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Public Statements

The Health of Our Forests

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

THE HEALTH OF OUR FORESTS

Mr. CRAIG. Mr. President, I thought I would spend a few moments this morning talking about an impending crisis that is offshore of the east coast at this moment that may well be headed our way.

Hurricane Isabel could well make its way into this region and do great devastation. That devastation could well be to the forests and the timberlands of North Carolina and Virginia. And it could well be in some areas of Maryland, where it could come ashore.

The reason I stand before the Senate this morning to talk about it is that we in the West are experiencing another kind of catastrophic event in our forests. They are called wildfires. Yet somehow we in the Senate, in the shaping of public policy, do not look at hurricane crises in our forests and our public lands the way we look at wildfires. In August of 1910, a wildfire started in Idaho and Montana, and 3 days later 3 million acres of land were gone.

Our forest health problems are not isolated to the problems of the rural West. In 1989, Hurricane Hugo slammed ashore near Charleston, SC, and cut a path northwest through North Carolina and into Virginia. On the Francis Marion National Forest, 70 percent of the trees were killed. We, the Government, immediately expedited the process of cleanup, salvage, and replanting, funneling millions of dollars into that effort. This is a similar expected path of Hurricane Isabel, and the Governor of Virginia has already declared a state of emergency.

In January of 1998, over 17 million acres of forests were heavily damaged in an ice storm that stretched across New York State, New Hampshire, Vermont, and into Maine. We responded appropriately with $48 million to help in the cleanup.

In the spring of 1999, when a blowdown, followed by a southern bark beetle epidemic, hit the Texas National Forests, we provided emergency exemptions that allowed managers to enter into wilderness areas—believe it or not—to sanitize the stands to slow down the insect infestation.

Just last year, in the supplemental Defense appropriations bill, we helped Senator Daschle and Senator Johnson deal with forest health emergencies in their State of South Dakota by suggesting that, by law, NEPA appeals not be able to be litigated.

Each time, a commonsense approach was supported by this body when a crisis hit our public forests. Each time, we reached out to our neighbors and said: We will help clean up the forests to ensure the health of the forests and to ensure the vitality of those forests for wildlife and for human life.

As the Healthy Forest legislation comes up for debate, the Senator from New Mexico—who is in the Chamber now to handle the energy and water appropriations bill—and I, the other Senator from Idaho, MIKE CRAPO, and the Senator
from Mississippi have been working with our colleagues from California and Oregon to assure that we can begin a process on the public lands of the West to attempt to clean them up, to reassure healthy forests. Yet somehow—by some groups, and by some Senators—it is looked at as an entirely different process from what Hurricane Isabel could well do to the forests of the Carolinas and to the forests of Virginia.

Out West and across other forests of our country, this year we have lost nearly 4 million acres to wildfire and yet we struggle to get the money, we struggle to get the right to allow the process to clean up, to rehabilitate and reestablish the environment of these forests. It is time we wake up. What is happening to the forests of the West today is natural. It is a result of bug kill, it is a result of drought, and it is a result of us taking fire out of the ecosystems a good number of years ago. Somehow now we are not being allowed to treat it the very way we have allowed hurricane damage and other natural damages to be treated.

So I plead with the Congress, I plead with this Senate, to realize this, to work with us to build a healthy forest bill. I thought it was appropriate to come to the Senate floor to say this at a time when Isabel is about ready to hit land and begin to damage the forests of the East Coast.

I yield the floor.

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