SPEAKERS CONTENTS INSERTS
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THE ADMINISTRATION'S PROPOSAL ON THE HEALTHY FORESTS INITIATIVE
SUBCOMMITTEE ON DEPARTMENT OPERATIONS,
OVERSIGHT, NUTRITION, AND FORESTRY
COMMITTEE ON AGRICULTURE
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
ONE HUNDRED SEVENTH CONGRESS
SEPTEMBER 12, 2002
Serial No. 10721
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
ERNIE FLETHCER, Kentucky1\
Page 3 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCCHARLES W. ''CHIP'' PICKERING, Mississippi
TIMOTHY V. JOHNSON, Illinois
TOM OSBORNE, Nebraska
MIKE PENCE, Indiana
DENNIS R. REHBERG, Montana
SAM GRAVES, Missouri
ADAM H. PUTNAM, Florida
MARK R. KENNEDY, Minnesota
GEORGE W. GEKAS, Pennsylvania2\
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
Page 4 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCDAVID D. PHELPS, Illinois
KEN LUCAS, Kentucky
MIKE THOMPSON, California
BARON P. HILL, Indiana
JOE BACA, California
RICK LARSEN, Washington
MIKE ROSS, Arkansas
ANÍBAL ACEVEDO-VILÁ, Puerto Rico
RON KIND, Wisconsin
RONNIE SHOWS, Mississippi
WILLIAM E. O'CONNER, JR., Staff Director
LANCE KOTSCHWAR, Chief Counsel
STEPHEN HATERIUS, Minority Staff Director
KEITH WILLIAMS, Communications Director
Subcommittee on Department Operations, Oversight, Nutrition, and Forestry
BOB GOODLATTE, Virginia, Chairman
RICHARD W. POMBO, California
JERRY MORAN, Kansas
JOHN COOKSEY, Louisiana
Page 5 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCMICHAEL K. SIMPSON, Illinois
DENNIS R. REHBERG, Montana
ADAM H. PUTNAM, Florida
EVA M. CLAYTON, North Carolina,
Ranking Minority Member
MARION BERRY, Arkansas
ANÍBAL ACEVEDO-VILÁ, Puerto Rico
TIM HOLDEN, Pennsylvania
JOHN ELIAS BALDACCI, Maine
RONNIE SHOWS, Mississippi
BRENT W. GATTIS, Subcommittee Staff Director
1\ Resigned from the committee March 20, 2002
2\ Appointed to the committee July 27, 2002
C O N T E N T S
Clayton, Hon. Eva M., a Representative in Congress from the State of North Carolina, opening statement
Goodlatte, Hon. Bob, a Representative in Congress from the Commonwealth of Virginia, opening statement
Thune, Hon. John R., a Representative in Congress from the State of South Dakota, prepared statement
Page 6 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCWitnesses
Rey, Mark, Under Secretary, Natural Resources and the Environment, U.S. Department of Agriculture
Watson, Rebecca W., Assistant Secretary, Land and Minerals Management, U.S. Department of the Interior
Healthy Forests: An Initiative for Wildfire Prevention and Stronger Communities
THE ADMINISTRATION'S PROPOSAL ON THE HEALTHY FORESTS INITIATIVE
THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 12, 2002
House of Representatives,
Subcommittee on Department Operations,
Oversight, Nutrition, and Forestry,
Committee on Agriculture,
The subcommittee met, pursuant to call, at 10:05 a.m., in 1300 Longworth House Office Building, Hon. Bob Goodlatte (chairman of the subcommittee) presiding.
Present: Representatives Clayton, Baldacci, and Stenholm [ex officio].
Also present: Representatives Thune and Thompson of California.
Staff present: Brent Gattis, subcommittee staff director; Anne Hazlett, Callista Gingrich, clerk; Ryan O'Neal, Kellie Rogers, and Quinton Robinson.
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OPENING STATEMENT OF HON. BOB GOODLATTE, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA
Mr. GOODLATTE. The Subcommittee on Department Operations, Oversight, Nutrition, and Forestry to review the administration to proposed legislation on the Healthy Forests Initiative will come to order.
I would like to welcome our guests and advise them that we are going to start the hearing by viewing a video presented to the press corps aboard Air Force One on the President's recent trip to Oregon to view the devastation of the Squires fire. And if that is actually the vote, we will start that video after the vote. And the subcommittee will stand in recess.
Mr. GOODLATTE. If everybody will reconvene, and we will go ahead and show the video.
Mr. GOODLATTE. I would like to note the presence of and welcome the gentleman from California, who is a member of the full committee and not the subcommittee. And I would ask unanimous consent that he and any other members of the full committee who wish to participate in the hearing be allowed to do so. Without objection, it is so ordered.
I have an opening statement. Today, the subcommittee convenes to look at an important piece of legislation that will help reduce catastrophic wildfire throughout communities and the environment.
Drought conditions are only a part of the reason for the extreme wildfire season, but fires can not burn, even in an extreme drought, without fuel. In forests across this country, we are seeing an unnatural accumulation of dense fuels threatening the stability of our national forests, wildlife habitat, watershed health, people, and communities with the devastation of uncontrollable wildfire.
Page 8 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC On August 22, President Bush announced the Health Forests Initiative, a proposal that deals with the current unhealthy conditions plaguing our public lands. I would like to commend the administration for their leadership on this issue and for addressing the need for an active forest management policy for this nation. I look forward to joining my colleagues in introducing this bipartisan piece of legislation.
The American people, their property, and our environment are threatened by catastrophic wildfires and environmental degradation. Millions of acres of trees and habitat are destroyed each year by these severe wildfires. More than 6 million acres have burned this fire season alone, and this fire season is not over. These unnaturally extreme wildfires are caused by deteriorating forest health. Renewed efforts to restore our public lands in healthy conditions are needed.
With more people living in and near public land, it is becoming increasingly difficult to protect people and their property. The proposal before us today consists of four components intended to significantly advance common sense forest health efforts that prevent the damage caused by catastrophic wildfires.
Section 1 authorizes emergency treatment of forests at risk of catastrophic wildfires, which pose the greatest risk to people, communities, and the environment.
Section 2 authorizes the Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior to enter into long-term stewardship contracts with the private sector, nonprofit organizations, and local communities. Stewardship contracts permit the Forest Service to conduct work more efficiently, test different funding mechanisms, and most importantly, involve local citizens in constructive solutions to land management issues. These contracts can be used to conduct thinning and hazardous fuels reduction activities to reduce the threat of wildfire.
