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PRESS RELEASE: Oregon Congressman Greg Walden, 11/3/05
Forest Emergency Recovery and Research Act Expedites Cleanup, Removal, Restoration

Washington, D.C. - Nearly 100 members of the U.S. House of Representatives have joined together to sponsor legislation that would expedite the cleanup and restoration of federal forests after catastrophic events such as wildfires, hurricanes and windstorms. 

The "Forest Emergency Recovery and Research Act," HR 4200, was unveiled today at a news conference in the nation's capital.  The measure is modeled after the Healthy Forest Restoration Act, which provides expedited procedures to protect communities from wildfires. Its introduction comes after nearly two years of hearings by the Forests and Forest Health Subcommittee of the House Resources Committee that focused on problems plaguing the nation's forests after catastrophic events.

"Today in America's forests, it can take three years for the federal government to cut a burned, dead tree after a fire.  And by the time the decision is finally made, the trees have often rotted, become bug infested or lost most of their value.  The Government Accountability Office reports that upwards of a million acres of forestland is in need of replanting.  We can, and should, do better that," said Congressman Greg Walden, chairman of the Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health. 

Walden, a Republican from Oregon, and U.S. Reps. Brian Baird (D-WA), Stephanie Herseth (D-SD), and Wayne Gilchrest (R-MD) are the principal authors of the measure.

"Unlike past attempts to address this problem, our legislation ensures that federal environmental laws are followed fully.  It provides for public participation in the planning process, including the right to administrative and judicial appeal.  It ensures that the underlying forest plans are followed. And it has safeguards to mitigate against environmental harm.  But instead of requiring the agencies to develop multiple plans that can take years to get approved, we reduce the planning process to 30 days-a timeline the Forest Service says is reasonable for them to meet-and then follow the same appeals process as required under the Healthy Forest Restoration Act, which allows the public nearly three months to comment on the plan before a final decision is made," said Walden, whose district includes nine national forests.

"The Forest Emergency Recovery and Research Act's expedited provisions are narrowly written and only apply to areas where emergency actions are needed.  Further, the measure's expedited procedures apply only to dead trees.  The measure doesn't apply in wilderness areas, national monuments or national parks," said Walden, who was a principal author of the Healthy Forest Restoration Act in 2003.

"This is a responsible, common sense bill.  People use wood - to build homes, to make paper - and that wood needs to come from somewhere.  We can use wood from trees that are dead or dying, or from trees that are alive and healthy.  Furthermore, we can responsibly harvest wood here at home, abiding by environmental protections and creating jobs, or we can get our wood from clear cuts in equatorial rainforests where the environment is far more fragile and environmental protection and labor laws are far weaker or even nonexistent," Congressman Baird said.  "This bill will enable us to utilize dead timber instead of letting it go to waste and to responsibly restore the health and diversity of our forests after a catastrophic event like a fire or hurricane."   

FERRA provides tools and authorities to federal land managers for the rapid assessment of damage in forestlands following catastrophic events.  If swift restoration work is necessary to restore the health of our nation's forests, expedited - but thorough - environmental review of proposed actions would be performed by the agencies, including full public notice and participation.  Land managers would then be able to engage in active management practices relating to the dead and dying timber left in forests, restoring landscapes, removing excess fuel loads, improving water and air quality, and preventing additional reforestation backlog, estimated in a May 2005 Government Accountability Office report at one million acres. 

 The Forest Emergency Recovery and Research Act of 2005:

         Limits the removal of timber to trees that are down, dead, broken or severely root sprung, where mortality is highly probably within five years of the event;

         Requires thorough environmental review, including full evaluation of the environmental effects of a catastrophic event recovery project;

         Does not allow timber harvest in areas designated as Wilderness, National Parks or National Monuments;

         Requires an expedited National Environmental Policy Act procedural review, and mandates compliance with all environmental laws including the ESA, Wilderness Act, Clean Air Act, National Forest Management Act, Wild & Scenic Rivers Act, Federal Land Policy & Management Act, Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, Forest & Rangeland Renewable Resources Planning Act, National Historic Preservation Act, and the Healthy Forests Restoration Act;

         Uses the exact same guidelines for public notice, appeals and judicial review established in the overwhelmingly bipartisan and effective Healthy Forests Restoration Act;

         Strictly prohibits the creation of permanent roads in forestlands;

         Increases the amount of public land that is rehabilitated, preventing future wildfires, insect infestation and disease outbreak;

         Requires agencies to work in cooperation with states, local governments, tribes, land-grant universities and non-governmental organizations in the development of projects;

         Requires the establishment of native or beneficial plants according to the approved forest or resource management plan;

         Strictly prohibits the replanting of forest plantations;

         Increases the amount of peer reviewed scientific research conducted and made available to the public, federal land managers and policy makers; and,

         Is funded through existing trust funds and unobligated balances.

With 99 original sponsors from both sides of the aisle and throughout the nation, the Forest Emergency Recover and Research Act addresses a fundamental management issue that is not specific to any particular region or type of forestland.  Forests damaged by hurricanes in the Southeast, ice storms in the Northeast, blow downs in the South, tornadoes in the Midwest, and forest fire in the West must all be actively managed following these catastrophes in order to restore their vitality.

Congresswoman Cathy McMorris (R-WA), an original cosponsor of the bill, stated, "Our forests, and the resulting timber, play an extremely important role in the economy of the Pacific Northwest. Maintaining healthy forests is essential to those who make a living from the land and for those of us who use them for recreational purposes. Eastern Washington has experienced a number of deadly forest fires this season, and it is crucial that we have bipartisan legislation that will expedite the research and restoration process." 

"Today, more than ever, action is needed to restore federal forest lands after catastrophic events. Federal land managers' hands are often tied by process even when the best science and years of experience show that quick action is critical to restoring America's forest legacy," claims Dr. John Helms, president of the Society of American Foresters.  "In addition to the damage inaction causes to the forest, wildlife, and water, it is difficult for federal managers to reforest areas if they cannot first remove dead and dying timber. Unfortunately, many of the nation's forests often take years to recover on their own."

A July 2005 statewide survey conducted in Oregon by Communities for Healthy Forests showed that 77% of Oregonians support restoration of burned forests or those that have been destroyed by catastrophic events.  Additionally, 75% believe that the government should review administrative rules which stop timely reforestation of damaged forestlands.

"Communities for Healthy Forests and Oregonians support restoration of burned forests including taking out dead burned trees and planting seedlings.  The Walden bill gives federal agencies the tools to start restoration before the dead trees decay.  It's a win-win for forests watersheds, wildlife and people," said Communities for Healthy Forests Executive Director Sue Kupillas. 

Additional sponsors of HR 4200 from the Northwest include Representatives Doc Hastings (R-WA), Butch Otter (R-ID) and Mike Simpson (R-ID).  Walden will hold a legislative hearing on the Forest Emergency Recovery and Research Act in the Forests and Forest Health Subcommittee on Thursday, November 10. 

More information on HR 4200 can be found at www.walden.house.gov/issues/forestrecovery

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