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Forest Emergency Recovery and Research Act

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. WALDEN of Oregon. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

I am delighted today to bring H.R. 4200 to the House for its consideration. I have spoken on it during the debate on the rule. This legislation is extraordinarily important for America to become a better steward of her forests.

Our Committee on the Forest and Forest Health has traveled the Nation's forests. We have listened to the experts from the scientific community. We have listened to the experts in the fire-fighting community. We have held field hearings where we have heard from tribal leaders who manage forestlands and move quickly after catastrophic events. We have met with State foresters who, in many cases, are in after a major forest fire or blowdown in a matter of days, if not weeks, doing what we propose to allow your Federal Land Management Agencies to do. You see, every other manager of Federal forest does what we are trying to put in place here.

We do require that environmental laws be followed. We do provide for administrative appeal and litigation. What we require is that the underlying forest plans be followed. And if those forest plans say you can't harvest here and you have to do this sort of retention there for snags and habitat, then you have to do that. We don't change any of that. We require a site-specific evaluation, so it isn't a one-size-fits-all plan. We don't do that from here. We just say, whatever your plan called for, whatever the scientists on the ground say needs to be done, let us give our Federal land managers the authority to move quicker than they can move today if an emergency exists.

It is precisely what we expect out of our Federal Emergency Management Agency and, yes, demand: quick action after a hurricane in southern States, let us say, to clean up, to restore, to prevent erosion, to fix roads, to do the things that Americans expect and actually think are being done.

We want to protect our watersheds, and this legislation will help us do that.

The timber that comes out, if that is what the decision is, will have value. Today, when it takes 2 to 3 years to harvest a burned, dead tree that bugs have been in, that rot has occurred and nobody bids on it, it has no value, or very little by then. What the Congressional Budget Office found, unlike what my colleague from New Mexico said is, what they found is by passing this legislation, we would actually act quicker and the trees wouldn't have deteriorated, and the receipts to the Federal Government would be up 40 percent, not that we would harvest that many more trees necessarily. But you do it while they still have value. And that makes sense to the taxpayers and the forests.

Mr. Chairman, at this time I yield 3 1/2 minutes to the gentleman from Minnesota, the chairman of the Forest Committee and the Agriculture Committee, Mr. Gutknecht.


Mr. WALDEN of Oregon. Madam Chairman, I certainly appreciate all of the work that Mr. Duncan has done on our Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health, and the gentleman's comments today really, I think, make a very, very strong point.

We have more forested acres today than we did 100 years ago, and we have more trees today than we did. In fact, one of the issues we face in America's forests in the West is overstocked forests. And when forests get overstocked, then bugs come in, nature takes over, you have disease, you have stressed trees, and often they die. And then you get a fire.

You have seen earlier in the debate pictures of these forests after they have burned. Now I represent a district that is nearly 70,000 square miles, home to, I think, 10 or 11 national forests. More than half of the land mass of the district I represent is in government ownership.

I love to get out and backpack and hike. I was up on Dog Mountain this weekend in Columbia Gorge. I love these forests.

I want healthy green forests, I want to protect the watersheds. I also drive through forests that burned years ago and nothing has been done to recover them. There are valuable stands of timber there that could have been harvested to pay for the recovery effort. The Congressional Budget Office says if we allow the Forest Service and the BLM to move quicker on the projects they deem to be appropriate under their planning documents and in compliance with the Federal environmental laws, we could actually increase receipts by 40 percent from those sales. Forty percent. We could pay for the restoration work. We could restore the forests.

Now, you have heard comments today about how do we define a disaster. Well, we define it virtually identically to the way the Federal Emergency Management Agency defines a major disaster. The language is almost identical. It means any natural catastrophic catastrophe, including any hurricane, tornado, storm, high water, wind-driven water, tidal wave, tsunami, earthquake, volcanic eruption, landslide, mudslide, snowslide, drought. All of those things contribute to a catastrophe in America's forests, and so we use the same definition. So if you don't like our definition here, well then maybe we need to change FEMA. But I don't think anybody would stand for that in an emergency. If we have an emergency in a forest, the emergency doesn't end when the smoke clears.

