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Congressman Walden PRESS RELEASE 2/18/05
Forestry Subcommittee Reveals Sound Progress of Healthy Forests Restoration Act
Independent report concludes Congress has given USFS, BLM authorities necessary for healthy forest management; much work still remains
Washington, D.C. – The House Resources Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health, chaired by Congressman Greg Walden (R-OR), yesterday held an oversight hearing on the Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) recently released report, Wildland Fire Management: Important Progress Has Been Made, but Challenges Remain to Completing a Cohesive Strategy, as well as to explore the work of the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in using the authorities for hazardous fuels reduction outlined in the Healthy Forests Restoration Act (HFRA), landmark forest management legislation co-authored by Walden and signed into law in December 2003. To view the report, you can visit Walden’s website at www.walden.house.gov.
“Yesterday’s hearing to study the independent GAO report confirmed what had hoped to hear: the Healthy Forests Restoration Act is working to improve the ecological conditions in our forests, as well as the species and watersheds that rely on healthy forests,” said Walden. “We learned that HFRA has, as designed, provided our forest managers the tools necessary to address the severe buildup of hazardous fuels in our forests that can lead to catastrophic wildfire. Such wildfire chokes our airsheds and puts neighboring communities in harm’s way. However, while significant progress is being made, we also learned that much work remains.”
The GAO report is a follow-up to their 1999 report submitted to the Subcommittee, which stated that “the most extensive and serious problem related to the health of national forests in the interior West is the overaccumulation of vegetation, which has caused an increasing number of large, intense, uncontrollable, and catastrophically destructive wildfires.”
This current report finds that the positive movements in wildland fire management described by GAO include adoption of national strategies, prioritization of protecting communities in wildland-urban interfaces (WUI), increased funding, strengthened coordination and collaboration, and strengthened accountability. The report acknowledges the strong partnership between the authorities given by the Congress and the work done by the USFS and the BLM.
The report was released one week after the President's budget proposal for Fiscal Year (FY) 2006. While pleased with proposed increases to the budget for the implementation of HFRA and the Healthy Forests Initiative, the Subcommittee is in the process of evaluating budget particulars and will be making recommendations to ensure adequate funding for vital USFS and BLM programs.
Mark Rey, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Under Secretary for Natural Resources and the Environment, testified before the committee and informed Members that the USFS and BLM have accomplished 4.2 million acres of hazardous fuel reduction in 2004, including 2.4 million acres in the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI), which exceeded program goals. So far in FY 2005, nearly one million acres have already been treated.
Rey cited specific authorities outlined in HFRA that have led to the success of their efforts thus far, including the development of Community Wildfire Protection Plans to improve partnerships between Federal agencies, states and communities to plan and conduct fuels treatments in and around the WUI. Rey informed the committee that over 600 plans have been completed across the nation.
He said that information gathered on insects, pests and the diseases associated with them will “assist land managers in the development of treatments and strategies to improve forest health,” and that the USFS conducted a rapid detection pilot survey of invasive bark beetles in 10 port cities last year and has increased the number of surveyed sites in 2005 to 40.
In October 2004, the USFS announced a national strategy to prevent and control the threat of invasive species and non-native plants and is establishing two threat assessment centers to develop technology and cutting edge research on invasive species. One of these centers will be located in Prineville, Oregon and will initially employ eight full-time employees when it opens this summer.
Rebecca Watson, Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management for the U.S. Department of the Interior, told the committee about a wildland vegetation mapping project called LANDFIRE that the BLM is implementing to assist land managers in identifying areas at risk due to the accumulation of hazardous fuels. “When complete, LANDFIRE will allow us to target those critical acres for fuels treatment that will provide maximum protection to communities and other important resources identified by communities,” she said. “We believe that this capability is a vital tool for identifying and mitigating risks identified in Community Wildfire Protection Plans.”
Watson also noted that the BLM is currently working on a project in Oregon focused on utilizing biomass, the by-product of hazardous fuels removal projects, for renewable power generation. “The Bureau of Indian Affairs has funded a study for the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs to determine the feasibility of generating power from available biomass,” she said.
Additionally, Rey said that up to $4.4 million will be available from the USFS “to help communities, entrepreneurs, and others turn residues from hazardous fuel reduction projects into marketable forest products and/or energy products.”
While many successes and advancements in the reduction of hazardous fuels and overall management of the health of our forests have been made, the GAO report says that much work remains. While over four million acres were treated last year, there are still 190 million in need of fuels reduction to reduce the risks that catastrophic wildland fire poses to the nation’s communities and ecosystems. Additionally, there is acreage that has already been subject to the devastation of a catastrophic event such as fire, hurricane or bug infestation that now needs to be treated and rehabilitated so that the trees, water, habitat and surrounding environments can be restored to a healthy state.
Walden said, “It is my hope that when the GAO testifies again to this Subcommittee five years from now, their report will say that our efforts in this Congress, with this Administration, in cooperation with states and other allies, have made the crucial difference between creating a healthy, dynamic forest landscape, and one that continues to be choked with too much growth, too much mortality and too many catastrophic wildfires.”
Rey echoed this sentiment by saying, “Although we recognize that HFRA authorities are helping to restore healthy forest and rangeland ecosystems, we have much work ahead of us…We need continued bipartisan congressional support of these hazardous fuels reduction efforts, and need to expand our capacity to treat more with less, using biomass utilization, stewardship contracting, and other activities.”
Watson agreed. “While the BLM is using the HFRA to conduct fuels treatment projects, much work remains. The BLM’s field offices will continue to learn from their experiences in implementing and seeking the most effective ways to use all of the important authorities provided by the Congress for Healthy Forests.”
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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