Remarks as prepared for delivery:
Welcome, Chief Moore, and thank you for being here today. Like so many others who live in the West or near forests, this is an extremely important and personal issue to me and those that I represent.
I want to begin by recognizing our firefighters on the ground who risk their lives every day to confront these disasters head-on. To our firefighters, I say thank you for your selfless dedication to protecting our family and friends, our homes and communities, and our forests.
These past few years have been incredibly difficult for my district and many rural forested regions. Last year, we saw over 10 million acres burn, with over 40% of it in California alone. This year has been just as difficult, if not more, than 2020 as even more communities in my district were leveled this summer by wildfire.
Six of the worst fire seasons on record have occurred just over a year period in 2020 and 2021. This includes the August Complex, SCU Lightning, Creek, and North Complex fires in 2020; and devastating fires this year with Dixie, Bootleg, Caldor, Monument, and many other tragedies.
We know there are some 63 million acres at medium to high risk of wildfire, and at least 80 million acres of Forest Service land in need of treatment.
Although the challenges before the Forest Service are many, the solutions that we must put into practice to prevent catastrophic wildfire are clear and well-established.
While many continue to blame a changing climate for the increase in acres burned each year and the greater intensity of recent wildfires, the fact is most of our forests are overgrown and overstocked – and we aren’t doing enough management to reduce the fuel loads that have dramatically intensified the wildfire crisis.
Wildfires are a national emergency, yet we will not solve this crisis without a fundamental shift in how we manage our forest lands.
We need to increase the pace and scale of landscape projects that reduce hazardous fuel loads. We need to strategically thin the forests where necessary, better manage vegetation around infrastructure, create more fuel breaks where appropriate, and take on more landscape scale restoration projects.
These are commonsense management activities we need to perform to combat these disasters.
While I welcome the attention and funding for forest management in the agriculture portion of the reconciliation package, the section will do little to encourage the work that is urgently needed. It doesn’t work because the restrictions are so great that the Forest Service would be drastically limited in which projects they could authorize and where they could be done.
The provisions largely emphasize non-commercial projects, while discouraging projects that would require commercial activity. You have to have some level of commercial projects in many of the acres that require treatment in order for them to work.
The bill also overcomplicates funding for the wildland urban interface (WUI) and contains multiple provisions that would require the Forest Service to enter into rulemaking that would take years to complete.
During the markup’s amendment process, I offered several amendments that would have bolstered hazardous fuels reduction, funded immediate fire suppression activities and post-fire restoration, and increased firefighter salaries. These amendments were rejected on a partisan basis.
We absolutely need additional funding for fuels reduction and forest management. But when you put all of these provisions together, there are so many restrictions and hoops that the Forest Service would have to jump through, that it makes the whole funding unworkable.
We need assistance now and without unnecessary strings that will slow or even prevent projects from occurring in the first place.
During the conferencing of the 2018 Farm Bill, Members of this Committee offered numerous forestry reforms, yet Senate Democratic Conferees refused to discuss their merits.
I find it incredibly frustrating that some Members of Congress who don’t represent national forests or areas constantly devastated by wildfire continue to try to stop the Forest Service and land managers from proactive management that will reduce the threat of wildfires and encourage healthy forest lands in the long run.
Our forests are overgrown and undermanaged. We need to be doing more active management immediately to reduce the threat of these fires and save lives.
Again, I much appreciate today but we need to do more than hold hearings on wildfire. And we won’t solve the fire crisis by throwing money at the problem while needlessly hamstringing the Forest Service.
Chief Moore, I again thank you for being with us today and we are eager to hear your testimony. I look forward to working with you and identifying ways for Congress to support the Forest Service and finally make strides to address the wildfire crisis.