SPEAKERS CONTENTS INSERTS
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REVIEW OF THE NATIONAL FIRE PLAN IMPLEMENTATION
SUBCOMMITTEE ON DEPARTMENT OPERATIONS,
OVERSIGHT, NUTRITION, AND FORESTRY
COMMITTEE ON AGRICULTURE
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
ONE HUNDRED SEVENTH CONGRESS
MARCH 28, 2001
Serial No. 1074
Printed for the use of the Committee on Agriculture
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For sale by the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office
Internet: bookstore.gpo.gov Phone: (202) 5121800 Fax: (202) 5122250
Mail: Stop SSOP, Washington, DC 204020001
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
Page 3 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCMICHAEL K. SIMPSON, Idaho
DOUG OSE, California
ROBIN HAYES, North Carolina
ERNIE FLETCHER, Kentucky
CHARLES 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
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
Page 4 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCMIKE McINTYRE, North Carolina
BOB ETHERIDGE, North Carolina
LEONARD L. BOSWELL, Iowa
DAVID 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
Page 5 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Vice Chairman
JERRY MORAN, Kansas
JOHN COOKSEY, Louisiana
MICHAEL 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
EARL F. HILLIARD, Alabama
TIM HOLDEN, Pennsylvania
JOHN ELIAS BALDACCI, Maine
BRENT W. GATTIS, Subcommittee Staff Director
C O N T E N T S
Clayton, Hon. Eva M., a Representative in Congress from the State of North Carolina, prepared statement
Goodlatte, Hon. Bob, a Representative in Congress from the Commonwealth of Virginia, prepared statement
Hilliard Hon. Earl F., a Representative in Congress from the State of Alabama, prepared statment
Page 6 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Putnam, Hon. Adam H., a Representative in Congress from the State of Florida, opening statement
Rehberg, Hon. Dennis R., a Representative in Congress from the State of Montana, opening statement
Simpson, Hon. Michael K., a Representative in Congress from the State of Idaho, opening statement
Christoffersen, Nils D., field program manager, Wallowa Resources, Enterprise, OR
Garner, James W., State forester, Virginia Department of Forestry, Charlottesville, VA
Answers to submitted questions
Hartzell, Tim, Director, Office of Wildland and Fire Coordination, Bureau of Land Management, Department of the Interior, Washington, DC
Answers to submitted questions
Hubbard, James E., State forester, Colorado State Forest Service, Fort Collins, CO, on behalf of the National Association of State Foresters
Answers to submitted questions
Laverty, Lyle, National Fire Plan Coordinator, Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture
Page 7 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Rivers, Wilson S., forest land owner, Hastings, FL
Summerfelt, Paul, fuel management officer, Flagstaff Fire Department, Flagstaff, AZ
REVIEW OF THE NATIONAL FIRE PLAN IMPLEMENTATION
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 28, 2001
House of Representatives,
Subcommittee on Department Operations,
Oversight, Nutrition, and Forestry,
Committee on Agriculture,
The subcommittee met, pursuant to call, at 2:05 p.m., in room 1300 of the Longworth House Office Building, Hon. Michael K. Simpson (acting chairman of the subcommittee) presiding.
Present: Representatives Rehberg, Putnam, Clayton, Holden, and Stenholm [ex officio].
Staff present: Brent Gattis, Callista Gingrich, scheduler/clerk; Jay Jensen, and Walter Vinson.
OPENING STATEMENT OF HON. MICHAEL K. SIMPSON, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF IDAHO
Mr. SIMPSON. This hearing of the Subcommittee on Department Operations, Oversight, Nutrition and Forestry to review implementation of the National Fire Plan Implementation will come to order. I am going to read a short opening statement.
Page 8 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC As a Member representing a State devastated by last year's catastrophic fires, I want to personally thank Chairman Goodlatte, who could not be here today, for scheduling this important oversight hearing on the implementation of the National Fire Plan. Chairman Goodlatte was called to the White House to discuss key technology issues and sends his apologies for not being available to chair this hearing. I know he was looking forward to this hearing and would not have missed it except for this important meeting with the President, and I am certain that he will review your testimony when he returns.
As you know, I have the dubious distinction of representing a district that had one of the largest fires in the United States during the 2000 fire season, the Clear Creek Fire in the Salmon-Challis National Forest. The Clear Creek Fire covered an area of over 200,000 acres outside of Salmon, ID. However, it is but one of many that burned throughout Idaho, the Western United States, and all over the United States.
I was asked to spend a couple of days on the Clear Creek Fire and saw firsthand the devastation catastrophic forest fires cause. It is unfortunate that it took a fire season like the one we had last year in order for the Secretaries of Agriculture and Interior to produce the National Fire Plan.
However, I am pleased that the U.S. Forest Service and the Department of Interior responded with a comprehensive plan and strategy for dealing with heavy fuel loads and the restoration and rehabilitation of lands already stricken by catastrophic fires.
Moreover, I was pleased that the U.S. Forest Service and Department of Interior worked with the Western Governors' Association to draft report language ensuring cooperation and consultation between the Governors and the Secretary of Agriculture and Interior.
We need to restore our forests. They are in an unhealthy state, as evidenced by the 2000 fire season. The Forest Service and the General Accounting Office estimate that more than 72 million acres are at risk of uncharacteristic wildfires. We must restore our forests to a more healthy and natural state that includes managed prescribed burns and thinning. We may not agree on every aspect of achieving that natural state, but we can find common areas that we can agree that fuels reduction is better than the alternative, catastrophic forest fires.
Page 9 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The old adage, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, is very appropriate. A well-funded fuels reduction program will pay significant dividends in the reduction of fire fighting and restoration costs over time. I am hopeful that the U.S. Forest Service and the Department of Interior will continue to aggressively implement the National Fire Plan.
In addition, I trust that the Secretaries of Agriculture and Interior will continue to work together with the State and local officials to ''improve forest health.''
I am committed to working with the State and local officials, U.S. Forest Service, and Department of Interior to address any barriers that might stand in the way of successfully treating our forests. In addition, I am committed to working for continued funding for a long-term forest health initiative.
I am hopeful that the information presented here will bring us one step closer to healing our forests.
OPENING STATEMENT OF HON. DENNIS R. REHBERG, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF MONTANA
Mr. REHBERG. Mr. Chairman, thank you. I just wanted to thank you for being a part of something that we think is very important in the State of Montana as well. Being a neighboring State to Idaho, we saw the devastation that these catastrophic fires can create, both for our economy, but importantly, for our wildlife and our environment as well.
If we learned nothing from the 1988 fires it was that it will repeat itself if not properly managed, and shame on us for not having done something over the course of the last 12 years. You can be assured that this Congressman, at least, representing the State of Montana, is ready, willing, and able to do anything we can to help you better manage the fire and the fuel load that seems to exist continually within our State in the intermountain west and all over the Nation.
Page 10 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC So I just want to thank you for being a part of something that I think is very important, the holistic approach to management of our national forests and public lands, the Bureau of Land Management as well. The one thing we know that is going to occur is another drought. We are setting ourselves up for another situation again this year. Thank you, again, for being here.
Mr. SIMPSON. Mr. Putnam.
OPENING STATEMENT OF HON. ADAM H. PUTNAM, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF FLORIDA
Mr. PUTNAM. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I echo my friend and colleague from Montana's comments that this is an important topic and I am looking forward to the panel's testimony. Florida has seen its share in the past 5 years of devastating catastrophic fire seasons. We have postponed the Daytona 500 because of our fires. We closed Disney for several days and, just this spring, we closed a major interstate highway for 2 weeks because of our fires.
Since the beginning of this year, this year alone, we have had over 1,800 wildland fires burn over 123,000 acres. So I make that point not to say that we are in any worse shape than the rest of the country, but to make the point that this is not just a western issuethat this is a southeastern, and a national issue. I think it is important and overdue that we give it the attention it deserves. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. SIMPSON. I thank the gentleman for his opening statement, and, you are right. We, in the West, sometimes have a tendency to think that wild fires and forest fires are a western issue, but they are a national issue and occur all over. I am concerned that we closed Disneyland for a couple of days.
I would include at this point in the record the opening statement of our chairman, Mr. Goodlatte, and any other statements for the record.
[The prepared statements of Mr. Goodlatte, Mrs. Clayton, and Mr. Hilliard follow:]
Page 11 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCPREPARED STATEMENT OF HON. BOB GOODLATTE, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA
We have called the Department Operations, Oversight, Nutrition and Forestry Subcommittee together this afternoon to receive testimony from entities engaged in the implementation of the National Fire Plan developed last year to address wildland fire threats nationwide. Information gathering began at the end of the last Congress when the full committee conducted a hearing in response to the dreadful 2000 fire season where 92,250 fires burned 7,393,493 acres across the country, impacting hundreds of thousands individuals. My home State of Virginia suffered over 1,000 wildland fires burning nearly 11,000 acres and destroying 178 homes and structures in 2000. Although the numbers dwarf in comparison to the national numbers, they do indicate that we are dealing with a national problemone that must be dealt with through coordination of resources and dedication of personnel. I am glad to see that progress appears to have been made.
