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GAO Report Finds Wildfire, Infestation, Disease Outbreak Have Led to Increased Need for Reforestation in National Forests

Walden's forestry subcommittee holds oversight hearing on GAO findings

Congressman Walden Press Release 4/27/05

Washington, D.C. - The House Forests and Forest Health Subcommittee, chaired by U.S. Congressman Greg Walden (R-OR), today held an oversight hearing to review the findings of a report released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), Better Data are Needed to Identify and Prioritize Reforestation and Timber Stand Improvement Needs (GAO-05-374).  The report found that the rise in acres of national forestland needing reforestation can be attributed to increased wildfire, insect infestation and disease outbreak, and that failure to accomplish reforestation work may result in increased costs, persistent brushfields, and even compromise the ability to meet forest management objectives such as the restoration of habitat for wildlife species.

"The restoration and recovery our federal forestlands are crucial to the long-term viability of our forests.  Allowing stands to sit bare after a catastrophic event is wholly irresponsible.  Species rely on healthy forests for habitat; erosion and run-off can contaminate watersheds; tourism and recreation drastically slow when forests are not vibrant and healthy; and any potential value to be had from the removal of dead and diseased trees to make way for reforestation quickly fades.  We need to make sure that our federal land managers have the tools necessary to be the best stewards of our land, not the slowest," said Walden.

"This report also demonstrates the need to proactively manage our forestlands to prevent these catastrophic events from occurring in the first place. In a report given to the Committee in February, the GAO found that the Healthy Forests Restoration Act (HFRA) has been successful in accomplishing this goal, allowing federal forest managers to remove substantial fuel loads leading to better protection of species, watersheds and neighboring communities," he added.

"When you look at these reports together, it is clear that the management of our forests must be a multi-pronged approach.  We need to move forward with policies that allow our federal forest mangers to engage in efforts reducing the threat of catastrophic events as well as recovering and restoring ravaged forests in a timely manner.  Both of these are vital to the long-term health of our forests and their ecosystems.  I appreciate the work of the GAO in producing this report on a topic vital to forestlands throughout the nation," said Walden.

In 2004, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) reported to Congress that it had nearly 900,000 acres of land needing reforestation and over 2,000,000 acres needing timber stand improvement (TSI) - an intermediate treatment made to improve the composition, structure, condition, health, and growth of a stand of trees including activities such as a release of tree seedlings from competing vegetation or pruning of branches.  Both reforestation and TSI needs have been increasing in recent years despite decreasing timber harvests. 

A reported backlog of 3,300,000 acres in 1974 led to a requirement in the National Forest Management Act that lands to be harvested for timber production be capable of reforestation within five years after harvest.  By 1995 that backlog was eliminated, but the USFS has recently lost ground as a result of wildland fire, insects and disease.  GAO was asked to examine these current trends in federal lands needing reforestation and identify factors that have contributed to these trends.

Robin Nazzaro, GAO director for natural resources and the environment, said in her testimony before the committee, "If future reforestation and timber stand improvements continue to outpace the Forest Service's ability to meet these needs and treatments are delayed, agency officials believe their ability to achieve forest management objectives, such as protecting wildlife habitat, may be impaired; treatment costs could increase; and forests could become more susceptible to fire, disease, and insect damage." 

She added, "In some parts of the country, without active intervention, it may take decades for disturbed land to return to a forested condition."

The report also addressed the need for the USFS to standardize the collection, reporting and review of data in order to maintain consistency when defining needs between various regions and forests.  Additionally, the GAO recommends to the USFS that they require regional validation of data in time for the FY 2007 appropriations request, clarify direction and policies for the reforestation program, and require forests and regions to establish criteria for prioritizing projects so that the agency as a whole can better address the increasing need for reforestation and TSI.

"I will maintain a continued dialogue with Agriculture Secretary Johanns, Interior Secretary Norton and my colleagues in the Congress as this committee takes further strides toward ensuring the health of our treasured national forests, not only for this generation, but for those to come," said Walden. 

Transcripts of testimony provided by witnesses at the hearing can be found online at: http://resourcescommittee.house.gov/archives/109/ffh/index.htm and a copy of the GAO report can be found at http://www.gao.gov/cgi-bin/getrpt?GAO-05-374.

To obtain an MP3 audio file on this issue recorded by Congressman Walden, please contact Angela Wilhelms at (202) 226-7338 or at angela.wilhelms@mail.house.gov.

Congressman Walden represents the Second Congressional District of Oregon, which includes 20 counties in southern, central and eastern Oregon. He is a Deputy Whip in the House leadership structure and a member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce as well as the Committee on Resources.

 

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