Forest restoration was at the front of Senator Steve Daines’ mind today as he encouraged the U.S. Forest Service to restore the health of the national forest system. With Montana’s recent drought designations in mind, Daines asked Forest Service Chief Thomas Tidwell to discuss the importance of Categorical Exclusions…something that may be of benefit to future forest health restoration projects.

"We've got a very devastating fire season on our hands at the moment. Millions of Montana's national forests are in an unacceptably dangerous condition," Daines said. "I’m very determined, I’m very motivated to pass legislation that gives your agency additional tools and authorities to complete more forest restoration projects and do them faster."

Tidwell was given a chance to weigh in on Daines’ questions and said CEs are used to expedite forest restoration projects and enhance the environment.

"A CE does not eliminate our requirements to be able to analyze the project and ensure that we’re not having unnecessary impact," Tidwell said. "The key part of it is to have that public support so that you can go ahead and use this process, where we still have public comment, we still address all the environmental concerns, but there’s less documentation. If it’s the right scale and it has the assurances that some of the public needs, similar to what we did with the Farm Bill about roads, etc. it’s been a very useful tool."

Tidwell said by adding additions CEs that maintain the public trust, the Forest Service can continue to use them to get more work done, all while increasing the pace and scale of work that needs to continue to increase the health of the national forest system.