"Mr. Chairman, I'm pleased to join my colleague, Senator Jon Kyl, as a cosponsor to S. 1344, legislation that provides for the timely removal of post-wildfire dead and drying trees in northern Arizona. This bill is extraordinarily important to my state in terms of job creation, public safety and wildfire prevention.
"As you know, Arizona experienced its largest wildfire in state history this summer with the 538,000-acre Wallow Fire. Left standing are many millions of large ponderosa pine trees that no longer resemble their picturesque appearance nor serve their former ecological purpose but instead pose a safety hazard to roads, private property and utility lines. These trees must be removed quickly lest we encourage the considerable risks of falling trees, potential insect infestations, or reburns.
"I commend the Forest Service for responding to the Wallow Fire burn area with plans to conduct some tree removal under their existing categorical exclusion authority. Unfortunately, the reality is the Wallow Fire area is so vast that many of these dead trees will remain a public danger without a tailored policy for conducting meaningful tree removal operations. This legislation establishes a procedure for removing these dead trees in partnership with forest contractors that is both mindful of environment priorities and economic conditions. The bill would also require that a portion of the tree removal receipts be returned to offset the costs of future thinning projects. Not only is this bill desperately needed for the safety of communities in northern Arizona, it is estimated the tree removal projects that would result from this legislation could create hundreds of local jobs. This bill represents a sensible approach to federal land management policy that I'm proud to support.
"Mr. Chairman, this legislation can help address a federal problem in ways that will benefit both local communities and the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest. However, time is of the essence because every day that passes means a growing mass of dying trees will only compound the devastation caused by one of the worst natural disasters in Arizona history.
"I urge the Committee to quickly pass this legislation."