SPEAKERS CONTENTS INSERTS
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PUBLIC SAFETY CONCERNS AND
FOREST MANAGEMENT HURDLES IN
THE BLACK HILLS NATIONAL FOREST
SUBCOMMITTEE ON DEPARTMENT OPERATIONS,
OVERSIGHT, NUTRITION, AND FORESTRY
COMMITTEE ON AGRICULTURE
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
ONE HUNDRED SEVENTH CONGRESS
JUNE 6, 2002
Serial No. 10716
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Printed for the use of the Committee on Agriculture
COMMITTEE ON AGRICULTURE
LARRY COMBEST, Texas, Chairman
JOHN A. BOEHNER, Ohio
BOB GOODLATTE, Virginia
RICHARD W. POMBO, California
NICK SMITH, Michigan
TERRY EVERETT, Alabama
FRANK D. LUCAS, Oklahoma
SAXBY CHAMBLISS, Georgia
JERRY MORAN, Kansas
BOB SCHAFFER, Colorado
JOHN R. THUNE, South Dakota
WILLIAM L. JENKINS, Tennessee
JOHN COOKSEY, Louisiana
GIL GUTKNECHT, Minnesota
BOB RILEY, Alabama
MICHAEL K. SIMPSON, Idaho
DOUG OSE, California
ROBIN HAYES, North Carolina
CHARLES W. ''CHIP'' PICKERING, Mississippi
Page 3 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCTIMOTHY V. JOHNSON, Illinois
TOM OSBORNE, Nebraska
MIKE PENCE, Indiana
DENNIS R. REHBERG, Montana
SAM GRAVES, Missouri
ADAM H. PUTNAM, Florida
MARK R. KENNEDY, Minnesota
CHARLES W. STENHOLM, Texas,
Ranking Minority Member
GARY A. CONDIT, California
COLLIN C. PETERSON, Minnesota
CALVIN M. DOOLEY, California
EVA M. CLAYTON, North Carolina
EARL F. HILLIARD, Alabama
TIM HOLDEN, Pennsylvania
SANFORD D. BISHOP, Jr., Georgia
BENNIE G. THOMPSON, Mississippi
JOHN ELIAS BALDACCI, Maine
MARION BERRY, Arkansas
MIKE McINTYRE, North Carolina
BOB ETHERIDGE, North Carolina
LEONARD L. BOSWELL, Iowa
DAVID D. PHELPS, Illinois
KEN LUCAS, Kentucky
Page 4 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCMIKE THOMPSON, California
BARON P. HILL, Indiana
JOE BACA, California
RICK LARSEN, Washington
MIKE ROSS, Arkansas
ANÍBAL ACEVEDO-VILÁ, Puerto Rico
RON KIND, Wisconsin
RONNIE SHOWS, Mississippi
WILLIAM E. O'CONNER, JR., Staff Director
LANCE KOTSCHWAR, Chief Counsel
STEPHEN HATERIUS, Minority Staff Director
KEITH WILLIAMS, Communications Director
Subcommittee on Department Operations, Oversight, Nutrition, and Forestry
BOB GOODLATTE, Virginia, Chairman
RICHARD W. POMBO, California
JERRY MORAN, Kansas
JOHN COOKSEY, Louisiana
MICHAEL K. SIMPSON, Illinois
DENNIS R. REHBERG, Montana
Page 5 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCADAM H. PUTNAM, Florida
EVA M. CLAYTON, North Carolina,
Ranking Minority Member
MARION BERRY, Arkansas
ANÍBAL ACEVEDO-VILÁ, Puerto Rico
TIM HOLDEN, Pennsylvania
JOHN ELIAS BALDACCI, Maine
RONNIE SHOWS, Mississippi
BRENT W. GATTIS, Subcommittee Staff Director
C O N T E N T S
Clayton, Hon. Eva M., a Representative in Congress from the State of North Carolina, opening statement
Goodlatte, Hon. Bob, a Representative in Congress from the Commonwealth of Virginia, opening statement
Thune, Hon. John R., a Representative in Congress from the State of South Dakota, opening statement
Finn, Rick, land owner, Sturgis, SD
Rey, Mark E., Under Secretary, Natural Resources and the Environment, U.S. Department of Agriculture
Page 6 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCPrepared statement
Twiss, John, Forest Supervisor, Black Hills National Forest, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Custer, SD
PUBLIC SAFETY CONCERNS AND FOREST MANAGEMENT HURDLES IN THE BLACK HILLS NATIONAL FOREST
THURSDAY, JUNE 6, 2002
House of Representatives,
Subcommittee on Department Operations,
Oversight, Nutrition and Forestry,
Committee on Agriculture,
The subcommittee met, pursuant to call, at 1:15 p.m., in room 1300, Longworth House Office Building, Hon. Bob Goodlatte (chairman of the subcommittee) presiding.
Present: Representatives Moran and Clayton.
Also present: Representative Thune.
Staff present: Brent Gattis, subcommittee staff director; Callista Gingrich, clerk; Kathleen Elder, Anne Hazlett, Ryan O'Neal, Kellie Rogers, and Quinton Robinson.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Good afternoon. This hearing of the Subcommittee on Department Operations, Oversight, Nutrition, and Forestry to review public safety concerns and forest management hurdles in the Black Hills National Forest will come to order.
Although Mr. Thune is not a member of the subcommittee, the Black Hills Forest is located in his congressional district. I would ask unanimous consent to allow Mr. Thune to participate in today's subcommittee hearing.
Page 7 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Hearing no objection, so ordered.
OPENING STATEMENT OF HON. BOB GOODLATTE, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA
Mr. GOODLATTE. This is the first post-farm bill hearing of the subcommittee. Today we will take a serious look at what Mr. Thune brought to my attention during the farm bill conference negotiations, a significant problem that I and countless others believe constitutes an emergency in the Black Hills National Forest of South Dakota.
Many areas within the Black Hills National Forest are experiencing a severe mountain pine beetle outbreak that has developed into a very real threat of catastrophic wildfire to the forest and surrounding property and communities. The unhealthy forest condition in some areas of overly dense tree canopies and large fuel loads has only been exacerbated by this devastating beetle outbreak that is killing trees at a rate that far exceeds that of a healthy forest. Two areas that are of particular concern, due to the fact that the Forest Service is unable to conduct management to reduce the threat and prevent catastrophe, the Beaver Park area and the Norbeck Wildlife Preserve.
These two areas within the forest are currently being litigated. This litigation has tied the Forest Service's hands and stopped them from conducting necessary management to reduce the threat.
We tried during the farm bill conference to include an amendment that would have given the Forest Service the ability to, quite simply, do their job and conduct fuel reduction activities to reduce the threat of catastrophic fire; but, unfortunately, we were flatly turned down by the Senate Democrats led by Senator Tom Daschle.
I believe legislative action is needed and is needed now to avert catastrophe. Moisture levels in the Black Hills are below level and they are seeing new fire starts almost daily. It is just a matter of time before fire starts becomes uncontrollable in these areas.
Page 8 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The people of South Dakota who live, work and recreate in the Black Hills are urging their Representatives in Congress to immediately manage the area. I have seen a petition signed by over 1,300 residents of the area urging immediate management; a letter of support for a legislative authority from the Governor of South Dakota; letters of support from seven mayors from the adjacent communities; a resolution passed by the State legislature, House and Senate, supporting immediate management to reduce the fire risk; letters from professional foresters detailing the devastation that has already occurred and what is yet to come if management is not allowed; and many more letters from individuals and organizations who represent the people in these communities who are at a very real risk to significant wildfire.
The environmentalists are on record denying emergency conditions exist and denying the catastrophic fire hazard proposed by these areas.
It is time to take action. We are neglecting our responsibility to act as stewards of our Nation's forests when we sit by and let catastrophe occur. We need to look for ways to give the Forest Service the ability to do what Congress originally authorized them to do in 1905 when they created the Forest Servicemanage the forest.
We know catastrophe is heading towards the Beaver Park and Norbeck areas of the Black Hills National Forest, and we should act to protect the forest and surrounding communities from likely devastation.
It is now my pleasure to recognize the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee, Congresswoman Clayton of North Carolina.
OPENING STATEMENT OF HON. EVA M. CLAYTON A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA
Mrs. CLAYTON. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you for holding the hearing. I look forward to hearing the testimony.
Page 9 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I would just say that indeed all the national forests are God's creation for us, and forests are wonderful resources that we want to protect. The vulnerability of these forests should be protected as we protect all, and to the extent that we can find a resolution that is appropriate, that speaks to all the issues, we should do that. And hopefully the testimony we are going to hear today will add to the resolution that indeed speaks to everyone being engaged in it.
Mr. Chairman, let me start off by saying I had only one testimony of one person. I don't know if our witnesses didn't get the information in on time as to when they required to submit it, but I don't know why my office did not haveI have Mr. Finn's but I did not receive the other two. So I am going to be at a slight disadvantage.
And I think the Under Secretary's is now here as well as the other. I will hear it as they go. But usually we have a procedure where at least we have the privilege of reviewing testimony before we hear it.
But just having that noted, I still look forward to hearing the testimony.
Mr. GOODLATTE. The Congresswoman's concern is noted; and we would join you in noting that the testimony was delivered only when the witnesses arrived, and we do very much want to have that testimony ahead of time. It is a benefit to Members who are here, Members who are not here who wish to know what the nature of the hearing is and have the benefit of that testimony; so I share your concern.
