Western Caucus Members Call for Bipartisan Forestry Management Reform to Prevent Catastrophic Wildfires

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Washington, September 27, 2017 | comments
Today, Congressional Western Caucus members released the following statements calling for bipartisan forestry reforms and active management in order to prevent catastrophic wildfires like those currently plaguing the nation:
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For Immediate Release

Date: September 28, 2017

Contact: Tanner Hanson

Tanner.Hanson@mail.house.gov



WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Congressional Western Caucus Chief Infrastructure and Forestry Officer Bruce Westerman (AR-04), Chairman Paul A. Gosar D.D.S. (AZ-04), Chairman Emeritus Rob Bishop (UT-01), Executive Vice-Chairman Scott Tipton (CO-03), Chief Rules Officer Dan Newhouse (WA-04), Chief Defense and Interior Officer Chris Stewart (UT-02), and Western Caucus members Rep. Kurt Schrader (OR-05), Rep. Raúl R. Labrador, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (WA-05), Rep. Greg Gianforte (MT-AT Large), Rep. David Valadao (CA-21), Rep. Glenn 'GT' Thompson (PA-05), Rep. Aumua Amata Radewagen (AS-AT Large), and Rep. Mimi Walters (CA-45) released the following statements calling for bipartisan forestry reforms and active management in order to prevent catastrophic wildfires like those currently plaguing the nation:

“At a time when national attention has focused on the disastrous effects of multiple hurricanes, more than 8.5 million acres of America has been ravaged by almost 49,000 fires this year. This problem will only intensify unless we act now. Fifty-eight million acres of our national forest system are at a high risk of ecologically destructive wildland fire. Active forest management is needed to stop the spread of catastrophic wildfires. Irreplaceable natural resources and human lives are at stake, and we must focus on the immediate solutions available. It is time for members of both parties in the House and Senate to work together to pass the Resilient Federal Forests Act,” said Congressman Westerman.

“Backwards forest management policies have caucused public land management agencies to allocate time, energy and resources on the back-end trying to put out massive wildfires that are already blazing. Anyone with a medical background knows the importance of working to prevent a problem, rather than just treating it. The same principle applied in this context could save the Forest Service and taxpayers billions of dollars. It would also offer some peace of mind to the millions of people across the country affected and displaced by raging wildfires every year. If we don’t work to thin our forests now—as my colleague Congressman Westerman’s bill would help accomplish–our nation will continue to suffer from the devastating effects of catastrophic wildfires including loss of life, property as well as contamination of our air and watersheds,” remarked Chairman Gosar.

“Today’s testimony reaffirms that Congress must act to address our forest health crisis. Increased spending for wildfire suppression in the absence of forest management reforms is futile. While the intent is noble, without improving the way we manage our forests, the problem will persist,” stated Congressman Bishop.

“So far this year, the Forest Service has already spent more than $2.3 billion to fight wildfires, and dangerous fires continue to burn across the country. It is clear that the forest management strategy of the last few decades is not working, and I look forward to continuing to work as part of the Natural Resources Committee to advance sound policies that will allow the Forest Service to conserve our nation’s forests for future generations to enjoy," said Congressman Tipton.

“During one of the worst seasons in recent history, the Pacific Northwest has again suffered the effects of major wildfires,” remarked Congressman Newhouse. “Congress must take action to promote healthy forest management, support hazardous fuels reduction, and address fire borrowing to reduce the risks of catastrophic wildfires.”

Congressman Stewart remarked, “Without a doubt, current federal policies have contributed to recent catastrophic wildfires. Wildfire management begins with proper land management. I appreciate the Committee’s investigation and look forward to the House passing the Resilient Federal Forests Act.”

Congressman Schrader stated, “I thank Chairman Bishop and the Nature Resources Committee for holding this hearing today and giving serious thought and consideration to the problems we’ve been fighting to fix for years to prevent these natural disasters in the west,” said Rep. Schrader.  “While the southeast captured the national attention this summer with massive hurricanes and tropical storms, out west we’ve witnessed one of the worst wildfire seasons in history. Because of the way we currently budget, USFS and BLM are forced to exhaust over half their funds on fighting fires rather than on preventing them. The system is broken.  We need forest management reforms and we need them now. Mismanagement has left our forests susceptible to insects and disease and ripe for catastrophic wildfires. We need to fix the way we manage our forests so that we’re curbing the cost and destruction of these fires each year rather than remaining in this endless loop of catch-up. I hope we can continue this bipartisan conversation and make real changes to finally put an end to this vicious cycle.”


“The 2017 fire season set a new record for federal firefighting costs. But this year’s catastrophic fires are nothing new; in 2015, a record 10 million acres burned. If Congress ignores this clear and present danger and fails to take common-sense steps to remove fuels, restore sustainable logging and adequately fund fire suppression, the responsibility for future destruction falls on us. It’s time for the House to pass the Resilient Federal Forests Act and send it to the Senate," said Congressman Labrador.

