Washington , DC : Congressman Bob Goodlatte, Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee and Chairman of the House conferees, today lauded a final agreement on the Healthy Forests Restoration Act while maintaining that this is only a first step towards fixing what is wrong with the management of our public lands.
"This is an historic event. The last time House and Senate conferees reported a major forestry bill, today's large trees were saplings. This bill creates the first real relief from bureaucratic gridlock after over eight years of legislative effort," Goodlatte said. "This bill sends a clear signal that the Congress favors results over process, and that achieving forest management that protects our communities, our watersheds, and the lives of countless people outweighs partisan wrangling."
The House passed its version of the Healthy Forest legislation on May 20 th by an overwhelming, and bi-partisan, majority. The Senate passed a similar version, after nearly 6 months. On November 6, the House appointed conferees, and unanimously accepted a motion from the minority to instruct conferees to finish work on this bill within one week. The House was unable to formally conference without the Senate's cooperation. Senate Democrats appointed conferees this morning.
"The good news is that both bills seek to address the issues that have tied the hands of our forest managers; NEPA analysis that drags on for months; administrative appeals that spring up at the last minute; and court actions that stall projects for so long that areas proposed for treatment frequently are destroyed by fires long before the judicial process concludes," Goodlatte continued.
There are over 19 0 million acres of forests and rangelands which remain at risk of catastrophic wildfires, insect and disease, a landmass larger than New England . This bill takes the modest step of addressing the hazardous conditions on only 20 million acres of this total.
"We have been talking about this issue for years," Ranking Member Charlie Stenholm said. "I remember the tremendous work done by former House Agriculture Committee Chairman Bob Smith and his efforts to reach and find compromise. I am pleased that we have completed legislation through a bipartisan effort that will restore America 's cherished landscapes by reducing the risk of catastrophic wildfires and insect and disease infestations."
The legislation takes an innovative approach to forest health on private forest lands, creating new programs to detect and suppress such forest pests as hemlock woolly adelgid and the emerald ash borer. It also creates two new programs to help family forest owners manage their forests to protect watersheds and to help protect wildlife on private lands. Both programs use a non-regulatory, incentive based approach to promote conservation, rather than a top-down, one-size fits all regulatory approach.
The Society of American Foresters praised this bill for giving new tools to forest managers to protect our forests. The National Volunteer Fire Council praised it for reducing the degree of threat faced by their members when they are on the fire line. The International Association of Fire Chiefs, along with professional wildlife managers, sportsmen, and serious conservation groups all support this bill.
Goodlatte applauded President Bush for his leadership in bringing this about and encouraged him to continue to exert leadership in this field to ensure that Federal land managers act aggressively to implement this program as quickly as possible.
He went on to pledge vigilant oversight in the Agriculture Committee to ensure that the Forest Service acts quickly to implement this program.