At this time, it is my pleasure to recognize the gentleman from South Dakota, Mr. Thune.
OPENING STATEMENT OF HON. JOHN R. THUNE, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF SOUTH DAKOTA
Page 10 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. THUNE. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And I would like to thank you and the gentlelady from North Carolina for holding this hearing today. This is an issue of an extreme importance to the State of South Dakota, the Black Hills National Forest.
I would also like to thank the panel who are here today, all of whom I know well.
The Black Hills National Forest has over 32,000 acres that are exposed to the danger of a major forest fire due to the mountain pine beetle epidemic, storm damage and drought. In 1999, in the Beaver Park area, approximately 15,000 Ponderosa pine trees died due to the pine beetle. In the year 2001, over 100,000 trees died due to the mountain pine beetle epidemic. The 5,000-acre Beaver Park area lies just 5 miles southwest of the town of Sturgis, South Dakota. Over 100 homes and two subdivisions have been located and mapped in close proximity to Beaver Park that are susceptible to catastrophic damage should fire ignite.
The Norbeck Wildlife Preserve is at risk for wildfire because of fuel on the ground due to massive storms and due to the lack of forest management because of almost 30 years of litigation. The Norbeck area lies at the center of the Black Hills, at the heart of the most intensely used recreation area in the Black Hills. The preserve is bordered by Mount Rushmore National Memorial where summer visitation averages 25,000 people per day. The villages of Keystone, Custer and Hill City are in close proximity to this area.
Overall, dense tree canopies and large fuel loadings exist in both Beaver Park and Norbeck. It is only a matter of time before wildland fire causes catastrophic loss to public and private property and, in the worst case, loss of life. With the current drought conditions, decisive action is needed immediately to ward off this serious threat.
As the chairman noted, over 1,300 constituents of mine in South Dakota including local and State elected officials have contacted me with concerns over their safety, personal property and forest health in the Black Hills. Extraordinarily dry conditions in the Black Hills have increased the likelihood of a fire and warrant management to prevent forest fires this summer. The National Weather Service measured just 2.09 inches of rainfall, less than 50 percent of the normal amount of precipitation, in the months of September 2001 through February 2002. I have supported a two-pronged approach to finding a solution to the gridlock that has prevented the Forest Service from doing their job in the Black Hills.
Page 11 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I introduced my own legislation, H.R. 4766, that would declare the Black Hills a disaster area and allow the Forest Service to manage for fire prevention. And I appreciated very much Chairman Combest and Subcommittee Chairman Goodlatte's willingness to include that legislation as a part of the farm bill, but was disappointed that the Senate did not concur.
I have also supported discussions to renegotiate the settlement agreement on the Beaver Park area. I have supported both of these options because I believe that we need to get something done, and we need to get it done as soon as possible.
While I am eager to make something happen, I am also concerned that environmental groups will pursue lawsuits preventing the critical forest management that is supported by my constituents. I hope that those groups understand this is a critical matter, a matter of safety for the residents, property and the economy of the Black Hills; and it must be resolved as quickly as possible.
So Mr. Chairman, I thank you for holding this hearing. It is so important to South Dakota and the communities around the Black Hills.
I welcome our panelists here today and look forward to their testimony and an opportunity to interact with them during the question period that will follow. Thank you.
Mr. GOODLATTE. I thank the gentleman for his comments.
And now we are pleased to welcome our panel of witnesses. First, Mr. Mark Rey, Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Next, Mr. John Twiss, Forest Supervisor, Black Hills National Forest, U.S. Forest Service, Custer, South Dakota.
And, finally, Mr. Risk Finn, South Dakota land owner from Sturgis, South Dakota.
Page 12 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I would like to welcome all of you and tell you that your written statements will be a made a part of the record and we would be pleased to receive your oral testimony at this time starting with Under Secretary Rey.
Welcome. We are pleased to have you back with us.
STATEMENT OF MARK REY, UNDER SECRETARY, NATURAL RESOURCES AND ENVIRONMENT, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
Mr. REY. Thank you Mr. Chairman. And as I am the first administration witness to appear before this subcommittee since the passage of the farm bill, I would like, on behalf of the President and Secretary Veneman, to extend my appreciation to all of you for your leadership in working on the farm bill and, most especially, the forestry title. We look forward to working together with you in implementing both the forestry title and the entirety of the farm bill.
Today, I also appreciate the opportunity to appear before you on the subject of Public Safety Concerns and Forest Management Hurdles in the Black Hills National Forest in South Dakota and Wyoming.
As Black Hills National Forest Supervisor John Twiss, to my left, will describe shortly in his remarks, vegetation in the Black Hills National Forest has been actively managed for many decades. However, today, two areas in particular in which the Forest Service has proposed forest health treatments have generated significant public interest. These two areas, Beaver Park Roadless Area and the Norbeck Wildlife Preserve, have unique legal challenges that have eluded our ability for resolution through either judicial or administrative means. Each of these areas is close to heavily developed private land and illustrative of the predicament facing the Black Hills National Forest managers in their attempt to reduce the black beetle infestations and diminish the fire threat from beetle-killed trees and overly dense vegetation.
Page 13 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Simply put, court proceedings have prevented implementation of our proposals for treatment of fuels in these two areas.
Underscoring the public concern about this dilemma is a measure introduced this past spring in the South Dakota State legislature that would empower local municipalities to take fuel treatment actions on national forest lands into their own hands through a State declaration of emergency. While we do not view this as the best course of action, we certainly understand the desire of local communities to protect themselves from wildfire.
Let me briefly describe the Beaver Park Roadless Area and the Norbeck Wildlife Preserve and walk you through a brief chronology of the actions that have led to the current situation. I will submit for the record a complete and extended chronology of all of the actions that occurred, today, and summarize in my oral remarks.
The Beaver Park area includes a 5,000-acre inventoried roadless area southwest of Sturgis, South Dakota. The 34,000-acre Norbeck Wildlife Preserve was established by Congress in 1922 as a special designation within the Black Hills National Forest. It is located adjacent to Mount Rushmore National Monument and Keystone, South Dakota.
On March 1, 1999, the Forest Supervisor signed a decision to harvest timber in the Beaver Park Roadless Area to meet forest plan goals of achieving vegetative diversity and providing commercial timber.
April 19, that decision was appealed.
On June 1, the Regional Forester affirmed the Forest Supervisor's decision.
On July 30, the U.S. District Court in Colorado denied appellant's motion to stop timber sales in the Norbeck Wildlife Preserve.
On November 9, 1999, a lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Colorado challenging the decision in the Beaver Park area based upon the Chief's decision on the appeal of the revised forest plan.
Page 14 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC On September 12, 2000, an order was filed adopting a settlement of the Beaver Park lawsuit. The settlement prohibited treatment in the Beaver Park Roadless Area and in ''candidate'' natural research areas until forest plan amendments were completed. Plaintiffs at that time agreed not to challenge certain timber sales totaling 178,000,000 board-feet of volume.
On August 8, 2001, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the record for the proposed timber harvest in the Norbeck area was not adequate to show that the requirements of the Norbeck Organic Act standards were met.
In December 2001, the Forest Service Forest Health Management Unit issued a report on the insect epidemic of pine beetles in Beaver Park, indicating the epidemic was spreading rapidly.
In February 2002, South Dakota Governor Janklow threatened a lawsuit against the Federal Government due to the Federal Government's failure to take action to curtail the fire risk associated with the Beaver Park epidemic.
On February 14, 2002, at the request of the South Dakota delegation, the Forest Supervisor wrote to the original litigants in the Beaver Park settlement, apprising them of the deterioration of the forest health situation in both the Beaver Park and the Norbeck areas, to see whether there was a possibility to revisit the issues that went into the original settlement. John, in a show of good faith, sent that letter on Valentine's Day.
On February 19 the Forest Service sponsored a field trip, hosted by the South Dakota delegation, to review the situation in both the Beaver Park and the Norbeck areas.
On March 16, Representative Thune requested that language be added to the farm bill declaring a fire risk emergency in Beaver Park and Norbeck and directing the Forest Service to pursue alternative arrangements under NEPA with CEQ. That was the legislative proposal that you mentioned, Mr. Chairman.
In early April, Senator Daschle and Senator Johnson wrote to me urging the Department to support the then Forest Service attempt to negotiate with the parties in the original settlement agreement to see whether the pine beetle epidemic could be addressed. I responded affirmatively to Senator Daschle, Senator Johnson and Congressman Thune that the administration would participate in such negotiations in good faith. Since then, all parties have been involved in discussions.
Page 15 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC On May 24, all parties, with the exception of two of the original plaintiffs, reached a conceptual agreement modifying the Beaver Park settlement agreement and resolving the issues surrounding the management of the Norbeck area. This would have made fuel treatments possible in each area.
However, as we sit today, at the present time, in the case of the Beaver Park area, the Department of Justice has advised that there is no effective legal process to implement a modification of the original settlement agreement through the district court in the absence of the two nonsettling plaintiffs. Therefore, the buildup of forest fuels in Beaver Park and portions of the Norbeck area cannot be addressed through either administrative or judicial action.
With Congress' help, we could reduce public safety issues associated with a potential catastrophic wildfire in each of these two areas.
The administration appreciates Congressman Thune's efforts in this area and looks forward to continuing to work with Congressman Thune and the South Dakota congressional delegation to effectively address the issue. We also welcome the opportunity to work with this subcommittee, as well as the South Dakota delegation, to reduce the threat to public safety that unhealthy forest conditions in Beaver Park and Norbeck have created.
