Opening Statement: Republican Leader Doug LaMalfa Conservation and Forestry Subcommittee Hearing: “A 2022 Review of the Farm Bill: Forestry”
Washington, July 13, 2022
Remarks as prepared for delivery:
Thank you, Chairwoman Spanberger. I appreciate today’s hearing.
We are entering the heart of the 2022 fire season. Already over 5 million acres have burned across the country with nearly 80 large fires currently burning. The Forest Service, this Committee, and those watching must understand that the West is facing a crisis. The Forestry Title of the farm bill must be used to increase the pace and scale of forest management. Rural and forested communities nationwide can either benefit from logging and proper forest management or they will suffer from mismanaged forests that threaten them and their towns with wildfire.
For decades forest health has declined as active forest management has stalled or stopped completely. The West has faced some of the most destructive wildfires in our nation’s history just in the past several years, and our national forests have never been in more urgent need of increased management and restoration.
In my district, we’ve seen devastating wildfires in recent years, such as the Camp Fire in 2018 and last year’s Dixie Fire, among many other catastrophes.
Across the West, we live with these challenges every day. Forest management has reached a crisis level and we must act accordingly—and act now. The Forest Service needs to act like there is a crisis and cut trees, thin overgrow vegetation, and restore our forests. Tens of millions of acres are at risk of catastrophic fire.
Nothing short of a fundamental change in mindset will fix this crisis. The Forest Service must aggressively cut trees—the 10-year plan aims to thin and do vegetation management on 20 million acres of National Forest System lands, and an additional 30 million acres of other Federal, State, Tribal, and private lands—but the National Forest System consists of 193 million acres of land, so are we to sit and watch the remaining 173 million acres go up in smoke over the next 10 years? If the Forest Service needs additional resources, tools and authorities in place to do this needed work, tell us now at this Committee. Delay is unacceptable—people’s lives are at risk. The Forest Service must make real progress to lessen the risk of catastrophic fire.
Through the farm bill this Committee can require the Forest Service to do the work that is desperately needed and way behind, encourage better forest management, help mitigate wildfire, and grow opportunities for rural communities that rely on our forests as economic engines. Critically, we need to address the over litigation of projects that the Forest Service needs to do to protect forests from catastrophic fire. For example, just at the end of June, a federal court stopped two projects that the Forest Service planned to do in Idaho, one entirely in the Wildland Urban Interface. This example is duplicated across the West ruining landscapes, putting lives at risk, and destroying rural towns. Over litigation slows or stops necessary forest management and sadly many acres that were tied up in lawsuits have now been completely burnt—destroying the forests and devastating downstream watersheds.
Some of these forests will take hundreds of years to recover. Just look at the fires in California that have killed almost 1/5 of all the giant sequoias in the world. The last recorded evidence of mass Giant Sequoia mortality occurred in 1297 A.D. This was the year that William Wallace defeated the English at the Battle of Stirling Bridge. This can’t be stressed enough—our public lands are facing a crisis and the Forest Service must act now.
Currently more than 500 sequoias are being threatened in the Mariposa Grove near Yosemite National Park by the Washburn Fire and while this is Park Service not Forest Service, we see the same issues. Firefighters are on the ground battling to save these trees and the town of Wawona and I want to thank them for their efforts every fire season to fight the fires that threaten towns and our public lands. But more work must be done pre-fire season, so firefighters are not placed in situations of catastrophic fire. The extremely hot and fast-moving fires we are seeing are a direct result of poor management and make firefighters' jobs more difficult and sometimes deadly. This must end. We must properly manage our forests.
The forestry title of the farm bill contains a variety of provisions, and we must expand the management authorities in this law.
For example, the 2018 farm bill contained a renewal of the insect and disease categorical exclusion and expanded it to include hazardous fuels reduction. These should be increased in size. Our forests need it—for many acres it is too late as they have already been destroyed by high intensity fire.
Public lands are currently not good neighbors—they are tinder boxes waiting to go up in smoke. This Committee must expand the Good Neighbor Authority to encourage partnerships with the Forest Service and the States, counties, and Tribes that are most harmed by fire.
We must also coordinate with private industry to add value to the timber and slash that must be removed from our public forests. The 2018 Farm Bill modified the Community Wood Energy Program and contained a research and development program to help encourage new markets and infrastructure for forest products and advance tall wood building construction in the United States, but we must also open new mills and other facilities and ensure that they have a consistent reliable source of federal timber that can be converted into useful products—they need at least a 30-year stream of logs from the Forest Service.
The 2018 Farm Bill expanded authorities that focus the Landscape Scale Restoration program on cross-boundary restoration; and authorized new tools that allow for the collaborative treatment of hazardous fuels loads on bordering non-federal lands.
We must continue this progress by expanding partnerships and authorities that allow for increased landscape-scale treatments. We are seeing landscape-scale fires—the Dixie Fire in my district was nearly a million acres—so we need forest management that matches that scale.
Chief Moore, and to all of our witnesses, our public lands are facing a crisis.
As we begin the process of writing the next farm bill what authorities need to be added or expanded to address the catastrophic fires that are threatening the West?
Thank you, Madam Chair. I yield back.