SPEAKERS CONTENTS INSERTS
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THE NATIONAL FIRE PLAN AND OUTLOOK FOR THE 2002 WILDFIRE SEASON
SUBCOMMITTEE ON DEPARTMENT OPERATIONS,
OVERSIGHT, NUTRITION, AND FORESTRY
COMMITTEE ON AGRICULTURE
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
ONE HUNDRED SEVENTH CONGRESS
JUNE 13, 2002
Serial No. 10719
Printed for the use of the Committee on Agriculture
Page 2 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCagriculture.house.gov
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
TIMOTHY V. JOHNSON, Illinois
TOM OSBORNE, Nebraska
Page 3 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCMIKE 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
MIKE THOMPSON, California
Page 4 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCBARON 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
ADAM H. PUTNAM, Florida
Page 5 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCEVA 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
Goodlatte, Hon. Bob, a Representative in Congress from the Commonwealth of Virginia, opening statement
Hill, Barry T., Director, Natural Resources and Environment, U.S. General Accounting Office
Hull, James B., State forester and director, Texas Forest Service, College Station, TX, representing the National Association of State Foresters
Rey, Mark E. Under Secretary for Natural Resources and the Environment, U.S. Department of Agriculture, representing the Wildland Fire Council
Page 6 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCPrepared statement
Hartzell, Tim, Director, Office of Wildland Fire Coordination, Department of the Interior
Truesdale, Denny, Assistant to the Coordinator, National Fire Plan, Forest Service
THE NATIONAL FIRE PLAN AND OUTLOOK FOR THE 2002 WILDFIRE SEASON
THURSDAY, JUNE 13, 2002
House of Representatives,
Subcommittee on Department Operations,
Oversight, Nutrition, and Forestry,
Committee on Agriculture,
The subcommittee met, pursuant to call, at 2:27 p.m., in room 1300, Longworth House Office Building, Hon. Bob Goodlatte (chairman of the subcommittee) presiding.
Present: Representative Rehberg.
Staff present: Brent Gattis, subcommittee staff director; Callista Gingrich, chief clerk; Kathleen Elder, Ryan O'Neal, Kellie Rogers, and Quinton Robinson.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Good afternoon. This hearing of the Subcommittee on Department Operation, Oversight, Nutrition, and Forestry to review the National Fire Plan and the outlook for this year's wildfire season will come to order.
The chair would first like to apologize to everybody for the fact that we had votes ill-timed to coincide with the start of our hearing, be we are now were to get underway.
I have an opening statement.
Page 7 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCOPENING STATEMENT OF HON. BOB GOODLATTE, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA
Mr. GOODLATTE. Today as we conduct this hearing, large wildfires are burning across the country. Over 1.4 million acres have already been consumed and the worst may be yet to come. We have seen fires burn earlier, grow faster and burn at an extreme intensity. They have burned across private, State and Federal lands. They have burned family homes and other structures. They have burned through recreation areas, wilderness areas and roadless areas.
The fire approaching Denver, CO has burned through two roadless areas. Wildfires do not know arbitrary or political boundaries. They burn where there is fuel and where the fuel and wind take them. Managing for healthy forests is the only way to stop these fires from consuming our Nation's forested treasures and threatening neighboring communities.
No line drawn in the sand will stop the devastation from catastrophic wildfires. Only good stewardship will create sustainable forests that we can proudly leave for our children and grandchildren.
More acres have burned so far this year than during the same time period in 2000. There are fires burning in my State, in fact in my district in Virginia, the Marble Yard complex fire burning in the George Washington-Jefferson National Forest is burning in standing dead timber in and around a wilderness area. Stands that fell victim to the gypsy moth and southern pine beetle are left to act as fuel for the fire because analysis-paralysis has successfully stopped management.
There are large fires burning in the Southeast, Southwest and interior West. Fires are also burning in Hawaii and Alaska. As we all know from watching the 7 o'clock news, the State of Colorado is experiencing the largest fire in the State's history. Just this morning, more evacuations are being reported and the number of firefighters on the fire has doubled.
Page 8 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Flame lengths of 300 feet have been observed in Colorado. Fire behavior witnessed at many of these fires can be described as extreme where high rates of spread are observed, prolific crowning and spotting, a firestorm of sorts prone to blow up where fires become so extreme as to create their own weather. Tornado-force winds have the potential of ripping mature trees out of the ground by their roots. These winds throw branches hundreds of feet from the fire, creating a new fire.
Fires like this are not a natural part of our ecosystem. They are not cleansing or beneficial to the forest. They are dangerous and destructive. These fires leave behind bare mineral soil, dead trees and vegetation, hot running streams and rivers and the threat of more devastation from massive mudslides. This is not how we take care of our forests. This is not nature taking its course. This is anything but. This is anything but natural. We must actively work to prevent these types of fires from occurring.
If we want to protect our firefighters, our communities and our forests, we must work to create healthy, sustainable ecosystems through good stewardship. Healthy forests burn more predictably and can more easily be controlled than necessary. We must become good stewards and stewardship means managing our forests.
Do we want to talk about constructively and thoughtfully managing our forests by thinning the dense understory to allow the forests to grow to a healthy, mature forest? Or, do we want to continue to allow devastationand here we have a picture from the Bitterrootso horrible that the forest cannot revitalize itself for many, many generations because of the depth of destruction.
The campaign to keep people out of the forest with a hands-off philosophy is dangerous to the very existence of our forests. Our forests need our help and our management.
Drought conditions are only a part of the reason for the early start to the fire season and the rapid growth of fire starts. But fires cannot burn, even in an extreme drought, without fuel. In forests across this country we are seeing an unnatural accumulation of dense fuels, threatening not only the stability of our national forests, wildlife habitat and watershed health, but threatening people and communities with the devastation of uncontrolled wildfire.
Page 9 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Today, the subcommittee is very interested in hearing from our witnesses about the National Fire Plan as a whole, the recently released implementation strategy, and the outlook for what appears to be a fire season to rival the wildfires of 2000.
We are now pleased to welcome our panel to the table.
First, Mr. Mark Rey, Under Secretary for Natural Resources and the Environment, U.S. Department of Agriculture, representing the Wildland Fire Council. Welcome. He is accompanied by Mr. Denny Truesdale, Assistant to the Coordinator, National Fire Plan, U.S. Forest Service, Mr. Tim Hartzell, Director, Office of Wildland Fire Coordination, Department of the Interior, Washington, DC; Mr. Barry T. Hill, Director, Natural Resources and Environment,U.S. General Accounting Office, Mr. James B. Hull, State forester and director, Texas Forest Service, College Station, TX, representing the National Association of State Foresters.
I would like to welcome all of you and tell you that your written statements will be made a part of the record and we would be pleased to receive your testimony at this point starting with Under Secretary Rey, who has become a regular visitor to the committee. We appreciate your contribution.
STATEMENT OF MARK E. REY, UNDER SECRETARY, NATURAL RESOURCES AND THE ENVIRONMENT, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE; ACCOMPANIED BY DENNY TRUESDALE, ASSISTANT TO THE COORDINATOR, NATIONAL FIRE PLAN, U.S. FOREST SERVICE, AND TIM HARTZELL, DIRECTOR, OFFICE OF WILDLAND FIRE COORDINATION, DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR
Mr. REY. Thank you for the opportunity to meet with you again today.
Since the Department of Interior and the Department of Agriculture work closely together in fire management and in implementing the National Fire Plan, it is appropriate, we think, to use a single statement to talk about the National Fire Plan, review the outlook for the 2002 wildland fire season and describe our department's state of readiness and preparedness for the fire season.
Page 10 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC So, my statement will be the statement offered for the entirety of the administration.
At the outset, Mr. Chairman, we want to thank you and your committee for your support of the fire management program and most importantly for your support of the brave young men and women would make up our firefighting corps. Our firefighters do an impressive job under adverse conditions and they deserve our thanks and admiration.
While we are addressing this fire season as best we can, fighting wildland fires is only one aspect of the work we must do to protect communities and restore ecosystems.
I am pleased to report that on May 23, 2002 the Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of the Interior joined with the Nation's Governors to endorse the implementation plan for the 10-year comprehensive wildland fire strategy.
I would like to submit for the record of the committee's hearing a letter jointly signed by the two Secretaries and 17 Governors agreeing to the implementation plan.
That plan is an historic document setting forth an agenda to aggressively manage wildland fires and reduce hazardous fuels, protect communities and restore ecosystems over the next decade. It came about because of the high level of growth in the wildland urban interface that is placing more citizens and property at the risk of wildland fire, the increasing ecosystem health problems across the landscape and an awareness of that past suppression has contributed to more severe wildfires.
The 10-year implementation plan will help reduce the risk of wildfire to communities and the environment by building collaboration at all levels of Government. It sets forth performance requirements for the delivery of increased firefighting resources and investments in long-term land management solutions.
To achieve these goals, local managers will work with State, tribes, local governments and citizens to plan the location of firefighting resources, the location of fuel reduction treatments and restoration projects in previously burned area, as well as maintenance of healthy acres.
Page 11 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Important to the leadership accountability and coordination in carrying out the National Fire Plan is our newly formed Wildland Fire Leadership Council. The Council has met twice since its inception in April and will provide leadership for the overall National Fire Plan.
The Council is a cooperative, inter-agency organization, dedicated to achieving consistent implementation of the 10-year implementation plan, the National Fire Plan and the Federal Wildland Fire Management Policy. This oversight will ensure policy coordination, accountability and effective implementation of these programs.
I would now like to turn to the fire outlook for this year. As everyone knows, we are already experiencing a large number of wildland fires across the Nation. Since 1999, La Nina, a phenomenon characterized by the abnormally cold temperatures in the tropical Pacific, has plagued much of the country with drier than usual weather. The resulting drought conditions in the Southwest, the Rockies, and the east coast have set the stage for a potentially disastrous fire season in those areas.
Since October, areas receiving below normal amounts of rain include southern California, the southern Great Basin, the Southwest, the Rocky Mountain State and the eastern seaboard. The Northeast has experienced the second driest September to February period in the last 107 years. So, we expect the fire season to be a severe on.
I would like to illustrate with a series of satellite imagery maps the situation as compared to previous years. These maps provide satellite imagery of the departure from average greenness of forest and range fuel moistures. Average greenness means the long-term average fuel moistures that we expect at different times of the year.
