Reps. Panetta, Moore Introduce the Save Our Forests Act to Address Forest Service Staffing Shortages and Mitigate Wildfire Risk

September 22, 2021
Press Release

SALINAS, CA – Today, Reps. Jimmy Panetta (D-Carmel Valley) and Blake Moore (R-UT) introduced 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 would direct the Secretary of Agriculture, acting through the Chief of the Forest Service, to fill vacancies in National Forests and Grasslands for recreation management and planning staff, including recreation technicians, recreation officers, and natural resource managers.  The bill would also direct the Forest Service to provide Forest Protection Officer (FPO) training and certification opportunities for individuals filling these vacancies.  The bill authorizes $46 million to be appropriated annually for the next two fiscal years to fill these positions.

“Over 80% of wildfires are caused by humans, often because people aren’t following rules that keep everyone safe.  While visitation, including unfortunate instances of irresponsible visitation, at National Forests has increased, we’ve seen a notable decline in staffing within the National Forest System, including the Los Padres National Forest in Big Sur.  As accelerating climate change produces hotter, drier conditions, and our forests continue to suffer from chronic staffing shortages, our communities are left even more susceptible to devastating and deadly wildfires. My bipartisan legislation, the Save Our Forests Act, will provide the funding necessary to rebuild the recreation management workforce in our federal forests, particularly those located in or near the wildland-urban interface.  The more we can staff up our federal forests, the better chance we have at wildfire prevention,” said Rep. Jimmy Panetta (D-Carmel Valley).

“In Utah, we appreciate and understand the value of our lands. We also understand the importance of proactive management actions that protect these lands.  As fires continue to threaten our communities and natural resources, we must act to improve our ability to effectively manage these forests to ensure their health and longevity.  That is why I am proud to introduce the Save Our Forests Act with my friend Congressman Jimmy Panetta, which will fill critically important vacancies in the U.S. Forest Service to help reduce the risk of wildfire and improve our overall land management,” said Rep. Blake Moore (R-Utah).

“As former Secretary of the California Natural Resources Agency and now in the California State Senate, I have watched climate change catch up with a long pattern of fire suppression in California and leave our communities vulnerable to wildfire.  The recent fires that have dramatically increased in size and intensity across our state warrant strategic and regionally tailored investments in wildfire prevention and management.  I proudly support the Save Our Forests Act to improve risk mitigation and response to progressively devastating wildfire seasons.  Big Sur is highly regarded as one of the most beautiful destinations in the world and it is our duty to protect and preserve the region.  I express my sincere thanks and appreciation to Congressman Panetta for spearheading this critical legislation to equip California with the necessary training and sufficient personnel to keep the park open to visitors and conserve California’s coastline - and I will help toward its passage in any way,” said California State Senator John Laird (District 17).

“As climate change continues to impact our environment in unprecedented and devastating ways, it is imperative that we ensure our federal forests are well-managed and adequately staffed.  I am proud to support the Save Our Forests Act to help increase staff at our National Forests where it is needed the most.  We must ensure that staff is trained to address the challenges brought on by increased park usage and longer and more devastating wildfire seasons.  I thank Congressman Jimmy Panetta for his leadership on this issue,” said California State Assemblymember Robert Rivas (District 30).

“As a local leader I have come to understand the importance of fire mitigation work and quick responses to fires when they break out in order to reduce impacts to our communities, economies and ecologies.  I know that this bi-partisan legislation will help in these efforts, leaving our region and those like ours more prepared and more resilient,” said Monterey County District 3 Supervisor Chris Lopez.

“The Save Our Forests Act will increase much needed support to the United States Forest Service to mitigate the many challenges facing our National Forests.  With a warming climate and drought conditions as the likely “new normal” for California and the Central Coast, the threat of wildfire is at the forefront of our minds.  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 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 for the long term health and sustainability of our public lands,” said Monterey County District 5 Supervisor Mary Adams.

“Ventana Wilderness Alliance has been a key stewardship partner of the Los Padres National Forest on the Big Sur Coast and Ventana Wilderness for over twenty years.  The greatest threat to preserving our National Forests is the shortage of trained Forest Service personnel.  VWA commends Congressman Jimmy Panetta for his recognition of this problem and his leadership solution by introducing the Save Our Forests Act of 2021.  Ventana Wilderness Alliance strongly supports the prompt enactment and funding of the Save Our Forests Act of 2021,” said Michael Ward, Executive Director of the 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 2021 holds out promise of reversing a trend of neglect that is long overdue,” said Butch Kronlund, Executive Director of the Community Association of Big Sur.

“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 Matt Harris, Big Sur Fire Chief.