This concludes my statement chronologizing where we are, where we have been to date and where we find ourselves now.
I would like to turn to John Twiss to talk about the situation on the ground.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Rey appears at the conclusion of the hearing.
Mr. GOODLATTE. And we will now turn to Supervisor Twiss. We are glad to have you here from South Dakota, and we are interested in hearing your testimony.
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STATEMENT OF JOHN TWISS, FOREST SUPERVISOR, BLACK HILLS NATIONAL FOREST
Mr. TWISS. Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, thank you for the invitation to appear before you today. I am John Twiss, Forest Supervisor of the Black Hills National Forest.
I would also like to acknowledge Regional Forester Rick Cables, who is attending today. He is attending a national leadership team meeting and dropped in for the hearing; and he is my supervisor.
I am here today to add the field manager's perspective to our discussions about Public Safety Concerns and Forest Management Hurdles in the Black Hills National Forest.
The Black Hills National Forest is located in southwestern South Dakota and eastern Wyoming. It is comprised of 1.2 million acres of national forest land. It is one of the most healthy national forests in the system. The water is clean, fish and wildlife populations are diverse and plentiful, the soils are rich and stable and plant communities are diverse. The esthetics are profound and evoke countless positive comments from the 4 million people who visit the forest each year.
The Black Hills National Forest is also one of the most productive forests in the Nation, grazing 23,000 head of cattle annually, producing, on average, 73 million board-feet of timber annually over the last decade; permitting more than 800 special uses for such things as marinas, summer homes, ski areas; and maintaining over 5,000 miles of system roads for recreation use and public forest administration.
Forest annual revenues have averaged around $14 million a year back to the Treasury over the last 5 years with 25 percent of these funds going to the seven counties in South Dakota and Wyoming.
Page 17 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC While this information is interesting, I wish to explain my concerns today as they relate to recent trends of reduced vegetative management, specifically thinning and timber harvesting and the effect on forest health and public safety. Litigation and excessive analysis have slowed our ability to thin the forest and protect individual private property and communities.
Beaver Park specifically and the Norbeck Wildlife Preserve are two areas of the Black Hills National Forest that have been of great concern to me personally because they are overgrown in the case of the Norbeck, or infested with pine beetles, resulting in thousands of dead and dying trees. This condition and 3 years of drought, combined with the close proximity to communities, private property, municipal watersheds, has spurred the Forest Service to call all litigants together in an attempt to break the gridlock so vegetative treatments could take place. So far, we have not succeeded.
Let me conclude by saying that although the forest experienced the four largest forest fires in Black Hills's recorded history in 2000 and 2001, which burned 120,000 acres, with the exception of the 40,000 acres in Beaver Park and Norbeck, I do not regard the forest to be in a high fire risk condition. The forest, for the most part, is well thinned; and with the National Fire Plan funding, we are treating fuel loading around communities and other private inholdings rapidly. However, I am concerned about our ability to treat those two areas and future timber harvesting and thinning.
Thank you for your time. This concludes my statement, and I will be happy to answer any questions.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Twiss appears at the conclusion of the hearing.]
Mr. GOODLATTE. Thank you, Mr. Twiss.
We are now pleased to welcome Mr. Finn.
Page 18 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I understand you are a landowner adjoining the national forest?
Mr. FINN. Yes, I am.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Welcome. We are pleased to have your testimony.
STATEMENT OF RICHARD FINN, LAND OWNER, STURGIS, SD
Mr. FINN. Thank you, Mr. Chairman; thank you, subcommittee.
I am a land owner. I live approximately a half a mile from Beaver Park. My wife and my two teenage children live in the hills, in the trees right below Beaver Park. The infestation has come beyond the park onto private property. My neighbors have logged off their property to stop the bug infestation and to help prevent the fire danger.
In the Beaver Park area, I took a gallop out there approximately 8 years ago and we went across the 3-mile ridge. We found 78 trees documented. Since then, they have tried to go in and log it; and they were shut down and I don't understand why, but they were shut down. Because of thatit is in the same ridge; there is in excess of 100,000 trees there.
In that area, there are far more trees that are going to die this year. It is 4 miles southwest of Sturgis, and it is a town of 6,000 people. It is between Rapid City, which is 25 miles awaybetween Rapid City, which is over 50,000 people; there are approximately 1,000 homes in the Guilford, Piedmont and Black Hawk areas that are all in danger. If this fire starts in Beaver Park, it will be so hot and create such a fire storm; and if it goes the same direction as the Deadwood fire and the Jasper fire did, it is going to head right for Sturgis. And though the fire itself may not reach Sturgis, the smoke and the debris and the embers and stuff that come from there, you will have to evacuate the town. And embers can very easily start several fires, and we can stand a chance of losing a large portion of our town.
Page 19 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC It is haunting to know right now that several fires around the StatesColorado just had a severe fire of 44,000 acres and 100 homes burned. That scares the crud out of me.
My wife last year, when we were in the midst of the fire season which we have out there, which is called dry lightning and comes in July and August, this dry lightning will come through and start fires and not a drop of rain will fall. Last year I was awakened to the sound of thunder. My wife was not in the house. I went out, she was out standing in the road looking up on the ridge wondering if she needed to evacuate our children. This bothers me a lot that my wife has to endure this.
The smell of smoke from the fire last year kept us up all night. We shouldn't have to endure this fear. And several of my neighbors are the same way.
When we moved out there, we understood that the Forest Service was well maintained. I have lived in the Black Hills for all my life, nearly 50 years and I do think they have done a good job. They know their business, they know how to take care of our Black Hills, and I am very frustrated that they are not allowed to.
Right now, we have the opportunity to go in and take care of that fuel load which, from my understanding, an average fuel load on an acre is approximately 7 tons. There is approximately 75 tons of fuel in that area right now. And from what I understand, that means if it burns, it burns so hot, it sterilizes the ground down as much as 3 or 4 feet.
To me, I can't understand why they can't go in and solve this problem right now, which may cost millions. But if a fire starts and you have to fight that fire and reclaim the land and the property that is lost, you are going to be in the billions.
So I am here and I am very thankful that you let me speak. Congressman Thune come up in the Beaver Park area with meand thank you very much for that; I do appreciate thatand he can testify that to walk across there is virtually impossible. There is so much debris on the ground, you cannot walk through that land, and we need to clean it up and take care of it.
Page 20 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC So if you can, please help us.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Well, thank you very much, Mr. Finn. We appreciate your testimony, and I share your concern. In fact I want to ask under Secretary Rey and Supervisor Twiss about these forest health conditions.
First of all, are these natural conditions that you would find that he has described, where you can't even walk through the area, that if there were not in the fighting of forest fires and other things, is that how this forest would look, or is this an unnatural condition?
And second and much related to that, what kind of fire behavior do you anticipate will be the result of those conditions?
Mr. REY. Generally speaking, these forests are out of balance and badly overstocked, as well as, in the case of the Beaver Park area, heavily infested by mountain pine beetles. They should have significantly lower fuel loads on a per-acre basis. If they were in a more natural situation, the fires that would burn through these would be low-intensity ground fires. If an ignition occurs in either of these areas today, it will most likely be a high-intensity crown fire with a potential to spread very quickly and cause a great deal of ecological and, depending on where it spreads to, economic damage.
John, do you want to elaborate on that?
Mr. TWISS. No. That is exactly correct.
Mr. GOODLATTE. John, how do these two areas compare to the conditions in the other areas in terms of the ability to walk through the area, the fuel loads that Mr. Finn has described? Are those accurate, and how do they contrast with the remainder of the Black Hills National Forest?
Let me ask you this for comparison's sake: We are talking aboutI take it, about 35-, 40,000 acres. How many acres are there in the Black Hills National Forest, all told?
Page 21 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. TWISS. The Black Hills National Forest is actually about 1.2 million acres. It is 1,500,000 acres in circumference and intermixed in that 1,500,000 acres is 300,000 acres of private property, well scattered throughout the forest in small parcels. So it is one of the most intermixed forests in the country.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Lots of land owners exposed to whatever occurs in the forest?
Mr. TWISS. That's correct. You don't make a decision on the forest without thinking about the private property owner next door and how your decision is going to affect them.
Going back to your first question on Beaver Park and Norbeck as compared to the rest of the forest, Rick adequately, I think, and accurately described the condition of Beaver Park. It is infested with beetles. You see acre after acrethousands of acres of dead and dying trees, a lot of downfall from hail storms as well as beetle damage, extremely high fire risk, very difficult to walk through and just ripe for a catastrophic fire.
Norbeck, the other area that we are concerned about, has not nearly as much fuel loading on the ground, but very dense and very overgrown, and an area that has not had any kind of treatment for 50 years and is very prone to a hot crown fire.
Mr. GOODLATTE. I take it this type of fire, crown fire, means it consumes the entire forest rather than just a fire across the ground as a prescribed burn might have, that would take out the fuel loads.
Mr. TWISS. Generally, when it gets that thick, you have what we call a stand replacement fire and it is pretty much going to burn everything.
Mr. GOODLATTE. So you are going to have to take some alternative measures to cure this problem rather than simply to burn. Burning would burn everything.
Page 22 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. TWISS. That's correct. You can't go in and use prescribed fire as a tool right now without some advance thinning.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Thank you. At this time, it is my pleasure to recognize the gentlewoman from North Carolina.
Mrs. CLAYTON. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And thank you, gentlemen, for all of your testimony.
