Witnesses and lawmakers agreed at a House Natural Resources Committee hearing yesterday that a lack of federal forest management is increasingly putting the public and the environment at risk from dangerous wildfires.
Last year, 9.3 million acres burned in forest fires — the third worst fire season on record — while the Forest Service harvested only 200,000 acres.
“There will always be drought, there will always be heat spells, and there will always be fire that is out of our control,” said committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.). “While our hearts are with the families and communities affected by wildfire and those who put themselves in harm’s way to protect us from it, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and what must be cured are the overgrown and unhealthy forests that are in many cases providing the fuel for these fires.”
James Hubbard, Deputy Chief, State and Private Forestry, U.S. Department of Agriculture, acknowledged “it is widely recognized that management of our forest resources has not kept pace with the ever increasing need for restoration.”
“We must manage and restore more acres to reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfire, to address insects and disease, and to restore the ecological health of forests for the benefit of all Americans,” he said.
“We recovered significant economic value from dead and dying trees, and the reduction in forest density promoted forest health and resiliency,” said Phil Rigdon, deputy director of the Yakama Indian Nation Department of Natural Resources. “While such forest health treatments are common on tribal lands, it would be a challenge to find similar speed, scope and effectiveness on federal forests.”
Even Christopher Topik, director of the Resorting America’s Forests initiative at The Nature Conservancy, said “our current approach to wildland fire and forest management creates a false choice, pitting the viability of one against the other.”
“We must collectively and immediately dedicate ourselves to finding a way to effectively support both essential emergency wildfire preparedness and response AND the proactive fuels reduction and forest restoration that are needed to reduce the demand for emergency expenditures in the future,” he said.
In 2012, 44 times more acres burned than were harvested. The Forest Service estimates 65-82 million acres of its lands are at “high risk of wildfires.”