This first chart provides the average departure from greenness in April 1996, at the beginning of that fire season in what became a very difficult fire year. Dark green means very moist. Light green means less moist. Yellow means dry and red means very dry. So, dark green is very good if you are in the firefighting business. Dark red is very bad. That's what the beginning of the fire season in 1996 looked like.
Page 12 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Now, let's look at the beginning of the fire season in 2000. That's what things looked like at the beginning of the fire season in 2000.
Now, let's look at what the beginning of the fire season looks like this year. That's what things looked like in the beginning of April, which is the beginning of our fire season in the Southwest.
Now let's look at what things look like out there today, a month later. As you can see, they have deteriorated significantly as we begin to enter the normal fire season in the balance of the country as well.
I would also like to show you what things look like today in terms of potential for wildland fires. The areas in green have below normal potential for wildland fires. The areas in red have above normal potential for wildland fires and obviously, some of those areas are burning as we speak. But you can see that several areas of the country have significantly above average potential for wildland fires.
Fire potential is high, particularly high in northern Florida, northwest Minnesota and the southeast Alaska Panhandle. As well as the broader areas represented there.
The weather outlook for later this summer and fall calls for generally warmer than normal temperatures in the west and southeast. Rainfall is predicted to be near normal except for above normal early rains in the Pacific Northwest along with late summer and early fall dryness throughout the west.
As a result, fire potential in the Rockies and eastern seaboard states is expected to increase as the summer and fall progresses.
For the overall 2002 fire season, the greatest potential for fires will occur in southern California, the Southwest, the Great Basin, the Rockies and the eastern seaboard, from Florida to Maine.
Now, let's talk a little bit about wildland fire preparedness and the National Fire Plan. Each year, the five land managing agencies of the two departments prepare to prevent, detect and take prompt, effective initial attack suppression action on wildland fires. In order to do this, we need trained and equipped firefighters and firefighting equipment. We maintain qualified firefighters through training and apprenticeship programs and we have aggressive recruitment and retention programs. We maintain a number of facilities for firefighting housing and equipment storage.
Page 13 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Firefighter safety is our highest priority. Firefighting is a high risk, high consequence activity, and the Forest Service and the Department of the Interior has always had strong firefighter safety and training programs.
This year, however, following the July 2001 30-mile tragedy where four firefighters lost their lives, we have redoubled our efforts. The 30-mile fire tragedy prompted an examination to identified areas needing improvement. The areas identified include: managing firefighter fatigue, reinforcing the use of the 10 standard fire orders and 18 watch-out situations, and developing additional training to avoid entrapment by fire.
I am told that tomorrow we will be providing training to some congressional staff in avoiding entrapment by fire and the use of personal firefighter shelters. So, we should have them available if later in the summer we need to call on them.
All of these improvements in training and safety are in place for this fire season. We are committed to doing everything we can to improve firefighter safety. We also purchase and maintain firefighter personal protection gear and engines, other vehicles and contract for helicopters and air tankers.
Preparedness also includes assisting other Federal agencies, tribes and States with firefighter training programs, planning assistance, shared equipment use contracts and support of interagency fire coordination centers.
In 2001 we made great progress toward increasing our preparedness resources, thanks to National Fire Plan funding. The Forest Service and the Department of the Interior treated 2.25 million acres to reduce fuel loads and protect priority communities at risk. We will continue this success in fiscal year 2002 and collectively plan to treat an additional 2.4 million acres.
Together, we hired an additional 5,474 fire employees for a total Federal Wildland fire workforce of 17,633. We purchased 406 additional engines, 56 additional bulldozers, contracted for 31 additional helicopters and purchased or contracted for many other pieces of equipment and aircraft.
Page 14 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Prior the National Fire Plan, Interior sponsored 14 interagency hotshot crews and the Forest Service sponsored 52. With the increase in readiness capability made possible by the National Fire Plan, the Department of the Interior added eight additional crews and the Forest Service added 13.
In addition to our Federal firefighting crews, we call upon many other firefighting forces for assistance. Our working relationship with our State and local partners has never been stronger. Often State and local firefighters are the first to respond to fire incidents. In severe fire seasons, State, tribal, military, National Guard, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand and local firefighters are instrumental in fighting wildland fire. We rely heavily on these crews for support, especially the rural and volunteer fire department crews which are the first line of initial attack in up to 90 percent of all wildland fires.
With National Fire Plan funds we were able to improve rural and volunteer initial attack abilities with personal protective gear, equipment and training. The Forest Service provided over $138 million to States, volunteer fire departments and local communities to assist firefighting activities in 2001.
With these grants to our State and local Government partners, they were able to purchase fire equipment for local fire departments, develop hazard mitigation plans, treat 76,000 acres of hazardous fuels on private lands, accomplish community fire planning, develop market utilization for small diameter material removed through thinning, and conduct fire prevention and fire education training.
I would like to point out that the five land managing agencies of the Federal Government have updated the majority of their fire management plans to be consistent with Federal wildland fire policy with the goal of having all plans updated in 2004, if not sooner.
With the forecast for a severe wildland fire season this year, each agency began early and continues to bring national fire readiness capacity to its highest level. To date, the Department of the Interior has 5,325 firefighters and fire support personnel and the Department of Agriculture will have approximately 10,160 firefighters. Our combined goal is to have in place a Federal wildland fire workforce of over 17,800 personnel, a one-third increase from fiscal year 2000.
Page 15 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC When we realize the severity of the wildland fire outlook for this year, we began to hire seasonal firefighters early and we are working to place firefighting crews and equipment in locations where they can be mobilized quickly and effectively.
When local areas anticipate or experience above-normal fire activity, the two departments have the authority, through what is known as Severity Funding, to provide suppression funds to those units so they can bring in additional staff and equipment to improve initial and extended attack response capabilities and increase prevention activities.
Already this year, the Forest Service and Interior has provided a combined total of over $40 million for severity assistance. I can provide the total of that as well as the locations for the record of the hearing.
We will never be able to put out every fire every time, but we can reduce the number and risk of wildfire over time.
Last, let me talk about reducing fuel loads by restoring forest health. Fighting wildland fire is only one part of addressing wildland fire risks. While important, it is merely treating the symptom. The most critical aspect is reducing the build-up of hazardous fuels in our forests and grasslands by restoring fire-adapted ecosystems and thereby reducing wildland fire risks to communities and conserving natural resources and most importantly, saving public and private resources and lives.
Bipartisan congressional support has provided the Forest Service and the Department of the Interior with funding to increase the acreage of fuels treatment to reduce risks to communities and ecosystems. I earlier indicated what our achievements were last year and our goals are this year.
This year the Departments are also beginning the development of a common interagency fire budget planning process that will better refine wildland fire management readiness resources. The process will provide all agencies with a uniform performance based system for identifying the preparedness sources necessary to deliver a cost-effective fire management program. This system will be deployed by the 2004 fire season and will influence readiness decisions for 2005 and beyond. Some interim components may be on line even earlier.
Page 16 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In summary, we are better prepared today for the season before us than we have been in perhaps over a decade. We are better organized today than we have ever been. However, given the conditions that we see today, if they continue on into the summer and the fall, we may well suffer the most severe fire season in more than 50 years.
Thank you very much for your attention.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Thank you, Mr. Rey.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Now we will hear from Mr. Hartzell. I would ask the other panelists if they could try to limit their remarks.
Mr. REY. Actually, Mr. Hartzell and Mr. Truesdale don't have prepared remarks. That was on behalf of all three of us.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Good. Well, that saved us some time, didn't it?
Mr. REY. Then we will hear from Mr. Hill, Director of Natural Resources and Environment, U.S. General Accounting Office.
STATEMENT OF BARRY T. HILL, DIRECTOR, NATURAL RESOURCES AND ENVIRONMENT, U.S. GENERAL ACCOUNTING OFFICE
Mr. HILL. Thank you, Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee. Thank you for the opportunity to appear here today to discuss our work on wildland fires and the actions necessary to improve our Nation's response to this significant threat.
Since 1997, we have issued a series of reports that discuss the extent and seriousness of the wildland fire problem, Federal efforts to prepare for, mitigate and suppress wildfire threats and risks and actions needed to improve the effectiveness of these efforts.
In summary, our work has expressed the need for the following three things:
Page 17 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC First, a cohesive strategy to address growing threats from catastrophic wildfires to natural forest resources and nearby communities.
Second, clearly defined and effective leadership to carry out that strategy in a coordinated manner.
Third, accountability to ensure that progress is being made toward accomplishing the goals of the National Fire Plan.
My testimony today will briefly discuss each of these areas and highlight what actions and progress have been made to address them.
With regard to a cohesive strategy, in April 1999 we reported that the Forest Service had begun, during the 1990's, to address the unintended consequences of its decade-old policy of putting out naturally occurring wildfires, which had weakened the health of natural forests.
It announced its goal to improve forest health and the resulting consequences of uncontrollable catastrophic wildfires on national forests by the end of fiscal year 2015. The large scale wildfires of 2000 made it apparent that the problems on Forest Service lands also existed on many lands managed by the Department of the Interior as well as on many State and privately owned lands across the Nation.
As a result, the Forest Service and Interior have worked with States and other parties to develop common, comprehensive strategies. These strategies collectively termed the National Fire Plan address not only the need to reduce fuels, but also the need for more effective approaches for wildland fire preparedness.
In January and March 2002, we reported that over a year after the Congress substantially increased funds to reduce hazardous fuels for wildland fire preparedness, the Fire Service and Interior had not established clearly defined and effective leadership for addressing these problems and implementing the National Fire Plan.
Page 18 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC With respect to reducing hazardous fuel accumulations, we noted that the departments did not use the same method for identifying and setting priorities for wildland urban interface communities at high risk. The departments did not coordinate these activities, but instead did them separately.
As a result, there was no assurance that the increased funding appropriated by the Congress for reducing hazardous fuel build-ups was being allocated to the most seriously threatened communities.
We recommended that an interagency national council be established and in April of this year the Secretaries of Agriculture and Interior established a Wildland Fire Leadership Council. Since the council was only recently established, it is still too early to determine whether this approach to leadership will succeed in overcoming the coordination problems we previously identified.