Congresswoman McMorris Rodgers said, “In Eastern Washington, we’ve seen the impact wildfires have on our communities. We live with them every year, and now, we must take action to reduce our risk of fire by promoting active forest management and by fixing ‘fire borrowing’ so the Forest Service has the ability to both manage forests and fight fires. I’m encouraged that the House Natural Resources Committee is holding this hearing and look forward to continuing our work towards healthier, actively managed forests.”

“Montana has faced a devastating fire season. Nearly 1.25 million acres of our beautiful state have burned. I met with incident commanders and firefighters at five fires this summer and saw the destruction firsthand. Montanans’ livelihoods were threatened, wildlife habitats were destroyed, and air quality reached dangerous levels as smoke blanketed our communities. I was recently on the ground with BLM officials and saw the impact effective forest management has on wildfires. We have to start properly managing our forests. When we do, our forests will be healthier, wildlife habitats will flourish, more Montanans will have good-paying jobs, and our wildfires will be less severe,” stated Congressman Gianforte.

Congressman Valadao
remarked, “In California alone a total of 7,294 wildfires have burned 754,327 acres according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Such fires have devastating consequences on our infrastructure, soil resources, wildlife, and air quality. I am pleased to see Congress moving forward in addressing the challenges facing these federal agencies and providing effective tools to mitigate the economic burden of wildfire suppression to these agencies mission and to our economy.”

“Firefighting consumes a large portion of operational funds, which could otherwise be utilized for forest management and timbering. It is no coincidence as these essential activities fall by the way side, we witness greater intensity to fires and higher suppression costs. For these reasons it imperative to pass the Resilient Federal Forests Act, which will help prevent wildfires and reduce an overly cumbersome process of managing federal forests. This will promote economic activity in the form of timbering and also be proactive step to improve overall forest health,” stated Congressman Thompson.

“Often in recent years, and as recently as last month, American Samoan firefighter teams traveled and joined the effort to fight wildfires in the western states,” said Congresswoman Aumua Amata. “I support efforts to learn all we can about this year’s wildfires and work to preserve the nation’s forests.”

“Over the last several days, a 2,000 acre wildfire has been burning in an area just north of my district in Orange County.  Catastrophic wildfires destroy communities and drain resources that could be used for fire prevention efforts in the off-season.  Proactive wildland management can save countless lives and taxpayer dollars in the years to come,” remarked Congresswoman Walters.

Background:

Today, the House Committee on Natural Resources Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held a hearing in which several members of the Western Caucus participated entitled, “Exploring Solutions to Reduce Risks of Catastrophic Wildfire and Improve Resiliency of National Forest.”
Click HERE to watch the full hearing video, read witness testimony and review the background memo.

2017 has been a much worse wildfire season than initially projected and will go down as one of the worst wildfire seasons in history. 

Nearly 49,000 fires have already burned more than 8.4 million acres this year and another 80 million acres are currently considered high risk.

The Forest Service (USFS) has already spent more than $2.3 billion on suppression costs this year alone, a new record.

USFS has increased firefighters 120%, but has lost and laid off foresters and mangers at the same time.

According to the House Committee on Natural Resources, “Despite data from the USFS indicating that active forest management reduces wildfire intensity and improves forest health, only 1 to 2% of high risk areas are treated.”

Fire suppression costs have expanded from 15% to 55% of the USFS budget.

In 2016, wildfires destroyed 4,312 structures, including 3,192 residences.

As a result of wildfires, Seeley Lake, Montana set a record for the worst air quality ever recorded there, 18x EPA’s safe particle limit.

Hazardous fuels are estimated to be accumulating three times as fast as they can be treated.

USFS only harvested 2.5 billion board feet in 2016 compared to over 10 billion board feet in 1990.

Consequently, we have seen a reduction in active saw mills nationwide, from 1,311 in 1995 to only 227 today.

Congress authorized about $120 billion in extra spending for Hurricane Katrina and $50 billion for Hurricane Sandy relief. Meanwhile the entire 2016 budget for the Forest Service was $7.1 billion. More than half of these funds went to put out fight wildfires.

Eight times in the last twelve years, USFS has moved funds from other operating accounts to fight fire, depleting accounts for forest management in the process that would help prevent catastrophic wildfires.

The previous flawed management strategy of federal land management agencies has focused on spending billions of dollars on the backend to suppress catastrophic wildfire and put our communities at risk.

Western Caucus Members support legislation like Rep. Westerman’s bipartisan Resilient Federal Forests Act that simplifies the cumbersome environmental process, streamlines the planning process and reduces the cost of implementing proactive forest management strategies.

In June, the House Committee on Natural Resources Committee passed H.R. 2936, Rep. Westerman’s Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2017. In the 114th Congress, the bill passed the House with bipartisan support. Legislation to reform the way the federal government manages its forests has been introduced in both chambers.

Good Neighbor Authority and stewardship contracts also allow states and local stakeholders to remove hazardous fuels and execute other restoration activities in our nation’s forests and many of our members worked to spearhead reauthorization of these provisions in the last Farm Bill.

It is of the utmost urgency that the federal government adopt a forward-thinking, active management strategy that combats dangerous wildfires before they get started.

Thinning overgrown forests and removing hazardous fuels creates jobs and increases overall forest health.

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