Each year, wildfires in our nation's federal forests damage or destroy an average of 3.7 million acres across the United States. Right here in Central Washington, more than a dozen fires over the past three months have ravaged over 120,000 acres. The Table Mountain Fire and the Wenatchee Complex Fire alone, both in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, damaged almost 100,000 acres.
These fires have devastated communities and destroyed hundreds of homes and farms. They have also destroyed the very habitat that the federal government has mandated is necessary to protect endangered species.
Unfortunately, poor federal management of millions of acres of forests is making the situation worse. The best way to keep our forests healthy and help reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires is through active and responsible management of our federal forests.
Earlier this year, at a House Natural Resources Committee hearing that I chaired, a senior official of the Forest Service testified that 65 million acres of Forest Service lands are at "high risk of wildfire." Yet, the Obama Administration's Forest Service treated just 4 million acres -- a meager two percent. Each year, Washington's national forests grow three times faster than they die. The lack of proper federal land management imperils neighboring state, local, tribal and private lands that are often better managed through thinning, timber sales and other activities.
Much of this federal inaction is caused by the Forest Service's fear of lawsuits from environmental groups, using the Endangered Species Act and other laws, to block local, state and federal timber fuels reduction and thinning projects.
Ironically, some of these lawsuits aimed at "saving" forests have resulted in their actual destruction, where once old-growth, critical habitat forests now resemble the moon's surface after hot fires. The threat of lawsuits has prevented the Forest Service from reasonable projects to salvage valuable timber, remove dead or diseased trees, maintain access roads to fire areas, and remove ash and sediment that destroy habitat.
According to the Forest Service, the cost of managing Eastern Washington's federal forest wildfires this year exceeds $75 million, not counting costs from damage caused by fires on state and tribal land. These soaring costs further squeeze scarce resources needed for forest management to improve forest health, create jobs, and provide funding for rural schools.
Our forests, communities, and species deserve better than being placed at continual and increasing risk of catastrophic wildfires. As Chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, I will continue working toward policies that force federal land managers to follow their statutory responsibilities to improve forest health, including harvesting timber to protect these lands and local economies.
I also will continue working to ensure that the Endangered Species Act doesn't interfere with protection of our forests, and rural communities and schools dependent on them, so that people can enjoy these beautiful areas for generations to come.