We have also heard today, erroneously, no site evaluation. We would wipe that out. Nobody would ever have to go on the ground. That is not true. Go to page 32 of the manager's amendment that we are debating today: We require the agencies to show rationale for their decision, economic analysis and justification, an analysis of the environmental effects of the project, and how such effects will be minimized or mitigated consistent with applicable land and resource management plan. And it goes on through.

And let me say, we continually heard this nonsense that somehow you can do this without ever following the Clean Water Act or Safe Drinking Water Act or the Endangered Species, and that is simply not the case; because Americans act, and that is simply not the case; because Americans under our law would have the same right they have under existing law in the Healthy Forest Restoration Act to appeal, and to appeal to a court of law who would immediately shut down a project with a temporary restraining order, stop them in their tracks if they didn't follow existing Federal law. The safeguards are in this bill to do what is needed to be done to improve America's forests, to get them back into restored status, to move quickly after a catastrophe, after a disaster, as we expect the government to do after a lot of different events that occur in our country. We just want to be able to do that in our forests as well, like every other forestland manager has the authority to do.

Madam Chairman, I reserve the balance of my time.


Mr. WALDEN of Oregon. I would like to take a moment to outline just how Forest Emergency Recovery and Research Act complies with the NEPA standards and often exceeds those standards.

The Forest Emergency Recovery and Research Act requires public notice, public collaboration, and an opportunity for the public to object to any proposed action. Read the bill: Pages 22, 23, 24, 25, 33, and 34. It is right there in black and white.

The judicial review requirement under this bill is identical to those in the Healthy Forest Restoration Act which Congress passed last year. See page 35. Now, we actually passed that a couple years ago, and I know my friend and colleague from West Virginia voted against it when it was in the House and voted against the conference report when it came back. So it is no surprise because he doesn't like this bill because he hated the Healthy Forest Restoration Act even after the Senate voice-voted it, as did my colleague from New Mexico, Mr. Udall, opposed the Healthy Forest Restoration Act. So some of the same people who are here today saying we are going to do all these awful things said the same thing a couple years ago when we passed the Healthy Forest Restoration Act. Ironically, some of those same Members now say, oh, we are not fully implementing the Healthy Forest Restoration Act and we should be doing more on that. We wouldn't have it if they had been in charge because they voted against it every time they had an opportunity.

The Forest Emergency Recovery and Research Act also requires disclosure of the decision rationale, economic analysis, and analysis of the environmental effects of the project which leads to a very transparent agency process, page 32. We require independent, third-party, scientific peer review of recovery practices. See page 13 and page 24.

These are just a few examples of how this legislation complies with the intent of NEPA, and if the agency fails to comply with all these things, we prescribe in the law they can be sued. If they fail to comply with the very laws that have been identified by my colleague, they can be sued.

These projects can be halted. We do not say do anything you want, notwithstanding any other Federal law, including all the ones you have heard listed repeatedly. Those laws still have to be complied with.

Currently there are bills that actually go further than where this bill goes. They would waive environmental documentation altogether. My friend and colleague, the gentleman from Colorado (Mr. Udall), one of the most vocal critics of this legislation, has introduced H.R. 4875, which, through categorical exclusion, would waive environmental documentation completely for insect emergency areas in Colorado. We do not do that here.

I read where one of the opponents of this legislation worked on the sale in the Biscuit fire, and said we do not need this bill, we did 16 million boardfeet of harvest, and we did it using existing laws. Yeah, they used a categorical exclusion which you cannot even do now.

We have a balanced bill here. It involves the public. It tracks with what we did with the Healthy Forest Restoration Act to allow for free decisional appeals and for judicial appeal.