From an ecological perspective, stewardship contracts provide a means of improving forest health, forest composition and structure, wildlife habitat and forage, and water quality. Within the surrounding communities, stewardship contracts are capable of promoting local involvement in public land management while also strengthening local economies through the diversification of available jobs and the development of new and expanded markets.
Page 9 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Section 3 would remove a rider that imposed extraordinary procedural requirements on Forest Service appeals that are not required of any other Federal agency.
Section 4 would address standards of injunctive relieve on activities necessary to restore fire-adapted forest and rangeland ecosystems. This section is designed to ensure the consideration for the long-term risks of harm to people, property, and the environment when a short-term risk to forest health is claimed in Federal court challenges.
The fire behavior witnessed at many of these wildfires can be described as extreme, where high rates of spread are observed, prolific crowning and spotting, a fire storm of sorts prone to blow-ups where fires become so extreme as to create their own weather. 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 cause many problems including erosion of the bare soil left behind after rain finally comes to the parched land. Tremendous mudslides have already occurred in Colorado where wildfires burned early this year. These wildfires are burning so intensely that crews are finding areas where the heat of the fire actually melted the soil. These areas won't resemble forests again for at least a century, meaning the next generation won't have these forests to enjoy. This is not nature taking its course. This is anything but natural.
We should strongly welcome opportunities to reduce wildfire proliferation while providing forest dependent communities with economic opportunities. By lessening the potential for catastrophic wildfires, we give the citizens living in and around national forests security and value. Further, there is a savings from a reduction in suppression and restoration costs associated with diminishing wildfires as a result of sound forest management.
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 when necessary. We must become good stewards, and stewardship means actively managing our forests.
Page 10 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In closing, I again want to thank the administration for their leadership on this issue and for offering a bipartisan approach to forest management. Personally, I would like to see current policy drastically reformed, however, this is a bipartisan approach that all parties can embrace. The administration's willingness to work with Congress on legislation to further accomplish timelier, efficient, and effective implementation of forest health management is commendable. It is time to take action. We are neglecting our responsibility to act as stewards of our nation's forests when we sit by and let catastrophe occur. We need to look for ways to give the Forest Service the ability to do what Congress originally authorized them to do in 1905 when they created the Forest Service: manage the forest. We must act to protect the forest and the surrounding communities from certain devastation.
Today, the subcommittee is very interested in hearing from the administration about the initiative and how it can improve the health of our public lands. But first, we are going to hear from the ranking member of the committee, Congresswoman Clayton.
OPENING STATEMENT OF HON. EVA M. CLAYTON, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA.
Mrs. CLAYTON. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I also thank the administration for offering this initiative.
This year has been, and continues to be, one of the worst fire seasons of all time, some of which we saw in the video. Seeing the images of fire blazing across the western United States, no one can doubt that there is, indeed, a serious problem, and as the chairman said, devastation, that must be addressed. With almost 200 million acres of class 3 public lands, no matter what steps are taken will be years, perhaps decades, if not centuries, before we can savor satisfaction that our forests have been returned to its normal state.
Page 11 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The initiative before us is, I believe, a genuine effort to take steps that will help to address the fire risks on public lands. This initiative takes the important step of seeking to identify 10 million acres that pose the greatest risks to our communities. The continuing effort to identify and prioritize treatment of these extremely high-risk areas is a very important step that must, indeed, be continued. However, I must say that I have several components, I do have questions.
While I find the identification of 10 million acres of high-risk land being a very positive step, my question is should we, indeed, and maybe the witness can clarify, suspend wholesale NEPA on these acres? If that is the case, I think that is, indeed, going too far.
I concur that NEPA, or the National Environment Policy Act, has been cumbersome and, in many times, ineffective, but to suspend it altogether to perfect it, I am not sure we need to go that far.
I also ask the question are we suggesting that we are eliminating all administrative and all appeals systems? Again, if that is the case, there is no policy to perfect or make sure that the policy we have, indeed, is achieving what we want.
I also support the stewardship contracts, but I have some concerns about that. It is currently a pilot program that has not been fully utilized, so the question I have: are we now ready to have a wholesale utilization of a program that is still in its pilot stage?
Now if all of these questions can be answered, I certainly would like to have the witnesses to give their testimony. And I look forward to the opportunity to possibly consider this legislation. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Thank you. Does the ranking member of the full committee, Mr. Stenholm, have any statement?
Mr. STENHOLM. I will just wait until it is time for the questions.
Page 12 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. GOODLATTE. All right. Thank you. The gentleman from California.
Mr. THOMPSON. Well, Mr. Chairman, thank you for allowing me to sit in. And I have a great interest in this measure and what it is going to look like when we finally get it. I am fortunate enough to represent some of the most beautiful timberlands in the country. And how we deal with this fire plan is going to mean a lot to those forests and to the people who depend upon them. I have some concerns. Mrs. Clayton mentioned some of them. The wholesale repeal of certain checks and balances and existing procedures, to state just one of those, so I am interested in hearing what the witnesses have to say, and would hope to be able to ask some questions at that time.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Thank you.
It is now my pleasure to welcome our witnesses. Mr. Mark Rey, Under Secretary of Natural Resources and the Environment, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Ms. Rebecca Watson, Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management, U.S. Department of the Interior.
I would like to welcome both of you and tell you that your written statements will be made a part of the record, and we are pleased to receive your testimony at this point, beginning with Assistant Secretary Watson.
STATEMENT OF REBECCA W. WATSON, ASSISTANT SECRETARY, LAND AND MINERALS MANAGEMENT U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR
Ms. WATSON. Thank you, Chairman Goodlatte and members of the committee. I am happy to be here today.
Page 13 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The fire plan and the legislation that you see before you represent, I think, what is a unique and historic cooperative effort between the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Interior. Mr. Rey and I have been working closely on this, and we are also closely working on our testimony. I will focus on the background, similar to what we have seen on the film today, what led us to the state that we are in, and talk a little bit about the unique challenges that we face at the Department of Interior with our variety of programs that we have. Mr. Rey will focus on the legislation.
I think as the film described so well, we are in a season of unprecedented drought. This drought is approaching the terrible Dust Bowl conditions of the thirty's and indeed about 50 percent of our country has long-term moderate to severe drought across the country. Our fire season started earlier this year in the South and Southwest, months ahead of schedule. Fire season isn't over yet. Areas of the Northeast, down the Atlantic, and California still are at risk of fire.
