Wednesday, December 3, 2003

For Immediate Release


President Bush Signs Bipartisan Healthy Forests Bill Into Law


Congressman Walden joins President, forest management reform leaders at historic bill signing; following ceremony, Walden heads to California for Forestry Subcommittee field hearing on wildfires

WASHINGTON, DC – President George W. Bush today signed into law the bipartisan Healthy Forests Restoration Act (HR 1904), which was co-authored by Congressman Greg Walden (R-OR). (Signing to occur at 7:30 AM Pacific). Walden joined the President at the historic bill signing along with other congressional leaders of the forest management reform movement. Today’s ceremony marks the culmination of a multi-year effort by Walden and many Western lawmakers to improve forest health, combat the incidence of catastrophic wildfires and protect rural communities.

"It was a deep honor to stand alongside the President as he signed this historic piece of forest health legislation into law," said Walden. "The bill that became law today will be a vehicle for enormous improvements to our forests, watersheds, critical species habitats and rural communities. Moreover, the work required to remove hazardous fuels from forests floors will produce much-needed jobs in our rural areas. The Healthy Forests bill represents the most comprehensive improvement of America’s forest management policies in a generation. The legislation will give our professional foresters the tools they need to help prevent catastrophic wildfires and make concrete improvements to forest health across the nation. This victory simply wouldn’t have been possible without the deep personal investment of time and energy by the President, which was demonstrated by his successive trips to Oregon to highlight the threat of catastrophic wildfire. I am grateful for his commitment to the improvement of the health of our forests."

The Healthy Forests bill will speed hazardous fuels reduction projects on federal forests lands by streamlining the environmental review and appeals process. The measure authorizes $760 million in federal funding to conduct forest thinning projects with a concentration on the Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI), municipal watersheds and critical species habitat.

HR 1904 initially passed in the House on May 20 but stalled for months before its passage by the Senate in late October. After a compromise version of the legislation was worked out during talks between House and Senate negotiators – of which Walden was one – the legislation passed the House on November 21 by a vote of 286 to 140, with 70 Democrats supporting the measure. The bill passed the Senate by voice vote the same day.

Following today’s signing ceremony, Walden will travel to San Bernardino County, California, for a December 5 field oversight hearing by the Resources Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health entitled, "Recovering from the Fires: Restoring and Protecting Communities, Water, Wildlife and Forests in Southern California." The field hearing will focus on the aftermath and restoration efforts following the October 2003 wildfires in southern California.

The Resources Committee had previously held a field hearing in San Bernardino County in September 2003, which Walden attended, that focused on the threat of wildfire to the surrounding forestland due to a massive infestation of beetles, which have killed approximately 400,000 acres in the San Bernardino National Forest. True to the predictions of several forestry experts who testified at the hearing, more than 95,00 acres burned within the forest when catastrophic wildfires ravaged southern California in the fall.

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