A bill sponsored by Arkansas’s fourth District Congressman Bruce Westerman, to recalibrate management plans of forests on federal lands has passed the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill passed on a 262 to 167 vote, with many Democrats voting against. On the house floor Westerman spoke of the need for better forest management.
“Our forests are living and dynamic. But we have a problem of delayed decision-making or even worse—no decision-making at all.,” he said. “This bill incentives collaboration and speeds up the implementation of collaborative projects while safeguarding strong and timely environmental reviews.”
While praising many aspects of the bill, including the bill’s emphasis of preventative fire maintenance, Representative Nikki Tsongas, a Democrat from Massachusetts, said it also obstructs the rights of citizens seeking to legally challenge U.S. Forestry practices.
“The changes to the Judicial review process raise serious constitutional concerns, eroding some of the bedrock principles of the American legal system that protect the basic rights of citizens to participate in federal decision-making process and hold their government accountable,” she said.
Many of the bills detractors say provisions requiring that citizens or entities filing suit over Forestry Service practices have to post a bond to cover the agency’s legal expenses. In addition, opponents call out a measure that would eliminate a federal courts option of issuing preliminary injunction or temporary restraining order on a project.
Supporters of the bill say frivolous lawsuits have held up many forestry management projects, leading to an increase in wildfires and forest disease. There are about 3 million acres of federal forests in Arkansas. The bill now goes to the U.S. Senate