We have seen some of the worst fires ever witnessed in the country. The Hayman fire in Colorado, the Rodeo-Chediski fires in Arizona, the McNally fire in California, which threatened the beautiful Sequoias in that state, the Biscuit fire in Oregon have come in a sequence of terrifying proportions over the last several months. These fires have also moved very, very fast. As the videotape said, the Rodeo-Chediski fire grew from 800 acres to 46,000 acres in one day.
I want to just show you a quick series of photos of the Biscuit fire in Oregon to demonstrate the rapidity at which the fire can grow.
This was when the fire began in July.
The next picture illustrates how it grew in just one week.
Page 14 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC [Photograph.]
The next picture shows its growth at two weeks.
And then to put that picture into context, this next picture is the same time period, and it shows the size of that compared to the State of Oregon. Then one week later, this fire was contained on September 6. So just a short time ago, the fire was contained.
A half a million acres had burned. What was lost: a spotted owl habitat; thousands of acres; 150,000 acres of spotted owl habitat; four homes; 19 out buildings. And it took close to 7,000 firefighters at its peak to put this fire out.
The severe drought conditions coupled with overly dense forests and rangelands have contributed to these hot fires that are so intense that many people call the end result a moonscape.
I would like to show another series of fires here to talk a little bit about this density problem. I think all of you have the President's Healthy Forests Initiatives, and some of these pictures are also in this booklet.
At page 7, this comes from my State of Montana. There is a fascinating book that was published that shows the conditions of the forests in the 1800's before heavy settlement and then compares those same sites to what modern conditions look like. This is just one such series.
The first one shows the house in the 1880's, a cabin. You can see the forest is open behind it.
The next picture is 100 years later; same cabin, but the forest has grown dense. Our figures show that the forest is 15 times more dense than it was in the 1800's.
Page 15 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC [Photograph.]
The last picture, same site; the cabin was moved, but then a fire came through and wiped out the forest. Certainly, if the cabin would have been there, it, too, would have been gone.
The next series of pictures illustrate what we are talking about national fire versus unnatural fire.
Again, this is the Squires fire that was talked about in the video. This shows the area that was treated. And it illustrates what a natural fire looks like. It is low to the ground. It creeps along and takes out the smaller trees, the shrubs, the grass. And this is a natural tool of nature to keep the habitat open for the type of species that like these forests.
The second picture shows this treated acreage after a fire has gone through it. You see the trees; they are still green. There is open space around there. And as the film discussed, it has an added benefit of allowing firefighters to work in a safer environment and tackle these fires so that they don't get out of control.
The next photograph shows an untreated area. And this is catastrophic wildfire with the dense tress. It creates a ladder situation so the fire can climb up off of the ground up into the medium trees and then up into the larger trees. And then it hits the crown and just starts running. And that is how a fire can grow from 800 to 46,000 acres in one day. The result is not hard to imagine; it is the moonscape I talked about earlier. The trees are burned. The ground is burned. That is a difficult area to regenerate.
And then I will just end my photo display here with one last picture. And this is an example from the Park Service, which is part of the Department of Interior. And this is Mesa Verde National Park. And it is a little hard to see, but if you look at it a little closer, there were treatments in a ring around the building, and there were treatments around the road. The fire came through, and the treated areas survived, but the result, for the greater part of the park, was a completely burned landscape.
Page 16 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC As we heard in the film, this year has seen over 6.4 million acres of public and private land burned. There has been over 64,000 fires this year. This is twice the number of acres that burned in 2001. The cost has been unprecedented: $1.2 billion to fight these fires.
Hundreds of communities and thousands of people, we have all seen the films of these people huddled into some gym not knowing whether their houses would burn down or not. I think we can all put ourselves in their shoes and think about the memories and their house and their household goods. And that is something none of us would want to go through. And most tragically, 21 firefighters have died this year fighting these fires.
As the film made clear, because of Congress and its contribution of some three-quarters of a billion dollars to these two departments, we have been very successful at putting out fires. Ninety-nine percent of the fires have been put out, but just 1 percent have caused the devastation: an area burned the size of New Hampshire.
I want to talk just a little bit about the Department of Interior. Much of the attention of the opponents of our plan has focused on the Forest Service, its program and its problems and desires. The Department of Interior, besides the office that I manage, the Bureau of Land Management, which has commercial timber as well as rangelands and wildlife habitat, also, of course, has the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The Rodeo-Chediski fire occurred on the Apache Indian Reservation had devastating economic impacts to the White Mountain Apache tribe. The BIA manages their timberlands from commercial profit for benefits to their tribal members.
The Park Service also Apache Indian Reservation had devastating economic impacts to the White Mountain Apache tribe. The BIA manages their timberlands from commercial profit for benefits to their tribal members.
The Park Service also uses prescribed fire and mechanical treatment to treat the lands, as you saw in the Mesa Verde National Park. Fish and Wildlife has a very strong treatment program prescribed fire for wildlife habitat. So all four of our agencies use fire as a tool and also have a concern about impacts of catastrophic wildfire to wildlife habitat, recreation, and to the commercial timber that the BIA and the BLM produce on these lands.
Page 17 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC We all share the same goal of trying to restore fire-adaptive ecosystems and reduce fire risks. So in that, we share the same goal. We have different statutory mandates.
The other thing that makes us slightly different from the Forest Service is the landscape that we manage. In the lower 48's, only one-quarter of interior land is forested. The rest is woodland, rangeland, prairies, and wetland with many different types of ecosystems. Fifty percent of our lands, which is over some 5 million acres of land, 50 percent of those lands are in fire condition class 3. Those are the lands most at risk for catastrophic wildfire.
We strongly feel the need to have all of the tools in our toolbox that we can to manage our lands, to protect wildlife habitat, to allow our tribes to make a living off of their timber, and to protect our park assets. We are strongly supportive of stewardship contracting, prescribed fire, mechanical thinning, and other treatments.
I just want to say in conclusion that we are kind of coming towards the end of the fire season now for most of our lands. As I said earlier, California, and the northeast, and Atlantic still run some risks, but good weather is coming in, cool weather, some precipitation, but it will take more than a change in the weather to solve this problem that has been building up over the last 100 years.