We also made a recommendation for the Secretaries of Interior and Agriculture to develop performance measures and to collect accurate, complete and comparable data needed to better identify and set priorities and to measure the effectiveness of efforts.
The departments are now in the process of developing performance measures such as the number of acres treated that are in the Wildland Urban Interface and are in the process of determining whether the data are available that could support its performance measurement needs.
In conclusion, Mr. Chairman, the difficult task of effectively addressing wildland fire, a problem that has taken decades to develop, will require a sustained and coordinated effort to address. To this end, and to the departments' credit, they have developed a cohesive strategy to address the problem and have put in place an entity to provide more clearly defined leadership.
However to reduce the number and size of catastrophic, destructive fires in the long term will depend to a large degree on how effective the Federal Government is in implementing this strategy and approach.
Page 19 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. Chairman, this concludes my statement.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Thank you very much.
We now have Mr. Hull with us. Before we introduce him, I should note that Mr. Hubbard, the State Forester of Colorado had hoped to also be with us, but given the map that we just saw and the news reports of what is going on in Colorado, we certainly understand why he is not here.
We are delighted that you are with us, Mr. Hull, State Forester and Director of the Texas Forest Service. Welcome.
STATEMENT OF JAMES B. HULL, STATE FORESTER AND DIRECTOR, TEXAS FOREST SERVICE, COLLEGE STATION, TX
Mr. HULL. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I am here today not only in that capacity, but in my capacity as the National Chair of the Forest Fire Protection Committee of the National Association of State Foresters.
Certainly in talking with Mr. Hubbard earlier this morning, and I might add, a very sleepy, worn-out Mr. Hubbard, it is very obvious what is going on there. He regrets that he could not be here for a lot of reasons.
One of the things that we are hearing today is that the predictions are for massive dry lightening to come through Colorado and much of that part of the United States again tomorrow. And so the conditions could continue to develop and worsen there.
Mr. Chairman, I might tell you at the start that it is the hope and certainly the plans of State foresters and I think the expectations of you in the Congress that some day we are going to look back on June 13, 2002 in total disbelief that Americans had to live with this devastating fear that we have today and the devastation from wildfire.
It is to that end that State foresters have committed ourselves and are so deeply involved in the implementation and development of all of the parts and working with our partners to fully implement a National Fire Plan. As State foresters we take a lot of pride in our long experience and our understanding of the wildfire protection needs of this Nation from one end of the country to the other. We are proud of the long-term partnerships that we have with the U.S. Forest Service and more recently with the Department of Interior agencies. We are proud of the partnerships we have with private landowners, with local communities, with rural and volunteer fire departments.
Page 20 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC It is obvious that our unique authorities through the U.S. Fire Service, State and private forestry programs enable us to work across these boundaries that we find from State to State, across all the lands of the Nation to address a broad range of concerns in communities and all of these private lands that we are looking at.
The National Fire Plan has mandated State involvement in all levels of decision-makings of the National Fire Plan and that is being done very effectively. It mandated that we focus on these cross-boundary implementations and that is being done and that we develop plans that are long term because it has been pointed out that the solution is long-term.
It also points out, and what we are pleased to see now being recognized is that it is not just a western issue for the United States. The implementation plan for the 10-year strategy recognizes that this wildfire problem in America is scattered from end of the Nation to the other. That is why it is so effectively addressing prevention, very strong, massive, intensive prevention and suppression, fuels reduction, restoration of fire-adapted ecosystems and promoting community assistance.
It is also recognizing that the emphasis that is placed in all of these areas must be looked at under the auspices that priorities are going to differ. They will differ at different levels of Government and they will differ in various geographic regions of the Nation.
As an example, in the South and the eastern United States, the real priorities are in prevention and in very rapid initial attack suppression efforts and in community assistance.
In the South we have fire season year-round in many, many years. The populations continue to grow very rapidly. Fuels grow very rapidly. Whatever fuel treatment we do in the South, we have to continue to do it.
I would also point out that historical fire records for the United States will reveal that two-thirds of all the fire in this Nation occurs in the southern United States. Over half of the acreage lost occurs in the southern United States. Over half of the property lost, houses, structures and natural resources occur just in the South.
Page 21 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC When you look at the western United States, there are other priorities, hazardous fuels reduction, restoration of fire-prone ecosystems, community assistance and for all those things that we are seeing on CNN very often today.
But, I would point out that regardless of the part of the Nation, suppression must remain the priority in all regions because we can never let up on the fact that life and property cannot be ignored in this Nation.
One of the things that I would call to your attention there, just earlier this week I heard a statement that was very disturbing. That is that 47 of the 50 States today, their budgets are in the red. This has the potential for wrecking devastation on the firefighting capacity of many of our States and on down to local Governments. That is something we are going to need to be looking at.
Nowhere is the threat of disastrous wildfire and the values at risk greater than this thing we call the Wildland Urban Interface. We are seeing a lot of strong evidence of that now on the front range of Colorado. I experienced the same thing in Texas, up and down the I35 corridor from Dallas all the way down to San Antonio. We have seen this danger highlighted in California for decades. We have seen it in New Jersey, just recently. In Los Alamos in New Mexico it brought out the real potential of this national disaster as did Florida in 1998.
Perhaps the best Federal program to assist in Wildland Urban Interface demands is the new Community and Private Land Fire Assistance Program authorized at $35 million in the recently passed new farm bill. We are urging the administration to seek and Congress to fund this program that will provide incentives to assist communities working through State foresters to reduce fire risk through community fire preparedness planning, through private land hazardous fuel reductions, through small tree utilization and through public education through superb programs like Fire Wise that I hope you have heard a lot about.
Page 22 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. Chairman, I would conclude with just a hit and a highlight or two of what we see the national wildfire outlook for 2002. Basically, all I can say is what you see is what we got. The fire season already is displaying catastrophic potentials surpassing the 10-year average of about over 40 percent already this year. We have already gone to severity level 4, which is 40 days earlier than happened in the year 2000.
As an example, though, of the success that I feel like that the National Fire Plan, on Monday of this week we had 442 new fire starts in the United States and every single one of them were held on initial attack. I think that has a lot to do with the success of the staffing of the National Fire Plan.
As we look at growing fuels, populations everywhere, the drought conditions that have already been talked about, I can tell you that I believe that we are looking at a situation that is much bigger than El Nino, La Nino and those things. I think those are subsets of something much bigger.
In Texas, we analyzed what was happening over the last 5 years that caused our fires to become so drastically severe. We discovered in looking at 150 years of weather patterns that drought runs in 25- and 30-year cycles. These cycles are identical related to what we have found the Pacific Decital Occilation.
What we discovered was that in 1996 we came out of a 30-year wet cycle. What that means is that most of us spent our careers in a wet cycle thinking that was normal. Today, we are having to totally rethink, replan and to restrategize how we deal with fire protection emphasis and that has a lot of impact on all phases of agriculture.
Mr. Chairman, I will stop with that. Thank you so much for the opportunity to be here. I will be happy to address questions.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Thank you, Mr. Hull.
Mr. Rey, with all the press coverage in Colorado, do you think the public in general truly understands what is happening with wildfire in our forests and why we are seeing such catastrophic fires? Do they understand what lies at the root cause of this, not just the current drought conditions?
Page 23 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. REY. No. What I would like to do is to submit for the record of the committee's hearing a recent Roper poll just released this week by the National Environmental Education and Training Foundation. In that poll, to measure public awareness of wildfires, four questions were asked, first, what is the principal cause of wildfires?
Only 30 percent of adult America's knew that the majority of wildfires are man-caused.
Second, what is the principal cause of severity of wildfires; fuel build-up or drought? The survey found that just 15 percent or one out of six adult Americans can identify that fuel build-up is the principal reason for overly intense wildfires that we have had over the last 10 years or so.
Less than 50 percent of adult Americans understand that small, but controllable fires are a useful preventative measure. Two in five Americans recognize that there can be a positive regenerative effect from forest fires. Most Americans are not aware that there are actually fire-prone areas in the United States, meaning that they may not know that the simple decision to build or buy a house may put them, their families and all of their belongings at risk. There were actually five questions, that being the fifth.
When you consider that there are 10 times as many homes in vulnerable areas as compared to 25 years ago, that is a significant shortcoming in public awareness. Indeed the answers to all five questions suggest significant shortcomings in public awareness of the true nature of the problem we face.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Do you have the resources for this severe wildfire season given the early start? Will you run out of money allocated for fire suppression and what monies will you use when your fire suppression dollars run out?
Mr. REY. Based upon our current projections, the Forest Service will run out of previously budgeted fire suppression money at the end of this month. The Department of Interior will run out at the end of July. Under existing statutory authority, both departments have the authority to borrow from any available funds to assure a constant flow of suppression activities. Both departments have borrowing plans that have been submitted to OMB and we hope will be shortly approved.
Page 24 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC OMB actually may be releasing some additional suppression money in the next several days in any case. But that money will not alone carry us through the season. We will move into our borrowing plans later this year. Typically, when we execute the borrowing plan we apprise the Members of the Appropriations Committee what the pattern of borrowing that we are going to do will be and typically that money is restored in a later cycled bill, in this case it would be the 2003 Interior Appropriations bill.
I would be happy to send the borrowing plan to this committee as well when we send it up to the appropriators, probably later this month.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Thank you.
Mr. Hull, what is your assessment of how the partnerships and collaboration are proceeding under the National Fire Plan? Who are you working cooperatively with and what can the Congress do to help in this process?
Mr. HULL. We are extremely pleased with the cooperative efforts that are underway. It has been that way since the very first with the fire plan. I am very pleased that I understand this week the National Association of State Foresters will be receiving an invitation to serve on the National Wildfire Council. That should go a long way.
At every step of the process to day, the State Foresters have been involved in developing performance measures, all of the different aspects of the implementation plan. So at this point, I would just say that we are very pleased. We are satisfied. We are somewhat overwhelmed many times because of the rapid speed with which a lot of this occurs.
We find it very difficult to detail people to work long assignments at putting processes like this together. But overall, the opportunity is there and we are doing everything we can to fulfill the confidence that Congress has placed in the States and I believe we will continue to do that.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Excellent. Is there anything else that we should be doing in the Congress that we are not at this point?
Page 25 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. HULL. Just keep on encouraging us to do that. Certainly there are always funding issues that are appropriate. But as far as the collaboration, the cooperation part of what you are mentioning, we have had great support and very much appreciate that.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Thank you, Mr. Hull.
