“For five months we have awaited Senate action on the Healthy Forest legislation. I am pleased to see them on the verge of considering this critical legislation, but it is imperative that they not pass a weakened bill which will do little to prevent future catastrophic fires.
Tragically in California right now we are witnessing the devastating effects of a flawed national policy that does little to prevent catastrophic wildfires and insect and disease infestations which pose a grave danger to our forest ecosystems, threatened and endangered species, air and water quality and the safety of thousands of communities.
Over 70 million acres of forests and rangelands are at extreme risk of catastrophic wildfires, a landmass larger than New England. There have been 29 fire fighters killed combating this year’s blazes. At last report, 15 citizens are dead in California, trying to escape wildfires. 4.3 million acres have burned so far this year, including 2.3 million acres of Federal lands. In just the last week, over 400,000 acres have burned in Southern California alone.
One of the fires in southern California jumped a ten-lane Interstate highway. In recent years we’ve seen fires travel several miles in just a few short hours. Treating a narrow “beauty-strip” around communities will do little to protect life and property.
We are expending enormous resources to combat these fires, as we should. But the truth of the matter is hazardous fuels reduction projects are up to three times more cost-effective than simply waiting for fires to start and trying to stop their spread. Not to mention that fire suppression does nothing to replace the loss of life and property once it lost.
For too long now efforts to provide relief from bureaucratic red tape and to rise above the rhetoric to implement sensible, science-based policy have been held hostage by Senate Democrats as was the case during both consideration of the 2002 Farm Bill and virtually identical Healthy Forest legislation debated last Fall after the worst fire season in nearly 50 years.
Now is the time to act. The Healthy Forests Restoration Act passed the House of Representatives on May 15 of this year with an overwhelming and bi-partisan majority. Forty-one Democrats, representing the most heavily forested districts in the country, supported the bill because it takes a balanced approach to the forest health crisis on our public lands. The legislation was supported by professional foresters, firefighters, public land managers, county officials, and conservation groups.
I implore the Senate to act swiftly—but in their rush to pass legislation in the face of these devastating losses they must not dilute the House passed version so as to make the legislation worthless in preventing future catastrophic forest fires.”