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Walden Speaks to Oregon Forest Industries Council About Need for Recovery Following Catastrophic Events in America's Forests

Location: Washington, DC

Walden Speaks to Oregon Forest Industries Council About Need for Recovery Following Catastrophic Events in America's Forests
Monday, October 10, 2005

Forests and Forest Health Subcommittee Chairman addresses the need for emergency recovery and restoration on damaged forestlands, cites recent devastation from Katrina as example

WASHINGTON, DC - U.S. Congressman Greg Walden (R-OR), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health, today delivered the keynote speech at the annual conference of the Oregon Forest Industries Council. Before the group of nearly 200 gathered in Corvallis, Oregon, Walden spoke of the benefits provided by the 2003 Healthy Forests Restoration Act (HFRA), which he coauthored, and the need to monitor that Act's implementation while also engaging in efforts to ensure land managers are able to responsibly and effectively restore forests after catastrophic events destroy their health and vitality.

"Throughout the last two years, as chairman of the Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health, I have held numerous hearings on forest restoration and recovery needs following devastation inflicted by a catastrophic event. Over the course of these hearings, I have never heard of an event inflicting such devastation as did Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast in late August," said Walden, referring to a Subcommittee hearing held last week on recovery and restoration efforts in the aftermath of Katrina.

"Here in the West we think of fire first and foremost, but forests across America are impacted not only by wildfire, but also by ice, bug infestation and - as we learned all too well this summer - hurricanes. When Hurricane Katrina swept through the Gulf Coast destroying lives and cities, the storm also wreaked havoc on forestlands in Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi," he added.

Five million acres along the Gulf Coast containing nearly 20 billion board feet of timber were impacted by Katrina's 140 mile per hour winds. This timber, which could have built roughly 800,000 homes and made 25 million tons of paper, was valued at approximately $5 billion.

"The economic loss hits not only families, but also public institutions as well. Mississippi, for example, has land set aside to provide revenue for public schools. Most of that land was planted with timber that has now been destroyed, dramatically impacting future public school funding. Additionally, property tax receipts - Mississippi's other main mechanism for school funding - will decline due to diminished value of land and property," said Walden.

The ravaged forests pose immediate environmental risks to species, habitat and the quality of water and air throughout the region. Additionally, several witnesses at last week's hearing testified that the millions of acres of dead and dying timber, coupled with additional storm debris, have created an enormous fire risk. These lands now face fuel loads ranging between 10-20 times normal levels, and should fire break out, the felled timber and destroyed local infrastructure will make it exacerbate the problem making it excessively difficult to fight fire.

U.S. Forest Service (USFS) Chief Dale Bosworth said in testimony submitted to the Subcommittee, "One of the most important recovery challenges is the need to begin removing dead and downed trees from the forests as quickly as possible. We are concerned about the amount of new fuel now on the forest floor...Greater fuel loading will increase the intensity of a wildfire, causing it to burn hotter and making it more difficult to control."

"Under authorities provided in HFRA, federal land managers have been able to expeditiously remove threatening fuel loads from the forest floor. However, dead trees that are still standing may not be removed under HFRA and are instead left to rot, impeding reforestation efforts that could lead to healthy and thriving forests. As stewards of our public lands, this is not a practice we should be comfortable with," said Walden.

As former USFS Chief and board member for the National Association of Forest Service Retirees (NAFSR) Max Peterson testified, "The public has the right to expect that the government be prepared to take prompt, effective action to mitigate the adverse consequences" following the devastation brought by catastrophic events. He went on to say that the NAFSR urges "that procedural requirements be streamlined so that timely action can be taken. [They] believe there must be a balancing of the reasonably expected consequences of the proposed rehabilitative actions against the reasonably expected long term consequences of no action."

Agreeing with Peterson's assessment and recognizing the tremendous immediate and long-term threats posed by leaving timber stands dead and dying, Walden is currently drafting bipartisan legislation to address the needs of forest restoration and recovery following catastrophic events. His legislation would help provide federal land managers with the tools and resources necessary to responsibly, efficiently and expeditiously restore the health and vitality of our nation's forests.

"Such efforts are critical to the immediate protection of these lands from additional devastation as well as to the longevity of our forests for generations to come," said Walden.

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