WASHINGTON, D.C. - Oregon Congressman Bob Smith, Chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture, today introduced nationwide forest health legislation to provide for better forest science, more agency accountability, and on-the-ground results that rehabilitate and protect America's precious forest resources.
Smith, whose Committee on Agriculture has held six hearings into forest health, was joined in introducing the "Forest Recovery and Protection Act of 1997" by Sen. Gordon Smith (R-OR), who will introduce a companion measure in the United States Senate, Rep. Larry Combest (R-TX), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Forestry, Resource Conservation, and Research, and Rep. Charlie Stenholm (D-TX), the Committee's ranking Democrat, among others.
"Nearly 40 million acres of national forests in America are at extreme risk of destruction by catastrophic wildfire. Under present policies, only 1 million acres per year are being treated to lessen fuel loads and reduce that risk. That's just not good enough. At that rate, it would take 40 years to rehabilitate those forests, if they don't burn up by then. And if they do burn, we'll lose everything - the forests, the streams, the wildlife - everything. Clearly, the agencies' efforts are not meeting the enormous risks to our forests," Chairman Bob Smith said.
"America's forest resources are extremely valuable, extremely sick, and extremely neglected. I have heard lots of soothing words from the federal agencies, but haven't seen a sufficient amount of action to back it up. Words won't cut it. We can't wait any longer. We have to act, and act now. This bill moves the process forward, providing critical funding, demanding results, and creating agency accountability for the health of our forests. Perhaps most important, it insists that we base our work on the best available science. For the first time, we will place a priority on those areas in the most critical condition, and will make the greatest effort to treat them immediately," Smith said.
"We are facing a crisis in our nation's forests," said Sen. Gordon Smith. "We must protect them against disease, infestation, and fire that continue to deteriorate their beauty and value. This legislation goes a long way toward addressing these serious problems. Bob and I have worked long and hard together, at the state and national level, and I want to commend his leadership on this issue."
"Hailing from a district that has virtually no trees, I've been fascinated to find how critical proper management is to rehabilitating a resource in decline. As Chairman of the Subcommittee on Forestry, I'm convinced that we can't just watch and wait, we have to act. This bill will make real, measurable improvements in this truly national resource and put greater, more effective tools in the hands of our land managers," Combest said.
The bill, which abides by all applicable environmental laws and forest plans, creates a five-year national program to address forest health, requiring the Secretary of Agriculture to identify, prioritize, and conduct forest recovery projects in high risk areas; creates a scientific advisory panel to help the Secretary administer the national program; enables the Secretary to immediately conduct forest health projects in those areas where there is sufficient science to move quickly; establishes a revolving Forest Recovery and Protection Fund to pay for forest recovery projects without requiring new spending; requires audits of the national program to ensure efficiency and results; and improves methods of inventorying forests to ensure that foresters have access to the best and most current data. An extensive section-by-section summary of the bill follows this release.
Smith represents Oregon's Second Congressional District, which includes most of eastern, central, and southern Oregon, in the U.S. House of Representatives. The district is home to ten national forests.