PHOTO: On April 22, 2014, U.S. Senators Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) toured the Wallow Fire overlook to discuss wildfire prevention and restoration treatment programs. They went over the history of wildfires in the Gila National Forests and viewed the Wallow Fire burn scar. The visit was part of a day-long tour in Arizona and New Mexico focused on the senators' bipartisan efforts to address catastrophic wildfire prevention and recovery needs along the states' neighboring border and across the country.
WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Senators Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), both members of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, introduced S. 1780, the Restoring America's Watersheds Act, a bill to protect, restore, and improve the health of watersheds in national forests. The proposal would prioritize fire-impacted watersheds and encourage partnerships with non-federal stakeholders to invest in forests that provide important water resources.
Last year, Senators Heinrich and Flake toured the Apache-Sitgreaves and Gila National Forests along the Arizona-New Mexico state border. The tour focused on the senators' bipartisan efforts to address catastrophic wildfire prevention and recovery needs along the states' neighboring border and across the country.
"Watersheds are integral to life in New Mexico. The resources they provide ensure our communities have clean drinking water and bolster our agriculture. These forested watersheds also provide critical habitat for New Mexico's wildlife and are vital to our growing outdoor recreation economy," said Sen. Heinrich. "I'm pleased to partner with Senator Flake on this common sense proposal to improve the management of watersheds in our national forests and reduce the risks of costly catastrophic wildfire."
"Sen. Heinrich and I have toured the forests of Eastern Arizona and have seen the success of forest restoration efforts in reducing fire risks, protecting communities and safeguarding our water quality," said Sen. Flake. "I am pleased to introduce this legislation to allow similar collaborative projects throughout other watersheds."
The Restoring America's Watersheds Act would encourage collaboration in restoring our forests' health. The proposal would also establish the Water Source Protection Program within the U.S. Forest Service. The program would build on partnerships between cities, businesses, water utilities, farmers and ranchers, and the Forest Service to provide matching funds for forest health projects on lands that provide water resources for downstream users.
In addition to reducing the risk of catastrophic fire to our water supplies, projects under the program would provide much-needed jobs in the forest products industry in rural communities. In New Mexico, the Santa Fe Water Fund and Rio Grande Water Fund are successful examples of these partnerships. The bill would clarify and enhance the U.S. Forest Service's ability to partner with communities to protect forest watersheds and provide reliable jobs for forest workers.
Full text of the bill is available here.