Indeed, these storms can exacerbate the effects of fire. Right now, Durango, CO, which experienced a devastating fire, these storms are washing down boulders the size of cars. The mudslides are between 10 and 12 feet in height. So these are coming right down into the town of Durango.
Doing nothing is not an option. These fires aren't natural; these are unnatural fires. That is why in May, this administration, working with the Western Governors' Association, and a broad cross-section of interest from around the country reached a consensus on a 10-year comprehensive fire plan and implementation plan to reduce fire risks to communities and the environment.
Page 18 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC An important element that was identified in this plan was the need for timely decision-making. The President's initiative and the legislative package that Mr. Rey is going to talk about address the need for timely decision-making.
I thank the committee for its attention and will be happy to answer questions later.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Thank you, Ms. Watson. Mr. Rey, welcome.
STATEMENT OF MARK REY, UNDER SECRETARY, NATURAL RESOURCES AND ENVIRONMENT, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
Mr. REY. Thank you. It is good to be here again. I want to start by commending the committee, and particularly you, Mr. Goodlatte, for your foresight in including stewardship contracting authority in the forestry title of the farm bill that this committee passed last year. As I will soon explain, this authority is an important element of the President's Healthy Forests Initiative. I also want to thank the other members of the committee for their proposals as well.
On August 22, President Bush announced the Healthy Forests Initiative as the implementation plan for the core components of the 10-year strategy that Ms. Watson just described that we signed with the Western Governors in May. The initiative involves a mix of regulatory actions, which we are undertaking and which we will brief the committee about in the near future, as well as legislative proposals, which the two Secretaries submitted to Congress on September 5.
What I would like to do is describe the elements of that legislative proposal for the subcommittee, and then, if I can, conclude by trying to be responsive to the questions that Mrs. Clayton and Mr. Thompson asked.
Page 19 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Section 1 of the proposal directs the Secretaries to conduct emergency hazardous fuel reduction projects in a manner that is consistent with the implementation plan signed with the Western Governors rather than the National Environmental Policy Act. It directs the Secretaries to give the highest priority to lands in the wildland urban interface, municipal watersheds, forest and rangelands affected by disease, insect activity, or wind throw, and areas that had been burned once and are presently susceptible to a catastrophic reburn.
It also requires the Secretaries to jointly develop a collaborative process with the Western Governors and other interested parties for selecting the projects carried out under the section and expedited consultation procedures for threatened or endangered species where that is appropriate. It limits the number of acres available for expedited treatment to 10 million acres. It exempts projects conducted under the section from administrative review by the Department of the Interiors Office of Hearing and Appeals and the Forest Service's appeals process. And finally, it requires a Judicial Review of a project be completed within 360 days of filing and prevents the issuance of a temporary restraining order or a preliminary injunction during that review.
Section 2 of the proposal provides permanent authority for the Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of Interior to enter into stewardship contracts to perform land management activities on the national forests or other public lands. It allows the Secretaries to award contracts based on, among other factors, the contractors performance under past public or private contractors and the contractors' ability to meet and perform its measures and outcomes. It allows for contracts ranging to up to 10 years in length and allows for payment in a goods for services exchange. Finally, it requires the Secretary to separately track the full costs of individual contracts and the value of forest products exchanged for such work. It also requires the Secretaries to report annually to Congress on the development, execution, and administration of contracts.
Page 20 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Section 3 of the proposal repeals section 322 of the 1993 Interior Appropriations Act, which establishes a Forest Service's administrative appeals process that is more stringent than any other Federal administrative appellant process, either in statute or regulations.
And finally, section 4 provides guidance to the judiciary to revise the standard for issuing an injunction against Agency action with respect to restoration of fire-adapted forests or rangeland ecosystems. It requires a review in court to consider the public interest in avoiding long-term harm to such ecosystems. And it also requires the court to give deference to any agency finding that the public interest in avoiding the short-term effects of a hazardous fuel reduction project is outweighed by the public interest in avoiding long-term harms to the ecosystems that would be treated.
That, in a very short essence, is the President's request for legislative assistance. The question that I think is properly asked by Congresswoman Clayton and Congressman Thompson is, particularly with respect to section 1, it necessary to waive existing administrative procedures, including the responsibilities to conduct environmental analysis and documentation underneath that in order to get this work done.
And let me respond to that question as directly as I can. I think it would be overly generous to call the decision-making process that the Department of Interior and the Forest Service uses to be imperfect. It is, unfortunately, unworkable at the present time to make decisions that are time-sensitive.
I will speak specifically now for the Forest Service. Our NEPA documents, as a result of 33 years of cumulative case law involving the implementation of the statute that Congress has not amended since the early 1970's, have resulted in NEPA documents that are overly long, that are opaque, that are difficult to read, and are a poor way of interacting with the public, and useful only as an alternative to ''War and Peace'' for bedtime reading for insomniacs. So it is therefore not surprising that many people don't read those NEPA documents and that therefore their participation in the decision-making that leads up to doing one of these projects is limited.
Page 21 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Once the decision is final, we follow that with an administrative appeals process, which is unique in that it is the only process that doesn't require a person to participate in the decision-making below in order to be eligible to bring an appeal. And given that that participation involves reading a long, difficult, and tedious NEPA document, it is unsurprising that many people choose not to involve themselves in the decision-making process. But once it is final, to instead avail themselves of our administrative appeals process so that they can just simply send a letter simply outlining their concerns to the Forest Service, knowing that the activity will be immediately stayed and that the Forest Service will have to deal with their complaint even though the Agency was wholly unaware of it while it was designing the project in the first place.
And if they don't get what they want in our appeals process, then they can seek Judicial Review. And under the current standards of jurisprudence in most judicial circuits, they easily obtain a preliminary injunction or a temporary restraining order. And if they retain a permanent injunction, they can rest comfortably knowing that the courts will, because of the judicial backlog that presently exists, will need at least a year or two or three to get to the issue on the merits. By that time, whatever it was we were trying to save or stabilize by the project will long since by moot.
So the plaintiff need not worry about winning on the merits in the ultimate case, they only need to get the preliminary injunction. And for these kinds of time sensitive projects, the issue is effectively decided at the preliminary injunction stage, if an injunction issues.