I would like to thank my colleagues in the House Resources Committee, as well as the House and Senate Interior Appropriations Committees for holding prior hearings this Session on this subject. Much light has been shed on what the Federal agencies have done to date with the $2.9 billion appropriated for fiscal year 2001. We will investigate this further today, but what we truly hope to shed light on is the ongoing and diligent efforts of the States, communities and landowners across the country who have committed themselves to wildland fire protection. At our last hearing we emphasized the need for a collaborative process that creates ''full partners'' out of all engaged entities. I hope today we can confirm that this has indeed happened.
Last year Congress appropriated over $1.9 billion to the USDA Forest Service and just under $1 billion to the Interior Department to reimburse for last year's fire season and to ensure that we would be prepared for this year's fire season. Providing the Federal agencies can be accountable, we need to continue this ''most-efficient level'' of preparedness. Protecting lives and property from wildland fire is a costly business that will require continued up front input. However, these costs can be lessened in the long run if we prepare people and communities and return forests to a healthy and fire resilient condition. We must keep local communities viable. Hazardous fuel reductions are the key, and time is of the essence. I would also like to hear today exactly how we are doing this.
Page 12 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Last, we know that we must prepare for these wildfires by having the best trained and equipped personnel ready to react at a moment's notice and continue with hazardous fuels reductions. As they implement hazardous fuels reduction projects and work to restore the health of the landscape, the Federal agencies must comply with a number of laws, particularly the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. We've heard examples in the past before this subcommittee where the processes the agencies use to comply with these laws have proven cumbersome and have seriously delayed or increased the expense of project implementation. It would help to hear the Federal agencies plans for overcoming this problem.
As we move further into 2001, indications are again pointing to a disastrous fire season, particularly for many communities suffering from drought around the country; southeast Atlantic coastal States, the northern Rockies, and the northern Sierra Nevadas. Even Virginia has been suffering from prolonged drought since 1999. There is no doubt in my mind that we are dealing with a national problem, that requires a national, coordinated, and committed answer. It is with this conviction that I look forward with great pleasure to hearing your testimony before the subcommittee today.
PREPARED STATEMENT OF HON. EVA M. CLAYTON, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA
By any measure, the catastrophic forest fires of the summer of 2000 were among the worst in recent memory. From southern Florida to the Pacific Northwest, numerous fires raged with unparalleled intensity. Many of us watched with horror and sympathy as we saw hundreds of homes and millions of acres of land go up in flames.
If It had not been so starkly illustrated prior to that, the 2001 fire season served to powerfully illustrate the potential for widespread devastation as well as to highlight the necessity of an effective and integrated national fire policy.
Unfortunately, when it comes to fire policy, we have become victims of our own success. Our continued insistence on widespread suppression of fire rather than intelligent management of our forest lands has created tinderbox conditions in forests throughout the country. Rather than allowing natural restorative fires cycles to periodically burn as they have for thousands of years, we have prevented fires, unaware that doing so would allow fuel loads on these lands to build to dangerous levels.
Page 13 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC It will take significant time and effort to restore these tinder-box lands to their natural, fire-resistant state. Congress recognized this and took steps to ameliorate this situation last year when it significantly increased funding for the U.S. Forest Service. With this funding, Congress charged the Forest Service with creating and implementing a comprehensive national fire plan that would not only give us the resources to defend ourselves against devastating fires such as we saw last summer but also to mitigate the outset of such fires in the future.
This will require an interagency response coordinated between Federal, State, and local officials working together to combat fires on lands with crosscutting jurisdictions. An effort of this magnitude is no easy task.
Congress has put a great deal of faith in the Forest Service by charging them with the coordination of this effort in spite of a less than exemplary track record on matters of financial accountability. To their credit, the U.S. Forest Service has responded in good faith by recognizing past inconsistencies in accounting and by working hard to put in place a system of accounting that is transparent and responsive to the requests of Congress and the American people.
We are still in mid-process in these matters. With regard to stewardship of our forests, we have a long road to travel before we will be able to restore them to their fire-resistant health of one century ago. With regard to the financial accountability of the U.S. Forest Service there remains as well much work to be done.
These are not unrelated matters. Our forests will require significant and ongoing resources to return to their natural state and the U.S. Forest Service will have to provide wise stewardship over that process if it is ultimately to be successful.
I thank the U.S. Forest Service for their recent efforts to implement the 2001 Fire Plan in accordance with the wishes of Congress and look forward to working alongside them to restore our forests to health and the U.S. Forest Service ledgers to transparency.
Page 14 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCPREPARED STATEMENT OF HON. EARL F. HILLIARD, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF ALABAMA
Mr. Chairman, colleagues and guests, I am glad we are having this important hearing regarding the National Fire Plan implementation. My district in Alabama is one of those in the Nation that suffers greatly from many forest fires.
We have had 3 years of drought in Alabama that has greatly increased the risk of forest fires. At the same time, we have suffered an epidemic of the southern pine beetle. This southern beetle infestation has caused a great increase in the dropping of needles from pine trees, causing a buildup in the dry matting on the forest floor, further increasing the risk of a devastating forest fire.
The fires that ensue under such conditions as those in Alabama devastate the environment, destroy large numbers of crops and damage farm economies, and take human lives as well as those of livestock and wildlife. It is essential that we continue our programs to deal with fires and continue to seek innovative ways to prevent, contain and extinguish them.
I look forward to hearing the testimony this morning.
Mr. SIMPSON. We are pleased to invite our first panel today with Mr. Lyle Laverty, the National Fire Plan Coordinator from the Forest Service, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, here in Washington. Mr. Tim Hartzell, Director, Office of Wildland and Fire Coordination, Bureau of Land Management, Department of Interior, here in Washington. These two have testified before the Forest Health Subcommittee of the Resources Committee. So we are glad to have you back to talk about what is going on with the Fire Plan. I would like to welcome you both and tell you that your written statements will be made a part of the record, and we will be pleased to receive your testimony at this point.
Page 15 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCSTATEMENT OF LYLE LAVERTY, NATIONAL FIRE PLAN COORDINATOR, FOREST SERVICE, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
Mr. LAVERTY. Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to share and view with you what is going on with the National Fire Plan. I would like just to briefly introduce a few of the folks that are here from the Forest Service, our key players in the implementation of the National Fire Plan. We have the Deputy Chief of State and Private Forestry, Michael Rains; Regional Forester Rick Cables from the Rocky Mountain Region, Deputy Regional Forester, Abel Camarena, from the southwestern region; and State Forester Ray Sowers from South Dakota, all great partners with us as we make this National Fire Plan a reality.
Just to share a few highlights, and Tim and I would be happy to answer any questions. The point you make about the Fire Plan, that this is a National Fire Plan is not just the lesser issue. The States, as well as the Federal agencies have spent an excess of $11 million already in fire suppression and we haven't even gotten into the middle of the summer yet. The majority of it is coming from Florida.
The implementation of the National Fire Plan is built on some goals. We have got those in our report for you. One is to build the fire fighting readiness and the capacity. The second is forest rehabilitation post-fire. The third is to reduce the fuels, the hazardous fuel conditions that we have in this country. The fourth one deals with the community assistance. The fifth one that Tim and I have talked about is the accountability to assure you and the taxpayers that this is a good investment.
The Congress provided for the Forest Service an additional $1.1 billion in funding for the Forest Service portion of the Fire Plan in 2001. This represents a significant increase in the Fire Program, almost an 84 percent increase over the fiscal year 2001. This increase has provided funding for the optimal level of fire fighting and emergency funds as we carry out the goals and objectives of the Plan. So it is significant, also because we ran out of people last summer.
Page 16 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Implementation of the Plan is well underway and there has significant progress that has, in fact, been made. Cooperation between agencies, the collaboration of governors with tribal and local Governments are beginning to progress, in terms of how Government can and should work. The important part is that we are responding with results. We recognize that there is a number of challenges to complete the significant increased workload and this could take many years of continued and determined commitment of resources to effectively reduce the impacts of wildland fire in rural communities across America.
And there is good evidence that these kinds of investments will, in fact, make a difference, but we are talking about long-term investment and we need to continue to demonstrate or show results. Even though it is early in the year, we have made a good start in terms of accomplishments. We have treated in excess of 400,000 acres of fuels already. We have made distributions and we are making distributions right now of funds back to the States and back down to local fire districts. On the Forest Service side, we will, again, provide funds that will support volunteer fire departments. We have worked with the governors to develop a public list of communities that are at risk.
What is important, though, is that we, in fact, are accountable for these funds and if there is anything that I believe that we are passionate about is being able to share with you results when we can look all of you in the eye and say this was a good investment. The important part is that it is a long-term commitment and that is a good sound investment. We would hope that as a result of these investments, that we can help you let America know that this has been the right thing to do.
There are other elements in the Fire Plan that we can talk about in any questions you might have. But in particular, to this committee is the instrument of economic assistance and community assistance that goes to the States. There is major funding that actually pass right into the States and you can hear from State foresters in terms of how these funds are being utilized.
Page 17 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC One of the opportunities that we have when we implement the National Fire Plan is to use the local contracts and 50 percent of the contracts that do this kind of work are, in fact, targeted for local communities. There is a major challenge for us, in terms of developing the capacity to get that work done. We are working with Governors, with the State foresters, and with communities to realign the resources that help and respond to some of the issues that face America today.
