A bipartisan group of lawmakers from Oregon, Washington, and South Dakota today introduced legislation to give federal forest managers and scientists the tools they need to do necessary work on choked and beetle-infested forests to avoid catastrophic wildfire and put rural Americans back to work taking care of the forests again.
The legislation was introduced by Reps. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-S.D.), Brian Baird (D-Wash.), and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.). Between the five representatives, their districts represent a total of over 112.4 million acres, or 175,755 square miles of land, and have over 15.3 million acres of national forest, an area about the size of West Virginia.
The Healthy Forests Restoration Amendments Act of 2009 would amend the original bipartisan and successful Healthy Forests Restoration Act (HFRA), which was signed into law in 2003. Where implemented, it has reduced the incidence and severity of catastrophic wildfire.
Since the bill was signed into law, however, wildfires have burned more than 40 million acres in the United States, an area larger than North Dakota, and have devastated habitat, water sources, and communities in rural America. The new legislation would give federal foresters and scientists the clear authority to use the proven-to-work tools in HFRA to address areas of the forests at highest risk of catastrophic wildfire.
The bipartisan group also introduced a second bill, the Incentives to Increase Use of Renewable Biomass Act of 2009, which would encourage the renewable biomass energy industry to take firm roots by encouraging universities, public schools, hospitals, local governments, and Tribes at non-gaming facilities to use clean biomass energy, heating, or cooling systems.
"Perhaps it's how I was brought up on a cherry farm or owning a small business for over 21 years, but one thing I learned is that you don't solve a problem by ignoring it," Rep. Walden said. "We've ignored federal forests long enough to take stock of the results: staggering unemployment in rural Oregon, catastrophic wildfire, massive bug kill, and threatened habitat and watersheds. Simply put, our federal forests are a national treasure in peril. It's time to act and get our rural communities working and taking care of the forests again."
"Forests can be managed in an environmentally-friendly way while producing much needed jobs in our communities," Rep. Schrader said. "We need to recognize the economic and stewardship opportunities available in our national forests that will go a long way toward creating more jobs and managing our natural resources in a more sustainable way; and that is exactly what these two bills will accomplish. I'm proud to join Congressman Walden, my co-chair on the Healthy Forest Caucus, and the rest of my colleagues in continuing to advocate for bi-partisan solutions that help our local rural communities."
"This bipartisan package of measures represents an innovative way forward in forest and energy policy," Rep. Herseth Sandlin said. "These bills will reduce wildfire risk, incentivize sound forest management and the use of woody biomass as a source of renewable energy, and create jobs in rural communities in western South Dakota. Taken together, I'm convinced these pieces of legislation will not only produce healthier forests and reduce wild fire risk, but complement efforts in the 2007 Energy Bill and jump start our nation's effort to become truly energy independent."
"Eastern Washington has felt the devastating effects of the Mountain Pine Beetle," Rep. McMorris Rodgers said. "These effects, together with the lack of forest management, have left our forests vulnerable to dangerous and costly wildfires. We need to update the Healthy Forest Restoration Act to ensure that foresters and scientists have the tools they need to protect our forests and give them the resiliency they need to survive changing environments."
"The focus of fuel reductions must be shifted to Condition Class II and III forested areas that pose the highest risk of catastrophic wildfires," Rep. Baird said. Doing so would simultaneously improve the health of our forests, reduce the risk of wildfires, and provide raw materials needed to sustain our forest products infrastructure."
Support for the legislation:
"The Healthy Forests Restoration Act was passed in 2003 to address catastrophic wildfire, insects and disease through forest restoration projects, but needs clarifying amendments to allow its intended implementation on the ground. To give our forests a fighting chance to adapt to a changing climate, we must restore health and resiliency. We believe this legislation will help accomplish this goal."
-- Bernard Hubbard, president, Society of American Foresters
"It's been six years and it's time to make a few modifications so that the HFRA truly accomplishes what was intended--namely to prevent catastrophic wildfires and insect and disease infestations."
-- Tom Thompson, former deputy chief of the USFS
"Forest managers would welcome the opportunity to plan and prescribe treatments that better match the scale of the problems that exist. Concerns about the effects of climate change and carbon losses only add to the impor¬tance of getting more effective treatments quickly underway. Forest health and fuel treatments can be very costly when most of the material removed has little or no value. Biomass fuel use would offer a great tool to help cover treatment costs while also providing low-cost energy for public buildings in local communities."
-- Dr. Paul Adams, College of Forestry, Oregon State University
"Future climate scenarios predict longer, drier, hotter, summers which will lead to greater wildfire activity and more insect outbreaks with a very real threat of regeneration failure after disturbance. Letting forests die and burn in an¬ticipation that the past forest will replicate itself in a future with large uncertainties around future climate conditions is a high risk approach. The potential for these forests to act as carbon sources instead of carbon sinks in the very near future is substantial. By thinning these forests to a level consistent with their carrying capacity, we can mitigate wildfire and insect impacts, and build resilience into the system while choosing the specimens and species that we think can survive and perpetuate on these landscapes. In effect thinning becomes both the climate mitigation and the adaptation strategy on these forests."
-- Dr. Elaine Oneil, School of Forest Resources, University of Washington
"This legislation goes a long way toward facilitating fuel reduction and restoring health and resiliency to our national forests and surrounding communities. This will help insure those forests provide environmental benefits everyone expects. Despite all the biomass that is available here in Oregon, the use of biomass for energy produc¬tion here in central Oregon has not progressed as fast as we had hoped primarily due to up-front costs."
-- Dr. Stephen Fitzgerald, Oregon State University, professor of silviculture & wildland fire specialist
"Since HFRA was passed, in Deschutes County we have completed seven community fire plans, treated 103,833 acres of national forest lands, and treated an additional 63,100 acres of private lands. All of these acres are within the designated Wildland-Urban Interface as identified by Community Wildfire Protection Plans and we have not lost one home to wildland fire. This is a classic example of where federal legislation works and works as was intended."
-- Joe Stutler, Deschutes County Forester, Oregon