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Chair Abigail Spanberger Opening Statement at Hearing “The 2021 Wildland Fire Year: Responding to and Mitigating Threats to Communities”

WASHINGTON House Agriculture Subcommittee Chair Abigail Spanberger delivered the following statement at today's hearing “The 2021 Wildland Fire Year: Responding to and Mitigating Threats to Communities”.

[As prepared for delivery]

Thank you all for joining us here today for this important and timely hearing on the 2021 wildfire season.

We’ve all seen the footage of the wildfires raging in the West already this year. These fires are terrifying, and I stand ready to do whatever I can as Chair of this Subcommittee to ensure that the Forest Service has the resources, the personnel, and the tools they need to prepare for future fires and respond to the wildland fires already raging. It is also imperative that we make sure firefighters on the ground are compensated fairly and given adequate time away from this intense and dangerous work. I think I speak for everyone here today when I say that America’s firefighters embody our nation’s highest ideals of courage, commitment, and selflessness toward their fellow Americans.

Unfortunately, as we head into the heart of the wildfire season, we are expected to have yet another unprecedented year of dangerous and deadly wildfires ahead of us. As we speak, there are currently more than 60 wildfires raging in the United States across 3 million acres of land.

While the volume of wildfires may be unprecedented, the story before us is a familiar one. In the short time that I’ve chaired this Subcommittee, I have presided over a wildfire hearing each year that begins with news about how that year’s wildfire season is worse than the last. In fact, almost exactly a year ago, I sat here and presided over a nearly identical hearing as the SCU Lightening Complex, Rattlesnake, Creek, and El Dorado fires — among others — devastated the western United States.

At that hearing, I compared the situation in the West to another environmental crisis that faced much of the United States in the 1930s — the Dust Bowl.

During that period, there was a sense that Congress did not understand the severity of the problems facing America’s farmers and families living in the midst of an environmental crisis. Despite demands for action by both the administration and those impacted by the dust storms, for years, Congress failed to act in a comprehensive manner. It was not until March of 1935, when the dust from the Midwest reached the Capitol’s steps and lawmakers were forced to see it and experience it with their own eyes, that compromise could be reached on what became the first federal conservation bill — the Soil Conservation and Domestic Allotment Act of 1936.

It should not take the ash of these wildfires, or the debris and flood waters of the hurricanes ravaging our coasts, or the severe heat felt by millions across the nation and across the globe on a daily basis, reaching the Capitol’s steps today, for this Congress to take action on the environmental crisis currently facing us.

Through the House Agriculture Committee’s section of the proposed Build Back Better Act, this Committee is acting. This bill, marked up by this Committee just a few weeks ago, contains $14 billion for hazardous fuel treatments on National Forest System Lands, $1 billion for critical vegetation management activities, $9 billion in grants to state and private forestry for hazardous fuels treatments, millions of dollars in grants for the recovery and rehabilitation of areas affected by wildfires, $50 million for post-fire recovery plans, and would remove the cap on the Reforestation Trust Fund — building on the REPLANT Act introduced by my colleague Congressman Panetta, who serves on this Subcommittee.

What’s more, this bill squarely takes aim at combatting the climate crisis by investing in clean energy jobs, climate-smart conservation practices at USDA, and the creation of a Civilian Climate Corps as called for in my bill, the Climate Stewardship Act, that I introduced alongside Senator Booker.

Of course, climate is not the only factor contributing to the intensity of wildfire seasons. We know that many factors are involved in the current wildfires and our wildfire risk. That certainly includes encroachment of housing and development on forested wildlands; forest management decisions and resources; fire management; weather events; actions of people, like use of pyrotechnic devices; and the list unfortunately continues.

In addition, there is still more that must be done to protect Americans from wildfires, make impacted communities whole, ensure the U.S. Forest Service has the tools they need to respond to and combat wildfires, all while combatting the climate crisis.

Managing our forests to mitigate future wildfire risk is a steep but not insurmountable task. Former Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen testified recently that we need to treat an additional 20 million acres of Forest Service lands over the next 10 years to make progress in reducing our wildfire risk. I am looking forward to a discussion on how we can make that happen.

Before we begin, I want to congratulate Randy Moore on his new role as the Chief of the U.S. Forest Service. As a Regional Forester, Chief Moore has been a leader among his peers on issues relating to conservation, combatting the climate crisis, and responding to wildfires. Chief Moore’s appointment to the role is also historic, as he will be the first African American to hold this role in the history of the U.S. Forest Service. I was excited to have the chance to speak with Chief Moore in advance of this hearing and have the utmost confidence in the leadership and vision he brings to the U.S. Forest Service.

With that, I thank our speakers for joining us today. We look forward to the discussion and I’ll recognize the Ranking Member for any remarks he’d like to make.


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