WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today House Committee on Agriculture Chairman Bob Goodlatte chaired a hearing to review H.R. 4200, the Forest Emergency Recovery and Research Act (FERRA) which was introduced in early November. The Forest Emergency Recovery and Research Act provides a mechanism to quickly restore forests damaged by catastrophic events such as fires, ice storms, or hurricanes.
Over one million acres of national forests are in need of reforestation and the number steadily increases with each catastrophic fire, storm or insect epidemic. Areas in need of restoration are more susceptible to forest fires, invasive species and insect outbreaks.
“Delays result in wasted timber resources, degraded environmental conditions, and increased costs for taxpayers. Projects which could have paid for themselves, provided valuable timber to local industry, and help put our forests on the road to recovery wind up delayed to the point where the timber is valueless. Adjacent private landowners, meanwhile, absorb the risk as National Forests become the source of future insect epidemics and wildfires,” said Chairman Goodlatte.
The Chairman noted several examples of the results of inadequate responses to catastrophic events including the Tygart State Forest and the Daniel Boone National Forest in Kentucky. Both forests were damaged by an ice storm in February 2003; however, the response to this catastrophic event varied drastically between the state and federal forest managers.
In the Tygart State Forest, salvage work began almost immediately and habitat restoration was completed this fall. In contrast, the Forest Service recently completed the environmental analysis for the Daniel Boone Forest and there has been no action to restore the forest. Due to this inaction, the damaged timber that could have been salvaged is now worthless and wildlife habitat has become threatened.
In contrast, Chairman Goodlatte noted that “expedited efforts can help restore forests following a catastrophic event. When the Sabine National Forest in Texas took advantage of alternative arrangements for complying with the National Environmental Policy Act, salvage was completed and reforestation was underway within six months. The result is a forest on its way to recovery, including restoration of the longleaf pine, a very rare habitat type that once dominated the coastal plain from Texas to Virginia.”
The Forest Emergency Recovery and Research Act would provide federal land managers with the tools to rapidly assess damage in the wake of catastrophic events. This legislation follows the same guidelines for public notice, appeals and judicial review established in the Healthy Forests Restoration Act and requires thorough environmental review, including evaluation of the environmental effects of a catastrophic event recovery project. This Act would enable land managers to engage in active management practices to restore forest health by removing excess fuel loads and dead and dying trees, improving water and air quality, restoring landscapes and species habitat, and preventing a further backlog of reforestation projects.
Committee Member and co-sponsor of H.R. 4200, Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth noted the importance of the hearing to all of the nation’s forests. “Today's hearing again underlined the need for a swift response following catastrophic events in our nation's forests. Whether we're talking about hurricanes hitting eastern forests or forest fires in the west, this bill will create an effective framework to ensure a timely and appropriate recovery. I look forward to working towards its passage on both the House Agriculture and Resources Committees,” said Rep. Herseth.
H.R. 4200, like the Healthy Forests Restoration Act, has garnered wide bipartisan support with nearly 140 cosponsors. The Committee heard from three panels of witnesses including H.R. 4200 authors Reps. Greg Walden and Brian Baird as well as the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth.
Witness testimony is available on the Committee website: http://agriculture.house.gov/hearings/index.html. A full transcript of the hearing will be available on the Committee website 4-6 weeks following the hearing.
The Honorable Greg Walden, Second Congressional District, Oregon
The Honorable Brian Baird, Third Congressional District, Washington
Mr. Dale Bosworth, Chief, Forest Service, United States Department of Agriculture, Washington, D.C.
Mr. James L. Cummins, Executive Director, Mississippi Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Stoneville, Mississippi
Mr. Sean Cosgrove, Senior Washington Representative, Sierra Club, Washington, D.C.
Mr. John M. Hancock, District Procurement Forester, MeadWestvaco, Covington, Virginia, on behalf of the Society of American Foresters and the Virginia Forestry Association
Mr. E. Austin Short, Delaware State Forester and Vice President, National Association of State Foresters, Dover, Delaware