On November 5, the Senate Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation, Forestry and Natural Resources, chaired by Senator Michael Bennett (D-CO) held a hearing entitled, “Shortchanging Our Forests: How Tight Budgets and Management Decisions Can Increase the Risk of Wildfire.”
The theme was how to get the Forest Service out of the never-ending fire borrowing scenario that allows the agency to borrow funds from any of the Forest Services’ line items to battle catastrophic wildfires, and to get the agency treating high risk forests before they burn. Witnesses included Jim Hubbard, Deputy Chief, Forest Service; Sallie Clark, incoming Vice President, National Association of Counties; Davey Pitcher, President and CEO, Wolf Creek Ski Area; Chris Topik, The Nature Conservancy; and Tom Troxel, Executive Director, Intermountain Forestry Association.
Perhaps the best statistic that outlines the current conditions on our national forests came from Jim Hubbard who stated that the Forest Service has identified 58 million acres of national forest land as high risk for large severe wildfires, and of that, 10 million acres are in immediate need of treatment. Meanwhile the Forest Service is treating about 2 million acres per year. Using those statistics it would seem that more large fires are imminent from these lands in the coming years.
Other witnesses outlined additional problems facing the Forest Service such as cuts in hazardous fuels funding which has limited the agency’s ability to treat the forests before they burn; the use of “fire borrowing” by the agency which taps other programs for resources to fight fire, and again takes away from the Forest Service’s ability to get lands treated before wildfires start; and the extensive cost to prepare NEPA documents.
The solutions for the problems listed above could come with passage of H.R. 1526 or similar forestry legislation that puts a focus back on managing the forests, limits extensive analysis paralysis and quickly treats high-risk forests. Let’s hope that is the direction Congress takes.
For more information and other news please visit the American Forest Resource Council.