So that is sort of the way the process works or, more accurately, doesn't work now. So in deciding what to propose to do about that, we listened carefully to what we thought we were hearing. And we thought we were hearing three things, essentially: first, that most people agree that there is a problem. There are relatively few people today, after this fire season, who will say, ''This isn't bad. This is something that we should endure.'' We also heard that most people agree that fuel loads are the principle problem. Now they may not agree on what should be taken out or what should be detained or what kinds of systems or tools should be used to remove the excess fuels, but most people believe that the problem is too many trees and/or too much underbrush. And finally, most people are telling us that they think they can agree on some top priorities for treatment. They may not agree on exactly where those priorities should be, or in what areas specifically should be treated, but they can agree that reasonable people can come together and set some priorities to get the treatment done more quickly than we are doing it right now at a rate, which will take us 100 years to complete.
Page 22 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC So this philosophy behind subsection 1 of the President's proposal is, ''Let us take 10 million acres,'' which is roughly 5 percent of the overall problem, ''and let us see if we can design a more interactive process for dealing with the public, working with the Western Governors and other stakeholders to set up a collaborative process in selecting the projects and treat the top 5 percent of what, through that collaborative process, people can agree on are the top priorities. And let us do it quickly with a minimal disruption to existing environmental law, but weeding out at least those aspects of it, which seem to be causing the most problems. And perhaps, we will learn something from that exercise that will be useful to deal with the other 180 million acres that may, some day, require treatment.
So the proposal isn't perfect. It is experimental, and it is something that we are prepared to discuss with the Congress as we go forward. Thank you very much.
[The combined prepared statement of Ms. Watson and Mr. Rey appears at the conclusion of the hearing.]
Mr. GOODLATTE. Thank you, Under Secretary Rey. I have a few questions to start off with you.
You mentioned that too often you are constrained by procedural requirements, and I know that was the concern expressed by the gentleman from California and by litigation that delays on-the-ground implementation of these things. I wonder if you could give us an idea of the numbers here. How many timber management practices have been appealed in 2002?
Mr. REY. I can give you percentages. For our mechanical treatment work, which would be largely using chain saws or automated harvesting to thin trees, roughly 48 percent of the projects this year have been subject to administrative appeal.
Mr. GOODLATTE. And do you know what that figure was for last year?
Mr. REY. It wasn't that much different, but I think it was somewhat lower.
Page 23 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. GOODLATTE. So the trend is in the wrong direction?
Mr. REY. There are two trends: one is in the right direction; one is in the wrong direction. The numbers trend is moving in the wrong direction. But a closer look at who is doing these appeals suggests something that is actually quite helpful and that is the more middle-of-the-road national environmental groups are, by and large, not appealing these decisions. The appeals are being brought, predominately by regional or local groups, who, if you read their websites and their materials, are typically opposed to most forms of timber harvesting.
Mr. GOODLATTE. But it only takes one to file an appeal?
Mr. REY. That is correct.
Mr. GOODLATTE. So it is basically a lowest common denominator system: the person with the most extreme point of view can file an appeal and have the same effect even as a situation where there might be grounds for review of a particular project that is brought by more middle-of-the-road or moderate group, as you have described. Can you tell me what interest groups you would foresee being a part of this collaborative process used to select the projects to be eligible for this expedited process?
Mr. REY. I would think what we would try to do is work with the Governors to establish committees in either on a statewide basis, if that is the way they would like to do it, or on an ecological province-by-province basis, if they would prefer that, because there are differences in the kind of work that needs to be done, for instance, east of the Cascades versus west of the Cascades and also differences in the urgency of that work. And then what we would propose would be a committee more or less evenly made up of a pretty broad spectrum of interests, sort of fitting in three broad groups: State and local government officials would be one group; conservation and environmental groups could be a second group; and then people who are interested in the security of communities, neighborhoods, and/or development activities would be a third kind of group. It could operate somewhat similarly, I suppose, to the advisory committees that we have under the Secure Rural Schools and Communities Self-Determination Act that you worked on with us in the last Congress.
Page 24 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. GOODLATTE. Let me ask both of you, starting with Assistant Secretary Watson, how does this legislative proposal differ from that authored by Senator Daschle for the Black Hills of South Dakota?
Ms. WATSON. Well, I think this proposal is more moderate, more common sense. My understanding of Senator Daschle's proposal is that he obviates all environmental law, including NEPA, the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act; the projects and activities covered by his amendment would not have to comply with any of those laws. What we do here, as Mr. Rey explained, is substitute a public participation through a collaborative process for NEPA and then all environmental laws, all of the standards, remain in effect. So we do not go to the extreme position that Senator Daschle did in his bill of obviating all environmental laws.
So that is the key difference that I have identified. I know Mark probably has another.
Mr. REY. I think that the difference is one in the predicate for the proposal and the scale of the proposal. The proposal that Senator Daschle authored was preceded by an extended discussion with local stakeholders and essentially takes the substance of that discussion and the agreements that were reached by most of the stakeholders, unfortunately not all of them, and writes it into statutory language. And then, to make sure that it isn't overturned or that the Agency implementation of it isn't overturned by the few stakeholders that didn't agree, it is insulated completely from judicial review.
We don't have that sort of predicate to write national legislation. So what we were trying to do is to form the predicate, through the collaborative process, deselect these projects, and then move them through what we thought was reasonably expedited decision-making process, but still providing a check at the end for people to bring a judicial challenge under somewhat different judicial procedures, if they were dissatisfied.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Thank you. Let me turn next to the gentleman from Texas, Mr. Stenholm.
Page 25 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. STENHOLM. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you for holding this hearing today on the Healthy Forests Initiative.
I have been particularly interested in the testimony this morning of the two Secretaries. I come here as a result of quite an extensive participation with Chairman Bob Smith of Oregon's previous attempts to arrive at some middle ground areas in regard to our Nation's forests. I was very disappointed that the legislation that he put forward, I believe about 3 or 4 years ago, ended up not going anywhere. And it seems like that every time anyone tries a middle ground approach, that is what we end up doing is going nowhere.
As both of you have said this morning, no one today disagrees with the statement that we must do something. The status quo is not acceptable. I am not an expert on forests. Where I come from, we try to eradicate the forests. And we have proposals there. But I have, as a result of Bob Smith's activities and Chairman Goodlatte's activities, become interested as a ranking member. I welcome the President's Healthy Forests Initiative. I do believe, though, and you said it, that the proper approach now is for the legislative process to work. Questions regarding whether or not this legislation completely eliminates or the wisdom of completely eliminating our citizen rights to meaningfully participate and challenge any actions of our land managers when there is an immediate and irreparable danger in the environment.