It is backed by all kinds of groups that love to be in the outdoors, the Bear Trust International, Boone and Crockett Club, the Bow Hunting Preservation Alliance, the Archery Trade, the Congressional Sportsmen Caucus, you go through it, people are out there enjoying the woods, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, the Deer Management Association, and professional firefighters groups and the Society of American Foresters.

We are trying to give our Federal land managers the troops that our State and tribal land managers have, and we are trying to allow them to be able to move quicker and still involve the public because this Member of Congress believes fundamentally the public should have the right to appeal a decision of the government, and this bill allows that.

Mr. Chairman, I reserve the balance of my time.


Mr. WALDEN of Oregon. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Chairman, I appreciate the comments of my colleague and friend from southern Oregon, and we have tried to come together on this legislation, and we have not quite gotten there yet, but I have to rise in opposition to his amendment.

The term ``timber production land'' means different things when discussing different forests. Even in the broadest sense, land where timber is the primary objective has been steadily decreasing, reflecting a shifting focus on timber production to using harvest for other purposes, such as wildlife habitat, hazardous fuels reduction or forest health.

For example, in Oregon there are 32 million acres of BLM and national forestlands. Less than 20 percent is designated for timber production. In the State of California, of the 12 national forests in the Sierra framework, totaling over 11 million acres, only 1 percent is designated as timber production land.

These figures illustrate just what a devastating effect the amendment would have. It would be very, very restrictive, guaranteeing only a very small portion of the Nation's forests would have proper recovery efforts in the event of a catastrophe. Obviously, a quicker review and recovery is necessary than what this amendment would allow at this point.

Mr. Chairman, I yield 2 minutes to the gentleman from Alabama (Mr. Everett).


Mr. WALDEN of Oregon. Mr. Chairman, I would just comment to my colleague from Oregon that we looked at using the HFRA procedures, and they are just not fast enough. When you have a catastrophe, an emergency, the agency has testified before our committee that the Chief of the Forest Service has said, yes, I was able to use the Healthy Forest Restoration Act procedures even in Katrina because the trees were on the ground, and they posed a fire threat. I said, why can't you use those then when a forest is burned when the trees are still standing? He said it is a different threat.

He also said that had he had this, and he wants this authority, by the way, and had he had it, he would have been able to move quicker. And that is really the underlying issue here is the ability to move without upending any of the environmental laws, but move quicker procedurally. The public still has a right to input; the public still has the right to object and appeal and to stop a project if a law is being violated.

Finally, I would just conclude regarding this amendment that, indeed, it is so proscriptive that very few forests would be able to take advantage of the underlying legislation. Again, only about 1 percent the Sierra framework forest in California, most of the Southeast forests would be excluded, and actually very few in the Northwest.

So I hope my colleague from Oregon, my friend, and I can continue to work on this legislation as it moves forward to find common ground, but we think we have found pretty good balance right here, the Republicans and Democrats that are cosponsoring this bill and have worked now on the 50th draft to work out all the issues before bringing it to the Committee of the Whole for its consideration. So I urge opposition to the DeFazio amendment.


Mr. WALDEN of Oregon. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

I am trying to figure out the gentleman's arguments, because I have here the Congressional Budget Office cost estimate for the Forest Emergency Recovery and Research Act, and it talks about how if H.R. 4200 would pass, it would increase proceeds from salvage sales on average by 40 percent. Assuming the agencies would phase in the use of the new procedures over several years, we estimate increased receipts would begin in 2008 and total $122 million over the 2008 through 2016 period.

Now, they go through and have a bunch of other numbers they work through on what would be offset, but the long and short of it is that over the next 7 years, it is something like $21 million additional to the Treasury simply by eliminating the bureaucratic red tape that delays the projects until the trees have no value.

So the fiscally prudent argument here is to follow the only number sheet I can find, the Congressional Budget Office report, where the experts have evaluated the bill independently of any politics and said this bill makes money, and it makes sense.

