Thursday, May 18, 2017
Panel Calls for Active Management to Improve the Health of National Forests
WASHINGTON, D.C., May 17, 2017 -
Today, the Subcommittee on Federal Lands held an oversight hearing on “Seeking Better Management of America’s Overgrown, Fire-Prone National Forests.” Members and witnesses called for a paradigm shift in the way we manage the nation’s increasingly overgrown, disease infested and fire-prone federal forests and grasslands.
“Our forests are dying […]Nationwide, the Forest Service reports it is accomplishing less than 20 percent of its post-fire reforestation needs,” Subcommittee Chairman Tom McClintock said. “The American people want our forests returned to health. They want the growing scourge of wildfire brought back under control. They want the destruction of mountain habitats by fire, disease and pestilence arrested and reversed. They want the prosperity of their forest communities restored.”
Approximately 60 to 80 million acres of national forest are at a high, to very high, risk of catastrophic wildfire. Data from the Forest Service indicates that thinning and prescribed burns reduce wildfire intensity and improve health, yet only a small fraction of high risk acres are being treated.
The panel outlined how the current regulatory environment and constant threat of litigation has significantly decreased management activities, including restoration activities following wildfires.
“[T]he myriad of environmental statutes, regulations, manuals, handbooks, letters of direction, and litigation make forest health and fuels reduction project development time consuming and costly,” stated Vice President of Public Resources at the California Forestry Association Steven Brink. “Many projects are stalled or stopped by litigation.”
Due in part to a lack of active management, insect infestations are killing mature trees on millions of acres of federal forests and catastrophic wildfires are burning unnaturally hot and growing in number and size, with devastating impacts on the environment.
In California, delayed restoration activities have resulted in the continued decay of 102 million dead trees in Federal forests of the Sierra Nevadas. National forests in California, traditionally carbon consumers, are now net emitters in the region, Brink estimated.
James Cummins, Executive Director of Wildlife Mississippi, described the budgetary challenge of fighting wildfires as a “secondary issue that can be solved by promoting more management.”
“Without giving the agencies the ability to work more quickly and efficiently, we cannot put forest management on the ground quickly enough,” Cummins added.
Last Congress, the House passed H.R. 2647 (Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-AR), the Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2015. The bill provided immediate tools for the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to dramatically improve the health of federal forests and rangelands. Through streamlining administrative and legal obstacles, the legislation would have reduced project planning times and the cost of implementing forest management projects.
Click here to view full witness testimony.