Mr. Twiss, it is your testimony, where you describe that except for these two areas, the forest isyou didn't use the word ''splendid'' condition, but I gather it is rather healthy; is that right?
Mr. TWISS. It depends on your definition of forest health and I gave you one that I consider to be healthy. But, yes, for the most part, most of the forest is what I consider to be in a healthy condition. It is the trend that is starting to concern me right now.
Mrs. CLAYTON. In the second paragraph, I made an asterisk because you describe with such clarity the portrait: ''At the same time,'' you said ''the water is clean, the fish and wildlife population diverse and plentiful, the soil is rich and stable, planned communities are diverse, the esthetic evokes countless positive comments from 4 million people who visit the forest''.
Sounds like a healthy forest in general to me.
Mr. TWISS. Just recognize that is my definition, not necessarily everybody else's.
Mrs. CLAYTON. I am assuming the vulnerable area here has some potential not only to be devastating to the surrounding areas there, but could possibly infect this other part that is also described by you as being beautiful and healthy.
So it has potential of causing great harm where this situation is very vulnerable, but it also has the potential of spreading to other parts of the forest; is that correct?
Page 23 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. TWISS. That's correct, under the right conditions.
Mrs. CLAYTON. Well, I am just learning about the situation, and my understanding is that the negotiations of the settlement that you were trying to have, you were a party to that, or you were engaged in trying to bring people together so that you could resolve a settlement that could address the vulnerability of that?
Mr. TWISS. That's correct.
Mrs. CLAYTON. So now we are at the stage wheremy understanding is the two parties didn't sign and therefore there has been a ruling that that procedure can't go forward; is that correct?
Mr. REY. Let me elaborate on that for you, Congresswoman.
The original consent decree, which preceded the insect epidemic and which seemed to be the right mix of things to do at that time, was signed by a number of parties, all but two of which, as a consequence of the negotiations that John participated in, could be modified.
The settlement agreement was not entered into the court as a consent decree, however. So our quandary right now is that the Justice Department cannot devise a legal procedure for us to submit to the judge, who presided over the original action changes, to a settlement agreement where not all of the original parties have agreed to the changes; and so that is why we are at an impasse.
Mrs. CLAYTON. Right. I was trying to get to that.
And so you can't have a consent agreement unless all parties consent to it, and the two parties didn't sign, so subsequently you don't present a proposal.
But I am assuming that in that arrangement were the embodiments of remedies, recommendations, solutions that will speak to that vulnerability?
Mr. TWISS. Yes.
Page 24 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mrs. CLAYTON. So now if we can't go legally, then I presume we are proceeding to go legislatively.
Mr. REY. One option would be for those parties who could agree to changes to reduce those to the form of a legislative proposal for the consideration of Congress as a reasonable way to proceed. That has agreement by some, but not all of the original parties in the action. I am given to understand that shortly we may get a request from the South Dakota delegation to do that. And if we do get such a request, we will endeavor to respond favorably as long as the other parties are willing to as well.
Mrs. CLAYTON. Meaning thatI will respect the clock.
Mr. GOODLATTE. I expect we will have another round of questions.
At this time, it is my pleasure to recognize the gentleman from South Dakota, Mr. Thune.
Mr. THUNE. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And I would echo what was said by John Twiss in that the Black Hills National Forestand I would invite my colleagues on the panel to come and visit.
Mrs. CLAYTON. Would you describe it the same way?
Mr. THUNE. I would actually, and I spent a lot of time out there. And I was out there this past weekend with my wife and two daughters and made the walk up to Crazy Horse, what they call the Volksmarch, and went out on one of the lakes; and then later, went riding on a trail that was an abandoned railroad and been converted to a trail called the Michelson Trail. And it was a spectacular day and spectacular scenery, and for the most part I think it is a correct assessment in that much of the forest is in very good condition.
It is a very habitated forest. I mean, that is a reality we have to deal with. And I think the issue we are dealingbefore us today, because I have also had the opportunity, as Mr. Finn has noted, to walk up into Beaver Park and to get a sense for the severity of that situation. He has some photos there, which I think show in great detail the color. What you see there on the photo, the orange area, is the pine beetle infestation. And what you will see over timeand Mr. Finn has, over the course of the last several years, been able to show you the progression of that outbreak and what it has meant in terms of dead trees, fallen trees, fuel loads on the ground.
Page 25 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC It is a profoundly serious situation and one, I think, that requires and demands immediate attention, which is why I proposed, as I did, legislation during the course of the farm bill debate that would allow the Forest Service to get the authorities that they need to go in and address the situation.
That process having been concluded, we are now where we are and the settlement negotiations, as was mentioned earlier, I believe have sort of fallen through. We have been hopeful that would have led to a positive outcome.
But at the same time I remain somewhat skeptical that many of the parties who were going to have to sit down at the table to achieve a good outcome, that there would be some serious resistance to that. As it turned out there was, and I think we are now faced with, what can we do to address the situation.
I guess the question I would first pose for Under Secretary Rey, now that the Justice Department has determined that those discussions are not going to be fruitful, your suggestions on what the Forest Service and the Congress can do to prevent wildfires this year in the Black Hills. And as the gentlelady from North Carolina, in her question, asked about the settlement agreement, I suspect that is one option in terms of a legislative solution.
Is that the preferred one, or are there others; or what are your suggestions in terms of things that we can do to address the situation?
Mr. REY. First, as I said, given the existing settlement agreement and the strictures that it imposes, it does not appear to us that, absent some congressional action, we will be able to treat these areas this summer. There are a couple of options.
One is, if the parties who did agree to changes to the settlement agreement are willing to reduce those to the form of a legislative proposal, that would resolve the problem.
Page 26 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Another option would be the bill you introduced, S. 4766, which would also be an option to address the problem.
I think our view is, we are prepared to work with the parties who would agree and with the Congress to see how best to proceed from here forward.
Mr. THUNE. Well, your assessment is that any option at this point is beyond the pale, so to speak, in terms of being helpful this year? And Supervisor Twiss could speak to that.
Mr. REY. If it could be enacted quickly, we would still have the opportunity to make some treatments this year; but I understand that is a difficult proposition insofar as the time for congressional action.
Mr. THUNE. Let me ask, if I might, John, if we were able to get your people on the ground, if we could give the Forest Service the authority that they need, what sort of resources would you need then to get the job done?
Mr. TWISS. There are some logistical issues in getting started on this, but the things we are prepared to do right now are to expedite some timber sales that are currently in the areaand the agreement we have been working on allows the latitude to move to more thinning than we would have previously done with those contracts.
Second, we have Forest Service people to put in those areas to start some thinning and treatment also. That is something we can do immediately. Some of those same people are also our firefighters, so it depends on the fire work load.
The sum of the job that we want to do is going to require some new contracts and new timber sales, and that is going to take a little more time to get going. We estimate that even if we get going tomorrow, it is still 2 full years before we will complete what we need to complete. But we are prepared to go in and do something this year if we can get the go-ahead.
Page 27 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. THUNE. Mr. Chairman, my time has expired. I have a couple of additional questions if you want to come back around.
Mr. GOODLATTE. We will come back.
And I will recognize the gentleman from Kansas, Mr. Moran.
Mr. MORAN. Mr. Chairman, thank you very much. I am glad to join you here today, and I appreciate your conducting this hearing.
I know only a small amount about this topic, but I have been to the Black Hills. When you grow up in Kansas, you take two vacations. You go to Pike's Peak and you go to the Badlands and to Mount Rushmore and to the Black Hills. And I know that my own family, now ages 11 and 14, we made that trip last year. It is a very beautiful place, and we are very interested in this topic.
I also know that we made considerable effort during the conference on the farm bill to address this issue, and I know the House worked hard at trying to make that happen; and I wanted to come to the subcommittee hearing, Mr. Chairman, to learn a little bit more about this topic and see how we can be of help to the folks in South Dakota and to Mr. Thune.
So I would be glad to yield back my time if I get a little chance to hear what the testimony is and to review a little bit more; and I may have some questions in a few moments.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Great. We will do another round.
And my first question to you is, if you live in South Dakota and you want to take a vacation in Kansas, where do you go?
Mr. MORAN. I am sorry, Mr. Chairman, we are on the record, and I didn't mean to pose a difficult question.
I think the answer is, there are many places that people from South Dakota would enjoy in visiting our State.
Page 28 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. GOODLATTE. I look forward to enjoying them some day.
Let me address my questions to the panel. The question I guess that I am focused on here is, why are we waiting on a settlement? Is this court incapable of acting in a timely fashion itself? Why can't the court set it down for a hearing, hear the case and issue an order that would protect the interests of the people of this area of South Dakota and the taxpayers in general and those who are concerned about our national forest?
Mr. REY. It is our judgment that if we approach the court, in this case it is the district court in DenverJudge Nottingham is the presiding judge in the original caseif we approach the court with proposed modifications to an existing settlement agreement to which all the parties of the settlement agreement have not signed, we are essentially asking the court to put aside the original settlement agreement and overlook the underlying allegations of violation of Federal law in favor of a new settlement agreement that does not include some of the parties to the underlying litigation.
Our judgment, and it is the judgment of the U.S. Attorney who has had considerable experience practicing before Judge Nottingham, is that the judge, being a prudent jurist, would at a minimum request briefs from the nonsigning parties before he rendered any kind of a decision about whether he was willing to endorse a modification of the original settlement agreement.
