Opening Statement: "To Review the National Forest System: Supporting Forest Health and Confronting the Wildfire Crisis"
Washington, May 16, 2023
Rep. Doug LaMalfa (CA-01), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Forestry, delivered the following opening remarks at today's subcommittee hearing entitled, "To Review the National Forest System: Supporting Forest Health and Confronting the Wildfire Crisis."
"As the title reflects, today’s hearing will examine how this Committee and Congress can better support the health of our forests and ongoing efforts to address the wildfire crisis. Make no mistake, our forests and rural communities continue to face an unprecedented forest health and wildfire crisis. This is an emergency that we must immediately tackle on multiple fronts.
"The Forest Service plays the important role of managing our forests for ecological health, ensuring a reliable supply of domestic timber, and supporting rural prosperity. For decades and particularly in the West, we have continued to see a decline in forest health on tens of millions of acres and catastrophic wildfire on an unprecedented scale. Over the past five years alone, we’ve witnessed some of the most destructive fires on record. As these fires become larger and more intense, more communities are impacted every day.
"The statistics are clear. In 2015, 2017 and 2020, we saw more than ten million acres burn per year. Six of the seven largest wildfires we’ve seen in California occurred in 2020 and 2021, which includes two fires that burned approximately one million acres each, both in my district.
"The August Complex Fire in 2020 burned more than a million acres; and the Dixie Fire of 2021 burned 960,000 acres. In 2018, we had the Camp Fire which destroyed the town of Paradise, California and took the lives of 85 people. This truly is an urgent crisis and we need to act now.
"We must dramatically increase active management and speed up the pace and scale of forest restoration on tens of millions of acres of federal and non-federal land. This includes activities such as prescribed fires, cross-boundary fuel breaks, logging activities to thin overstocked stands, the use of fire retardant, and expedited salvage logging and burned area rehabilitation.
"Congress has provided the Forest Service with significant new funding to support the agency’s 10-year wildfire plan. While funding is clearly needed to log and properly manage millions of acres at high risk of wildfire, I also believe that funding alone won’t be enough to protect our forests and communities. The agency will continue to be challenged by the regulatory hurdles that it has long faced. This includes lengthy processes under NEPA and frivolous litigation that only delays critical management activities. It also includes the latest legal challenge from extreme activists to curb the use of fire retardant, an essential tool firefighters use to slow the spread of wildfire.
"Looking ahead to the next Farm Bill, the 2014 and 2018 reauthorizations provided the Forest Service with a variety of tools intended to help the agency better manage, incentivize more public-private partnerships, grow new markets for forest products, and help rural communities thrive.
"This includes expanding existing authorities such as Good Neighbor and stewardship contracting to leverage more partnerships that will increase landscape-scale restoration projects. It also includes expanded use of categorical exclusions (CE), such as for insect and disease treatments, to help move along commonsense forest management activities with known beneficial outcomes.
"The 2018 Farm Bill 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. We must also encourage the construction of new sawmills and other forest product infrastructure to ensure the long-term viability of these partners. The last Farm Bill also expanded the Landscape Scale Restoration program on cross-boundary restoration and authorized new tools for hazardous fuels on bordering non-federal lands.
"This Committee must build on the good work that we accomplished over the past two reauthorizations and again use the Farm Bill to ramp up active forest management and restoration across the national forest system. We should also encourage the Forest Service to use every tool in its toolbox, including new authorities provided in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). Specifically, this includes increased use of the fuel break categorical exclusion and the bill’s emergency authority.
"Summer is here, we’ve already seen fire starts and the Forest Service continues to select additional sites for restoration projects. As this year’s wildfire season ramps up and as we consider reforms for the upcoming Farm Bill reauthorization, today’s hearing is timely.
"I am pleased to welcome Chief Randy Moore of the U.S. Forest Service. Chief, we look forward to your testimony and a robust conversation on the variety of issues facing the Forest Service and our rural and forested communities. We also look forward to working with you on identifying ways that this Committee can best support the urgent work that we need the Forest Service to accomplish to lessen the risk of catastrophic wildfire.
"With that, I recognize Ranking Member Salinas for her opening statement."