WASHINGTON, D.C. - The full House Committee on Agriculture, chaired by Congressman Bob Smith (R-OR), today passed the Forest Recovery and Protection Act (H.R. 2515), Smith's nationwide forest health legislation to provide for better forest science, greater agency accountability, and on-the-ground results to rehabilitate and protect America's precious forest resources.
The Committee approved Smith's Forest Recovery and Protection Act by a voice vote. The bill, which cleared the Agriculture Subcommittee on Forestry, Resource Conservation, and Research on November 5, 1997, creates a five-year program to address forest health by setting deadlines for the forest service to identify, prioritize, and develop forest recovery projects in high risk areas. Senator Gordon Smith has introduced a companion bill (S. 1467) in the Senate. The House Committee on Agriculture held seven hearings on forest health last year before Chairman Smith introduced his forest health legislation.
"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 each 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. My bill moves us a step in the right direction, giving the Forest Service the tools it needs to treat our ailing national forests," Smith said.
"America's forest resources are extremely valuable, extremely sick, and extremely neglected.
We can't wait any longer. We have to act, and act now. This bill moves the process forward, providing critical funding and demanding that the Forest Service use our tax dollars wisely. Perhaps most important, it insists that we base our work on the best available science," Smith 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; 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.
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.