Now, let us go to the bill. On page 25 of the manager's amendment, it talks about this issue of roadless. We were sensitive to this issue. We addressed this issue. And it requires that any preapproved management practice may not authorize any permanent road building, and any temporary road constructed as part of a preapproved management practice shall be obliterated upon conclusion of the practice and the road area restored to the extent practicable.

Now, some people will say, well, that is just in the statute. That is just in the law. They don't do it now, they won't do it then, whatever. They will make it up. The contracts also require this. The contracts written by the Forest Service that are entered into as a legal, binding document will require a bond, will require obliteration. They work all that out there, but the statute backs it up and says obliterate the temporary roads. So it is all part of the management practice that would go on, and it is codified here in the statute.

So I just am not quite sure where the gentleman is going with all this. The new roadless rule allows each of the 38 States with roadless areas to participate in the development of their own State's specific plan. A lot of these States are undergoing that now, and we should let them have that local authority to help guide the Federal Government in that planning.

Simply put, if a forest plan prohibits road building in an area, then this legislation prohibits that, because the underlying forest plans are what dictates what happens. Roadless stays roadless. H.R. 4200 will not create any new permanent roads. The only roads allowed are temporary roads, which must be removed after completion of the project. It is in the statute we propose that the Congress pass.

So we have put it in statute. I am sure it is also in the contracts that get negotiated, and we have been very clear on this. So I would urge opposition to the amendment.

Mr. Chairman, I reserve the balance of my time.


Mr. WALDEN of Oregon. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself 30 seconds, and I understand I have 2 minutes remaining.

I just want to say that this bill grants no new authority to build roads anywhere, anytime. To say so is to make it up. It is that simple. It does not say go build roads anywhere, anytime. That is not a new authority in this bill.

Mr. Chairman, I yield the balance of my time to the gentleman from Washington (Mr. Baird).


Mr. WALDEN of Oregon. Again, Mr. Chairman, let me say that the national organizations that represent the men and women who put their lives on the line to put out fires support this legislation. The national organizations, the Fire Chiefs International, the Forest Firefighters folks, support this legislation because they know what it will do and how important it is.

The Udall amendment may sound plausible, may sound reasonable, and it is neither. The Udall amendment is based on the theory that salvage increases fire risk. Wildfire fighting associations representing over 12,000 firefighters disagree.

This amendment also requires that no practice may be carried out unless the Secretary certifies the practice or project will not increase fire risk or decrease forest regeneration.

Now, if you haven't been involved in this discussion like we have in nine hearings and 50 drafts, you would think, well, that sounds reasonable. We wouldn't want to do anything that would increase fire risk or maybe decrease regeneration.

Well, let me give you an example of what happens in the real world. Imagine the following scenario: Logging creates logging slash. Under contractual agreements it must be cleaned up, often within 30 days. The agency could get sued because of the increased fire risk that exists during that 30-day period.

To do a recovery after a hurricane, the Forest Service proposes a salvage sale to capture value, remove hazardous fuels and plant a mix of willow species and riparian areas and mixed conifers on the drier sites. A lawsuit could be filed saying the agency hasn't proven that one seedling that survived that fire or that hurricane would be affected. So otherwise they can get you coming and going. You can't prove that an action in the forest will not have any effect. If you go hiking in the forest, you could step on a seedling.

And I am going to tell you, if you do a project in the forest you are going to have an effect. That is why our legislation requires mitigation and minimalization.

I reserve the balance of my time.


Mr. WALDEN of Oregon. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself 30 seconds.

One of the issues here with the amendment is there no specified time period. There is no specified landscape. It is wide open.

Does this mean anytime, anywhere in the forest you might step on a seedling, then, boom, you are going to get sued?

As for Mr. Donato, let us be forthright about this. The BLM did suspend the funding while they responded to allegations they hadn't followed the rules. When they got the answers, they were satisfied with them and the funding continued and the research continues. And even Mr. Donato said, don't overinterpret my findings.

I yield 2 minutes to my colleague from Washington (Mr. Baird).


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