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Daschle and Harkin Put Rural Communities at Risk!

April 29, 2002 — In response to farm bill negotiations, Department Operations, Nutrition, and Forestry Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) issued the following statement:

"Today, Senate Democrat Farm Bill Conferees put at risk millions of people who are facing the threat of catastrophic wildfire. Instead of reaching out to the communities at risk, the Senate Democrats reached out to extreme environmental groups who are opposed to cutting trees at any cost even if that cost is human life. We have already seen over 30 homes destroyed in just one of the 23,000 wild land fires this season. With over 200,000 acres lost to fire this season in the Southern Region it is hard to imagine that Mr. Harkin, Mr. Daschle and their Colleagues would let the extreme interest of a well funded few put so many people at risk.

"Three weeks ago, in good faith, The House and Senate Conferees struck a deal that would protect communities at risk to catastrophic wildfire and create jobs in rural areas. The agreement included a number of additional programs ranging from giving non-profit organizations and Indian Tribes the ability to hold title to Forest Legacy conservation easements to requiring the Inspector General to conduct an independent investigation in the event of the death of a forest fire fighter. Also, included was a provision to combat the severe sudden oak death disease that is infecting oak and potentially redwoods in California.

"The House negotiated with the Senate during the conference committee and at the eleventh hour was told by Senate Democratic Conferees they wanted to walk away from the table. Rather than receive grief from their well-funded environmentalist friends Senate leadership would let forest fires continue to wreak havoc on communities in rural America.

"The Stewardship Contracting authorities they reject provide local communities a means by which they can become fully engaged in the management of their surrounding national forests, from designing and implementing stewardship projects, to overseeing the process and monitoring the results. The authority provides the Forest Service a tool to implement the National Fire Plan to protect communities at risk to catastrophic wildfire by reducing the heavy fuel buildup in the forest.

"Drought conditions are present across the entire country, threatening the stability of farmland, rangeland and forestland. Already this year, fires are burning with the intensity of late summer wildfires, and today Senate Democrats refused to negotiate on a provision in both the House and Senate Farm Bill that would have given the Forest Service tools to mitigate the threat of wildfire to communities by reducing the fuel hazard in the surrounding forests.

"I will continue to fight for resources to protect these communities at risk by working with the Appropriations Committee to secure hazardous fuels reduction project authority and funding."

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