I sensed in your comments that is not what you intend, to eliminate all citizen involvement, meaningful involvement. I sense that. Perhaps the legislation is not written as clearly along that line, but most of the questions that I was going to ask, you have answered.
I would ask this one, though: Regarding the cumulative effects, cumulative effects are often the most critical portion of a NEPA document and are necessary to develop and support viable and effects determination. How does this proposal promote the protection of endangered species under the expedited consultation procedure?
Ms. WATSON. I think what we contemplate there is, again, keeping all of the standards of the Endangered Species Act in place but expediting the time during which those consultations take place. The statute right now spells out a certain length of time for consultation. We would accelerate that time.
Page 26 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The other thing we would do, this is particularly important for the northwest, is work in a much more cooperative fashion between Fish and Wildlife Service and Interior and the National Marine Fishery Service, and the Department of Commerce. Many times, they are working in the same area but on different species, and one consultation follows the other. We try and combine those so that they could take place in a more effective way. And that is something that is already going out in the region. We would like to put it around the country and develop it, so those are some of the things we would do.
Mr. STENHOLM. I am very interested in that in my own region and not from the standpoint so much as the forestry but in water conservation and how we deal with the needs of drought in areas in which you must have lakes built, you must have conservation, you must have brush control. And yet some of these same hindrances, we find, keep us year after year after year from being able to deal with these problems. And so I am very interested in working with you on that aspect.
Now some believe that the President's Healthy Forests Initiative would not promote adequate analysis of the cumulative effects on species, range, and habitat fragmentation on at least 10 million acres of Federal land. I think you have answered, pretty much, that question, but would you go a little bit further into that?
Ms. WATSON. I guess I would add one more point, and then I will let Mark talk. The other thing that we would keep in place is our land management plans. The Forest Service has forest plans. We at the Bureau of Land Management have resource management plans, and that is a big picture look at an area, and more or less you can think of it as a zoning, what appropriate uses occur in different places, and it examines the conditions there. So that planning effort would remain in place. The Endangered Species Act protections would also remain in place so we can look at some of those cumulative effects and big picture issues.
Mr. REY. I think that is the answer. The cumulative effects analysis of the treatments that need to be done are attached to the NEPA documents that accompany our forest and land and resource management plans. We would not typically, even if we complied with NEPA, we would do a very limited cumulative effects analysis on these kinds of projects. And particularly in this instance where we are talking about 10 million acres spread across a very large landscape and selecting priorities, the probability of the need for additional cumulative effects analysis in any particular locale is going to be reduced significantly.
Page 27 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. STENHOLM. I thank you for that. You answered the last question that I was going to ask, so my time is up anyway. Thank you very much.
Mr. THUNE [presiding]. Mr. Thompson.
Mr. THOMPSON. Thank you. I want to thank both Secretaries for your testimony today and just let you know that I am very interested in working with you to make sure that we can strike a balance and we can ensure better fire safety protection and at the same time, do it without any devastating impacts to our ecosystem. I would suggest in that regard that maybe we use a different photograph than the one that you used. To me, it looks like if we cut down all of the trees we are not going to have any fire. And I don't think that is what we want to do. We want to figure out how to strike a balance where we can have the fire protection but still have a good healthy forest.
I am interested in, and maybe you can explain to me, how the timeline is going to work in regard to this measure. And if it were passed, would we have time to go out into the communities and get the input that everyone today has said that they are bound and determined to get and to have an appropriate review process whereby all interests that you or the ones that I think are middle-of-the-road, but all interests from within the community have an opportunity to review the plan and respond to it. And will that plan be constructed in such a way that there is some sort of timber harvest rule or process that we go through to make sure that we are able to answer the question I think Secretary Rey stated that everybody agrees we need to do something, but what we take out is an issue. And I am one of those who is concerned with what we take out. And is this going to be a blank check to come in and take out all of the big trees, the most pristine timber, or is it going to be focused on the fire, reducing the fuel levels?
And along those same lines, how do we determine what the definition of ''diseased area'' is in this measure? It seems, to me, to be kind of a wide-open definition.
And then last, I guess the cumulative impact question was answered or at least there was an effort to answer it. I am not sure if it is cumulative impact as far as fire protection goes or cumulative impacts of what the fire fuel load reduction is going to mean for the entire ecosystem. If you could answer that, I would appreciate it.
Page 28 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC And then last, it seems to me that the Forest Service is so terribly under-funded that it is going to be difficult to do even the 5 percent part of this in the way that it needs to be done. And if, in fact, we do agree that there is a good way to do this, is the money going to be there to do it, and will that money be ongoing?
Mr. REY. Let me start. And the questions that I forget, you will have to deal with.
Ms. WATSON. Okay.
Mr. REY. First, let us go to cumulative effects analysis. What we typically look at in a cumulative effects analysis under NEPA is the effect of the action that we are proposing to take. Ironically, we do not, nor are we obliged under the statute, to evaluate the impacts of inaction. So we don't, for instance, evaluate whether there is going to be catastrophic results if we fail to act properly, expeditiously to do fuels treatment work.
As far as will there be time to actually construct a collaborative process to review these proposals, we think that can be done relatively quickly. We have managed to execute the Resource Advisory Committee under the County Payments Act in something less than about 5 months, and there will probably be fewer committees, if we chose that route, with the Western Governors under this statute than there is under that statute.
In terms of involving everybody that needs to be involved, we would intend to do a public notice and request for comment on these projects as they are proposed. That would give the public the opportunity to speak with us. It would not burden them with a several hundred page NEPA document, which most people find difficult to parse through in the first instance. But those documents have gotten to be several hundred pages because of many steps along the way over the last 33 years the courts have said, ''You need to have this in. You need to consider that.'' And the incremental growth of what has to be in there is what is causing the problem.
Insofar as funding is concerned, it seems to me that we have to do four things related to funding. First, we have to set clear priorities about what needs to be treated first, because it is going to be very difficult to find the funding to both treat and maintain the stocking levels on a 490 million acres of Federal land. So we are going to have to make some clear priorities, which we did a first step at in picking 10 million acres as the initial target.
Page 29 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Then we are going to have to do what we need to do more efficiently. If you look at the four Department of the Interior Bureaus and the Forest Service, the administrative and procedural costs of doing this work ranges from 25 percent of the total to 50 percent of the total. And we are therefore, at least in the case of the Forest Service, basically putting 50 cents on the ground in treatments for every dollar that the Congress appropriates. We have to find some new tools, like stewardship contracting, to help do the work more quickly and less expensively. And then yes, when we can prove that additional investments are wise investments because half of the money isn't being spent on procedures, then I think we need to ramp up the amount of money we spend on this.