It is a rich opportunity and we are thankful for the investment that the Congress has made in these risk programs and we would look forward to answering any questions you might have. You have already accepted our written testimony, so I will submit it.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Laverty appears at the conclusion of the hearing.]
Mr. SIMPSON. Thank you, Mr. Laverty. Mr. Hartzell?
STATEMENT OF TIM HARTZELL, DIRECTOR, OFFICE OF WILDLAND AND FIRE COORDINATION, BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR
Mr. HARTZELL. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and members of the committee. I would like to thank you again for an opportunity to share our progress on the National Fire Plan. The Congress has been extremely supportive of the Fire Management Program with the Department of the Interior. For fiscal year 2001, the funding provided nearly doubles our capacity to increase our fire fighting capability, to reduce dangers to communities at risk, restore ecosystems and the natural role of fire, and protect our critical natural resources, and, most importantly, keep our both our firefighters and our public and communities safer.
And I am pleased to report that the Department of Interior is making substantial progress in responding to the mandate that Congress gave us for fiscal year 2001 with the appropriation language.
Page 18 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Let me summarize my comments for you, the testimony we have provided, by telling you that in fiscal year 2001, the appropriation has given us the best chance in decades for Federal agencies to demonstrate that fuels management objectives can be formulated, that constituencies can be built, and results delivered. The problem is certainly a large one and, as you have pointed out, but it is not insurmountable. And that the National Fire Plan clearly gives us a prescription or a blueprint for success.
Let me just share with you some of our accomplishments to date in the Department of Interior. First, in the arena of fire fighting and our ability to be more fully prepared for the upcoming fire season, we have plans to hire nearly 2,500 more firefighters. But I would like to apprise the committee of the fact that we have made significant progress in that hiring objective. In addition, we are ordering 62 new fire engines, contracting for 24 additional helicopters, and we will be increasing our staffing capability from 5 to 7 days during the critical part of the fire season.
In the area of hazardous fuels reduction, we plan to treat nearly 1.4 million acres of hazardous fuels. One-fourth of these acres will be near wildland and urban communities and Federal land communities that are most vulnerable of risk from wildfire. The remainder of that fuels treatment work will be in priority watersheds to ensure the health of range and forest lands.
And in the hazardous fuels management goal, I must mention a couple of actions we are taking to increase our use of contracting. We initiated procedures to increase the ability of fuels work to be conducted through small business, and local sources. We have streamlined our contracting procedures, eliminating duplication and competition among agencies with a focus on geographic collaboration and sharing.
With the additional funding in the area of rehab and the restoration of burned lands, we will restore nearly 1.4 million acres that were destroyed in nearly 14 States in last year. Projects will be targeted at stopping erosion, protecting water quality, restoring critical wildlife habitat, and preventing the expansion of noxious weeds and other invasive plants.
Page 19 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In the arena of community assistance, the Department of Interior was fortunate to receive a new appropriation element, an element totaling $10 million, with which we will target assistance to the small rural fire departments throughout the country. We plan to provide assistance to over 800 small fire departments, providing additional training, equipment, supplies, and materials, and thereby increasing the protection and capacity and enhancing firefighters' safety in these small rural areas.
Lastly, Mr. Laverty mentioned accountability. We will be tracking all key elements of the National Fire Plan throughout the year and we will report back to you as requested. The Department of Interior is working closely with the Forest Service on developing one national tracking database. In the interim, in the Department of Interior, we are modifying our Bureau of Management Information Systems to ensure that progress and key elements of the National Fire Plan are captured. We have initiated greater reporting process through the DOI Bureau of Directors, to the Secretary, tracking accomplishments, such as hiring, equipment purchasing, and fuels treatment progress.
I would like to close and say that the progress we have made today has not occurred in isolation. It bears us a significant investment and collaboration and sharing between all the Department of Interior Bureau and the Forest Service, and most importantly, with the States, State foresters, and local Governments, and communities. We will not, any of us, be successful in isolation. This is a large problem. It is bigger than any of us and the solution depends upon all of us. Mr. Chairman, members, I thank you and I will be happy to address any questions.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Hartzell appears at the conclusion of the hearing.]
Mr. SIMPSON. I thank you both for your testimony. This is one of those strange things where you appropriate money to prevent the problem, and, if you are successful in preventing the problem, the argument for appropriating the money sometimes is hard to make before Congress. So, you are right, this is a long-term process. It is not a 1-year type solution. It is something that we need to all keep working on.
Page 20 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. Hartzell, you told the House and Senate Appropriation Subcommittee 2 weeks ago that you did not expect delays of the National Fire Plan implementation, nor to NEPA or the ESA consultations this year. Is that because the DOI agency is focused on NEPA-ready projects this year?
Mr. HARTZELL. Mr. Chairman, it is a function of the fact that we have had these projects that are going to be completed this year in the pipeline over the past 2 years and there has been significant lead time to enable the land-managing agencies and the regulatory agencies to work together to ensure that the section 7 consultations could be completed in time.
In addition, we are working with the regulatory agencies up front to include them in the fuels planning process so they are involved at the table up front, rather than reacting to our proposals as we pull them together. We are also working with them to fax consultations among all of the land-managing agencies. And let me say that that is something that we hope to continue in the future with the Forest Service so that rather than four or five land-managing agencies going to the Fish and Wildlife Service asking for five separate consultations, we may be able to fax consultations on a geographic area after a consultation, thereby streamlining and expediting the process.
Mr. SIMPSON. Mr. Laverty, the same question to you.
Mr. LAVERTY. Mr. Chairman, the projects for 2001 basically have the planning started about 1 1/2, almost 2 years ago. So we have been fairly well through the NEPA process on the projects for 2001. The challenge for both of us will be in 2002, as we begin to work through that NEPA process. And that is one that our folks in the field are working on aggressively right now. But is a major challenge because we have not only these projects to take care of, but we are also in the process and the planning on how are we going to respond to the fire situation come this summer. So we often have people that are doing two or three of the same jobs trying to make all these things happen. So 2002 is going to be a challenge for us.
Page 21 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. SIMPSON. Congress required you to evaluate the need to streamline the Endangered Species Act and the National Environment Policy Act and the National Historic Preservation Act, insofar as they apply to wildland and fire management. What is the status of that evaluation?
Mr. LAVERTY. The preliminary analysis was done by CEQ. They submitted their report and some recommendations on the Forest Service side. And one of the items was what can we do with our appeal process? Tim and I are working with CEQ. I have been up to do some field reviews to look at the NEPA work that has taken place on the ground, to see if there are some things that we can do additionally to streamline that process, not to circumvent the process, are there some things we can gain in terms of process efficiency? So I think that is a very positive piece of what we are doing.
Mr. SIMPSON. This is one of the real problems that we havejust about anything that the Forest Service or by the Department of Interior, Bureau of Land Management, decides to do, to expedite any of this hazardous fuels reduction would be positive. Some of it involves cutting trees or whatever. And to know whether to do that is going to be effective. I think that looking at things like thatwhat we could do to try to streamline it so that we don't spend too much time.
Mr. LAVERTY. Mr. Chairman, one of the directions that came from the conference report directed us to report back to the Congress on the 1st of May on any of those recommendations. We both have staff working on taking a look at trying to identify what are those issues that we could, in fact, come to the Congress with and recommendations that may help to streamline some of the things that could be done. Statutorily, we would need to improve the efficiency of the effectiveness of delivering the Fire Plan.
Mr. SIMPSON. One last question. As you know, the previous administration instituted a 50-million acre roadless moratorium. Is that going to have any effect or is it going to have the effect in fuels reduction and so forth, in trying to cure our forests and make them healthier? Is it going to increase the costs? What impact is that going to have?
Page 22 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. LAVERTY. Mr. Chairman, there would be some increased costs. Of the inventoried roadless areas, 27 percent of those acres are encumbered. We have two and three fuel types within those inventory boundaries. That leaves us basically 70 percent of those lands that are outside of inventory roadless area. So as we begin to target the investments, most of the communities, I think, we are going to find, in general, are not encumbered or burdened with the roadless area decision. The roadless area decision does not preclude us from doing treatment, if it is necessary, in there, but it does, as you point out, add some additional costs.
Mr. SIMPSON. Thank you. Mrs. Clayton.
Mrs. CLAYTON. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I thank the witnesses for sharing with us where we are in the Fire Management Plan. I have a few questions. And, Mr. Chairman, also if I can ask to submit my full statement later into the record.
Mr. SIMPSON. Without objection.
Mrs. CLAYTON. Have the national forests completed a time schedule for developing and approving the fire plans in accordance with the Deputy Chief's agenda dated March 23, 2000? What, if any, of the national fire plan has already been accomplished with the National Forest toward the December 2001 deadline established by the Outgoing Chief Dombeck? If not, why not? And these plans were apparently based on how the monies were allocated.
Mr. LAVERTY. Sure. Let me see if I can respond to that one first. We are working with the Interior agencies as well as we implement the fire plans on the national forests following the directions from the National Fire Policy. We have an interesting paradox because in many cases the forest fire plans are developed from the National Forest Resource Plan. I think we have 90 plans that are going to be coming up for revision right now. That we make the completing those forest plans and updating those forest plans and then tiering the fire plans from those plans.