It is now my pleasure to recognize the gentleman from Montana, Congressman Denny Rehberg, who represents the entire State. He and his constituents well know the conditions that Colorado is facing from prior experience. I notice you are not in the red area right now, but you may well again be soon. Welcome.
Mr. REHBERG. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I thank you for calling this hearing.
I look with some interest at the map from Palmer Drought, and being a former chairman of the Drought Advisory Committee in Montana, one of the few duties a Lieutenant Governor gets, I see that your State and my State have exactly the same colors, from dark red to white, so you will probably have the same problem this summer that we do. So, I thank you for calling this hearing and I thank not only you, but the gentlemen at the table for doing the work before we got to this point, and that is planning ahead.
Having been involved in Montana's fires in 1988, I always was struck by the fact that Congress and the individual States did not address the fires of 1988, almost as if they didn't believe they were ever going to happen again. They were shocked when the year 2000 rolled around and, my God, we had fires again and we weren't prepared.
So, I thank you gentlemen and you, Mr. Chairman, in particular, for putting the wheels in motion to create a plan that can be followed.
Mr. Rey, my first question would be to you and that is, do you believe that you as an agency manager have the ability or the authority to in fact reduce the fuels based upon the continuation of the appeals process?
Page 26 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. REY. Yesterday, the Chief of the Forest Service testified before the House Resources Committee describing the process gridlock that we face at the Forest Service in addressing a number of land management and environmental needs.
I think that the predicament that he described applies very aptly to fuel reduction activities and other forest restoration activities. I'll provide a copy of his report and his testimony from yesterday for the record of this committee's hearing as well.
Mr. REHBERG. And the summation or the conclusion would be what?
Mr. REY. The conclusion is that we have a significant predicament at the present time in being able to utilize the resources that are provided to us most effectively in getting on-the-ground work done, that upwards of 40 percent of the National Forest System budget is being consumed not in on-the-ground resource stewardship activities, but in administrative processes that are adding little or no value to the environmental quantity of the decisions that are being made.
Today, an area for which we have been trying to do forest restoration and fuel load reduction work for years, the South Platt Watershed, the source of Denver's water, is on fire as we speak.
Mr. REHBERG. I again thank the department for being willing to jump into the issue of the timber salvage in the Bitterroot. I'm sorry that the decision wasn't as we had hoped.
That is one of the problems that I think, that I hope this addresses, this plan or our ability to change in Congress some of the problems we see in our lives and that is that we have a judge sitting in a black robe behind a desk making decisions about natural resources and what is in the best interests of the forest and countermanding many of the decisions your people make on the ground. They are on their hands and knees looking at bugs and beetles and grasses and such.
Page 27 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I hope that the Fire Plan will have the opportunity perhaps to identify and isolate some of those problems.
Would you put the roadless initiative or the road maintenance budget into the same category or did the report that we will receive show it as an example as well of foolishness in the way that it restricts or limits your ability to have the flexibility to do the right thing to manage these forest lands?
Mr. REY. The report does describe some of the barriers to overcoming the current backlog we have in road maintenance. It doesn't talk about the roadless initiative per say.
Mr. REHBERG. If I might just give you one personal observance, and I don't know if the Department of Agriculture or the Forest Service is doing this, but I'm quite active with my local volunteer fire departments. Last week we were successful in collecting equipment from all over the country, mostly from Michigan. A gentleman from Missouri collected it and brought a truckload out to us, about $100,000 worth of equipment.
One of the things that was mentioned to me that I intend to look into, and I hope you might know an answer, is that at least in the Bureau of Land Management, when they have excess equipment such as shovels and boots and hats and left-over equipment or might be slightly damaged, a hole in the hose, they light a fire and they burn it. They do not give the local fire departments or the volunteer fire departments the opportunity to either purchase that equipment or have it donated to them. Are you aware of anything like that in the Department of Agriculture?
Mr. REY. I will ask Mr. Truesdale to respond.
Mr. TRUESDALE. We would have. You are asking about equipment that may be old and unserviceable. There may be instances where we would destroy things like hard hats if they would be a danger to the wearer. We would not want to put a volunteer fire department at risk, any more than anyone else.
Page 28 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC We do have other programs, however, through our State assistance programs, the Rural Volunteer Fire Assistance Programs that both the Department of the Interior and the Forest Service have that provide matching dollars to those agencies where they can purchase equipment, refurbish equipment. It is very commonly used with surplus personal excess, personal property from the military where they can get a hold of a truck or a pick-up and then convert it into a firefighting piece of equipment. So, those programs are available.
Of course, on Federal fires or fires of any sort there are accesses during the emergency to those volunteers or State employees to have access to the fire caches where we would be able to utilize equipment during an emergency situation.
Mr. REHBERG. Okay, thank you. I just wanted to make you aware of what I was hearing from my local volunteer fire departments, that they personally observed BLM employees piling up equipment from the field that had minor damage. It might have been a scuffed up handle on a shovel or a hole on a hose where they lit them on fire, rather than either donating them or giving a volunteer fire department an opportunity to purchase that equipment.
I wanted to at least put you guys on notice because now I'm going to do the research to find out exactly when, where, who, how and if this does occur. I hope to be able to communicate back with you so we at least know that the Forest Service doesn't do this. Maybe the Bureau of Land Management does.
Mr. REY. We will let Mr. Hartzell respond.
Mr. HARTZELL. Congressman, I appreciate your bringing that to our attention. That is something that I will follow up and look into. We would like to work with you on that. We have a Rural Fire Assistance Program. It is funded at the $10 million level. It was a new program through the National Fire Plan in fiscal year 2001.
That program is specifically targeted to provide equipment and training to small, rural volunteer fire departments throughout the country. I would like to work with your staff and make sure the fire departments that you are concerned about are aware of that program and understand how to make it available to them, if appropriate.
Page 29 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. REHBERG. We have pretty well figured out how to get a hold of that. We, in fact, put on seminars through FEMA back in Montana for all of our volunteer fire departments to access that and the $360 million worth of fire grants that are available this year; $100 million last year. We are pretty good at that. Thank you.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Thank you. We will have another round of questions and I would like to start by asking Mr. Hill. The previous GAO reports on the National Fire Plan have been critical of the agency's ability to implement the plan and the ability to coordinate with other State and local agencies. With 2 years of experience and with the recently released implementation strategy, has it changed? Has it improved? What are your observations at this point, Mr. Hill?
Mr. HILL. I think we have seen a definite improvement. Between the National Fire Plan and now the formulation of the council, I think the framework and the structure is there and the strategy is there to address this problem.
The key now will be implementing it. Years ago when we first started looking at the situation, I think what we were finding were the Forest Service and the Interior agencies were kind of putting blinders on and addressing the problem within their own agencies and each unit was out there trying to develop whatever plans they had that were unit focused.
I think everyone realizes now that these fires do not recognize unit boundaries, that they burn in whole ecosystems and watersheds and certainly what we have seen in the past few years between the Interior agencies and the Forest Service working together to formulate the plans and strategies and now having a council that hopefully will provide some clear leadership.
I would have to say that we are better off now than we were 2 years ago.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Have we provided enough resources to the agency to carry out this plan?
Page 30 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. HILL. That is a hard one to answer. I think off the top of my head I would say yes, we have in terms of carrying out the plan, remembering that the focus of the plan here is to identify those high risk areas, where are they and how severe are they and what resources do we need to do the fuel reduction work we need to do and have the suppression capacity that we need to fight these fires when they break out.
When you have a fire season apparently like we had in 2000 or we may have this coming season, I'm not sure there is enough money you can program ahead of time to deal with that. I think you are going to have these bad fire years where you just aren't going to have enough money appropriated that you are going to have to dip into some other accounts to deal with it.
But in terms of implementing the plan, the fuel reduction work and the suppression capacity build-up, I think Congress has really stepped to the table and helped in the recent appropriations that have been made.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Thank you.
Under Secretary Rey, how is the agency prioritizing fuels treatment projects in order to ensure that the highest risk areas are being treated and how are you identifying the priorities for fuels treatment and how does that correlate with the communities that are at risk?
Mr. REY. The system for prioritizing the fuel treatment projects is described in the implementation plan that was signed on May 23. Additionally, the two departments have signed a cooperative Memorandum of Agreement in late March that lays out the process that they will use together to prioritize fuel treatment projects. Those same processes in both documents will be used to continue to refine, with the cooperation of the States, the list of the communities at risk. That list, I think, will continue to be narrowed and priorities will be set for the communities that are at most risk and that need most immediate attention.
Page 31 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I will say, though, if I can unfold a map that depicts the communities at risk that has been identified so far, as well as the fuel reduction activities that has been performed or planned so far, that contrary to some reports you are going to see a pretty good correlation between the two, even though some of the earliest projects were on-the-shelf projects because those were the only ones we could jump start in late 2000 and early 2001.
The map is hard to see from a distance, but after the hearing, if you want to walk down, we can look and compare the location of the communities at risk as well as the location of some of the fuel reduction projects that has been selected to date.
I'll also make the 10-year implementation plan and the March 20 Memorandum of Agreement between the two agencies available for the committee's records.
I also think that GAO has probably not yet had the opportunity to review the implementation plan. In my current capacity as opposed to my previous role, I no longer can ask GAO to do some work. But if you want to ask GAO to look at those documents, we would be happy to have their views.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Thank you. Your suggestion is well taken.
During the farm bill negotiations the House strongly advocated for increased authority in implementing fuel reduction treatments through the use of stewardship contracts. One point of resistance that we ran into was the demand that we require the agency to only treat fuels in the Wildland Urban Interface and another to prevent the agency from conducting any treatments in roadless areas.
How would this idea be applied on the ground? In your opinion, would it adequately address our forest health crisis and adequately protect communities at the risk of wildfire?
Mr. REY. The short answer is that such a concept would be applied badly on the ground for a number of reasons. First, in addition to communities at risk, we have ecosystems at risk that may not occur within or near the Wildland Urban Interface.
Page 32 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Our desire is to, at some point, affect treatments in those areas to protect and restore important watershed and ecological values.