What did I miss?
Ms. WATSON. I think Mark covered everything. I would just add one point compared to the Forest Service at the Department of Interior, our figures look like we are spending between one-third and 40 percent on planning, NEPA compliance, and litigation. So similarly to Mark, we think if we can have improvements in the process that there will be cost savings there. And again, stewardship contracting is particularly important to the Department of Interior where much of our lands involve small-diameter timber and different types of wood products, like Juniper, that we are actively looking right now for alternative commercial uses. But collaborative, cooperative stewardship contracting with nonprofit groups and small local communities, to us, is the ''bright light at the end of the tunnel'' on solving this problem.
Mr. THOMPSON. Thank you. And I have some other questions I would like to submit to you in writing for a response on the stewardship contracting part. We just need to be aware of current market fluctuations. There is no market out there right now for trees, in some instances, or for chips in every instance.
Mr. REY. Well, if I might, let me speak directly to that, because one of the tools that we are seeking from you to grant us is the ability to write a contract for 10 years. And we think that a 10-year contract will be an asset that the contract holder can take to a lender and seek financing for this construction of new kinds of facilities that will utilize small-diameter material, which is presently valueless.
Page 30 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC What I have here is an example of what you can do with small-diameter material. This is a fabricated I-beam. It is a substitute for a 2 by 8 piece of saw and lumber, which would have to come, obviously, from a very big tree. What this is is 16, 1/8-inch strips laminated together on either side with particleboard in the middle. It has the same structural properties as a 2 by 8 of saw and lumber, but you can take a 3- to 4- to 6-inch diameter tree and instead of trying to cut it into saw and lumber, which will obviously not result in a 2 by 8, you can put that tree on a lathe, peel it into a sheet, cut the sheet into strips, like these strips, glue them together, and make something like this.
So a big part of the problem is that we don't have infrastructure to use this kind of material where we have it to sell. And if we can change that dynamic with a long-term contract, we can get investments in infrastructure that is necessary to use this.
Mr. THUNE. Thank you. I, of course, am particularly interested in this concept, as well as many others. The Charter Force concept, I have observed in the Black Hills National Forest over the past several years as we have seen 7 years and $7 million spent on a forest management plan only to have that appealed and litigated and we are just in this morass of delays. And we have got an overgrown forest, which is just a mess. And I am hopeful that as we move forward that we can implement some changes that will enable us to better treat not only that forest but many around the country who are those that are experiencing the same sorts of problems.
We have to, Mr. Rey and Ms. Watson, thank you for being here. You are fortunate today. You are going to get off the hook without having to answer a lot more questions. We have a number of questions that we would like to submit. I believe, for the record, the chairman, I am sure, would like to have a number of these answered, as would I. We do have a vote on, and so I am going to wrap this hearing up. But we appreciate your testimony and look forward to working with you, anxiously looking forward to working with you, at least in my personal view, toward achieving some of these objectives, because they are long overdue.
Page 31 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC So with that, the Chair would seek unanimous consent to allow the record of today's hearing to remain open for 10 days to receive additional materials and supplemental written responses from witnesses to any question posed by a member of the panel. Without objection, so ordered. This hearing of the Subcommittee on Department of Operations, Oversight, Nutrition, and Forestry is adjourned. Thank you.
[Whereupon, at 11:59 a.m., the subcommittee was adjourned, subject to the call of the Chair.]
[Material submitted for inclusion in the record follows:]
Prepared Statement of Hon. John R. Thune, a Representative in Congress From the State of South Dakota
I want to thank the chairman and the ranking member of this subcommittee for allowing me to be a part of this hearing today on the Healthy Forest Initiative.
When President Bush came to South Dakota last month, he heard about the fire danger that threatens the Black Hills National Forest and how lawsuits have tied the hands of local forest managers in keeping the forest healthy through sound and balanced management.
Shortly after that visit, President Bush announced his plan to prevent wildfires and reduce obstacles preventing common-sense forest management.
I welcome the President's plan with open arms. This plan has great potential to help us prevent another tragedy in the Black Hills National Forest and the entire National Forest System.
For too long, exhaustive administrative regulations and frivolous environmental lawsuits have stopped sound and balanced forest management. It's time we cut the red-tape and protect lives and preserve habitat instead of watching it go up in smoke. We've seen the destruction that results from dry conditions and bug infestation in the Black Hills. Numerous wildfires across the country prove that we have a broken Federal forest management policy that needs to be fixed. This year alone, nearly 6.4 million acres have burned in national forests and caused the deaths of 20 firefighters.
Page 32 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I've been standing up for the residents in the Black Hills by forcing USDA and Congress to deal with the fire problems. The agreement in the supplemental spending bill was a great first step. The President's plan is a natural extension of the Black Hills agreement and builds upon its success.
I want to welcome Under Secretary Mark Rey and Assistant Secretary Rebecca Watson to the hearing today. I appreciate you coming to share your thoughts from the administration.
Statement of Mark Rey and Rebecca W. Watson
Chairman Goodlatte and members of the committee:
We appreciate the opportunity to meet with you today to discuss the President's Healthy Forests Initiative and legislation that will improve fire management and forest health on our public lands.
We want to commend the committee and particularly, subcommittee Chairman Goodlatte for his foresight in including limited stewardship contracting authority in the forestry title of the farm bill that this committee passed last year. As we will soon explain, this authority is an important element of the Healthy Forests Initiative. We also want to thank Representative Rehberg and other House Members for their proposals.
The need for a plan to restore our forests and rangelands to long-term health has never been greater. Today, the forests and rangelands of the West have become unnaturally dense and ecosystem health has suffered significantly. When coupled with seasonal droughts, these unhealthy forests, overloaded with fuels, are vulnerable to unnaturally severe wildfires. Currently,190 million acres of public land are at increased risk of catastrophic wildfires. It is in this context, and during this severe and ongoing wildland fire season, that we discuss President Bush's recently introduced Healthy Forests Initiative and legislation designed to promote efficiency and timely and more effective implementation plans to restore and sustain healthy forests and rangelands.
