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Forest Health

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. CRAIG. Mr. President, I had hoped that today I would be on the floor debating with my colleagues the issue of Healthy Forests and H.R. 1904. When the chairman of the Agriculture Committee brought the bill to the floor today asking unanimous consent to move forward, there was an objection heard from the other side. I must tell you it is phenomenally frustrating to me that we have worked on this issue in a totally bipartisan mode since the day it came from the House and, yet, there is still objection from the other side on this issue.

The bill brought to the floor today, chaired and lead-sponsored by the chairman of the Agriculture Committee, Senator Cochran, has Senator Daschle, Senator Domenici, Senator Wyden, my colleague from Idaho, Senator Crapo, who chairs the Forestry Subcommittee on Agriculture, Senators FEINSTEIN, LINCOLN, BURNS, JOHNSON, MCCAIN, and CRAIG, who chairs the Forestry Subcommittee in the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, together on this issue.

Yet the other side is saying no. Is it because the fire season is over? Is it because of the rains starting to hit the forests of the Great Basin West, and the smoke clouds that filled the air of the West this summer are depleted? Is that why there is objection now to this legislation?

I and others have been on this floor for the last 3 years pleading with the Congress of the United States, and especially this body, to craft a forest health bill that allows us to begin some active management of our forests, to change the character of our forests, and to improve their health. The House acted this year. The bill came to the Agriculture Committee. My colleague from Idaho, Senator Crapo, chaired the subcommittee, and the work began under the leadership of Senator Cochran. They produced a very good bill. We looked at it in the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. It is not that our committee has not seen it. You darn right we have seen it; for 3 years, this issue has been before the Energy and Natural Resources Committee and my forestry subcommittee. Now the ranking member, Senator Wyden of Oregon, and I—myself chairing—have agreed this is the bill that ought to come to the floor. Yet we are still being told that, no, somehow it hasn't been vetted enough and somehow there is no understanding of this issue.

There is a lot of understanding of this issue. There is a fundamental disagreement between those who want the forests left alone to burn, to let Mother Nature take her course, and those of us who have said the economies of the West, the watersheds of the West, the wildlife of the West, and of all of our public land forests deserve a policy of active management so our forests can return to a state of good health, so our watersheds can produce clear and valuable water for our urban environments, and so the wildlife can flourish; they deserve that. Yet it is being denied by a select few who would see it in an entirely different way.

The President began to speak out on this issue a couple of years ago. He stood in the ashes hip deep in Oregon, where fires ravaged nearly a million acres, and said that somehow this country has to change its policy.

Guess what. Eighty-seven percent of Americans in a recent poll agree that something is wrong in our national forests. It looks something like this: 79 percent of the folks in the West say: Got to fix it. In the Midwest, 82 percent say: Got a problem, ought to fix it. In the South, 84 percent say—and this is the area the chairman of the Agriculture Committee is from—got a problem in our public forests, ought to fix it. And the chairman of the Agriculture Committee, Senator Cochran, set out to do that, along with the Senator from Idaho, Mr. Crapo, and myself.

This is a national issue today. It is not an issue of the elitist or the select few of the environmental community who say nothing should happen on our public lands; that they should be a preserve only managed by Mother Nature. We have seen what Mother Nature has done in the last 5 years. She has burned 3 million to 5 million acres a year. She has destroyed watersheds. She has destroyed wildlife. In many instances, she has destroyed thousands of homes, and she has cost Americans their lives. Many Americans have died in the last few years just trying to fight these unusually hot and devastatingly damaging wildfires that have swept the West.

Here are the facts. The American public understands these fires are destroying our forests. They understand that we need to do more thinning.

Eighty-three percent of the wildland firefighters have told this Congress and the public that the most important step we can take to increase their safety—is to thin these forests.

Because the Sierra Club and the Wilderness Society and other radical environmental groups want no timber harvesting in our Federal forests, we are destroying 6 to 7 million acres of land each year—6 to 7 million acres of wildlife habitat are being destroyed each year.

The bipartisan amendment that was reached as a compromise with 13 of my colleagues responds to the needs of the American public. It responds to those who are concerned about the loss of wildlife habitat. It responds to the wildland firefighters who tell us we need to increase the number of acres thinned each year. And, most importantly it responds to the needs of our forests.

We have seen communities destroyed by fire and important wildlife habitats destroyed. Yet we, in this Senate, fiddle.

I am tired of our fiddling around. We all know that this body must address this issue. We all know the that the bipartisan amendment is a good one that is fair and balanced and good for our forests.

Last year, all we asked for was an up-or-down vote on our amendment, but the minority would not allow that.

This year, a few Members seem to be saying no debate, no vote, and yes to the destruction of or forests. This simply has to stop.

The PRESIDENT pro tempore. The Senator's time has expired.

Mr. CRAIG. Mr. President, that is the issue before us today. It is an issue that this Senate ought to debate. I plead with my colleagues on the other side to work with us to get this bill to the floor for purposes of debate and passage.

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