Second, simply treating the area in the Wildland Urban Interface will not by itself assure the protection of all communities at risk. For instance, on the Angeles National Forest in southern California the current fire plan indicates that assuming an ignition under average worst conditions that there is no place in the forest where such an ignition could occur without endangering human habitations within a period of six hours.
So, you cannot protect ecological values by focusing solely on the Wildland Urban Interface, nor can you protect many of the communities at risk by focusing simply in the Wildland Urban Interface.
Additionally, there are important community values, such as municipal watersheds that lie outside of the Wildland Urban Interface.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Well, it is unfortunate that we were not able to get more accomplished with regard to stewardship contracts in the farm bill. I appreciate very much your comments.
I would note that this spring there was a wildfire on Mt. Lemon in Arizona. The fire started in a roadless area, burned through the roadless area and forced the evacuation of a neighboring community.
Your comments about the ecological effect of such a narrow strategy of simply attempting to treat areas where there is an urban interface being effective is not only bad for those communities that are going to see fires burn through an area and then reach the communities anyway. But it is also bad for the environment, for the ecological balance of the environment.
These are unnaturally high fuel loads and whether they are close to a community or not, they are having devastating impacts on the forests that are not natural. These are not natural forest fires that burn across the ground, burn out, the brush and so on, and leave the large trees healthy and continuing to grow.
Page 33 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC These are fires that are starting out in those areas on the ground and then stair-stepping up into the understory and then finally the entire canopy of the forest and destroying the entire forest in such a way that it will not regenerate itself in any reasonable period of time at all.
I have seen some good projects that were allowed a few years ago that would accomplish the goals that you are referring to and that I am referring to. In particular, I had the opportunity to visit the national forest in northern California, near Mt. Shasta, a couple of years ago and see a project where we had a forest that had an enormous fuel load because it was a Ponderosa Pine forest that had an undergrowth of very large Fir trees that had grown up underneath the Ponderosa Pines, below those were a huge build-up of dead debris wood on the ground.
So, when the fires occurred, they did exactly as we described, destroy the entire forest. The Forest Service issued a contract, a demonstration contract for just a few thousand, I think it was 2,000 acres to a company to go in and take out just the firs, don't touch the natural, native Ponderosa Pines, take out the not-naturally occurring Fir trees, and then once they were taken out, introduce fire on the ground to take out the brush on the ground.
Not only did this restore the forest to a very healthy State, but it also generated a contract for, I believe, $6 million to do 2,000 acres of land, which was vitally important for the health of the local economy, but at the same time, improved the environment.
These types of forest stewardship plans are badly needed because they would allow us to use precious Federal dollars in other areas where that type of circumstance does not exist and to allow private forestry companies to effectively pay for the improvement to the health of the forest in those areas where that type of a project is appropriate. I understand in many parts of the West just such a circumstance exists where one type of tree that is native can be preserved and preserve the forest and another that is not can be removed and have the effect of helping the economy and the environment at the same time.
Page 34 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Do any of you care to comment on that observation?
Mr. REY. I think those kinds of stewardship contracts are going to be an essential part of addressing this problem in a timeframe that brings us a solution before a disaster strikes.
Just recently, the Pinchot Institute for Conservation, a 501(c)(3) foundation, released a report assessing the efficacy of those stewardship contract pilot projects that has been executed as a result of authority provided in the last two appropriations bills. Their conclusion was that nearly all of the projects have an ecological foundation surrounded by broad goals that focus on achieving desired on-the-ground results rather than on product extraction.
In most instances, projects have identified multiple objectives illustrating the comprehensive nature of ecosystem management and land stewardship contracting.
So, I think what you say makes a lot of sense. The opportunity to use this tool is going to be essential and is, I think, bearing out in the first reviews of the pilot projects that have occurred so far.
I would be happy to make the Pinchot study available for the record of the committee's hearing.
Mr. GOODLATTE. We would welcome that for the record.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Mr. Hull, last year Congress directed the establishment of a list of communities at risk of catastrophic wildfires. I understand a total of 22,000 communities were identified on that list and over 11,000 of these were listed as being in proximity to Federal lands as opposed to State or privately held forest lands.
A large number of those communities were listed in States that aren't traditionally thought of as have been large problems with large fires, particularly eastern and southern States, including my home State of Virginia. But those States, it turns out, have a tremendous number of communities on that list. Can you address that?
Page 35 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. HULL. Yes, I would be happy to. This is an area that has been a highlight of confusion since the introduction of the National Fire Plan. The entire area of identifying, prioritizing and in some cases it seems like from one to 22,000 in priority order.
It is very difficult to do. In most States there were not available interpretations, guidelines as to how to make such an identification. What we are doing in the southern United States is doing a risk assessment south wide, where we pooled our resources to try to get a handle on this.
Some States have gone even further to try to intensify that identification of these communities at risk.
But I can tell you, and you hit the nail on the head just now in stating that there is not a State in the Nation that doesn't have a severe potential of a problem in a vast amount of communities in that State. That is one of the things that concerned us about some of the early reports that stated that it is basically a western problem; that there were no communities at risk in a number of States and those of us States foresters in all of those States were very much aware of the difficulty, the number of fires, the loss that is occurring on a regular basis.
So, the State Foresters are looking nationwide at trying to quantify and identify these communities at risk and we will do the absolute best job we can. But, I can tell you that it is a State-by-State issue. It is not something that you can put the same qualifiers or guidelines across the Nation and expect the same accurate results. So, we are trying to come up with an accurate list.
When we get to prioritization, that also is going to need to be done State-by-State because there are such regional State-by-State differences. And I hope we will be allowed and encouraged to do that to most effectively use the funds, the resources and the talents that we have to address this wildfire problem.
Page 36 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. GOODLATTE. Do you agree with the assessment of Mr. Rey and myself that more needs to be done in terms of working on the Wildland Urban Interface in terms of fuel reduction, in terms of thinning the forests, in terms of approaches other than the ones that the Congress is currently funding like the stewardship type program I described, like the demonstration project I just described?
Mr. HULL. I think these are excellent programs. I strongly agree. I'm so pleased that in the implementation plan of a 10-year strategy we have finally gotten away from this in close proximity to Federal lands because two-thirds of the forest lands of this Nation are privately held. The fire problem is just as great in these lands as it is on Federal lands. Plus, that is where the people live.
In most other Nations, people start fires, not lightning and natural phenomenon and that sort of thing. Fires are started by people. Where people are, that is where you have the fires and that is where the real problem in the Nation occurs.
Yes, I strongly agree with that. All lands must be considered.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Well, I very much appreciate all of your contributions this afternoon. I hope that we can move in the direction of helping to inform the public about the nature of this problem and that it is not simply a matter of a bad year because of a drought, but that this is a problem that is getting worse and worse and will continue to get worse.
We will have bad years in times of drought and in times of normal rainfall if we continue to allow this tremendous buildup of fuel loads in forests because we do and we should fight forest fires, but in the process we are not thinning out these forests and they are getting into a very unnatural condition in many, many parts of the country. Many millions of acres are at great risk of catastrophic wildfire and many millions of Americans who live near these areas.
Page 37 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The Chair will again thank all of you for your participation and contribution today.
I will now seek unanimous consent, which I seem likely to get, to allow the record of today's hearing to remain open for 10 days to receive additional material and supplementary written responses from witnesses to any question posed by a member of the panel.
Without objection, it is so ordered. This hearing of the Subcommittee on Department Operations, Oversight, Nutrition and Forestry is adjourned.
[Whereupon, at 3:40 p.m., the subcommittee adjourned, subject to the call of the Chair.]
[Material submitted for inclusion in the record follows:]
Statement of Mark Rey
Thank you for the opportunity to meet with you today. I am Mark Rey, Under Secretary of Natural Resources and Environment in the Department of Agriculture. With me today are Tim Hartzell, Director of the Office of Wildland Fire Coordination at the Department of the Interior; and Denny Truesdale, Assistant Coordinator, National Fire Plan, Forest Service. Since the Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture work closely together in fire management and in implementing the National Fire Plan, it is appropriate to use one statement to talk about the National Fire Plan, review the outlook for the 2002 wildland fire season, and describe our Departments' state of readiness and preparedness for the fire season.
At the outset, Mr. Chairman, we want to thank you and your committee for your support of the fire management program and, most importantly, for your support of the brave young men and women who make up our firefighting corps. Our firefighters do an impressive job under adverse conditions and they deserve our thanks and admiration. While we prepare to fight fire this season as best we can, fighting wildland fires is only one aspect of the work we must do to protect communities and restore ecosystems.
Page 38 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Today I will talk about several recent events regarding the National Fire Plan, the severe fire season now underway, and how the five Federal land-managing agencies and our partners are making preparations.
I am pleased to report that on May 23, 2002, the Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of the Interior joined with the Nation's Governors to endorse the Implementation Plan for the 10-Year Comprehensive Wildland Fire Strategy. The 10-Year Implementation Plan is an historic document setting forth an agenda to aggressively manage wildland fires, and reduce hazardous fuels, protect communities, and restore ecosystems over the next decade. It came about because of the high level of growth in the wildland urban interface that is placing more citizens and property at the risk of wildland fire, the increasing ecosystem health problems across the landscape, and an awareness of that past suppression has contributed to more severe wildfires. The 10-Year Implementation Plan will help reduce the risk of wildfire to communities and the environment by building collaboration at all levels of government. It sets performance requirements for the delivery of increased firefighting resources and investments in long-term land management solutions. To achieve these goals, local managers will work with states, tribes, local governments and citizens to plan the location of firefighting resources fuels reduction treatments and restoration projects in previously burned areas as well as maintenance of healthy acres.
Important to the leadership, accountability, and coordination in carrying out the National Fire Plan is the newly formed Wildland Fire Leadership Council. The Council has met twice since its inception in April and will provide leadership for the overall National Fire Plan. The Council is a cooperative, interagency organization dedicated to achieving consistent implementation of the 10-Year Implementation Plan, the National Fire Plan, and the Federal Wildland Fire Management Policy. This oversight will ensure policy coordination, accountability and effective implementation of the wildland fire programs.
Page 39 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC THE FIRE SITUATION AND OUTLOOK
I would now like to turn to the fire outlook for this year. As you know, we are already experiencing a number of large wildland fires across the Nation. Since 1999, La Nina, a phenomenon characterized by the abnormally cold temperatures in the tropical Pacific, has plagued much of the country with drier than usual weather. The resulting drought condition in the Southwest, Rockies and East Coast has set the stage for a potentially active fire season in those areas. Since October, areas receiving below normal amounts include Southern California, the Southern Great Basin, Southwest, Rocky Mountains and the eastern seaboard. The Northeast experienced the second driest September-to-February period in the last 107 years. So we expect the fire season to be a severe one.
Analyzing fuel and weather conditions across the country, the areas of greatest fire potential today include the Southwest, Colorado, Southern California, and the Southern Great Basin. Also, fire potential is high in Northern Florida, Northwest Minnesota and the Southeast Alaskan Panhandle.
The weather outlook for later this summer and fall calls for generally warmer than normal temperatures in the West and Southeast. Rainfall is predicted to be near normal, except for above normal early rains in the Pacific Northwest along with late summer/early fall dryness throughout the West. As a result, fire potential in the Rockies and eastern seaboard States is expected to increase this summer and fall. For the overall 2002 fire season, the greatest potential for fires is in Southern California, the Southwest, Great Basin, Rockies and the eastern seaboard from Florida to Maine.
Wildland Fire Preparedness and the National Fire Plan
Each year the five land-managing agencies of the Departments prepare to prevent, detect, and take prompt, effective initial attack suppression action on wildland fires. In order to do this, we need trained and equipped firefighters and firefighting equipment. We maintain qualified firefighters through training and apprenticeship programs, and we have aggressive recruitment and retention programs. We maintain a number of facilities for firefighter housing and equipment storage.
Page 40 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Firefighter safety is our highest priority. Firefighting is a high risk, high consequence activity, and the Forest Service and Interior have always had strong firefighter safety and training programs. This year, however, following the ThirtyMile Fire tragedy in July 2001, where four firefighters lost their lives, we have redoubled our efforts. The ThirtyMile tragedy prompted an examination of the programs to identify areas needing improvement. The areas identified include managing firefighter fatigue, reinforcing use of the 10 Standard Fire Orders and the 18 Watch Out situations, and developing training to avoid entrapment by fire. All of these improvements in training and safety are in place for this fire season. We are committed to doing everything we can to improve firefighter safety.
We also purchase and maintain firefighter personal protection gear and engines, other vehicles, and contract for helicopters and airtankers. Preparedness also includes assisting other Federal agencies, Tribes and States with fire training programs, planning assistance, shared equipment use contracts, and support for interagency fire coordination centers.
In 2001, we made a great start toward increasing our preparedness resources, thanks to the National Fire Plan funding. The Forest Service and the Department of the Interior treated 2.25 million acres to reduce fuel loads and protect priority communities at risk. We will continue this success in fiscal year 2002 and collectively plan to treat 2.4 million acres. Together, we hired an additional 5,474 fire employees, for a total Federal wildland fire workforce of 17,633. We purchased 406 additional engines, 56 additional dozers, contracted for 31 additional helicopters, and purchased or contracted for many other pieces of equipment and aircraft. Prior to the National Fire Plan, Interior sponsored 14 interagency hotshot crews and the Forest Service sponsored 52. With the increase in readiness capability made possible by the National Fire Plan, the Department of the Interior added eight additional Type I crews. The Forest Service added 13 Type I crews.
Page 41 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCIn addition to our Federal firefighting crews, we call upon many other firefighting forces for assistance. Our working relationship with our State and local partners has never been stronger. Often, State and local firefighters are the first to respond to fire incidents. In severe fire seasons, State, Tribal, military, National Guard, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand and local firefighters are instrumental in fighting wildland fire. We rely heavily on these crews for support, especially the rural and volunteer fire department crews, which are the first line of initial attack in up to 90 percent of all wildland fires. With National Fire Plan funds, we were able to improve rural and volunteer fire departments' (RFDs) initial attack abilities with personal protective gear, equipment, and training. In many instances last year, these RFDs purchased equipment with our grant money, and immediately responded to wildland fires on Federal land, utilizing the new equipment or protective gear. The Department of the Interior assisted 1,445 RFDs last year by providing almost 10 million dollars in grants.
The Forest Service provided over $138,000,000 to states, volunteer fire departments, and local communities to assist firefighting activities in 2001. With these grants our State and local government partners purchased fire equipment for local fire departments, developed hazard mitigation plans, treated 76,236 acres of hazardous fuels on private lands, accomplished community fire planning, developed market utilization of small diameter material removed through thinning activities, and conducted fire prevention and fire education training.
I would like to point out that the five land managing agencies have updated the majority of their fire management plans to be consistent with Federal wildland fire policy, with a goal to have all plans updated in 2004, if not sooner. The fire management plans are important because they provide the guidance for fire management officers, line management officers and incident commanders to plan for future fire management decisions, and to make quick decisions when a fire incident occurs, as to the appropriate techniques and tactics for effective wildland fire suppression. Initial attack is successful in keeping more than 95 percent of the fires under 100 acres.
Page 42 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC2002 FIRE SEASON READINESS
With the forecast for a severe wildland fire season, each agency began early and continues to bring national fire readiness capacity to its highest level. To date, the Department of the Interior has 5,325 firefighters and fire support personnel and the Department of Agriculture will have approximately 10,160 firefighters. Our combined goal is to have in place a Federal wildland fire workforce of over 17,800 personnel. This is an increase of 6,326 personnel from fiscal year 2000. When we realized the severity of the wildland fire outlook, we began to hire seasonal firefighters early and we are working to place firefighting crews and equipment in locations where they can be mobilized quickly and effectively.
When local areas anticipate or experience above normal fire activity, the Departments have the authority, through what is known as ''severity funding'', to provide suppression funds to those units so that they can bring in additional staff and equipment to improve initial and extended attack response capabilities and increase prevention activities. Already this year, the Forest Service has approved over $36 million for severity assistance; Interior has approved nearly $9.75 million in severity assistance. Federal wildland fire agencies have enhanced initial attack capabilities in Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Montana, and Nevada by pre-positioning resources ranging from airtankers, to hand crews, to engines in strategic locations.
Weather, fuels, and drought conditions all contribute to the number and size of wildfires. We will never be able to put out every fire every time, but we can reduce the number and the risk of wildfire over time.
REDUCING FUEL LOADS BY RESTORING FOREST HEALTH
Fighting wildland fire is only one part of addressing wildland fire risks. Another critical aspect is reducing the buildup of hazardous fuels in our forests and grasslands by restoring fire adapted ecosystems, thereby reducing wildland fire risks to communities, conserving natural resources, and most importantly, saving public and firefighter lives. Bipartisan congressional support has provided the Forest Service and Interior with the necessary funding to increase the acreage of fuels treatment to reduce risks to communities and ecosystems. As we stated earlier, the Forest Service and the Department of the Interior treated 2.25 million acres to reduce fuel loads and protect priority communities at risk. For the Department of the Interior, this is more than doubling prior accomplishments. We will continue this success in fiscal year 2002 and collectively plan to treat 2.4 million acres. Continued bipartisan congressional support for working with communities and interest groups are vital to firefighter and public safety, reduction of risks to communities, and to the implementation of ecosystem health goals of the National Fire Plan.
Page 43 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC This year, the Departments are beginning the development of a common interagency fire budget planning process that will better refine wildland fire management readiness resources. The process will provide all agencies with a uniform, performance-based system for identifying the preparedness resources necessary to deliver a cost effective fire management program. This system will be deployed by the 2004 fire season and will influence readiness decisions for the 2005 fire season. Some interim components may be online even earlier.
With the outlook for a severe fire season, the five Federal land-managing agencies and our partners at the State and local level are doing all that we can to be prepared. We will continue to do everything we can to ensure the safety of firefighters, communities, and resources. We appreciate continued bipartisan support from the Congress. The 10-Year Implementation Plan and the Wildland Fire Leadership Council will continue to foster cooperation and communication among Federal agencies, States, local governments, Tribes, and interested groups and citizens to ensure the long-term safety and health of communities and resources in our care.
This concludes our statement, Mr. Chairman. We would be happy to answer any questions you and the members of the subcommittee may have.
Statement of Barry T. Hill
Mr. Chairman and Members of the subcommittee: Thank you for the opportunity to be here today to discuss wildland fires and our work to identify actions necessary to improve our nation's response to this significant threat. The most extensive and serious problem related to the health of forested landsparticularly in the interior Westis the over accumulation of vegetation, which is causing an increasing number of large, intense, uncontrollable, and destructive wildfires. In 1999, the Department of Agriculture's Forest Service estimated that 39 million acres of national forested lands in the interior West were at high risk of catastrophic wildfire. This figure later grew to over 125 million acres as the Department of the Interior agencies and states identified additional land that they considered to be high risk. To a large degree, these forest health problems contributed to the 2000 wildfireswhich were some of the worst in the last 50 years. The policy response to these problems was the development of the National Fire Plana long-term multibillion dollar effort to address the wildland fires threats we are now facing. Currently, wildland fires are blazing in 10 states, with numerous fires in Colorado, and the potential exists for another catastrophic wildfire season. Already, the number of acres burnt this year totals about 1.4 millionwhich is almost 200,000 more acres than were burned by this time in 2000.
Page 44 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. Chairman, before proceeding with the specifics of my testimony today, I think it is important to set the proper tone and context for the points we will be making. As we sit here with suburban Denver in flames and citizens there and in other parts of the country in harms way as the result of on-going wildland fires, it is tempting and understandable to seek immediate short-term solutions to these immediate dangers. However, the problems at hand took decades to develop; unfortunately there are no quick fixes. Solving these problems will require a long-term commitment and sustained effort.
Since 1997, we have issued a series of reports that discuss the extent and seriousness of the wildland fire problem; Federal efforts to prepare for, mitigate, and suppress wildfire threats and risks; and actions needed to improve the effectiveness of these efforts. We are here today to highlight what our work has shown.
In summary, our work on wildland fire has stressed the need for three things: (1) a cohesive strategy to address growing threats to national forest resources and nearby communities from catastrophic wildfires, (2) clearly defined and effective leadership to carry out that strategy in a coordinated manner; and (3) accountability to ensure that progress is being made toward accomplishing the goals of the National Fire Plan. Two years ago, the Forest Service and the Department of the Interior began developing strategies to address these problems, and recently established a leadership entitythe Wildland Fire Leadership Councilthat is intended to respond to the need for greater interagency coordination. Whether the strategy and the council will serve as the framework and mechanism to effectively deal with the threat of catastrophic wildland fire remains to be seen and will depend upon how well the National Fire Plan is implemented. To determine the effectiveness of this implementation effort, we continue to believe that a sound performance accountability framework is needed; one that provides for specific performance measures and data that can be used to assess implementation progress and problems.
Page 45 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCNEED FOR A MORE COHESIVE STRATEGY TO ADDRESS GROWING THREATS
In April 1999, we reported that the Forest Service had begun, during the 1990's, to address the unintended consequences of its decades-old policy of putting out naturally occurring wildfires, which had weakened the health of national forests. It announced its goal to improve forest health and the resulting consequences of uncontrollable, catastrophic wildfires on national forests by the end of fiscal year 2015. To accomplish this goal, it (1) initiated a program to monitor forest health; (2) refocused its wildland fire management program to increase the number of acres on which it reduces the accumulated vegetation that forms excessive fuel; and (3) restructured its budget to better ensure that funds are available for reducing these fuels. However, we noted that it lacked much needed data to accurately assess risks and plan fuel reduction activities. For example, the Forest Service had not sufficiently mapped the extent and locations of hazardous conditions, and the agency said that, even when the initial mapping was completed, the data would not be precise enough to provide a basis for identifying, setting priorities for, and designing site-specific projects. Without these data, it is uncertain whether the Forest Service could meet its goal of improving forest health by the end of fiscal year 2015. We therefore recommended that the Secretary of Agriculture direct the Chief of the Forest Service to develop a comprehensive strategy to acquire the needed data.
In response to our report, the Forest Service developed a strategy to restore and maintain ecosystem health for priority areas across the interior West. The priorities it identified for maintaining ecosystem health included (1) wildland-urban interface areas where wildland fuels are adjacent to homes and communities, (2) readily accessible municipal watersheds that could be affected by wildland fire effects, (3) threatened and endangered species habitat, and (4) areas that are currently at low risk and that should be maintained as low risk. As part of that strategy, the Forest Service also identified strategic actions for immediate resolution, including the development of more precise mapping data for identifying and setting priorities for wildland fuel risks, and developing regional implementation plans that integrate status and risk information.
Page 46 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Following the issuance of our report, the large-scale wildfires of 2000 made it apparent that the problems we identified on Forest Service lands also existed on many lands managed by the Department of the Interior, as well as on many State and privately owned lands across the Nation. As a consequence, the Forest Service and the Department of the Interior have worked with states and other parties to develop common comprehensive strategies. These strategiescollectively termed the National Fire Planaddress not only the need to reduce fuels, but also the need for more effective approaches for wildland fire preparedness. The Congress, in turn, has substantially increased funding for these two specific activities, by up to $2.5 billion over the fiscal year 2001 and 2002 time period.
NEED FOR CLEARLY DEFINED AND EFFECTIVE LEADERSHIP
In January and in March 2002, we reported that, over a year after the Congress substantially increased funds to reduce hazardous fuels and for wildland fire preparedness, the Forest Service and the Department of the Interior have not established clearly defined and effective leadership for addressing these problems and implementing the National Fire Plan. With respect to reducing hazardous fuels accumulations, we noted that the departments did not use the same method for identifying and setting priorities for wildland-urban interface communities at high risk for wildland fire. The departments did not coordinate these activities, but instead did them separately. As a result, there was no assurance that the increased funding appropriated by the Congress for reducing hazardous forest fuel build-ups was being allocated to the most seriously threatened communities. Similarly, with respect to preparedness, we found the departments did not use the same models for identifying fire-fighting equipment or personnel needs, or for accounting for personnel costs. As a result of this lack of coordination, there was no assurance that the increased funding appropriated by the Congress for suppressing fires when they do occur was being allocated in a manner that provides the necessary capacity to respond where it is most needed.
Page 47 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC We recommended that the Congress consider directing the Secretaries of Agriculture and of the Interior to establish an interagency national council recommended by the National Academy of Public Administration. In April of this year, the Secretaries of Agriculture and of the Interior established a Wildland Fire Leadership Council composed of the Undersecretary of Agriculture for Natural Resources and the Environment; the Chief of Managing Wildland Fire: Enhancing Capacity to Implement the Federal Interagency Policy. A Report by a Panel of the National Academy of Public Administration for the United States Department of Interior (Dec. 2001) the Forest Service; Directors of the Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, and Fish and Wildlife Service; the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs; and the Chief of the Staff to the Secretary of the Interior. The council is to work to achieve consistent and coordinated efforts, through its members, to implement the National Fire Plan. It is too early to determine whether this approach to leadership will succeed in overcoming the coordination problems we identified. However, we note that the agreement between the departments of Agriculture and the Interior calls for them to manage their own activities and resources in pursuing objectives and that disagreements between the departments are to be resolved by elevating any disagreements separately within each department rather than to a single decisionmaker. Accordingly, there appears to be no single decision-making mechanism for resolving disputes between the departments. This approach could potentially allow for a continued separate, and not necessarily coordinated, effort.
NEED FOR IMPROVED ACCOUNTABILITY FOR MANAGING WILDLAND FIRE
In January and March 2002, we also reported that the Forest Service and the Department of the Interior have not established performance measures to account for the departments' accomplishments in such areas as hazardous fuels reduction and wildland fire preparedness. Concerning hazardous fuels reduction, we pointed out that a sound performance measurement framework is needed to ensure that funds appropriated to reduce hazardous fuels are spent in an efficient, effective, and timely manner. Because the departments have been unable to develop performance measures for their hazardous fuels reduction efforts, and because the implementation of a performance accountability framework is also fragmented, (1) high-risk communities have not been identified and numbered in order of priority, (2) multiple strategies have been developed with different goals and objectives, (3) quantifiable indicators of performance have not been developed to measure progress in reducing risks, and (4) annual plans and reports that have been developed do not describe what will be accomplished with appropriated funds.
Page 48 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC We recommended that the Secretaries of the Interior and of Agriculture jointly direct the heads of the departments to collect the accurate, complete, and comparable data needed to (1) better identify and set priorities for wildland-urban interface communities that are at high risk from wildland fire on Federal lands; (2) determine if changes are needed to expedite the project-planning process; and (3) measure the effectiveness of efforts to dispose of the large amount of brush, small trees, and other vegetation that must be removed to reduce the risk of severe wildland fire. The departments are now in the process of developing performance measures, such as the number of acres treated that are in the wildland-urban interface, and are in the process of determining whether the data are available that could support its performance measurement needs.
With regard to our report on wildland fire preparedness, we noted that the departments have not yet identified the results they expect to achieve with the additional resources they received under the National Fire Plan. It therefore will be difficult to determine the extent to which these additional personnel, and the additional equipment that has been purchased, have increased the level of fire-fighting preparedness. We recommended that the departments develop performance measures identifying the results to be achieved with the personnel and equipment obtained with the additional funding provided under the National Fire Plan. While the departments report that they have developed specific performance measures for wildland fire preparedness, more work needs to be done. For example, the departments still need to develop common definitions of outputs and measures, validate new performance measures with baseline data, and refine information collection systems to ensure the right data are collected to measure results. The departments expect to have these new performance measures fully implemented in time for use in the formulation of the fiscal year 2004 budget.
In conclusion, Mr. Chairman, the difficult task of effectively addressing wildland firea problem that has taken decades to developwill require a sustained and coordinated effort to address. As our reports point out, a single, unified approach is necessarynot each department separately planning for and addressing wildland fire issues. To this end and to the departments' credit, they have developed a cohesive strategy to address the problem and put in place an entity to provide for more clearly defined leadership. However, to reduce the number and size of catastrophic destructive fires'such as those currently occurring in Colorado and other western states' in the long term will depend, to a large degree, on how effective the Federal Government is in implementing this strategy and approach.
Page 49 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. Chairman, this concludes my prepared remarks. I will be happy to answer any question that you or the other Members of the subcommittee may have.
National Association of State Foresters
On behalf of the National Association of State Foresters (NASF), I am pleased that Chairman Bob Goodlatte has asked us to testify today. NASF is a non-profit organization representing the directors of the State forestry agencies from all fifty states, eight US territories, and the District of Columbia. The State Foresters manage and protect State and private forests across the US, which together encompass two-thirds of the Nation's forests.
I am representing NASF in my role as liaison to the National Fire Plan (NFP) and Chairman of the NASF Legislative Committee. The State Foresters have been highly involved with the NFP since its inception, and we remain committed to working with our partners to fully implement its goals. Our understanding and experience in wildland fire protection across America, combined with our long term partnership with the USDA Forest Service (USFS), has uniquely prepared NASF to discuss progress made to date under the NFP and describe the outlook for the 2002 wildfire season.
As State Foresters we pride ourselves on our longstanding relationships with private landowners and local communities. Our responsibilities include providing technical and financial assistance to non-industrial private forest landowners, rural and volunteer fire departments, and a wide variety of community and other non-Federal interests. Our unique authorities through USFS State & Private Forestry programs enable us to work cross-boundary to address a broad range of concerns in communities and on State and private lands. By tapping our experienced field-based personnel, who understand conditions on the ground and the needs of landowners and communities, the State Foresters design and deliver the best possible forestry and fire management assistance nationwide.
Page 50 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCNASF AND THE NATIONAL FIRE PLAN
In response to the escalating number and severity of wildfires across the Nation, the USFS, Department of the Interior (DOI), and NASF began working with Congress in 2000 to broaden our existing wildland fire management partnership to reduce the risks of wildland fire to communities and the environment. Nationally recognized as an example of how collaborative, long term planning and action can be successfully applied across the landscape, the NFP represents an effort to strategically coordinate and enhance resources to control, prevent, and mitigate the spread of wildfire. By supporting community assistance and ecosystem restoration as well as fire suppression and fuels reduction, the Plan provides a vehicle for agencies and citizens to build cooperative relationships that result in innovative, collaborative solutions to wildfire threats.
The dedication of NASF to the NFP stems not only from our understanding of State and private forestry and first hand experience working with landowners, but also our responsibility for wildland fire suppression in our individual states and the firefighting resources that we represent. State forestry agencies provide fire protection services for State and private forests, 70 percent of the forestland in the US. To achieve NFP goals, all lands must be included in the approach. States provide significant resources to national mobilization and together with volunteer fire departments are our first line of defense against wildfire. The NFP Community Assistance investment is critical, considering that 90 percent of initial attack is accomplished by State and local volunteer firefighters.
ORIGINS OF THE 10-YEAR IMPLEMENTATION PLAN
I would like to provide some background on the development of the NFP, the 10-Year Strategy, and the associated Implementation Plan recently signed by the Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior and the Governors. The extent and damage of the 2000 fire season prompted several Western Governors to meet with the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture in September 2000 to establish the cooperative goals of the NFP in full partnership with the states. Those goals were first laid out in a report to then-President Clinton entitled ''A Report to the President in Response to the Wildfires of 2000: Managing the Impact of Wildfires on Communities and the Environment.'' The Governors and Secretaries left the meeting with a joint commitment for:
Page 51 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Full State involvement in all levels of decision making in implementation of the NFP and related programs and activities,
A focus on cross-boundary implementation of rehabilitation, hazard reduction, and related projects, including making Federal funds available for expenditure on non-Federal lands, and
The development of a long term strategy for reducing wildfire risks to communities and improving forest conditions on all land ownerships.
Language in the fiscal year 2001 Interior appropriations bill reflected this agreement and specifically called for the development of a long term strategy. A broadly representative group including local, state, and national interests worked together to develop a strategy to achieve these goals over at least a 10-year time frame. The resulting plan is unique in that it establishes a three-tiered organizational framework that facilitates collaboration among governments and stakeholders at the local, state, or regional and national levels. Many states have already begun implementing this model at the State level through the formation of interagency coordination groups that discuss, prioritize, and support projects funded through the NFP.
NASF President Larry Kotchman recently joined Secretaries Norton and Veneman, as well as several Governors, to endorse the Implementation Plan for the Ten-Year Strategy. The completion of this companion document represents the fulfillment of congressional direction and provides the priorities, details, and measures of success for successfully moving ahead with implementation. With that signing, the stage is now set for full engagement of the NFP by all partners.
The Implementation Plan focuses on all four goals of the NFP: (1) prevention and suppression, (2) fuels reduction, (3) restoration of fire-adapted ecosystems, and (4) promoting community assistance. A key component of both the NFP and the Ten-Year Strategy is to prioritize resources and activities. This emphasis recognizes that priorities will differ at each level of government and across the various geographic regions of the country. NASF is working to ensure that local, state, and regional needs are all recognized as implementation moves forward. For example, in the South and Northeast prevention, suppression, and community assistance remain critical; in the West the focus is largely on hazardous fuels reduction, restoration of fire-adapted ecosystems, and community assistance. However, regardless of the region, state, or property ownership, suppression must remain a priority because the protection of life and property must never be ignored. Where fuel reduction is needed and the restoration of fire-adapted ecosystems is critical to reducing the risk of catastrophic fire, we must recognize that it will take a long term effort to accomplish these goals.
Page 52 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Nowhere else are the threat and values at risk more great than in the wildland-urban interface, where homes and other development continues to blur the boundary between city and country. For example, the rapid development along the Front Range of Colorado is a vivid example of the dangers faced by people and homes in at-risk wildland areas. Currently, nearly one million Coloradoans reside in interface lands, and the projected growth in such lands in the State is expected to continue at a rate two times the national average.
The cost of suppressing unnaturally large or destructive fires in the complex wildland-urban interface environment often presses State and local resources beyond our capacity. To address these critical needs in Colorado, the Colorado State Forest Service, in collaboration with Federal, state, county and local agencies, as well as private landowners, is taking steps to mitigate the risks of catastrophic wildfire, particularly where lives and property are at greatest risk. Much of what is being accomplished is a direct result of the funding provided through the NFP and the investment of the partners who have signed on. There are numerous similar situations and successes throughout most states. Much of what is being accomplished in the wildland-urban interface is a direct result of funding provided through the NFP and leveraged by the investment of private landowners and other non-Federal partners.
Since fire risk affects all lands and ownerships, the threat to the wildland-urban interface and risk to communities are in part a function of the conditions of the wildlands beyond the interface. Improved collaboration among agencies and support for community assistance will help reduce this threat. The Implementation Plan stresses the need for local involvement through community assistance. This is a key element of the NFP due to the growing complexity of the fire problem as the wildland-urban interface continues to expand.
FEDERALLY ASSISTED STATE PROGRAMS
A key Federal program to handle wildland-urban interface demands is the new Community and Private Land Fire Assistance program. Authorized in the 2002 farm bill at $35 million per year, it is designed after the successful program funded by the NFP in fiscal year 2001. This will be a primary component to implementing the NFP and gaining local support. We urge the the administration to seek, and Congress fund, this program as authorized under the farm bill. This incentive program provides funding that assists communities, working with the State Foresters, to reduce their fire risk through community fire preparedness planning, private land hazardous fuel reductions, small diameter utilization and market expansion, and public education enterprises such as the FIREWISE program.
Page 53 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Other important incentive programs include State Fire Assistance, Volunteer Fire Assistance and Rural Fire Assistance, three programs that help form a solid foundation for fire protection on State and private lands. State forestry agencies and rural communities use the technical and financial backing of State Fire Assistance for fuels treatment, hazard reduction, fire prevention outreach, and other preparedness and protection activities. Local volunteer fire departments rely on the financial support, technical assistance, and firefighting training provided by Volunteer Fire Assistance (USFS) and Rural Fire Assistance (DOI) programs. When funded adequately, these programs expand State and local firefighting capacity to respond to wildfires, other emergencies, and national disasters. The Economic Action Program, not included in the President's budget this year, is another very helpful rural development tool for communities to reduce fuels and reduce their risk of catastrophic fire. We urge the Subcommittee to support funding for this program.
NATIONAL WILDLAND FIRE OUTLOOK FOR 2002
The 2002 national wildland fire season is already displaying catastrophic potential, surpassing that experienced in the devastating fire season of 2000. To date, the 2002 fire season has recorded 33,344 fires covering 1.32 million acres. There are currently 29 large fires that remain active in 12 states from Hawaii to Florida, as well as numerous small fires that are causing significant damage (National Interagency Fire Center, June 10, 2002).
These numbers are significant, especially when compared to the 10-year average and the 2000 fire season. As of June 10, the 10-year average was 38,561 fires encompassing 763,405 acres. The 2000 fire season for the same period consisted of 44,177 fires covering 1.20 million acres. The 2002 fire season has already consumed many more acres than the devastating 2000 fire season. Ironically, the 2002 fire season has burned more acreage with significantly fewer fires than both the 10-year average and the 2000 fire season. It is evident that fires are becoming larger and more catastrophic (National Interagency Fire Center, June 10, 2002).
Page 54 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC We have potentially severe wildfire conditions throughout many areas of the US with the combination of fuel loads, drought, and the increasing size of the wildland-urban interface. There are severe drought conditions persisting from the Southwest to the Canadian border east of the Continental Divide to Nebraska. There is a persistent belt of drought from west Texas throughout the deep South and northward to Maine within the coastal plain. We are experiencing abnormal drought conditions in Alaska and have above normal fire potential in northern Minnesota (see attached map).
Most importantly, this year's wildfire season is not just a regional concern, but a national one. Many areas of the US are facing drought conditions, and wildfire has already occurred within all 50 states. Distributed throughout the country, wildfire has consumed (National Interagency Fire Center, June 12, 2002):
Over 420,000 acres in Alaska
Over 490,000 acres in the West (AZ, NM, CO, NV, UT, WA, OR, ID, CA, MT, WY, ND, SD, NE, and KS)
Over 390,000 acres in the South (AL, AR, FL, GA, KY, LA, MS, NC, OK, SC, TN, TX, and VA)
Over 79,000 acres in the Northeast (CT, DE, IL, IN, IA, ME, MD, MA, MI, MN, MO, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI, VT, WV, and WI)
The Double Trouble Fire that struck the New Jersey Garden State Parkway 2 weeks ago, burning up to 1,400 acres and forcing the evacuation of more than 100 homes, is an unfortunate reminder that wildfire is a national problem. The 2002 wildfire problem is spreading north to south, east to west, and will continue to do so as summer progresses. A hint of the 2002 fire season potential was made apparent on June 6, 2002, when USFS Chief Dale Bosworth noted in a Senate Appropriations hearing an anticipated $266 million shortfall this year for fire suppression for lands under the agency's jurisdiction.
Page 55 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The severity of the current fire season highlights the need to sustain proactive efforts to reduce wildfire risks. The collaborative NFP represents such an opportunity. True collaboration that seeks the full involvement and ownership of a broad range of stakeholders takes time but will produce results over the long run. Indeed, working together is key to the NFP if we are to achieve a sustained comprehensive approach to fire hazard across all lands over the long term. To accomplish NFP goals, securing local support will be essential, especially through proactive incentives for action. Although we have only been at this for 3 years, we have made tremendous progress in developing an achievable plan and establishing benchmarks for progress. Since it took over 100 years for the landscape to reach the current condition, it will now take many years of careful management, interagency collaboration, and continued support to implement the NFP and address conditions that reduce the risk of catastrophic fire. The challenge and urgency will be multiplied by our Nation's continuous population growth and development.
The continued congressional support of the Federal Community Assistance programs under the NFP will be paramount to secure this success. In addition to good partnerships, collaboration requires commitment to action and continued funding. State forestry agencies, through programs in the Cooperative Forestry Assistance Act and the 2002 farm bill, are uniquely positioned to deliver resources in a cross-boundary way. Continued funding of the NFP ensures that all lands as well as communities can benefit.
NASF remains committed to our partners, the NFP, and its implementation. The State Foresters and their staffs were actively engaged in the development of the NFP, the Ten-Year Strategy, and the Implementation Plan. Representatives of NASF are now participating in the effort to define performance measures under the Implementation Plan. Most recently, NASF has been invited to be a member of the Wildland Fire Leadership Council because of our continued contribution to the development and implementation of the NFP. We join our many partners in recognizing the emphasis this involvement places on the long term health of fire prone ecosystems and on the collaborative development of wildland fire management priorities and actions. We look forward to participating in the realization of this strategy at all levels.
Page 56 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Thank you for providing the opportunity for NASF to offer our views on this very important subject. I will be happy to address any questions you may have.