Page 33 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The Nation is experiencing one of the worst wildfire seasons in modern history. The Hayman fire in Colorado, the Rodeo-Chediski fires in Arizona, the McNally fire in California and the Biscuit fire in Oregon have come in sequence over the last several months. These incredibly fast moving, destructive fires have resulted in catastrophic environmental, social and economic impacts. They have been the worst in each state's history. These infernos, along with over 60,000 other wildfire starts, have burned over 6 million acres so far this year, matching the pace of the previous record-setting 2000 fire season and doubling the 10-year average. Based on current fuel conditions and weather predictions the potential for more fires remains high through the fall. The cost of fighting these fires has been staggering. Firefighting costs for the Forest Service alone will exceed $1.25 billion. Hundreds of communities and thousands of people have fled their homes, and, most tragically, 20 brave firefighters have lost their lives.
Our firefighters are more effective than ever, controlling over 99 percent of all fires on initial attack. Yet, as the severity of the season demonstrates, even our best firefighting efforts are not enough without an effective strategy to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire. In May of this year, working with the Western Governors' Association and a broad cross-section of interests including county commissioners, state foresters, tribal officials and other stakeholders, we reached consensus on a 10-Year Comprehensive Strategy and Implementation Plan to reduce fire risks to communities and the environment. The plan sets forth the blueprint for making communities and the environment safer from destructive wildfires. The plan calls for active forest management focusing on hazardous fuels reduction both in the wildland-urban interface and across the broader landscape. Active forest management includes: thinning trees from over-dense stands that produce commercial or pre-commercial products, biomass removal and utilization, and prescribed fire and other fuels reduction tools. We want to thank Representative Pombo and the members of the House of Representatives for initiating and passing House Concurrent Resolution 352 endorsing the Collaborative 10-Year Strategy. We take seriously our responsibilities under the Implementation Plan. For example, within five weeks of signing the Agreement, we completed detailed work plans to address the 23 implementation tasks identified in the Plan.
Page 34 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Timely and strategically placed fuels treatment projects are effective in preventing or stopping fires. A recently published study by the Western Forest Fire Research Center concluded that treated stands experience lower fire severity than untreated stands that burn under similar weather and topographic condition. This report was released in March before this fire season, but we have many examples from this summer including the Squires Fire near Medford, OR, where untreated forest burned intensely while fire dropped to the ground in the treated areas giving firefighters the chance to attack the fire safely. On the Rodeo-Chediski and Cache Mountain Fires, damage to forest stands was minimized in areas treated to reduce hazardous fuel 35 years earlier.
In order for the 10-Year Implementation Plan to succeed, the Forest Service and Interior agencies must be able to implement critical fuels reduction and restoration projects associated with the plan goals in a timely manner. Too often, however, the agencies are constrained by procedural requirements and litigation that delay actual on-the-ground implementation. A June 2002, Forest Service study, The Process Predicament, identified three factors most contributing to project delay: (1) excessive analysis; (2) ineffective public involvement; and (3) management inefficiencies.
The situation in this country has reached a point where the roadblocks which prevent agencies charged with the responsibility for forest health to implement management decisions must change. On August 22, 2002, President Bush announced Healthy Forests: An Initiative for Wildfire Prevention and Stronger Communities. The Healthy Forest Initiative will implement core components of the 10-Year Implementation Plan, enhancing and facilitating the work and collaboration agreed to in that document. The Healthy Forests initiative directs the agencies to improve regulatory processes to ensure more timely decisions, greater efficiencies and better results in reducing the risks of catastrophic wildfires by restoring forest health. The President's initiative directs the Secretaries of Agriculture and Interior together with Council on Environmental Quality Chairman Connaughton, to: improve procedures for developing and implementing fuels treatments and forest and rangeland restoration projects in priority forests and rangelands in collaboration with local governments; reduce the number of overlapping environmental reviews by combining project analysis and establishing a process for concurrent project clearance by Federal agencies; develop guidance for weighing the short-term risks against the long-term benefits of fuels treatment and restoration projects; and develop guidance to ensure consistent NEPA procedures for fuels treatment activities and restoration activities, including development of a model Environmental Assessment for these types of projects.
Page 35 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In accordance with the Healthy Forests Initiative on, September 5, 2002, Secretaries Veneman and Norton submitted to the Congress for consideration a legislative proposal designed to accomplish more timely, efficient, and effective implementation of forest and rangeland health projects. The intent of this proposal is to significantly increase and improve forest and rangeland health and to prevent the damage caused by catastrophic wildfires.
Section 1 would expedite implementation of fuels reduction projects, where hazardous fuels pose the greatest risk to people, communities, and the environment, consistent with more targeted legislation passed in July. In implementing projects under this section, the highest priority will be given to wildland urban interface areas; municipal watersheds; and forested or rangeland areas affected by disease, insect activity, or wind throw; or areas susceptible to catastrophic reburn.
Section 2 would authorize agencies to enter into long-term stewardship contracts with the private sector, non-profit organizations, and local communities. Stewardship contracts allow contractors to keep forest products and other vegetative material in exchange for the service of thinning trees and brush and removing dead wood. Long-term contracts provide contractors the opportunity to invest in equipment and infrastructure needed to productively use material generated from forest thinning to make forest products or to produce energy.
Section 3 would remove a rider contained in section 322 of the fiscal year 1993 Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations bill that imposed extraordinary procedural requirements on the Forest Service that are not required of any other Federal agency. The goal of meaningful public participation and consensus building will be better served through pre-decisional public notice and comment rather than through post-decision appeals.
Section 4 would address standards of injunctive relief for activities necessary to restore fire-adapted forest and rangeland ecosystems. This section is designed to ensure that judges consider long-term risks of harm to people, property and the environment in challenges based on short-term risks of forest health projects.
Page 36 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In addition, the administration will work with Congress on legislation to supplement the Agriculture and Interior Departments effort to fulfill the original promise of the 1994 Northwest Forest Plan.
President Bush's proposed Healthy Forests Initiative is based upon a common-sense approach to reducing the threat of catastrophic wildfires by restoring forest and rangeland health. Our goal is to ensure the long-term safety and health of communities and ecosystems in our care. Our responsibility is to ensure the long-term health of our forests and rangelands for the use, benefit and enjoyment of our citizens and for generations to come. These are goals and responsibilities that we take seriously and we fully commit ourselves, our agencies and the resources you have provided us with to fulfill them. We appreciate the continued bipartisan support we have received from the Congress, and we look forward to working with you on this legislative proposal.