June 27, 2002 — Roadless areas in the Nation's forests are in desperate need of good management and stewardship to protect the special nature of our forests, members of the Department Operations, Oversight, Nutrition, and Forestry were told Thursday morning. Subcommittee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) convened the hearing to hear from forestry officials about the status of the Roadless Area Conservation Rule.
"The roadless rule that was finalized in January of 2001 does not ensure conservation of our roadless areas," said Goodlatte. "If we truly want to save these treasures we need to re-open the dialogue and discuss real answers to this very real forest health crisis."
On May 4, 2001, Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman, announced that USDA would implement the Roadless Area Conservation Rule that was announced by President Clinton in 1999. USDA indicated that implementation would be done in a common sense, responsible manner through collaboration with State and Local governments. Since opening the original rule for comment in 1999, the Forest Service has received 1,156,308 comments. Of these, 1,094,965, or over 94% were from form letters. The remaining responses were unique comments from interested members of the community.
"It is time, in fact overdue, to actively work to conserve our nations' forested treasures," said Goodlatte. "It is time to end the rhetoric swirling around the roadless debate of protection versus destruction, and wilderness versus timber."
Witnesses highlighted the need to reopen a meaningful dialogue between Forestry officials and state and local governments and communities in order to bring about a workable forest management plan.
"We need to get beyond the belief that no activity is good," said David Wm. Smith, President of the Society of American Foresters. "The real protection issue is the health of the entire National Forest System, and we are not doing a good job of tending to these forests. It is time to stop debating and apply science on the ground."
Smith continued, "Research shows that more than several decades of suppressing fires have resulted in a heavy buildup of 'fuel' and a shift to species that have not adapted to fire. Because of these conditions, today's fires tend to be larger, burn hotter, and spread farther and faster, making them more severe. Forest scientists know that the best way to address the fuel build up is to aggressively 'thin' areas choked with hazardous fuels, and to carefully reintroduce fire to these systems."
Wildfires are raging throughout the United States. Several of these, including The Bullock Fires on the Coronado national Forest, the Hensel Fire in Wyoming, and the Hayman Fire in Colorado have either begun in, or engulfed roadless areas.
"I am one of the millions of visitors who go to the forest every year to enjoy the natural surroundings," said Goodlatte. "We are witnessing the result of blocking restoration and stewardship in our forests and the result is devastation," he continued. "We need to work to find a solution to our forest health crisis so these unique and special areas will be here for the next generation, along with all of our national forests."
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