September 22, 2021

Congressmen Blake Moore and Jimmy Panetta Introduce the Save Our Forests Act to Address Forest Service Staffing Shortages and Mitigate Wildfire Risk

WASHINGTON – Today, Congressman Blake Moore (R-UT) and Jimmy Panetta (D-CA) introduced the Save Our Forests Act to address chronic staffing shortages in National Forests, including the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache 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.

“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 Congressman Blake Moore.

“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 Congressman Jimmy Panetta.

“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.

“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 CrowderPresident 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.   

The full bill text can be found here.