A House committee unanimously approved a bill to improve how the Forest Service tracks wildfire prevention work, citing NBC News reports showing the government has long exaggerated the number of federal forests of the country that it has protected from catastrophic fires.
The bill, the Accurate Count of Hazard Elimination Solutions (ACRES) Act, will advance from the Committee on Natural Resources to the floor for debate and vote.
An NBC News investigation in August found the Forest Service exaggerates the amount of land it treats to reduce wildfire risk, despite oversight agencies warning against it for two decades.
The bill’s author, Rep. Tom Tiffany, R-Wis., chair of the committee’s federal land subcommittee, cited the NBC News report in his summary, saying the amount of land treated to reduce wildfire risk annually, one of the key strategies to combat the bushfire crisis is “already insufficient”.
“Recent investigative reports found that the situation is probably much worse, as agencies like the [Forest Service] they have been inflating their treatment numbers by more than 20 percent,” he wrote in the bill. marking note. “The investigative report found the [Forest Service] counted treatments on the same grounds for their risk reduction goals multiple times.”
NBC News analyzed 15 years of Forest Service «hazardous fuel» treatment data to arrive at those estimates, and experts said the inflated annual totals deprived members of Congress who make funding decisions of knowing the true scope of the challenge. of forest fires.
The investigation also found that for 20 years, major federal oversight agencies repeatedly criticized the way the Forest Service calculates its progress in removing trees and brush that fuel dangerous fires, rating its annual report of acres treated to reduce risk as «misleading» and «inaccurate». and recommend changes.
The House bill would require the Forest Service and the Department of the Interior, the other major federal land management agency, to produce detailed annual reports on work to reduce hazardous fuels, including the actual number of acres the agencies treated in the past year, as well as additional details about treatment location, type, effectiveness, and cost. It would also require both agencies to standardize their tracking procedures to ensure accuracy.
Committee on Energy and Natural Resources Chairman and Ranking Member Joe Manchin, DW.Va., and John Barrasso, R-Wyo., included a similar provision that would require acres that have been treated to be counted only once in a bill. They proposed last fall. Both have also questioned the leadership of the Forest Service over the NBC News findings, including at a budget hearing last week.
His bill died in the last session of Congress, but it can be re-introduced in this session.
“I think I can speak for all of us that Congress would like to make its funding decisions based on more accurate information, not less accurate information,” Manchin told Forest Service Chief Randy Moore, who was testifying before the committee.
The agency has publicly supported the House bill, with a request for some technical changes, and Moore told representatives at a Committee on Natural Resources hearing on Wednesday: «Maybe it’s time to look at a different way to report ”.
“We want to be transparent to Congress,” he said. «And there’s a question on the table that basically says you’re double and triple counting some of the same treated acres, and that’s not our intention.»