruz County.  In September, he helped secure a FEMA disaster declaration for Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties amid the Carmel Fire and CZU Lighting Complex Fire.  In September, he also introduced the FEMA Assistance Relief Act to ease financial burdens on states, as well as local and tribal communities that have been granted Stafford Act Emergency and Major Disaster declarations in 2020.

 

The Save Our Forests Act is endorsed by:

 

Ventana Wilderness Alliance

Earthjustice

American Forests

Western Environmental Law Center

The Wilderness Society

Audubon

National Wildfire Institute

Community Association of Big Sur

Big Sur River Inn

Big Sur Fire

Monterey County District 3 Chair Chris Lopez

Senator Bill Monning

Assemblymember Robert Rivas

Sierra Forest Legacy

Monterey County District 5 Supervisor Mary Adams

National Association of Conservation Districts

Center for Biological Diversity

Nepenthe

Issues: