Opening Statement: “A Review of Title VIII: Forestry Stakeholder Perspectives”
Rep. Doug LaMalfa (CA-01), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Forestry, delivered the following opening remarks at today's subcommittee hearing entitled, “A Review of Title VIII: Forestry Stakeholder Perspectives”
Remarks as prepared for delivery:
"Good morning. Thank you all for being here and joining us for the very first hearing of the Agriculture Committee’s Subcommittee on Forestry.
"Today’s hearing will focus on Title VIII of the 2018 Farm Bill and we will receive testimony from our panel of industry partners for their feedback. We hope to hear what is working, what isn’t, and what recommendations our panel has for improvements for the next Farm Bill.
"Across the West, we continue to face a wildfire and forest health crisis. As we begin turning our attention to the next Farm Bill and discussions on this title, this committee and Congress as a whole need to understand that this is a true crisis.
"The pace and scale of active management on these forests and landscapes must be drastically increased, and this must happen right now. We must undertake the paradigm shift that the Forest Service has been calling for and dramatically increase management to restore forest health, protect rural residents, and reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfire.
"In the past five years alone, we’ve seen some of the most destructive wildfires on record, especially in California. In my district, we have seen catastrophic damage from the 2018 Camp Fire in Paradise, the 2020 North Complex Fire, the million-acre Dixie Fire in 2021, and many others.
"Since 2000, we have averaged more than 70,000 wildfires per year and an average of 7 million acres burned annually. This acreage is more than double the average number during the 1990s. Since 2018, we’ve had four fire seasons that have exceeded seven million acres, including 2020 when 10.1 million acres burned. We really don’t even have a fire season anymore, as much as a fire year.
"The Forest Service must get more aggressive, increase partnerships with local governments and third parties, and cut more trees that will otherwise only contribute to declining forest health and the outbreak of new wildfires.
"Over the past 30 years, we have fallen way behind with our forest health and management goals, as well as timber harvest needed to promote health. We only harvest about a third of the timber we did at one time on Forest Service lands and routinely fall short of our allowable sale quantity across the national forest system.
"The Forest Service is carrying out its proposed ten-year strategy to confront the wildfire crisis. Through this plan, the Forest Service has identified some 20 million acres of federal land, and another 30 million acres of adjacent non-federal lands, that are at the highest threat of catastrophic wildfire and in need of immediate treatment. Billions of dollars have been appropriated by Congress to the Forest Service over the past year and a half to help support this work, yet funding alone won’t fix the massive problems we have with wildfire and our forests.
"As the agency is moving forward with this work, this committee needs to know what tools, authorities, or other resources the agency and all of our partners must have to ensure that this work actually gets done. The farm bill should be used to help address some of these challenges in the West and across the national forest system.
"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.
"This is a commonsense change, as disease and invasive species contribute to worsening forest health. Federal lands are not good neighbors because they are overstocked and overgrown, allowing our forests to become tinderboxes ready to ignite. We must expand Good Neighbor Authority to encourage more partnerships with States, counties, and Tribes who have the ability to efficiently get projects on the ground that will prevent wildfire.
"More also needs to be done to help discourage litigation that only serves to undermine commonsense management projects that will help prevent wildfire. This includes legislating a full Cottonwood fix, a court decision which has held up or delayed forest restoration projects since 2015.
"The last Farm Bill also expanded the Landscape Scale Restoration program on cross-boundary restoration; and authorized new tools that allow for the collaborative treatment of hazardous fuel loads on bordering non-federal lands. We need more of these authorities and partnerships that allow the Forest Service to administer the treatments immediately needed on at-risk acres.
"The megafires we continue to see are not normal wildfires. Because they are landscape-scale wildfires, the proactive treatments must also be landscape-scale to prevent them from breaking out in the first place.
"I’d like to thank all of our witnesses for being here this morning and in person. I know it isn’t easy to come to Washington, DC, so we appreciate your valuable time and willingness to participate. We look forward to hearing your testimonies and sharing your expertise and recommendations with this committee as we ramp up this Farm Bill process.