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Kirkpatrick: Resilient forests, resilient communities

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Kirkpatrick: Resilient forests, resilient communities

Arizonans are all too familiar with the consequences of unhealthy and poorly managed forests. Wildfires not only lead to devastating economic losses, they can take a tragic human toll. Our state recently marked the two-year anniversary of the Yarnell Hill fire, when we lost 19 firefighters in a horrific wildfire.

It's clear that forest health should be a priority in Arizona. But it also needs to be a priority in Congress.

I cosponsored the Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2015 because it takes a common-sense approach to forest management. And I'm pleased to announce that it passed the House on July 9 with bipartisan support. It is now headed to the Senate for consideration, and I urge our two Arizona senators to fight for its passage.

This bill does several things that promote healthier forests in Arizona and across the country. Among the most important is it streamlines the regulatory process, which increases efficiency for the U.S. Forest Service as it deals with environmental reviews, timber harvesting and forest management. The bill also promotes collaboration with the private sector and expands tribal participation in the restoration of federal forest lands.

By promoting healthier forests, ultimately this legislation protects the folks who live and work in communities around national forests. We have a lot of those communities here in Arizona.

District One includes 12 Native American tribes, so I'm especially glad this bill expands tribal participation in forest restoration. Our legislation received a strong statement of support from the Intertribal Timber Council.

Forest management is an issue that crosses party lines and crosses state borders. It affects not only our forests but our local economies and the people who live in our communities. That's also why the Four Forest Restoration Initiative (4FRI), the nation's largest forest-thinning project, needs to kick into higher gear. As envisioned, 4FRI will not only allow for thinning overgrown Arizona forests, it will revive the timber industry by opening a sawmill and creating good local jobs.

This spring, the U.S. Forest Service announced that 4FRI's initial environmental impact statement had been completed. This milestone agreement came after more than five years of collaboration between the Forest Service, local governments, conservationists, environmentalists, private industry and other stakeholders.

At the time, I wrote that Arizona was overdue for action on 4FRI. Since then, my staff has met with forestry officials in Arizona, and my office is launching a series of conference calls for stakeholders to review 4FRI's progress and obstacles.

As the representative of a district that includes the Coconino, Kaibab, Apache-Sitgreaves, and Tonto national forests, it's my top priority to ensure 4FRI moves forward.

U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick represents Arizona’s CD 2 in Congress.

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