Agriculture Committee Holds Hearing on President's Healthy Forests Initiative: Witnesses Testify That Initiative Will Lead to Prevention of Catastrophic Fires Through Proper Management

Apr 30, 2003

Witnesses Testify That Initiative Will Lead to Prevention of Catastrophic Fires Through Proper Management

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Looking towards the 2003 fire season, the House Committee on Agriculture today held a hearing on the President’s Healthy Forests Initiative, to move forward legislation which has been deemed a priority by both the Committee and the Bush Administration.

“The Committee is committed to promoting the utilization of the sound science at our disposal to create healthy, sustainable forests,” Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte said. Goodlatte previously chaired the Agriculture Subcommittee with jurisdiction over forestry issues.

“Our national forests must be managed properly or we run the risk of more seasons of increasingly catastrophic wildfires,” Goodlatte continued. “The Healthy Forest Initiative identifies real solutions to some of the problems facing our forests and the communities surrounding them. As Under Secretary Rey pointed out in his testimony… the need for action to restore our forests and rangelands to long term health has never been greater.”

The first panel of witnesses included Mark Rey, Agriculture Under Secretary for Natural Resources and the Environment, Rebecca Watson, Interior Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management, Dale Bosworth, Chief of the United States Forest Service and Pete Roussopoulos, Director of the Southern Research Station for the United States Forest Service.

The second panel included Steven W. Koehn, Maryland State Forester, Chairman of the Water Resources Committee, National Association of State Foresters, Dr. John Helms, Professor Emeritus at the University of California Berkeley, Society of American Foresters,

James K. Walls, Executive Director of the Lake County Resources Initiative, in partnership with Sustainable Northwest, and Jeffery Hardesty, U.S. Director of the Global Fire Initiative, The Nature Conservancy.

In his written testimony, Under Secretary Rey restated the priority that the Bush Administration has placed on moving the Healthy Forests Initiative forward. He said, “President Bush’s proposed Healthy Forest Initiative is based upon a common-sense approach to reducing the threat of catastrophic wildfires by restoring forest and rangeland health. Our goal is to ensure the long-term safety and health of communities and ecosystems in our care.”

Rey went on to remark on the long term drought conditions throughout much of the interior West, and the effect this will likely have on the 2004 fire season.

In response to the catastrophic wildfires of the 2000 season, Congress urged the Administration to develop a comprehensive plan for reducing the fire hazard, and rehabilitating burned areas. This effort resulted in the National Fire Plan, and the Comprehensive Strategy for Implementing the Fire Plan. The Plan is a collaborative effort of the Departments of Agriculture, Interior, the States, Counties, and numerous private conservation, environmental and interest groups. In August 2002, the President announced the Healthy Forests Initiative (HFI), again, in, response to a catastrophic fire season (the season of 2002).

In 2000, 8.4 million acres of land burned, costing approximately $1.3 billion in suppression costs; in 2001, 3.6 million acres burned, costing approximately $918 million in suppression costs; in 2002, 6.9 million acres burned, costing approximately $1.6 billion in suppression costs; and the 2003 season is expected to again be above normal in many areas of the country.

In testimony before the Committee, Dr. John Helms said, “It has been demonstrated that prudent forest management and stewardship can lower the risk of unacceptable loss of property and resource assets through judicious thinning and prescribed burning…a healthy forest is a sustainable forest….Changes are also needed in a number of regulatory measures that often cause unnecessary delays that can be detrimental to time sensitive forest management projects.”

"The Healthy Forests Initiative is an important step toward restoring our forests,” Rep. Gil Gutknecht, Chairman of the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Department Operations Oversight, Nutrition and Forestry said. “I commend the President for his leadership, and am hopeful that the Congress will quickly do its part by passing the Healthy Forest Restoration Act."

“As stewards of the land we must be vigilant in sorting through the rhetoric to develop sound environmental policy, so that our children and grandchildren might also enjoy the same resources which we treasure,” Chairman Goodlatte concluded.