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Subcommittee Chair Spanberger’s Opening Statement at Hearing on Restoring Forest Infrastructure

Washington, September 26, 2019

WASHINGTON- House Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation and Forestry Chair Abigail Spanberger of Virginia delivered the following remarks at the hearing on restoring forest infrastructure. 

[As Prepared for Delivery]

"Good Morning, I would like to welcome everyone to this hearing of the Conservation and Forestry Subcommittee on The National Forest System: Restoring Our Forest Infrastructure, a critically important topic. I would also like to thank Ranking Member LaMalfa for his engagement on this issue, as well as each Subcommittee member for taking part in this hearing today.

"National Forest infrastructure is the physical link to the outdoors.  Its network of roads, trails, bridges, dams, and facilities helps ensure access to natural resources and secure the economic well-being of neighboring communities.  

"Over 140 million Americans visit national forest lands year-round to camp, hike, fish, hunt, ski and snowboard, and take part in a wide range of other recreation.  Recreation on and around Forest Service land contributes more than $10 billion to the U.S. economy every year and supports more than 143,000 full and part-time jobs. 

"66 million Americans in over 3,000 communities depend on Forest Service infrastructure for drinking water and wastewater services.  Similarly, many communities rely on Forest Service roads to drive their children to school; shop in neighborhood stores; or visit their doctor, among other routine travel needs. Over the last two decades alone, community development along the Wildland Urban Interface has expanded by more than 46 million acres, an area larger than the state of Washington. 

"However, as a consequence of deferring maintenance in the agency’s infrastructure portfolio, the state of our forest infrastructure has fallen far behind what is necessary to meet the needs of forest users, local communities, and emergency responders.  As is the case with all federal land management agencies, appropriated funds have been insufficient to adequately maintain roads, trails, bridges, dams and other important structures. 

"Over the last few decades, fire suppression costs have increased as the frequency and intensity of wildfires have also increased.  These escalating costs have forced the agency to make some tough decisions, often pulling funds from non-fire accounts to address wildfires and leaving fewer and fewer resources to support other aspects of the agency’s work, like deferred maintenance. We hope that the fire budget fix that goes into effect in FY20 solves that component of this issue. With a deferred maintenance backlog of $5.2 billion dollars, the ability of the American public to safely access and benefit from national forests is greatly diminished.  

"Despite the challenges of aging infrastructure, the Forest Service has continually worked to do more with less and has charged itself to develop a long-term plan to deliver upon its mission to “sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the Nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations.”

"Proper maintenance of our national forests is a matter of safety and economic well-being. I hope this hearing will help us better understand the severity of the deferred maintenance backlog, its impact on regional economies, and the agency’s future plans for capital improvement. 

"This is the important subject of our hearing today, to better understand the level of deferred maintenance; its impact on economic opportunity and public use; and to examine agency plans for capital improvement."

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