It might be that he would even move dramatically to say that absent a modification to the original settlement agreement, it is signed by all of the original parties, there is nothing here to approve, and simply ask the government whether we wanted to withdraw from the original settlement agreement, thereby triggering potentially another round of litigation.
Mr. GOODLATTE. I guess what you are saying is that judicial-ruling-based management of our national forest is not the most professional way to go about determining what the risks are, what the best solutions are, and then applying those solutions to address those risks, in that we have trained, professional forest management teams in each of our national forests, including in the Black Hills National Forest and they are being hamstrung from doing their job.
Page 29 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Is that a fair statement?
Mr. REY. With as many pending cases where I appear as a defendant, I am loath to say anything negative about the judiciary, Mr. Chairman. But there is certainly a lot of truth to what you have just said.
Mr. GOODLATTE. We will accept that as a good answer. This is not unique, however, is it? This situation where individuals not engaged in the management of these forests under what I would characterize as a manipulation of well-intentioned laws use those laws to effectively block science-based forest management, which includes a good deal of public input, and attempt to replace it with decisions made by judiciary, which may or may not have a strong background in forest issues. And I think that when these continually occur and the risk mounts to the catastrophic level that we are facing here in the Black Hills where we have a large number of people living very close to dangerously overloaded forests that are unhealthy because of pine beetle management, if conditions are dry, as I suspect they are there, as in most places in the country in the hot summer months, we are facing some very great risks of danger that isn't being addressed in a prompt enough fashion.
I understand the administration is getting ready to release a report on the process gridlock that the agency faces, and I wonder if we can expect to see some suggestions on how we can get back to basics and back to science and get back to allowing land managers to manage the land.
Mr. REY. The report we are working on will be a first step in what I hope will be something short of a 12-step process. It will be a diagnostic report that to the best of our ability identifies the nature of the problem and the issues that are causing the gridlock. We are going to release that first to see if we can reach some broad agreement on the nature of the problem. We have some recommended solutions which will be present as time goes on, but we think it is important to try to get a robust discussion about the nature of the problem to see if we can agree on that before we start arguing over some of the solutions.
Page 30 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. GOODLATTE. Thank you very much, Under Secretary. I am going to ask one more question, even though my time has expired, and I will be lenient with the other members of the panel in that regard as well if they wish to go over a little bit, and that is to direct my final question to Mr. Finn. As a landowner who lives next to these areas where management has been restricted and who lives with the real danger of catastrophic wildfire, I assume lives with the concern that these insect infestations can spread off of Forest Service land onto adjoining land and who lives with the constant concern of smelling smoke in the air as you described, what do you think of this bureaucratic process that the Forest Service has to go through to take common sense measures to protect not just you as an adjoining landowner but the interests of the public in sound environmental management of these forest areas?
Mr. FINN. Well, the way things have been handled up there, it is very discouraging for me. I know that they have the ability, and I know that they have the background, the history of how to take care of our Black Hills. They have done a good job of it. I have always loved the Hills. I know that the people that arethe environmentalists that are trying to stop this have good intentions, but I feel that they are way off base on this number. I wish we could just step over that and get in there right away and stop this infestation and ease our minds of the fire danger so that we don't have to worry about it no more. Then we can sit back and discuss how should we have done something different, how should we do something in the future and stuff.
I am not into the politics of it. I don't know, it is very frustrating for me, and it seems common sense to me, and right now we are facing dry lightning. I don't know if you are familiar with dry lightning that is coming on. In the middle of July and August the storms will come through. The lightning is there and there is no rain. And the fear of that whenin the Beaver Park area right now, because of the moratorium on there, they cannot go in there with a chain saw and open any trails. They can't go in with any equipment. If a fire starts, all they can do is go in on foot and try to put it out, which the firefighters that I have talked to that may have to go in there are scared to death. They are having nightmares about it. They call it a powder keg, and the only thing we can do right now from my understanding is the first initial attack is withby air would be the main course. So essentially what you are going to do is it is going to get a foothold in there. It is going to create such an enormous fire that they are going to have to be on the outside trying to stop it when it comes out, and I have been told by the firefighters, by then it is in the crown and they are going to have problems, and I know the forest management is to get the fire down out of the crown onto the ground to where they have some kind of control.
Page 31 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. GOODLATTE. Obviously if the forest is as dense as you describe it and Supervisor Twiss describes it, building fire breaks is a virtual impossibility.
Mr. FINN. You have to lessen the fuel load, and I understand that you have addressed that issue and can take care of that if allowed to.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Well, thank you. I now recognize the gentlewoman from North Carolina.
Mrs. CLAYTON. Mr. Twiss, I understand you to say if you began your process tomorrow that it would take essentially about 2 years to complete the process that would restore the healthy situation as the other park enjoys today. Is that right?
Mr. TWISS. Yes.
Mrs. CLAYTON. So I guess the question I would have is that apparently there are some things you can do to mitigate that, but the plan you are talking about is the plan to restore the healthiness so you don't have to continue to do emergency and short measure responses to the potential fire. Is that correct?
Mr. TWISS. That is correct. The treatment that we would take into those two areas would probablywe wouldn't enter those areas again for 20-plus years. So we would do the thinning that we need to do and also some of the wildlife habitat work that we want to do in there.
Mrs. CLAYTON. Is that what you do to other parts of the
Mr. TWISS. That is correct.
Mrs. CLAYTON. So the question thatthe settlement that was being proposed, in your judgment were you moving in that concerted, comprehensive way?
Mr. TWISS. Yes. That was essentially what we are proposing to do.
Page 32 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mrs. CLAYTON. Under Secretary Rey, I want to pick up your comment that we were talking earlier.
The legislation would embody the potential of the elements that Mr. Twiss just talked about, and my understanding is that you understand that that is a proposal that is coming from the North Dakota delegation in the Senate?
Mr. REY. In informal discussions with staff of the delegation, we have come to understand that they will be asking us to reduce to a legislative proposal the results
Mrs. CLAYTON. I am sorry. I don't know north from south here. South Dakota.
Mr. THUNE. At least it is not Kansas.
Mrs. CLAYTON. Well
Mr. MORAN. North Carolina and South Carolina.
Mrs. CLAYTON. Yes. Thank you.
I know whereif you come to my State, they have a good time, though.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Yes. It is called Virginia.
Mrs. CLAYTON. Yes. A lot of people do go to Virginia Beach. That is for sure.
That there was an approach now being considered to introduce legislation that would speak to those elements, and your comment was that you thought that was a good approach. I guess theand I think it makes sense, too, given Mr. Twiss's recommendation that this would sustain the healthiness of that part of the park and it would be long range and the healthiness would be restored. Those who brought the elements of that, would that speak to the issue of the litigation, meaning that taking that approach you are anticipating that those who objected in the first instance would agree to that so the value of that is not only that it is a good plan, but it also would have the opposition as a part of the solution? Or do you anticipate that
Page 33 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. REY. That would be my hope.
Mrs. CLAYTON [continuing]. Mitigation would follow the legislation?
Mr. REY. Let me work backward and see if I can lay this out. The outlines of what the parties who could reach agreement agreed to would solve the problem on the ground. If it were reduced to the form of a legislative proposal and introduced and passed through Congress would also solve the problem on the ground. It would be my hope that the parties who reached agreement would agree to participate in the development of that legislative proposal. It would be my hope. I don't know yet whether they will all agree to, but if they did, it would have the precise advantage that you just described, and it is my understanding that in short order we will likely get a request from the South Dakota delegation to try to effectuate that outcome.
If so, if all of those circumstances come to fruition, that would be one option, and as I said earlier, there are of others such as the bill already introduced by Congressman Thune.
Mrs. CLAYTON. There were how many parties to the litigation? There were five? There was the Sierra Club, the Wilderness. There were five different groups of plaintiffs or defendants or whatever?
Mr. REY. There were four different environmental groups. There were three sets of interveners, and then there was the Government. And all had agreed, save two of the environmental groups, to the modifications to the settlement.
Mrs. CLAYTON. Have you been in any conversation with them?
Mr. REY. We visited with them by phone yesterday to apprise them of the unhappy news that we could not find a legal procedure that would allow us to present what we had agreed to to the court and to ask them to consider the possibility that another approach might be to reduce the results of our deliberations to a legislative proposal.
Page 34 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mrs. CLAYTON. Senator Daschle and Senator Johnson proposed to present. Have you talked to them?
Mr. REY. I haven't. I have been talking to all three delegations, members at the staff level so far.
Mrs. CLAYTON. Mr. Chairman, I guess that is my only questions I had. Thank you.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Thank you. The gentleman from Kansas.
Mr. MORAN. If I could, Mr. Chairman, just describe for me again. I have only heard bits and pieces of the hearing today, but describe for me what is it you would ask Congress to do, and explain to me how that overrides a court determination, apparentlyas I understand the story, an agreement was submitted to the court by all of the parties. The court approved the agreement and does now Congress have the ability to supersede that agreement with legislation?
Mr. REY. The broad answer to the question is yes, Congress can legislate to have the effect of overturning either a court decision or a settlement agreement and in fact has in the past fairly often done either or both of those.
The discussions that have occurred so far have occurred over the umbrella of a confidentiality agreement among the parties. That is common in settlement negotiations. It allows the parties to speak frankly to one another without beating each other about the head and shoulders in public.