So what we are going to do is we are going to take a look at the existing fire plans that are on most of the forests, some of which need to be updated. But we want to determine if we, in fact, have any fatal flaw from those existing fire plans and then begin to sequence those and build those into the revision of the existing forest plans. And I think that will allow us to make sure we don't have anybut we are not going to be in any real serious problems with those fire plans, but then we will also be able to make the effective investment to build that on when we do the forest plan revision.
Page 23 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mrs. CLAYTON. I have your implementation chart here. Is there a schedule for all that?
Mr. LAVERTY. I am not sure if we have one. I will follow up with you on that question.
Mrs. CLAYTON. Well, the other one was, indeed, if you would be able to meet the deadline, given the schedule to be developed, if you think you are far along enough to know whether you would meet the deadline of December of this year that was proposed originally?
Mr. LAVERTY. I think the answer would be, no, we are not going to meet the deadline of December of this year with the revisions of those fire plans, again, because of the reason that many of those plans are built on existing forest plans, many of which are 15 or so years old. So we need to be making the investment to bring those forest plans up to date and then build the Fire Plan as part of that planning process.
Mrs. CLAYTON. Is there a date for bringing those individual forest plans up to date so that you can begin your schedule?
Mr. LAVERTY. That is a major investment. I can get you the schedule of what we have planned for those Plan revisions.
Mrs. CLAYTON. OK. I appreciate that. Let me ask you a couple others. With the very few restrictions that involve the Federal, the State, and the private resources, as well as local Government, how would a Fire Management Plan be implemented on the ground and how are you now putting that collaborative structure to happen as you go forward?
Mr. LAVERTY. As we implement the Fire Plan, many of the provisions are built on the relationship with the State foresters. And you are going to hear from State foresters a little bit later on the next panel. But as foresters work on the implementation of their existing relationships, there is strong collaboration that takes place between the State foresters and the alignment of resources in terms of helping us begin to determine priorities for fuel investments and fuel treatments.
Page 24 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I think we are at an opportunity now, with the discussions that take place with the State foresters, that we can actually be more strategic in terms of how we place investments on the Federal lands and coordinate those with investments on State and private lands. There is a major component of the National Fire Plan that deals with the State and private side of the equation. It is probably the most unfunded part of the equation because we can make all the investments on Federal land, we can bring all the staffing levels up on the Federal side, but, unless we have that capacity fully developed on the State and private side, that is the missing part of the equation. And we are making progress there, but we have got a long ways to go.
Mrs. CLAYTON. When will the U.S. Forest Service manualthat is, your current manuals that you have from your directorswhen will they incorporate your Federal fire policy which you are now implementing? When will you update your current forest manuals to reflect the new plan that is being implemented and what directions are you given in lieu of what is not happening now? How are you directing your current directors of the various parks to handle fires right now if a fire broke out?
Mr. LAVERTY. There is really several key steps in this. One is that May 10, 11, we will meet with all the regional directors and regional executives to discuss the implementation of the Federal Fire Policy. From that meeting, we are going to be working on developing the timeline of when those incorporations will, in fact, be made into our policy manuals and, at the same time, companion actions with the Interior.
Mrs. CLAYTON. Mr. Chairman, my time has expired, but can I be permitted to submit questions to the panelists and have them answer back to the committee?
Mr. SIMPSON. Yes. We will allow for the submission of questions and we will keep the record open for 10 days for written answers.
Mrs. CLAYTON. Thank you.
Mr. SIMPSON. Mr. Rehberg.
Page 25 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. REHBERG. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Hartzell, does your authority or your responsibility in budgeting change when a designation is moved from what occurred on the Missouri River to a monument status, as far as wildland biomanagement?
Mr. HARTZELL. No. That doesn't.
Mr. REHBERG. And so the way you approach planning and the way you ultimately make a determination on your budgeting, would be the same.
Mr. HARTZELL. Any specific land management constraints from that designation would have to be factored into the Fire Management Plan and that would, I mean to say that would translate into any appropriate actions that you could take through the Fire Management Plan.
Mr. REHBERG. So it, in fact, ends up costing you more money.
Mr. HARTZELL. It could cost more money if there were certain constraints in place.
Mr. REHBERG. Do you feel that it would, perhaps, be necessary to write legislation that would be specific to that area to provide the necessary access for you to delineate the risks?
Mr. HARTZELL. I don't think that the designation is going to preclude us from conducting our fire management job. I think that the, it may be that it may be more costly to conduct those activities.
Mr. REHBERG. But not more difficult.
Mr. HARTZELL. It may be more difficult, but more costly.
Mr. REHBERG. Mr. Laverty, I guess the same question for you from the perspective of Representative Simpson, this initiative again. And he asked the question specifically about cost, but does the management or the risk management pose more difficulty for you?
Page 26 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. LAVERTY. In terms of additional costs, simply because the decision right now precludes any road construction. If we are to do it, again, some treatments would be without the construction of roads and it would have, in some cases, additional costs.
Mr. REHBERG. Forgive me for asking the question, but I wasn't around when the Fire Plan was originally anticipated and appropriated and authorized. Is there a different designation between risk management on unburned land versus burned land?
Mr. LAVERTY. As a matter of fact, back on the goals, one of the goals which that we developed and one of the key points of the Fire Plan, deals with the restoration of those burned areas. A long-term investment would make it in terms of a treatment of fuels that treats the burned areas with one thrust, and the second then deals with the long-term investment of reducing the fuel hazard. And the outcome of this investment is significant because we are going to see much healthier forests and I am really confident that over time we are going to be able to reduce suppression costs. And with those two investments we have sustained productivity on the landscape.
Mr. REHBERG. Would your risk Fire Plan include any anticipation of the continuation of the drought and another fire in the same location as a result of our not being able, because of a timing problem and undueor maybe not necessarilywe wouldn't all agree with our regulations that are keeping us from moving and the salvaging that timber to create a less fire danger for the next fire season?
Mr. LAVERTY. I think we have the opportunity and the flexibility as weI guess I would call the word nimblenessmove the focus and thrust of the National Fire Plan to respond to the changing conditions. And that is one of the advantages of working with partners for the States and the other agencies, is that we can, in fact, anticipate some of the things that we can do, whether it is fuel treatment or, as we talked earlier, being strategic in the placement of the fire fighting resources. And I think those are the opportunities that we do, in fact, have.
Page 27 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. REHBERG. OK. I heard or read most recently about soon to be ex-Chief Dombeck, that funds were not being able to be spent if there was commercial timber involved. Is that true?
Mr. LAVERTY. We are utilizing the National Fire Plan funds to do hazard reduction. We also have our regular program funds that we can, in fact, invest in these same areas where we can use those funds to generate commercial service sales to help us accomplish these same goals and objectives that we have with the National Fire Plan.
Mr. REHBERG. Being consistent, but perhaps this whole process now by having a dual track. Wouldn't it be better or wouldn't it be easier to meld the two and be able to move in the areas that have commercial timber as well?
Mr. LAVERTY. I hope they don't preclude us from doing that. And I was just talking to someone in South Dakota yesterday and he showed in his 5-year fuels management, he has timber sales and he has fire funds invested in a very duplicated fashion and it is not causing him any problems.
Mr. REHBERG. If I could ask one more question, Mr. Chairman. I am always interested init is easy to throw the word tracking around. Just exactly what do both of you define tracking? How are you going to make an anticipation to be able to prove to us that the management plan is adequate to protect the resource?
Mr. LAVERTY. Tracking means a lot. We want to be able to do is come back and Tim and I, we have talked about the outcomes and we are going to treat almost 3.2 million acres. We want to come back and let you know that we have, we are on course to accomplish that particular program of work. I think it is important that we do, in fact, make outcomes happen on the ground. And the other part of our investment is that we have had a research investment when we are tracking to see are we, in fact, doing the right things? Are we achieving the outcomes that we collectively have expected? And I guess those would be the other elements as well, tracking and monitoring not only our performance, in terms of things happening on the ground, but are we doing the right things on the ground?
Page 28 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. REHBERG. Mr. Hartzell.
Mr. HARTZELL. We expect to be able to come back to you on a routine basis or, based upon your advice, and tell you how many acres that we had, how many acres of fuels we have treated around vulnerable communities and priority watersheds, whether we have completed our hiring plan, whether we have ordered all of equipment to be adequately prepared. We expect to be able to tell you how many contracts we have issued for fuels reduction. And that is our objective. That is our Secretary's expectation. That is our expectation of the National Fire Plan managers and we expect to deliver.
Mr. REHBERG. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. SIMPSON. Mr. Putnam.
Mr. PUTNAM. Mr. Chairman, again, being from Florida, my interest, for the purposes of this panel, is to focus on the wildland urban interface because that is what the bulk of our problems, and certainly the bulk of our associated problem would be when the losses come. It is my understanding that a list has been prepared and even published in the Register of vulnerable communities across the country. If you would, help walk me through the process that you used to determine which communities were on that list and were State Governments and wildland fire agencies and tribal Governments involved in that process?
Mr. HARTZELL. Well, let me take a first shot at that, Lyle. That initial list was requested in response to the language in the appropriations report. There are nearly 4,500 communities on the list that was published in the Federal Register. That list reflects basically the work of the States and tribes. There was very little, if any, Federal agency intervention in the makeup of that list, as it was published in the Federal Register.
