WASHINGTON, D.C. — Agriculture Committee Chairman Bob Smith (R-OR) today announced that yesterday the House passed the Interior Appropriations Bill (H.R. 4193) which contains vital provisions originally proposed in his Forest Recovery and Protection Act while soundly beating back amendments to cut the Timber Sale Program and continue the Interior Columbia Basin Ecosystem Management Project (ICBEMP).
According to Forest Service Chief Mike Dombeck, nearly 40 million acres of national forests are at extreme risk of destruction by catastrophic wildfire. Under present policies, about 1 million acres are treated annually to reduce that risk. At Smith's urging, a provision was included in H.R. 4193 directing the U.S. Department of Agriculture to use monies deposited in the Roads and Trails Fund, approximately $25 million in Fiscal Year 1999, for health restoration projects on these National Forest lands. The projects will emphasize reducing risks to human safety, public health, and property while enhancing ecological functions, long-term forest productivity, and biological integrity.
"America's forest resources are extremely valuable, extremely sick, and extremely neglected. Without active management, they will continue being overcrowded and unhealthy habitats while remaining highly susceptible to wildfire. This provision is a modest step in the right direction towards restoring health to our forests," Smith said.
In the past, forest fires burned western timber stands on a regular basis, purging the forest floor of the sickly trees and undergrowth that fuel catastrophic wildfires and hinder the development of mature disease- and fire-resistant "old growth" fir and pine trees. Throughout the 20th century, federal agencies worked to extinguish virtually every fire, allowing forest fuels to accumulate and mistakenly contributing to the deplorable state of federal forest health.
Overwhelming opposition also forced Representative Elizabeth Furse (D-OR) to withdraw her amendment to cut funding for the federal timber sale program in half. These reductions, in turn, would have triggered additional cuts in next year's program effectively abolishing federal timber sales. Withdrawing her amendment signaled a strong repudiation of the zero-cut agenda.
The House also rejected an amendment which would have stricken provisions bringing ICBEMP to a logical conclusion. To date, project costs have exceeded $40 million with few tangible results. Because these funds are taken from Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management budgets they have the result of decreasing funds available for on-the-ground management. The Interior Appropriations Bill provides for the orderly closing of project offices and the distribution of scientific findings to field managers.
"The ICBEMP provision is about moving beyond planning. The Project is now 700% over budget and 3 years overdue. It's time to bring this process to a close and begin using the scientific findings for on-the-ground management and restoration activities," Smith said.
Smith represents Oregon's Second Congress