“The widespread economic and environmental direct impacts of major wildland fires on residential communities, wilderness and recreation areas, along with smoke related impacts on agricultural and visitor destination areas require a rededicated and enhanced level of national forest management.  The Save Our Forests Act is an important and much needed public investment to improve the capabilities of preventing fires and vastly reducing the enormous costs of fire suppression,” said Kirk Gafill, President of the Big Sur Chamber of Commerce.

"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, Big Sur River Inn General Manager.

“Our national forests provide essential habitat for birds and opportunities for Californians to get outdoors and connect with nature, but they are threatened by wildfires and other impacts from climate change.  We are extremely grateful to Representatives Panetta and Moore for introducing the Save Our Forests Act to improve staffing and funding that are critical to better manage our forests.  This bill will reduce threats from wildfires, enhance habitat for birds and other wildlife, and improve outdoor recreational opportunities for everyone,” said Mike Lynes, Director of Public Policy at Audubon California.


“Recently, Forest Service lands across the state of California were closed in order to address ongoing fires with limited staffing.  If that doesn’t underscore the need for this legislation, I’m not sure what does.  Ensuring well-staffed forests helps prevent closures and is a common sense way to curb human-caused wildfires before they start,” said Daniel Rossman, California Deputy Director for The Wilderness Society.

“Sierra Forest Legacy strongly supports the Save Our Forests Act.  Staffing shortages have become a major obstacle for the Forest Service to achieve its mission at a time when Americans need public lands more than ever.  Filling vacant recreation and planning staff positions will help ensure that the agency can sustainable manage our national forests and adapt to the modern realities of high visitation levels, extreme wildfire seasons, and climate change,” said Jamie Ervin, Fire Restoration Advocate at 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 and Representative Moore for introducing this legislation that does that responsibly,” said Blaine Miller-McFeeley, Legislative Representative at Earthjustice.


“Forests work overtime providing many benefits from recreational hubs, to carbon sponges, to vital wildlife habitat, all while being hard hit by accelerating climate change.  The Save Our Forests Act invests in a workforce that ensures our forests are as resilient as possible in the face of record catastrophic wildfires, drought and other stressors,” said Jad Daley, President and CEO of American Forests

“Sufficient Forest Service funding and staffing are essential to delivering on the agency’s mission of caring for the land and serving people.  Rep. Panetta’s and Rep. Moore'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,” said Susan Jane Brown, Wildlands Program Director and Staff Attorney at the Western Environmental Law Center.

“Reps. Panetta’s bill will put trained staff where they’re most needed to protect our beloved national forests from human-caused wildfires.  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,” said Randi Spivak, Public Lands Program Director at the Center for Biological Diversity.

“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 Michael Crowder, President of the National Association of Conservation Districts.


“The most effective way to take on the threat of wildfires, is to stop them before they start.  An improperly maintained campfire can easily turn into a wildfire, yet this bill helps to decrease unnecessary risk of wildfires by ensuring visitors follow proper fire safety protocols. The Save Our Forests Act, will help to do that by boosting the numbers of recreation management staff in the forests and grasslands most at risk to devastation by wildfire,” said Kirin Kennedy, Deputy Legislative Director at Sierra Club.

“The National Wildfire Institute is proud to endorse the bipartisan Save Our Forests Act by Congressman Panetta of California and Congressman Moore of Utah.  As wildfires continue to destroy our forests and natural landscapes, it is imperative for the American people that the United States Forest Service has the resources required to enable sound forest maintenance initiatives.  This Bill is a fundamental step to ensure the Forest Service has the necessary skills and capacity at the ground level to accomplish its mission of maintaining and protecting America’s forests and wildlands.  These forests provide a sanctuary for people, their communities and countless wildlife. We thank both Mr. Panetta and Mr. Moore, and their staffs, for working together in a traditional bipartisan fashion to author and introduce this critical landscape scale conservation Bill,” said Bruce Courtright, Chairman, National Wildfire Institute.

“National forests offer habitat for hundreds of imperiled species, provide invaluable ecosystem services such as clean water and carbon storage and offer unrivaled recreation opportunities for all Americans.  Chronic staffing shortages at the Forest Service strain the agency’s ability to sustain these values, particularly in the face of rapid development in forested areas and impacts of the climate crisis.  The Save our Forests Act will help ensure that the Forest Service has the needed resources to protect and sustain the places that people treasure and wildlife call home,” said Pete Nelson, Director of Federal Lands with Defenders of Wildlife.

“As an accredited land trust, the Summit Land Conservancy understands that the land can’t speak for itself.  This bill provides the essential staffing to manage and maintain these important natural resources,” said the Summit Land Conservancy.

 

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