Mr. PUTNAM. It is also my understanding that there is another list set to be published. How many communities have we knocked off the list as a result of your proactive efforts to reduce the wildland urban interface fuel loads?
Page 29 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. HARTZELL. Between the time that the original list was published and my conversations with people that are working on this initiative a couple weeks ago, the list expanded from 4,500 to in the vicinity of 6,000 communities and seems to be receding like a flood right nowslowly.
Mr. PUTNAM. We are going the wrong way, boys.
Mr. HARTZELL. However, I think, we have formed a working group of Federal agencies, tribes, and State foresters and we have developed specific criteria for people to use in applying to the communities to determine whether they are in the vicinity of Federal lands and are vulnerable to fire. I think, as a result of the criteria and the fact that we have got State foresters and others actively engaged in the discussion about the list, that we are going to see some shrinkage in the list. However, I think what is most important is that maybe the list is not going to be smaller by multiples of thousands, but what is important is that we will be able to tell from the list what are the most vulnerable or the highest priority communities that we should focus our fuels treatment work in 2002, 2003, and the short term.
Mr. PUTNAM. Thank you. I have said that in jest. I understand that this is a dawning task and we are all working together to move towards a solution. In Florida, and I suspect it is the same way out west, the National Guard air assets are very heavily involved in our suppression plans. Have they been brought into the mix? Has DoD been a part of this preparation of the National Fire Plan again from a freshman perspective? We weren't in on the ground floor of this. I would be curious to know what their role in this was as well.
Mr. LAVERTY. Even in the efforts that took place in 2000, Department of Defense played a significant role in helping us bring on additional resources in terms of staffing to work on the actual fire suppression. Air Guard, across the country were active in terms of moving people around. I know in the Rocky Mountain region, we had Air Guard people working with us and I am sure they have seen situations happen across the country. It plays a significant role and that is one of the opportunities that we have with the National Fire Plan, is to bring all the agencies together.
Page 30 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Tim and I have been working with Small Business. We believe that the Department of Labor also has roles to play in there. So that it really is a Government that can work. And I think the Fire Plan brings is the catalyst to help us make that come about.
Mr. HARTZELL. Let me just add one comment to what Lyle said. One of the things that we all recognize is very often the first responders on many of these fires are the small rural fire departments. And it is our expectation, through the monies that we receive through the National Fire Plan, that we can increase the training for these small rural fire departments so that they have a training that meets the red card standards of the national fire fighting forces. And we plan to significantly increase that level of training. And you will see these folks participating, along with Federal folks, on hand crews or manning engines right alongside the Federals.
Mr. PUTNAM. I appreciate you making that point. It is absolutely critical for the safety of these firefighters that we provide that cross training for these folks who are structural firefighters, but don't have the background in wildland fire suppression. And, you are right, they are the first people on the job, and there is a tendency, I think, to take the wildland fires, to treat them with a little less respect than with a structural fire, and that is what gets people hurt. So, thank you for that point. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. SIMPSON. Thank you. I have just one final question that I would like to ask. And that is, is there anything that Congress needs to do other than appropriate the money, obviously, to accomplish these goals? Anything that we need to do to help you accomplish the goals that we have set out for you?
Mr. HARTZELL. Well, Mr. Chairman, one observation I would make is that Lyle and I are committed to this May 1 report to the Congress. We hope to lay out in that report a specific list of actions that may be necessary to help us be more effective to meet the goals of this National Fire Plan. And I think any legislative type issues there, we would certainly appreciate your support on.
Page 31 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. LAVERTY. Mr. Chairman, just in addition to a point that Tim shared, one of the very, very specific actions that would be helpful right now is that Mr. Hefley is working on a bill that will allow us to transfer funds from the Forest Service to the Fish and Wildlife Service and NMFS. And that is a goal right now to make sure that we actually get the section 7 consultation work done particularly for the 2002 project. So your support and action on that.
The other point that I would just follow with Tim's comment is, I believe that if there is anything that when you are making your visits back in your districts that you can do to making sure that people are aware and conscious of what is going on with the Fire Plan, that it would truly show results, is going to be extremely helpful. Too often we don't deliver the information for you to be sharing that with your constituents, but if we can help you with information and if you can let folks know that we are really trying to make a difference and that we are working with the Governors and I believe that we can make this a Government that really works and that the people feel good about what we can do.
Mr. SIMPSON. I appreciate that. And I am working with Congressman Hefley on that legislation to see if we can get that through the Resources Committee as quickly as possible. I appreciate your testimony. It is always good to see you both, Tim, and, Lyle, again, and talk about this. It is going to be an issue that we are going to be studying for a long time, I think. I appreciate the testimony and, as I said, it will be put fully in the record. Thank you.
Mr. LAVERTY. Thanks.
Mr. SIMPSON. We have a vote on right now. We have got about 10 more minutes. As soon as that vote is over, we will reconvene this to hear the testimony of the second panel. It will be about 15 minutes. Thank you.
Page 32 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. SIMPSON. I call this hearing back to order.
We are pleased to invite our second panel to the table.
Mr. James Hubbard, State forester, Colorado State Forest Service, Fort Collins, CO; Mr. James Garner, State forester, Virginia Department of Forestry, Charlottesville, VA; Mr. Paul Summerfelt, fuel management officer, Flagstaff Fire Department, Flagstaff, AZ; Mr. Nils Christoffersen, field program manager, Wallowa Resources, Enterprise, OR; and Mr. Wilson Rivers, forest landowner, Hastings, FL. We welcome all of you and your testimony will be placed in the record and we would be glad to receive your testimony at this time. And we will start with Mr. Hubbard.
STATEMENT OF JAMES E. HUBBARD, STATE FORESTER, COLORADO STATE FOREST SERVICE, FORT COLLINS, CO, ON BEHALF OF THE NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF STATE FORESTERS
Mr. HUBBARD. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. The 2000 fire season, as you well know, was a significant event and it burned over 7 million acres. But not just the 2000 fire season, but over the last 10 years, we have seen that average of burned acres increase. And it is directly attributable to our forest and range land condition and the need for doing something about that condition. That fire season cost us $2 billion. That is a lot of money just spent on suppression activities. We are now looking at trying to invest and reducing that exposure and especially to protecting life and property.
And Congress made a significant response, appropriating money to fund the National Fire Plan to fight fire and restore burned areas and to mitigate fuel hazard. We want to get more than we had before. We fought back at it, but now we have to do the preparedness, the mitigation, the prevention. Western Governors got involved and said we want this kind of involvement. We want the State and locals involved in the decision process and the implementation of the National Fire Plan from beginning to end. And we want to, not just the Federal lands approach, and it needs to be long-term guided by strategy.
Page 33 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Congress responded again, with appropriation language, giving us some direction. And the way that has taken course so far with State involvement is the wildland urban community list that has been mentioned and that is published in the Federal Register. It will be updated and, I suspect, updated even more beyond May. But that community list is now guiding our projects, our fuel treatment projects. That is bringing all Federal agencies, the States, the tribes, the local governments, to the other interests to the table, so they can determine where those projects should have the highest priority and which ones we ought to do first and where those are.
And those implementation teams are also dealing with how we spend our money on preparedness, and the Federal land management agencies and capacity, but how that blends with the local capacity. The volunteer fire departments in this country suppress, provide additional attack for more than 90 percent of our fires. And it is really important for all of us to make sure those departments are trained and equipped the way they should be, and that we add to that training. Getting volunteers is more difficult than it used to be. So we have to look broader. We have to bring in other people that can do this on a part-time basis.
Mitigation was a major concentration. And that is the investment we are talking about to reduce this riskhow we treat those fuels. The State Fire Assistance Program is providing money as incentives to private landowners to help do that.
And, equally important, is prevention. We are using a Firewise education program delivery and we are using other forms of prevention. But we have to increase the awareness of people close at risk. This really is all lands with ownership patterns across the country and, what I am most familiar with, particularly in the West, we have mixed private land and Federal land. And we have to do this on a landscape scale. And we are going to treat every acre within a watershed, but we have to pick which acres are most important to treat and we are going to protect life and property and we have to do that across the boundaries.
Page 34 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC This is long-term because of the condition of our forest and range lands. In our forests, we are talking about old forests. We are talking about trees that don't have a lot of fuel moisture and aren't going to regain fuel moisture, even if we don't have drought. And we have got fuel accumulations that allow fire to spread from the ground to the top of trees and from tree to tree. So we have fires that burn hotter and angrier than they have in the past.
The General Accounting Office identified 39 million acres of this in the West and that is just on U.S. Forest Service land. So we have decided we really do need to do this all together.
Add to that critical factor, and, one, the focus of the National Fire Plan, and that is the wildland urban interface, protecting life and properties, the top priority for State and local Governments. We need to adjust how we address the interface, even in our preparedness. And we need to make sure that the Federal land response and preparedness matches with the State and local's.