When we talked with the parties yesterday about the prospect of taking another direction and reducing what we had agreed to to the form of a legislative proposal, as I said, they indicated that they would like to think about that, but they also requested that we respect the confidentiality agreement for the time being while they evaluated if they wanted to go forward in this next step of the proceeding, and it seems in the interest of trying to facilitate the possibility of that happening that I ought to respect that confidentiality agreement.
Page 35 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC If the parties agree, who have so far agreed, agree to go forward, then obviously the point that we are ready to propose something to you we will all be prepared to speak about it with great precision and detail. If the parties don't agree to go forward, then that option I am afraid is not one that is available to us.
Mr. MORAN. And if in that process you reach an agreement and Congress was asked to respond and legislation was passed, as you indicated, by both Houses of the Congress, the implementation of that agreement that would reduce the risk that Mr. Finn faces would take how long? How long before the folks who lived there have some sense that the forest is being managed in a way that would reduce their risk substantially?
Mr. TWISS. Approximately 2 years.
Mr. MORAN. That is the 2-year date in response to the gentlewoman from North Carolina, or is it South Carolina?
Mr. GOODLATTE. No comparison.
Mr. MORAN. And then the question beyond just this specific example toI have also heard you discuss is the administration's attempt to get us out of these positions in the long term, that we ought not to expect adjoining landowners to have to wait 2 years court proceedings and congressional action to be safe from timber fire, and so in a broader sense we have a lot more work to do than just this?
Mr. REY. That is correct.
Mr. MORAN. Now, you mentioned that Congress has overturned or modified court decisions or settlement agreements in the past. In similar kinds of circumstances to what was described here today?
Mr. REY. Both in similar circumstances in the past as well as very different circumstances. I mean, in broad terms, that is your prerogative if you are dissatisfied with how the courts have interpreted the laws.
Page 36 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. MORAN. Change the law?
Mr. REY. Right.
Mr. MORAN. And you talk about party to the litigation. So the litigation is still ongoing?
Mr. REY. No. The litigation was dismissed.
Mr. MORAN. As a result of the settlement?
Mr. REY. As a result of the original settlement agreement, and in retrospect, that is one of the complications we had. Had we thought then that we might need to revisit the issue later, we might have had the settlement agreement entered as a consent decree so the court retained jurisdiction over it. That at least theoretically would have given the judge a little bit more latitude to do something differently if he still had jurisdiction over it. It may not have made any difference, but it would have been at least a sounder procedure to attempt than where we find ourselves today.
Mr. MORAN. You also run the risk of other parties who are not parties to that original litigation settlement agreement becoming parties?
Mr. REY. Or bringing new challenges in their own right. That would be the way that that would mostthat risk would most likely express itself.
Mr. MORAN. So you can reach an agreement with whoever the players are at the moment, but you can always have a new player in this process at any time?
Mr. REY. That is one of the more challenging aspects of all of this.
Mr. MORAN. I appreciate the education. Staff has brought meapparently I have been misunderstood, Mr. Chairman, because staff has brought me a list of points of interest in my home State.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Without objection, they will be made a part of the record.
Page 37 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. MORAN. My only reluctance to answer the question was that I didn't want to single out any particular high point of places to visit in Kansas. It wasn't that they didn't exist. I just didn't want to prefer one over the other.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Well, if they are not too voluminous, we can put them in the record.
Mr. MORAN. Well, thank you, Mr. Chairman. I appreciate the witnesses. I appreciate the education.
It is my pleasure to recognize the gentleman from South Dakota.
Mr. THUNE. I have been there. I don't think there are any high points in Kansas. I say that elevation-wise. It is very flat in Kansas. But I think there is a reason General Custer went from Fort Hayes to the Black Hills, although he might have met a different fate if he had stayed in Kansas.
But I want to follow up on a couple questions that have been asked and just to flesh this out a little bit further. But the whole question of litigation is one that was raised with respect to the originalthe language that I had proposed to the farm bill conferees that Chairman Goodlatte was kind enough to advance in that process, and it was argued at the time that if in fact we pursued that course of action that it would meet litigation, that there would be lawsuits filed.
Is it not likely as well that if we legislate the settlement agreement and there are parties who are not in agreement with that who were parties to the original agreement, that litigation is a likely scenario as well? It seems to me at least that litigation may be an eventuality in either case. Is that a fair assessment?
Mr. REY. I think given the history of this conflict that it would be prudent to assume that litigation is a strong possibility under any scenario. I think the key issue is whatever we do, to do it in a way that provides a solid rationale and a strong defense against litigation going forward if Congress elects to act.
Page 38 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC We were queried about your original amendment, Congressman Thune, and to the prospect of litigation should it pass Congress, and our judgment was that while litigation might have ensued to be sure, that we thought that we could probably prevail. And if the plaintiffs in that subsequent litigation, whoever they may be, were successful and sought, rather, a temporary restraining order, there is a pretty good chance that we could succeed in resisting that. And anything that we go forward with will have those same risks attached to them.
I think the issue is that if you have more people in agreement, by the process of elimination you reduce the number of litigants at least, and that if Congress acts, whatever we do we make sure is sound enough so that the litigation can be successfully withstood.
Mr. THUNE. My assessment is that this situation is what I would characterizeagain, having been on the ground out there on a couple of different occasions from Mr. Finn's place and thenand prior to that with a group of people in that area, that this is dire. I mean, this is an emergency, and that legislation, the legislation that I had tried to advance declaring that a disaster area, declaring it an emergency, that when you are talking about public health and safety, when you are talking about the potential loss of property and life and everything else, that even the threat of lawsuits and threat of litigation, that we in fact could prevail.
That was sort of the premise that I had proceeded with in terms of the legislation, the legislative solution I proposed earlier. And my sense is that now we are a month later. We had an opportunity to legislate a solution. The President signed the farm bill May 13. We are now into June. We have lost that much time because that solution or proposed solution was rejected at the time by the Senate. Now we are talking about a legislative solution that in all likelihood will face the same threat of litigation, but we are that much further into the process and moving a freestanding bill or taking some language and attaching it to some other piece of legislation that is moving through the process at this point isit takes time, and I hopemy hope would be at least that we can accelerate and expedite any effort that we make to get this through the process.
Page 39 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In my opinion, it is just that desperate, and I don't think we have any choice. We have a national treasure in the Black Hills. This is somethingand it is not just South Dakota's treasure. It is the Nation's treasure, and if we don't treat it like that the trend isn't a good one. If you look at those pictures that Mr. Finn has and you look at that orange area, as that orange area continues to grow and grow and grow, not only are those trees being destroyed, but that fuel load is falling onto the ground and the risk of fire increases by the day.
Now, I appreciate where our friends in some of the environmental groups are coming from, but the reality is there isn't going to be any forest left if we don't do something to treat and protect and manage the resources that we have today, and I am going to do everything within my power to continue to push a legislate solution to this, to see that we get some action out there, because people are tired, and I would say to Mr. Finn, too, that some have suggested throughout the course of this process that private landowners ought to be responsible for assuming any increased risk associated with living next to a national forest, and I am curious to know what the reaction is from you and from others and from the community out there to that suggestion.
Mr. FINN. My neighbors have already logged off over 600 acres. Part of that was because of the infestation. The rest of it was to help keep the fire away from their homes and the rest of us. I think a large thing that can be done is educating the people. We have done buffers. We have done three fire meetings in town to help educate the people around there, and they are doing a buffer, which the Forest Service suggests 200 feet, while in my area, I live in a draw, to where 200 feet is irrelevant. When a fire comes down through that draw, it is taking my place out anyway, and I understand that. And when I moved there, I understood that that was the only threat that I had to deal with.
The other people around, I think if we educate them and if we help them, they are more than willing to do whatever it takes to help take better care of their property, to reduce the fire danger, and if the Forest Service is telling us this is the thing to do and this is healthy for our forest, I trust them and I believe them and I will do everything I can. And as far as financial aid, things like that, we will take all we can get. We would appreciate that. I also think that insurance companies should be kicking in on that, too. They stand an awful lot at risk. So, if we can get some State aid, yes, but I think the main thing is education.
Page 40 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. THUNE. Well, and I hope that we canas people become more informed and aware of what some of these management practices are, in consultation with the Forest Service, take more responsibility themselves as well. But clearly an area like Beaver Park is something that is outside the realm of anything that any of you or the folks who live in that area and that community can do anything about. That is something that will require action. Those are Federal lands, Federal properties, and this Government in my opinion has a responsibility to take care of them, and today we are not doing it.
And I would also add and I would suggest, Mr. Chairman and the members of this committee, in a broader sense we have to alsoif making legislative changes can prevent in the future what we are dealing with today, then let us make some legislative changes that will change the way in which these processes drag out longer and longer and longer, and I have suggested in conversations with Under Secretary Rey as well as with others at USDA that we come up with some suggestions and you folks give us some direction as to what we can do to eliminate this endless appeal process which is locked into law which needs to be changed.
These things are crying out for a change. A handful of people should not be able to hold hostage the best interests of the many in a place like the Black Hills of South Dakota, and that is essentially what is happening. They are using a legal processthey are misusing a legal process in a way that is disadvantaging the many people who live and work and recreate and cherish and treasure our Black Hills. And so I would also suggest that as we look at the immediate situation and what we do to deal with this emergency, that we also look in a broader sense about what we can do legislatively that will enable the Forest Service to do its job and to not consistently be fighting these things, knowing of course that people have access to the courts, but to the degree that we control the process by whichand the degree that they can delay the process, we need to take action to do that.
