Call it Healthy Forests Restoration Act II.

Call it Healthy Forests Restoration Act II.

U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., plans to introduce legislation next month that he believes will be the next step in the forest bill he championed in 2003.

While the first bill was aimed at helping reduce catastrophic wildfires near rural communities, the bipartisan Healthy Forests, Renewable Energy and Job Creation legislation would give scientists and those managing federal forestlands the tools to reduce the potential of catastrophic fires farther from those communities, said Walden in announcing the legislation Friday morning at the Medford air tanker base.

In addition to reducing the unnatural buildup of forests choked with vegetation after more than a century of fire-suppression, the legislation would bring jobs to rural areas once dependent on the timber industry, said Walden who represents the 2nd Congressional District.

"This is the next step," Walden spokesman Andrew Whelan said prior to the announcement. "It gives the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management the authority to do work in the areas where the big forest fires often start. It's an extension of that original (2003) act."

Basically, it would allow management tools made available in the 2003 legislation to be used in areas farther away from communities where forest health is assessed as poor and where catastrophic fires often begin, he added.

During the announcement, some two dozen backers of the legislation, including representatives of both the timber industry and conservation groups, were on hand to show their support.

"We will maintain on-the-ground environmental standards and build on the success of established bipartisan law to reduce the needless red tape that blocks proper stewardship of our national forests," Walden said in an e-mail. "Doing this will create much-needed jobs and healthier forests."

The legislation would improve forest health by reducing fuel loads, bug infestation and disease; promote energy independence by expanding renewable woody biomass energy production and reduce rural dependence on federal county payments spending, Whelan said.

The legislation also allows forest waste from forest health projects on federal forestland to be used by the biomass energy industry, he said. It gives the industry the same incentives available to other renewable energy technologies, helping to attract clean energy jobs to the region, he added.

Moreover, the bill would encourage public schools and hospitals to install or convert to clean biomass energy, heating or cooling systems. It would require Forest Service and BLM facilities to be heated, cooled or electrified from the clean energy produced using the waste from the healthy forest projects promoted in the bill, he added.

The legislation would comply with all environmental laws while retaining current old-growth protections, he noted.

Congressional lawmakers supporting it include Democratic U.S. Reps. Kurt Schrader of Oregon, Brian Baird of Washington and Stephanie Herseth Sandlin of South Dakota, Whelan said.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.