As an example of our problem is Buffalo Creek in Colorado. It burned 10 miles long by 2 miles wide in 5 hours. Fortunately, that was in an area where there weren't any homes. But the county that it was in re-plotted a footprint of that fire and that isone watershed north from where that fire burned would have had 840 homes in the way. That is the kind of problem we are facing and we are working at. This is a serious problem. Because of the conditions of our forests, it is going to take a long-term approach to dealing with this kind of risk, and if we don't collaborate, it won't work. But with the National Fire Plan and the support Congress gave it, we had an opportunity like we have never had before and we will make it work. Thank you.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Hubbard appears at the conclusion of the hearing.]
Mr. SIMPSON. Thank you, Mr. Hubbard. Mr. Garner.
Page 35 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCSTATEMENT OF JAMES W. GARNER, STATE FORESTER, VIRGINIA DEPARTMENT OF FORESTRY, CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA
Mr. GARNER. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. My name is Jim Garner and I am the State Forester of Virginia and Director of the Department of Forestry in that State. Since our beginning in 1914, the legislative mandate and the agency's number one priority is to protect the lives and the property of our citizens and the natural resources of the Commonwealth.
I appreciate the opportunity to appear before you today. I have been asked to talk specifically about what we are doing in Virginia regarding the National Fire Plan.
In 1979, the Department of Forestry began to track the number of woodland home developments in the Commonwealth and how many homes were being built there. In 1991, the Department and U.S. Forest Service cooperatively sponsored a wildland urban interface demonstration project in Shenandoah County. This project demonstrated how to improve the existing communities and woodlands and totally redesign how these new developments were going to be created. The Virginia pilot project became one of the models that was used to develop the Firewise concept in the National Fire Plan.
In 1999, the Virginia Multi Agency Coordinating Groupwe call it VMACestablished a dispatch center in the Department of Forestry Central Office in Charlottesville. The VMAC group consists of U.S. Forest Service, the National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Department of Forestry. This VMAC group shares the cost of a helicopter stationed at Weyers Cave, Virginia. The Weyers Cave airport also is a fueling station and a fill-up station for Federal air tankers during the fire period. In Virginia, as in most other States, the aerial was critical during fire weather.
Last October, we developed a wildland fire school at Orkney Springs to improve the skills and the knowledge of 20 rural volunteer firefighters. I say all this as a background to illustrate that a lot of good project work has gone on in Virginia to lay a sound foundation for us to build and implement the National Fire Plan.
Page 36 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC We are ready to begin a serious effort for a safer Commonwealth. We will greatly enhance our ability of our local volunteer fire departments and our own hotshot crews. As these firefighters stand in harm's way to protect the lives and property of our citizens and the natural resources of Virginia, they deserve the very best possible training and the very best possible protective equipment.
In May of this year, we will hold the first ever Virginia Wildfire Academy at Fort Pickett. We will make available 11 different fire suppression courses, over 6 days, designed to train 175 volunteer firefighters per day. This Academy is a joint effort of 5 neighboring State forestry agencies, the Forest Service, National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, the Virginia Fire Chiefs' Association, and two other State agencies.
And our mitigation grant will identify all of these woodland homes that I mentioned earlier to determine the hazard rating for each of the communities. This ranking system will help us prioritize as how we will use our resources from the National Fire Plan, be they financial, equipment, or manpower.
Our second grant will be usedto use a popular IMAX movie, ''Wildfire, Feel the Heat''. This movie will have a 3-month showing in the Science Museum of Western Virginia in Roanoke City. Along with the movie, the museum has donated a large exhibit space for our visitors to learn more about wildfire. Roanoke was chosen because of its expanding population into the mountainsides, a recent near-miss fire that could have destroyed hundreds of homes. It is the headquarters for the George Washington National Forest and for the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Lastly, picking up on something Mr. Hubbard said, through the title IV of this plan, badly needed funds will go directly to, and I emphasize the word directly to, the 543 rural volunteer fire departments in Virginia, focused primarily on wildland fire fighting improvements.
Page 37 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. Chairman, the benefits provided for the National Fire Plan can certainly make Virginia a safer place. We have the excitement and we have the momentum. We have some bonded partnerships that have been tried over the decades. I think that we can work together to clearly demonstrate how the creative use of Federal dollars can be leveraged into making a model for others to follow. I would be glad to answer any questions, and thank you very much.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Garner appears at the conclusion of the hearing.]
Mr. SIMPSON. Thank you, Mr. Garner. Mr. Summerfelt.
STATEMENT OF PAUL SUMMERFELT, FUEL MANAGEMENT OFFICER, FLAGSTAFF FIRE DEPARTMENT, FLAGSTAFF, AZ
Mr. SUMMERFELT. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and, members of the committee, for the privilege that I have today to be here, and I am grateful for the opportunity. I am a firefighter and a fire manager. In the past 26 years, either on the end of a shovel or on an incident management team, I have watched too many homes burn and have been involved in decisions where that has had to occur.
The mission of the Flagstaff Fire Department is to protect values at risk. That certainly includes homes and improvements, but more importantly, from our standpoint, it includes community well-being and sustainability. Our number one fire threat is wildfire. It is not structure fires. It is wildfire.
To accomplish our mission of protecting those values at risk, we have had to become activists. We cut trees, lots of trees, and we light more fires than we put out. And that may be an unusual statement for a fire department to make, but that is where we have had to go.
Within our community, we have roughly 20,000 acres that need to be treated, and surrounding us are many tens of thousands of acres of State and Federal land that need similar treatment. And I agree with Mr. Hubbard, it is no longer an issue of us versus them. It is a we issue. It involves every one of us.
Page 38 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In the last few years, we have been able to expand our program, and fairly significantly, to meet the challenges that we have. Part of that is our fuel crew and student interns that we use to accomplish some of that work. It allows them to invest themselves in the community and allows them to gain valuable job and life experience while they do so.
And the result, over the past few years, there has been a complete shift in our community's attitude toward this issue. In 1996, which was the first year that we began, our fuel management effort netted 1 acre of treatment. This past year, we treated 1,300 acres within the corporate limits of our city with thinning and prescribed fire. And that may not sound like a lot in terms of the issue before us, on a national basis, but for our community, that has been very, very significant and it has allowed us to begin the direction to make a sustainable community.
In addition to that, we provide assistance to various Federal and State agencies that surround us, not only in terms of fuel management and not only in terms of operational resources we provide to wildfires, but eight of our members are on national and regional incident management teams and travel around the country. Mr. Chairman, we spent quite a bit of time this summer in your area.
Our operational motto is ''Stumps and Smoke''. Our measure of success is acres treated, and we work where opportunities arise and the need exists. The question is sometimes asked why not restrict fuel management activities immediately adjacent to homes? That is what the issue is on homes burning. And my response to that is that if the loss of homes were the major issue that we face, then it would be a relatively simple issue to deal with. But it is a much larger issue.
We have other things that impact and affect our communities. They include public panic during an event, whether it be real or perceived on their part. It also involves the cost of rebuilding what is lost, the losses, spiritual or emotional values that many groups and individuals feel for a particular site, and, finally, the lost of confidence in Government is something that we cannot overlook.
Page 39 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC And I guess the bottom line for me is that we have to always pay attention to firefighter and public safety. And that is why fuel management activities are so important to extend them well beyond a narrow boundary around a community.
One goal of the National Fire Plan is the direct involvement of communities through participation, increase local capacity and grass roots activism. Your leadership is a focal point in national attention on this issue and ultimately for the implementation of those treatments so necessary for our common good.
I trust my testimony has provided a glimpse of at least one community's perspective on the National Fire Plan and on this issue. And I would invite any of you to visit Flagstaff to see an example of a successful community that is meeting the challenge. Thank you for the opportunity.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Summerfelt appears at the conclusion of the hearing.]
Mr. SIMPSON. Thank you, Mr. Summerfelt. Mr. Christoffersen.
STATEMENT OF NILS D. CHRISTOFFERSEN, FIELD PROGRAM MANAGER, WALLOWA RESOURCES, ENTERPRISE, OR
Mr. CHRISTOFFERSEN. Mr. Chairman, and, members of the committee, thank you for the invitation to speak today. I am Nils Christoffersen, field program ,anager, for Wallowa Resources in the northeast corner of Wallowa County. My organization is a community-based, non-profit, serving the interests of the natural resource economy.
Wallowa County currently has the highest unemployment rate in the State of Oregon at 15 percent. Over the last 8 years, our employment rate has averaged 11 percent. Over 14 percent of our population has been living, and continues to live, below the poverty level.
The transition and emphasis from timber supply to restoration across our national forests has hit our community very hard. Due to the 90 percent reduction in timber harvests from public lands in Wallowa County since 1992, we have lost over 350 forest-sector jobs with average wages in excess of $27,000. The only significant replacement of jobs has been in the service sector. One hundred and thirty jobs have been added at average wages of less than $15,000. Since 1986, and overlapping the significant period of job loss, we have had 6 wildfire events exceeding 40,000 acres in scale. Last year, over 100,000 acres burned in our county. Over $85 million have been spent on fire suppression in our county in the last 14 years and we are braced for another fire season due to below average precipitation.
Page 40 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Our community supports and shares the change in priorities for public land management. We understand and support the national concerns about the condition of our forest and landscape. We have borne the cost of that condition. We are working with all partners to assist our remaining workforce and private sector in the transition to community stewardship and restoration. Towards this end, there is a urgent need to develop a restoration workforce and local value-added processing capacity that generates increased local jobs and income from restoration.