So I appreciate very much the panel's testimony and I am anxious to work with you to get this situation addressed, both in the short term and in the long term. I thank you, Mr. Chairman. I yield back.
Page 41 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. GOODLATTE. I thank the gentleman, and the gentleman's comments regarding the need to examine the procedures under which the Forest Service operates are well taken. So the committee looks forward with great interest to hearing very soon from the Department regarding proposed changes in how to deal with some of these long-term problems. But the committee also is interested in working closely with the gentleman from South Dakota to fashion legislation that can take a bipartisan approach and a quick approach to solving this problem and moving it through the Congress to get the concerns of your constituents, the concerns of Mr. Finn and Mr. Twiss addressed in a much more prompt fashion than has taken place thus far. So we will work with you on that.
At this point the Chair would seek unanimous consent to allow the record of today's hearing to remain open for 10 days to receive additional material and supplemental written responses from witnesses to any questions posed by a member of the panel. Without objection, it is so ordered.
I am again pleased to thank all of our witnesses for their participation today. You have made an important contribution to our understanding of the nature of this problem, and this hearing of the Subcommittee on Department Operations, Oversight and Nutrition and Forestry is adjourned.
[Whereupon, at 2:52 p.m., the subcommittee was adjourned, subject to the call of the Chair.]
[Material submitted for inclusion in the record follows:]
Statement of Richard Finn
Thank you, Chairman Goodlatte and subcommittee members for allowing me to testify today. I am Rick Finn, a husband, father, and landowner in the Black Hills of South Dakota who has become tremendously concerned about and personally affected by the shortcomings of forest management on the Black Hills National Forest. The Black Hills are my back yard, and have been for the nearly 50 years I've lived here. Now, however, in my back yard looms not the serene forest I had come to love; instead, something unfamiliar, foreboding, and terrifying occupies the lands adjacent to my own. I'm speaking of the certain catastrophe of wildfire perched to rain down upon my family's home from across the Forest Service property boundary. My wife Julie, 14 year-old daughter Kellie, and 13 year-old son Andrew, our dog Jasper, and I live quite literally a stone's throw from what has come to be the most hotly debated area of the Black Hills; an inventoried roadless area called Beaver Park. The infestation of a common forest insect, the mountain pine beetle, has in this 5,000-acre area caused the death of more than 125,000 trees since 1997. A sea of once-healthy trees now harbors a nightmare-inspiring, tangled mass of snags and forest debris which can be described only as a powder keg awaiting ignition. I am before you today for Julie, for Kellie, and for Andrew, because all attempts to allay the dangers of this situation to date have met with failure.
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To review how the current situation in Beaver Park arose, I'll briefly recount the recent events in Black Hills National Forest (BHNF) management over the past five years. In 1997, the Regional Forester signed the BHNF's Revised Land and Resource Management Plan (Forest Plan). The plan was subsequently appealed by a number of interest groups to the Chief of the Forest Service. After two years in the Washington, DC office, then-Forest Service Chief Mike Dombeck remanded the Plan to the BHNF. The Chief's decision to remand was based on the way the BHNF was addressing species viability, although the plan was upheld on nearly all the other issues raised in the various appeals. Most damaging about the Chief's unprecedented decision, was his conclusion that the BHNF's Forest Plan did not comply with the National Forest Management Act, and was therefore an illegal document.
At the same time, the BHNF had recognized the problem in Beaver Park, and was taking steps to address the growing mountain pine beetle infestation there with a project called the Veteran/Boulder salvage. However, environmental special interest groups had also challenged Veteran/Boulder, and were now embroiled in a lawsuit to halt the project. Once the Chief's decision declaring the BHNF Forest Plan illegal was handed down, all the Forest's projects developed under the 1997 Forest Plan were rendered illegal as well, including the proposed treatments in Beaver Park. A Settlement Agreement ensued which dictated the cessation of management in the Beaver Park area and the manner in which the BHNF was to address the Chief's concerns.
Per the requirements of the Settlement Agreement, no efforts at curtailing the spread of mountain pine beetle in this area have to date been undertaken by the Forest Service. According to Forest Service aerial surveys, the beetle infestation in Beaver Park grew by more than 500 percent between 1998 and 2000 alone. Now, a massive swath of bug-killed trees marks the landscape. To a man, the fire experts with whom I've spoken assess this area as having tremendously magnified fire risk, so-much-so as to be regarded inevitable. They fear the fire intensity these conditions will create, coupled with poor access and steep terrain, will furthermore render any fire ignited in Beaver Park completely unstoppable. The infestation shows no sign of slowing, the fire danger shows no sign of lessening, and as such, I fear each day for the safety of my family.
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Compounding the beetle-created fire danger has been South Dakota's unseasonably warm, dry winter and spring, creating serious drought conditions. As of February, the Black Hills were fifty percent below the average annual precipitation. Although spring has brought some relief, the land is already so dry that the effects of even substantial rainfall seem to disappear in a matter of hours.
Many other Black Hills residents live within the grasp of the sort of wildfire event Beaver Park threatens to initiate. My immediate neighbors are among these potential victims. But moreover, the Beaver Park area is located only a few short miles southwest of Sturgis, SD, a city of 6,000, and approximately twenty miles northwest of Rapid City, which has more than 50,000 residents [see attached location map]. Additionally, there are about 1,000 homes along Interstate 90 between Sturgis and Rapid City which sit along the BHNF boundary. It is not unreasonable to think that a fire sporting a 5,000 acre head of steam would find no problem reaching out to threaten either of these communities and the interspersed private land between, depending on nothing more than which way the wind blows.
PRIOR AND ONGOING ATTEMPTS TO REACH RESOLUTION
I have invested considerable time in an attempt to educate my neighbors and others throughout the Black Hills about the impending danger in Beaver Park. These efforts included organizing several meetings with my neighbors and Forest Service, State, and local fire personnel, participating in a large public meeting in Sturgis, appearing in numerous news programs and articles, testifying before the South Dakota State legislature, and before this congressional subcommittee today.
I have also endeavored to thin my own property, removing trees, fuels, and brush from the immediate vicinity of my home. Other adjacent private land owners have collectively treated about 600 acres with similar means to reduce fire risk. However, I fear our attempts to defend ourselves will be nothing more than a drop in the bucket against the sort of fire Beaver Park will inevitably feed. The Black Hills' Jasper Fire in the summer of 2000, for instance, was so intense that it was spotting hot embers more than one mile in front of the fire's head. A Beaver Park fire of even remotely similar proportions to Jasper would ignore my meager efforts to treat fuels and engulf my home as though it were just another pine needle on the forest floor.
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Other concerned citizens, local officials, county and State governments, as well as South Dakota's congressional delegation have all taken up the fight to resolve the Beaver Park problem before disaster strikes. These efforts are tremendously appreciated by all who find themselves close to the problem, but as another fire season approaches without any tangible progress, I feel an ever-mounting anxiety creep over me once more.
Over the past year, nearly all the local County Commissions have passed resolutions stating their wishes that the Forest Service address the Beaver Park problem in addition to more proactively pursuing other such problems in their budding stages across the Black Hills. In August, 2001, Senator Tom Daschle held a Forest Summit in Rapid City, which addressed the Beaver Park issue among other pertinent management topics. The 2002 session of our State's Legislature saw the introduction of a bill that would have allowed the Counties to declare a disaster area on the National Forest, and undertake management actions to reduce the risk of catastrophic fire. The bill passed the State House unanimously, but was tabled in the Senate in favor of a lawsuit Governor William Janklow announced he was planning to file against the Forest Service on the grounds of endangering public safety.
Most recently, the Forest Service initiated discussions between the parties to the original Settlement Agreement in an attempt to renegotiate the terms so as to allow treatment in the Beaver Park area. It is my understanding that initial efforts met with little cooperation from the environmental special interest plaintiffs. I was pleased when Representative John Thune introduced his amendment to the Farm Bill that proposed to declare Beaver Park a disaster area and instructed the Forest Service to proceed with management and fire risk reduction. At the same time, I was and am hopeful that the ongoing negotiations will bear fruit despite the announcement by several environmentalist parties that they would not agree to the renegotiated settlement. Compounding this concern, BHNF Supervisor John Twiss was quoted in the Rapid City Journal last Thursday as saying that an agreement was still very close, but treatments were ''unlikely to occur'' this fire season.
Page 45 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I'm not sure what the status of the negotiations is at this point, but for Julie, Kellie, Andrew, and I, not getting anything done before the 2002 fire season is upon us is completely unacceptable. Already, we're seeing horrific fires across the West, especially in Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona where many homes have already been lost and much property destroyed. I fear what this foreshadows for my back yard in the coming months, and am willing to pursue and support any measure, negotiated, legislated, or otherwise, that addresses the fire risk problem this season.
I will be the first to admit that I'm not a forest policy expert. Therefore, I will avoid making specific recommendations about changes to laws, regulations, or procedure. However, I will share the following observations:
The situation in Beaver Park would seem to exemplify what's wrong with the Forest Service's system. Time and again, the Agency attempts to implement sensible resource management decisions that are supported by an overwhelming majority of its users, only to have special interest groups tie their hands using the Forest Service's own procedures. The professionals who make natural resource management decisions for the Forest Service are just that; professionals. We ought to enable these professionals to do their jobs and make the decisions they were trained to make. I like to draw the example of getting on an airplane to come to Washington, D.C.; upon boarding, one wouldn't usually stop in the cockpit to check the pilot's credentials and give him a breathalyzer test, nor would we revisit the cockpit during the flight and recommend a random course change. We trust these professionals to be left to do their jobs, as we should with natural resource managers.
