U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake wants the U.S. Forest Service to be able to continue contracting with private businesses to log the nation's forests and reduce risk of widespread wildfires.
The practice, known either as timber sales or stewardship, is one way for the federal government to manage public forests, according to the Forest Service.
Timber sales contracts allow private companies to log and sell wood or plants from public lands as part of the federal management of those lands. Stewardship programs are similar, but a portion of the revenue from sales goes back into stream and forest restoration programs.
When the farm bill extension failed earlier this year, it also meant non-renewal of the stewardship programs in the Forest Service. Flake asked Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell how the agency can continue to manage the forests and expand the stewardship programs.
"As we consider reauthorizing the stewardship program, how can we improve it to enable the forest service to enter into even more contracts than we've been able to do already, to treat even larger swaths of land?" Flake asked Tidwell.
"We need to find some way to get stewardship contracting reauthorized," Tidwell said in response. He encouraged the Senate to include the stewardship language in future efforts.
Meanwhile, Flake said via Twitter that he has called in federal resources to respond to the deadly Yarnell Fire, which killed 19 Arizona firefighters Sunday.
"Spoke with Sheriff Masher, Speaker Tobin and Sen. Pierce. Calling WH and fed agencies to ensure all resources are brought to bear," Flake posted on Twitter Sunday night.
Arizona needs the timber sales and stewardship programs to contain wildfire risk, Flake said.
"We've just got to ensure that we can treat even larger swaths of forests here because we've had two once-in-a-lifetime fires in just 10 or 12 years," he said.
Flake wanted to ensure the Forest Service is planning to try to continue timber sales and not just stewardship programs.
"We'll always use a timber sales contract when that's the right tool," Tidwell told Flake. "We have to remember that we have timber sale contracting within stewardship contracts. It just gives us flexibility."
Flake cosponsored S. 327, a bill that would allow the federal government to for forest management.