The program of work for restoration will change over time. Our local communities need to be able to adapt to that. In order to adapt to that we need a sustained predictable program of work by the Federal Government.
We welcome the National Fire Plan. We were encouraged that the plan clearly targets a range of ecological and socioeconomic concerns and directly encourages collaboration with community organizations and microbusinesses. However, we have concerns about constraints in its implementation.
First, we have got a big problem. We have got over 150,000 acres of our landscape characterized at severe risk for catastrophic fire. We are currently treating them at about 1,000 acres a year. It will take 150 years to catch up.
Second, the implementation of NEPA in our region continues to be a major problem. It typically takes 24 months or more to complete, therefore none of the jobs which will be implemented this year were designed to achieve the integrated community and ecological benefits called for in the Fire Plan. It is critical that the Forest Service and the relevant regulatory agencies receive sufficient funding to perform the tasks required by law in an efficient and effective manner.
Also, the National Fire Plan spells out ecological and community benefit targets. But the Forest Service is focused on acres treated each year. None of the fuel reduction work scheduled for implementation in our county allows for any removal for commercial use of byproducts. This approach shortens the NEPA process, and therefore there is a disincentive for the Forest Service to invest extra time and effort to allow for the removal and commercial use of byproduct. But that undermines our local private sector initiative.
Page 41 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Over a million dollars have been spent in low-impact processing and small diameter manufacturing capacity. We have the capacity to generate 2 by 4s and other lumber out of logs down to a 3-inch top in our county, but it is being wasted. We also have the ability to utilize and recycle smaller biomass including logging residuals.
Many of our work in developing these programs have been supported by the Economic Action Program and we are seeking additional funds for these microbusinesses under title IV. But these investments are at risk from the singular focus on maximizing acres treated. Congressional oversight in the Forest Service should clearly establish expectations for integrated forest and community health benefits.
We are also discouraged by the emphasis on prescribed burning to reduce fuel loads as opposed to mechanical treatment. We understand the concerns about mechanical treatment and we also understand prescribed fire was easier due to the NEPA-ready workloads that we are required to implement this year. But much of our landscape has fuel loads 8 to 10 times higher than normal. They need mechanical treatment before you can reintroduce fire safely.
Fire is an important part of our ecosystem and we believe in it and we have invested in and conducted public education to support the restoration of fire cycles in our land. But mechanical treatment is justified in many areas and we need to deal with the concerns, not avoid them.
In closing, let me urge Congress to ensure a sustained and predictable restoration program for the public lands. We need to make permanent the contracting authorities necessary for the Forest Service to make full use of the skills and expertise and commitment of the local workforce and we need to hold the Forest Service accountable for both restoration and community health. Thank you very much.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Christoffersen appears at the conclusion of the hearing.]
Page 42 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. SIMPSON. Thank you, Mr. Christoffersen. Mr. Rivers.
STATEMENT OF WILSON S. RIVERS, FOREST LANDOWNER, HASTINGS, FL
Mr. RIVERS. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, my name is Wilson Rivers and I am a private nonindustrial forest landowner from Lake Butler, FL. Lake Butler is about 60 miles southwest of Jacksonville. And I am pleased that you have invited me to share some views on the implementation of the National Fire Plan.
I am no stranger to the devastation of major wildfires. In 1998, I experienced major losses, as did many other landowners in my State. Florida's 1998 wildfire siege will linger forever in the memory of many. I am no exception. From that experience I had hoped the Nation would come to realize that wildfires are not exclusively a western phenomenon, and we must adopt a national perspective with plans and strategies that accommodate regional differences. Those differences are many and critically important. They include landownership, fuel types, terrain, population, distribution, weather and fire fighting tactics and equipment.
After the 1998 fires, Florida quickly assessed its needs to be better prepared to deal with major wildfires. They are currently contracting for a computerized statewide risk assessment. The implementation of the National Fire Plan hopefully will help us to continue these efforts and begin new initiatives.
My recommendations for your consideration on implementing the National Fire Plan are, one, fire prevention. As I see it, the least destructive and least expensive wildfire is the wildfire that doesn't occur in the first place. There is no more effective fire protection program than a good fire prevention program. There are times that fire prevention must take priority over the natural processes, especially when private, nonindustrial lands are burning. The implementation of the National Fire Plan should have a newly designed, well-focused fire prevention plan that we can all support.
Page 43 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Two, wildfire preparedness and management. At the best of circumstances, wildfire suppression is a dangerous and expensive undertaking. As a landowner, I have experienced firsthand the great benefit of having the right equipment and the properly trained personnel to show up to a fire as soon as possible. In times of major fire activity, such as we had in Florida in 1998, 1999, and 2000, this means resources from the host State, other States, and Federal agencies must be mobilized promptly as the incidents of wildfire escalates. Once the number of fire starts exceed the ability of the local fire agencies to respond to new fires, the losses to the private forest landowners in the South can be devastating.
Proper management and control of fire fighting is as important as preparedness. The Incident Command System is the key to success. This effort must be organized around interagency participation.
Third, risk assessment and hazardous fuel reduction. The National Fire Plan emphasizes and funds essential efforts of hazardous fuel assessment and reduction. If we are to ever have an effective wildfire protection strategy, we must be able to target the areas that are most vulnerable because of excessive fuel accumulation. A thorough and accurate fuels assessment is an essential beginning. The assessment must be localized as much as possible and ground truthed. My State of Florida, because of its subtropical climate and fuel types, represents a classic case of this critical need. We are in the first phase of a statewide assessment. The National Fire Plan implementation should support this endeavor.
The areas identified as being at high risk because of hazardous fuels must be treated as soon as possible. This need should be addressed across all ownership and should not be allowed to get caught up in the debate over harvesting or roadless areas like it sometimes does on national forest lands.
The wildland urban interface poses significant wildfire risk in Florida. Fuels management becomes an absolute necessity but rural, nonindustrial private forest landowners, such as myself, cannot carry the full responsibility. Land use planning by local Governments, developers and homeowners must share the responsibility. The Firewise Community Program is an excellent vehicle for implementing strategies to protect our communities. The National Fire Plan provides support and funding for these efforts. I encourage you to insist that these programs and other components of risk assessment and hazardous fuels reduction be allowed to occur at the State and the local areas.
Page 44 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Four, increasing wildfire fighting capacity. Wildfire protection is a responsibility of Government at all levels. Each State should provide a plan and resources to meet its basic wildfire protection requirements. This effort should include local Government participation, however, State wildfire agencies should be the key player in an interagency partnership that is trained, staffed, and equipped to meet the wildfire protection demands. We can greatly increase effectiveness and accountability by bringing our efforts and resources to bear at the ground level.
I appreciate the opportunity you have given me to be here today. I have tried to show my views and concerns for private, nonindustrial forest landowners. We cannot meet our objectives by having a one-size-fits-all, top-down approach. Interagency participation is essential. Equally important is the interests and input of the private sector. Thank you.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Rivers appears at the conclusion of the hearing.]
Mr. SIMPSON. Thank you. And thank all of you for being here for your testimony. It was very good. Mr. Hubbard, ever since the fires in Idaho last year, I am interested in this subject after spending a few days up there, and seeing what went on in fighting one of these fires and why it took so much in resources. And I appreciate what the Forest Service and what you all do when one of these fires occurs. I just finished reading Fire on the Mountain, in Colorado, on Storm King Mountain.
It is one of those examples of how fire management changed after that where Federal agencies started working together. And what I see this as is another step in that direction, with Federal agencies working with the State and local Governments trying to get together and to be the most effective they can in fighting fires.
Mr. HUBBARD. I very much agree. We fought the fire together for a long time. The Federal agencies practiced fighting fire together maybe prior to States, but within the States the coordination with the locals, the volunteers, and the State organizations, has been going on for a long time. And there has been some mix, as Mr. Summerfelt indicated, but that mix has increased.
Page 45 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC And Storm King started a lot of the increase in how we fight the fire together. But now we are talking about how we prevent fire, not only through educational programs, but also through the fuels treatment that is so critical to protecting the life and property in the way of the Buffalo Creek fire, as an example. So we are now collaborating, and the National Fire Plan is providing that focus for us to collaborate. That community list that drives the projects is critical. It is very important that we continue to use that kind of a focus that you provided for us. And it is important that I think that you stay engaged, too, to make sure we are doing the right things.
Mr. SIMPSON. Thank you. Mr. Summerfelt, what is the public reaction that you get from your community when you start doing prescribed burns around it and thinning and so forth? Does the public pretty much accept that?
Mr. SUMMERFELT. The public is incredibly supportive of the effort. In fact, every time that we do a project, we get requests for more. And we are currently probably at the current rate that we are working 1 to 2 years behind where we need to be, just based on response.
Mr. SIMPSON. Last year in the fires in Clear Creek in Idaho, there were several homes in a place called Thistle Creek.
And the year before that, the Forest Service had done prescribed burn around the their ranger station up there and asked those individuals if they wanted to have prescribed burn done around their homes and stuff. And, of course, they didn't want that done. They didn't want that black ground out there for a year. And consequently, when those fires came down, those houses went up. And now everybody is kind of pointing fingers at whose fault it was. But do you have any problems in your particular area with the NEPA process or the ESA or anything like that when you are doing these?