In August, 2001, when the congressional delegation, the Forest Service, and other interested parties met in Rapid City to talk about the future of Black Hills management, I heard Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth describe what he called ''analysis paralysis.'' Chief Bosworth went on to describe the administration's optimism that the ''paralysis'' problem could be remedied, assuring those in attendance that he had assembled a team to address just that. I came away from the meeting feeling very positive about what might happen on the Black Hills in the next six months. However, I stand before you telling the same story I've been telling for years now; we somehow must ensure that more Beaver Parks don't happen on other parts of the Forest or on other forests across the country. I encourage the administration to continue its pursuit of real solutions for real on-the-ground resource managers who face the ''paralysis'' day-in and day-out, but I implore our leaders to act quickly, because time is running out on the Black Hills.
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This brings up another problem I observe on a consistent basis with the Forest Service; accountability. I'm sure that most of the attendees at our Summit in August, the Forest Service included, had perfectly good intentions of making progress toward solving the problems they talked about. However, I've observed that the Forest Service says a lot of things they don't necessarily intend or find themselves able to actually do. As a very basic example, the Agency's motto is ''Caring for the Land and Serving the People.'' Well, if ''service'' is what I'm supposed to be getting, I think you'll all understand if I express some considerable dissatisfaction. There are many in the Black Hills, and I'm sure across the country, who would express a similar sentiment.
These are complicated problems and it seems our decision- and policy-makers have a difficult range of solutions to choose from and implement. I think everyone in South Dakota appreciates the leadership and effort South Dakota's Congressional delegation have shown in trying to resolve the Beaver Park situation. However, my family and I are in desperate need of results. I hope my testimony helps this committee in identifying some decisive and expeditious means by which to cure the Black Hills ailments. Thank you again, Mr. Chairman, and subcommittee members for this opportunity to speak before you today.
Statement of John Twiss
Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, thank you for the invitation to appear before you today. I am John Twiss, Forest Supervisor of the Black Hills National Forest. I am here today to add the field manager's perspective to our discussion about public safety concerns and forest management hurdles in the Black Hills National Forest.
Page 47 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The Black Hills National Forest, located in southwestern South Dakota and eastern Wyoming, is comprised of 1.2 million acres of national forest system land. It is one of the most healthy national forests in the nation. The water is clean; fish and wildlife populations are diverse and plentiful; the soils are rich and stable; and plant communities are diverse. The esthetics are profound and evoke countless positive comments from the 4 million people who visit the Forest each year.
The Black Hills National Forest is also one of the most productive forests in the nation, grazing 23,000 cattle annually; producing 73 million board feet of timber annually for the last decade; permitting more than 800 special uses for marinas, summer homes, and ski areas; and maintaining 5,000 miles of system roads for recreation use and Forest administration. Forest annual revenues have averaged $14 million over the last five years with 25 percent of these funds returned to 7 counties in South Dakota and Wyoming.
While this information is interesting, I wish to explain my concerns today as they relate to recent trends of reduced vegetative management (thinning and timber harvesting), and the effects on forest health and public safety. Litigation and excessive analysis has slowed our ability to thin the forest and protect individual private property and communities. Beaver Park and the Norbeck Wildlife Preserve are two areas of the Black Hills National Forest that have been of great concern to me because they are overgrown (Norbeck) or infested with pine beetles resulting in thousands of dead and dying trees (Beaver Park). This condition and three years of drought, combined with the close proximity to communities, private property and municipal watersheds, spurred the Forest to call all litigants together in an attempt to break the gridlock so that vegetative treatments could take place. So far, we have not succeeded.
Let me conclude by saying that although the Forest has experienced the four largest forest fires in Black Hills recorded history in 2000 and 2001 which burned 120,000 acres and with the exception of the 40,000 acres in Beaver Park and Norbeck, I do not regard the Forest to be in a high risk fire condition. The Forest, for the most part, is well thinned and with National Fire Plan funding we are treating fuel loading around communities and other private inholdings rapidly. However, I am concerned about our ability to continue future timber harvesting and thinning.
Page 48 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Thank you for your time. This concludes my statement and I will be happy to answer any questions that you might have.
Statement of Mark Rey
Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today. I am Mark Rey, Under Secretary of Agriculture for Natural Resources and Environment. I am here today to discuss with you public safety concerns and forest management hurdles on the Black Hills National Forest in South Dakota and Wyoming.
As Black Hills National Forest Supervisor John Twiss will describe in his remarks, vegetation on the Black Hills National Forest has been actively managed for many decades. However, two areas, in particular, in which the Forest Service has proposed treatments, have generated significant public interest. These two areas, Beaver Park Roadless Area and Norbeck Wildlife Preserve, have unique legal challenges that have eluded our ability for resolution through judicial or administrative means. Each of these areas are close to heavily developed private land and are illustrative of the predicament facing Black Hills National Forest managers in their attempt to reduce the bark beetle infestations and diminish the fire threat from beetle-killed trees and overly dense vegetation. Simply put, court proceedings have prevented implementation of our proposals for treatmenttimber sales, thinning, and fuel treatments for examplein these two areas.
Underscoring the public concern about this dilemma is a measure introduced this spring in the South Dakota State Legislature that would empower local municipalities to take fuel treatments on national forest lands into their own hands through a State declaration of emergency. While we do not view this as the best course of action, we certainly understand the desire of local communities to protect themselves from wildfire.
Let me briefly describe the Beaver Park and Norbeck Wildlife Preserve and walk you through the chronology of actions that have led to the current situation. The Beaver Park area includes a 5,000 acre inventoried roadless area southwest of Sturgis, South Dakota. The 34,000 acre Norbeck Wildlife Preserve was established by Congress in 1922 as a special designation within the Black Hills National Forest. It is located adjacent to Mt. Rushmore National Monument and Keystone, South Dakota.
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March 1, 1999 Forest Supervisor signed decision to harvest timber in Beaver Park Roadless Area to meet Forest Plan goals of achieving vegetative diversity and providing commercial timber.
April 19, 1999 Decision appealed
June 1, 1999 Regional Forester affirmed Forest Supervisor's decision.
July 30, 1999 U.S. District Court in Colorado denied appellant's motion to stop two timber sales in Norbeck Wildlife Preserve.
November 9, 1999 Lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Colorado challenging decision on Beaver Park based on the Chief's appeal decision on the revised Forest Plan.
September 12, 2000 Order filed adopting settlement of Beaver Park lawsuit. Settlement prohibited treatment in Beaver Park Roadless Area and in candidate Research Natural Areas until Forest Plan amendment is completed. Plaintiffs agreed not to challenge certain sales totaling 178 million board feet.
August 8, 2001 10th Circuit Court of Appeals rules that the record for proposed timber harvest in Norbeck Wildlife Refuge was not adequate to show the Norbeck Organic Act standards were met.
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December, 2001 Forest Service Forest Health Management Unit issues report on pine beetle epidemic in Beaver Park.
February, 2002 South Dakota Governor Janklow threatens lawsuit against Federal Government due to lack of action to curtail fire risk.
February 14, 2002 Senator Daschle and Senator Johnson ask Forest Supervisor to meet with litigants in Beaver Park and Norbeck lawsuits to discuss deteriorating forest health situation in Beaver Park and Norbeck.
February 19, 2002 Field trip with litigants hosted by Senator Johnson.
March 16, 2002 Rep. Thune requests language be added to Farm Bill declaring a fire risk emergency in Beaver Park and Norbeck and directing Forest Service to pursue alternative arrangements under NEPA with CEQ.
March-April, 2002 Discussions between parties of Beaver Park and Norbeck lawsuits on reopening Beaver Park settlement agreement and addressing Norbeck issues.
April 3, 2002 Senator Johnson asks Forest Service to meet 60 million board foot timber sale target on Black Hills.
April 5, 2002 On behalf of Rep. Thune, an amendment declaring a fire risk emergency in Beaver Park and Norbeck during Farm Bill conference sessions.
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April 9, 2002
Letter from Senator Daschle and Senator Johnson urging Under Secretary Rey to support Forest Service attempt to negotiate new settlement on Beaver Park.
Under Secretary Rey assures Senator Daschle and Senator Johnson that administration would participate in good faith.
May 16, 2002 Rep. Thune introduces H.R. 4766, Black Hills National Forest Preservation and Public Safety Act of 2002.
May, 2002 White House releases $5.4 million for fire rehabilitation work on Black Hills.
May 24, 2002 All parties with the exception of two of the original plaintiffs reach conceptual agreement modifying the Beaver Park settlement agreement and resolving issues in Norbeck. This would have made fuel treatments possible in each area.
In the case of Beaver Park, our counsel have advised that there is no effective legal process to implement the modified agreement through the district court, in the absence of the two non-settling plaintiffs. Therefore, the buildup of forest fuels in Beaver Park and portions of Norbeck cannot be addressed through either administrative or judicial action. With Congress' help, we could reduce public safety issues associated with a catastrophic wildfire in these two important areas. The administration appreciates Congressman Thune's efforts in this area and looks forward to continuing to work with Congressman Thune and the South Dakota congressional delegation to effectively address this issue.
We also welcome the opportunity to work with this committee and the South Dakota delegation to reduce the threat to public safety that unhealthy forest conditions in Beaver Park and Norbeck have created. This concludes my statement. I would be glad to answer any questions that you may have.
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