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Letter from Greg Walden, friend and Congressman, sending good news about our forest health!

May 20, 2003


I have tremendously good news to report from Congress about the passage of
balanced legislation to reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfires to our
forests and rural communities and give a much-needed boost to our rural
economies. The Healthy Forests Act of 2003 (HR 1904), which I co-authored
with Colorado Congressman Scott McInnis and worked on for nearly a year,
passed overwhelmingly in the U.S. House of Representatives this afternoon
by a bipartisan margin of 256 to 170.  This margin indicates the national
level of concern about the declining health of our forests and the will of
the Congress to do something about it before the start of the upcoming
wildfire season.  I am very pleased that such a broad range of
philosophical perspectives in the Congress has heard the voices of our
rural communities and understands the science behind this critical issue.

I was also pleased to receive such strong support from President Bush and
his Administration.  Speaking at a White House gathering this morning
prior to debate on the Healthy Forests bill, President Bush recalled his
visit to Oregon last year and reiterated his support for sound forest
management practices.

"Nine months ago I stood at the scene of Squires Peak fire in Oregon,"
said Bush.  "On one side of a dirt road, where small trees and underbrush
had been removed before the fire rolled through, the forest was green and
alive.  On the other side of the road, where a similar thinning project
had been stalled by lawsuits, the landscape was charred and the trees
looked like matchsticks.  The contrast between these two sides of the
forest was startling, and it was tragic.  Active forest management could
have saved both areas.  It could have saved millions more acres across
America from the devastation of severe forest fires and insect damage.
Yet, for too many years, bureaucratic tangles and bad forest policy have
prevented foresters from keeping our woodlands healthy and safe.  The cost
to America has been high, in the loss of lives and property, and in the
destruction of woodlands and wildlife.  I appreciate the Congress' hard
work on the Healthy Forests Restoration Act.  I appreciate the House
moving the bill today.  I urge Congress to get it done, to get it to my
desk as quickly as possible.  The bipartisan bill - and I emphasize,
bipartisan bill - builds on the success of the Healthy Forests Initiative.
It sets the goal of thinning trees and cleaning out underbrush, and
restoring the health to 20 million acres.  I hope Congress says when we're
successful in the 20 million, we need to get after the 175 million more
acres.  This bill sets priorities for forest management by authorizing
work in the areas that are closest to rural communities, and work where
there's the greatest risk for environmental damage.  It's a practical
piece of legislation.  It's good, common-sense environmental policy is
what we're talking about."
(To view President Bush's remarks in their entirety, click on the
following link:
http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2003/05/20030520-2.html)

I co-authored HR 1904 because as a lifelong Oregonian I want healthier
forests, plain and simple.  I want cleaner, safer watersheds and I want
improved habitat for species.  I want the citizens who live near our
forests and public lands to be safe from catastrophic wildfire.  Last year
in Oregon more than one million acres of forest and rangeland burned.
That's an area twice the size of Rhode Island.  It was the worst wildfire
season in the last 50 years in Oregon, Arizona and Colorado.  Whole
communities were threatened.  We watched in horror as watersheds and
critical habitat burned, air sheds were choked with smoke and green
forests turned black.

A century of suppressing fire coupled with near abandonment of work in our
forests has resulted in catastrophic fires of record-setting proportions
all across the country. Tree stands in some forests are 10 times what they
should be.  Fuel loads have grown up providing a ladder for fire to reach
the canopy and burn with reckless abandon. While opponents of sound forest
restoration work appeal and litigate, projects languish and forests that
are scheduled for help instead burn at scorching temperatures.  The
gridlock is as unacceptable as the extraordinarily destructive fires that
result from it.

It's time to fix the problems that prevent trained foresters from doing
the work that must be done to save and restore the health of our forests
and watersheds and make our communities safer.  Today's successful vote in
the House culminates our effort to streamline the forest-management
appeals process while involving the public more in the initial planning
process.  That is a concept the Western Governors have called for and we
have embraced in this legislation.  This streamlined process allows for
quicker action in our forests and will result in more jobs in our
economically beleaguered rural communities.

Our legislation calls for peer-reviewed studies of how best to manage
forests that are bug-infested and diseased.  We call on the greatest minds
in our universities to take plots up to 1,000 acres and determine what
approach works best.  Our opponents, ignoring other federal laws and
rules, called these "1,000-acre clear-cuts" in an effort to mislead the
public and kill this measure.  They're wrong.

This measure only applies to areas most in need: around communities and
watersheds, on high-risk lands encompassing habitat for threatened and
endangered species where wildlife officials have identified catastrophic
fire as a threat to the viability of the species, and on high-risk
landscapes particularly susceptible to disease and bug infestations. The
bill does not apply to commercial logging, roadless areas, wilderness
areas, parks, refuges or national monuments.

If we can demonstrate that a simpler and more efficient process can work
in targeted areas, we can rebuild the trust and collaborative approach
that is so greatly needed in the debate over how best to manage our public
lands.

Today's vote in the U.S. House of Representatives gives us the greatest
hope in years to improve forest health and create real jobs for rural
communities, a balance that is long overdue.  Our bill will now proceed to
the U.S. Senate for consideration, where I hope they take up action before
the wildfire season so this bill can be sent to the President's desk for
his signature.

Thank you for your dedication to a sound future in our district, and for
your participation in the public policy process.  It's an honor to
represent you in the U.S. Congress.


Best regards,


GREG WALDEN
Member of Congress

 

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