Mr. SUMMERFELT. No. We have enough to work to do that the delay that goes on with that of the administrative needs to meet those legal and administrative issues, is not a real problem for us at all. One of the things that we have foundand I don't understand it, but I believe it to be trueis that when a fire department says that this is important to do, people have much more of a tendency to listen to the fire department. As I said, I don't understand that. It is the same message that we say across the board, but, for whatever reason, that seems to carry a lot of weight. And that is one encouragement or one thing that I encourage agencies to do, is to involve the fire departments. If they can get them to carry that message, it will go a long way.
Page 46 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. SIMPSON. I appreciate that and I do thank you for all the help that you did send up to Idaho. There were people from all over the country up there fighting fires this year and it was very interesting to me. Now, Mr. Christoffersen, let me see if I understood what you said. Is the material that you take out, when you thin forest or whateverif you don't use it for commercial purposes, then the NEPA process is easier.
Mr. CHRISTOFFERSEN. That is the way it has been explained to me. I have never tried to push a project through it, but I sat in a room and listened to Forest Service that told me that of all the acres set for fuel reduction work this summer, none were going to havebe or set up for the removal and commercial use of that product and that the reason that that was done is it was easier to get it through NEPA.
Mr. SIMPSON. Is that everybody's understanding? Does anybody have any conflict in the testimony of that? To me, what you do with it after you take it out shouldn't have anything to do with what you take out. That doesn't make much sense to me, but there are some things we do, obviously, that don't make a lot of sense sometimes.
Mr. HUBBARD. Not in conflict, Mr. Chairman, but what seems to be an issue is the size of the trees we remove. And if we are talking about larger, older trees, then there is more concern that maybe we are disguising implementation of the National Fire Plan as a timber harvest increase. And when we are dealing with the projects to reduce fuel hazards, especially where we have the fuel accumulations, we are often dealing with small diameter material that does not have a commercial use presently. And if we don't focus on some conversions to local small processing facilities of some kind, then we have got limited use for that kind of fiber flow.
So the easier part is maybe we are not raising as many red flags when we are dealing with the noncommercial small diameter material as we are when we are dealing with the regular timber sale, larger commercial material, but NEPA has to address both the same. And so I don't know that it is easier. It just sometimes runs into less resistance. But I think we are going to have to be careful to stick to that land management objective of fuel hazard reduction as we implement the National Fire Plan. If we stray from that, we are going to get environmental opposition.
Page 47 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. SIMPSON. Mr. Christoffersen.
Mr. CHRISTOFFERSEN. Two things. One, I understand, that part of it relates to whether or not an activity is considered ground-disturbing or not. And if you cut a tree and leave it on the ground, which would be the case in our area, it is not considered ground-disturbing. If you actually have any mechanized removal of that product, then there is ground disturbance and the NEPA process is more complicated.
Our landscape, the targets for thinning are basically 3 inches to 10 inches, with the majority of it being 7 inches and less.
Our private sector has invested a considerable amount of money in building up the capacity to generate jobs and income from that and it is being wasted.
Mr. SIMPSON. Firewise seems to be the premier program we have in trying to address this urban wildfire interface. What is our opinion? Is that a successful program?
Mr. GARNER. I think in our State, Mr. Chairman, I think it not only has been, it has been demonstrated on our pilot project. But we have a great deal of anticipation in our State for the implementation of the Firewise concept. And we have a lot of excitement and I think that folks are just sitting there waiting to let us get started. I think that is going to be readily acceptable and I think it is going to not only develop the momentum, I think it is going to develop the volunteers to help get it done.
Mr. SIMPSON. Are there incentives for homeowners that actually go out and Firewise their housemake it safer, either in terms of insurance or anything like that?
Mr. GARNER. Not in our State, per se. One of the things that we learned during this pilot project, back in 1991, was that the insurance companies took a great deal of interest in what we were doing and they rated the communities, not necessarily individual homes. But there was some rating differential in the communities that had actually followed from the beginning of the developmentnot an existing communitybut when a developer wanted to develop a property. If they followed the concepts that are basically outlined in Firewise, the homeowner, if they, in turn, did their share of keeping their yard clean and all that, generally ended up, with reduction in their premium. And that is just one State, one county, but in that one area they did say that the insurance companies, at least locally, were willing to come to the table and offer an incentive.
Page 48 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. HUBBARD. Mr. Chairman, the insurance companies, I think, not just in one State, but in most parts of the country where wildfire is a hazard, are paying close attention. Their premiums, as I understand it, and how they set up their premiums, is driven primarily by loss. They are getting increasingly concerned about risk and whether 840 homes would go up in 1 day. So they are very much with us on the educational message. How they set premiums in a competitive market with anti-trust loans is a little trickier. So they are cautious about that, but they are very much a partner in seeing that the messages, through Firewise, as one program, as an example, get delivered to homeowners because they are interested in reducing that risk.
Mr. SIMPSON. Thank you. Mrs. Clayton.
Mrs. CLAYTON. Thank you. This is the panel to have; the States, the firefighters and the community representative who knows the loss of jobs because these systems, as well as the private landowner who is directly impacted. Each of them have emphasized education and that was going to be one of my questions. I guess I still need to pose it, though, to see if you feel that the education is sufficient to have homeowners and neighbors to appreciate the value of the controlled fire burning as a way of controlling the risk and the loss. There are still things we need to do to maximize citizens' and neighbors' understanding of that.
Mr. HUBBARD. Mr. Summerfelt talked about the fire department persuading local people in the Flagstaff area. Now, in Boulder County, Colorado, it is difficult to practice any kind of land management because there is a lot of strong environmental concern in that area. In Boulder County, we use prescribed fire right up against subdivisions. And that couldn't happen if the local fire department wasn't the lead in explaining that to the communities. And you literally have to go door to door in some of those subdivisions, especially if you are going to put the fire that close to them. And when a fire department explains that, they do listen.
Mrs. CLAYTON. The other concern is knowing that we are growingindividuals that want to build their houses near the wilderness and, in some of those areas, we don't have local control or local ordinances. And, as the Chair was giving the example, some people are not voluntarily allowing you to do that because they don't understand you or your education hasn't been persuasive. Education, I think, is going to move so far. And I think that it has to be, as Mr. Riversand I appreciate Mr. Rivers sharing with us and recommending that shared responsibility in that, not only he has individual property, but the local Government having the local ordinances.
Page 49 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I am sure the insurance people will appreciatebecause I know insurance risk is based on ordinances that protect that. But are you finding local Governments taking precaution, or counties taking precautionsdid I understand that in Colorado they don't have such a plan. I would think that Colorado has more experience, because they are more sensitive to it.
Mr. HUBBARD. In Colorado, the State government doesn't impose it on counties, but the counties do.
Mrs. CLAYTON. And I suspect the counties have their own individual set of standards. Right?
Mr. HUBBARD. Yes. They do. And it varies by county. And how far a county is willing to go, depends on that local situation. But as interfacing increases, and the risks of life and property increase, and when you fight the interface fire, it costs more money because you will need additional resources that you wouldn't normally need for a normal wildland situation. And because of that risk of the life and property, public property, public protection, responsibility to elected officials, and the cost to those local governments, you are seeing more regulation of development. But it varies and it goes with the growth.
Mrs. CLAYTON. I guess having a few fires would cause you to think differently.
Mr. HUBBARD. It certainly does and we are going to continue to have those reminders.
Mrs. CLAYTON. The wildland and the urban interfaceyou mentioned thatwe talk about that, but are there standards for that, and, if so, how do you prioritize them or how do you delineate those?
Mr. HUBBARD. The community list that is being published in the Federal Register has some national standard to it. We are trying to get some consistency in that list and some sense of how much we have exposed and to what degree and what our priorities are. But I would caution you not to judge that as a national list too strongly because it is very much influenced by what State assessments reflect. And those State assessments are based on regional differences. And it is very important to those States that produce those lists that they are meeting their objectives. And so what the list does is itmore than focus for the collaboration, it brings Federal agencies to the table, it brings local Government to the table. And so they pick their priorities from that list together. And that is what is most important than what fits them. It will introduce some consistency so that you can get an national picture. But an implementation of projects, I think, is best left to those State groups to make a decision.
Page 50 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mrs. CLAYTON. Would anyone disagree that suppression has, perhaps, contributed to the heavy load of fuel load in the forest area? I know we are moving to that area where there has been for a while, apparently not as much utilization of the controlled fire and with the growth growing up or putting out fires at certain areas is not allowing it to run its course, that same area catch on fire again next time around. I thought I heard someone mention that suppression might cause it and controlled fires is a remedy, but we need to use mechanical treatment prior to that. Did I misread that?
Mr. CHRISTOFFERSEN. I might have spoken to that. There are certainly, across much of our landscape, because of past logging and fire suppression, we now have very dense, young close canopy stands, but also have now an understory coming up underneath them. And which is a very rare and very dangerous stand structure in our landscape. And that landscape definitely needs mechanical treatment before you reintroduce fire. If you are trying to reintroduce fire now, you run the risk of the kinds of fire that Los Alamos had, something that would not be controlled.
Because of the very heavy fuel loads that exist in there, from 20, and up to 60 tons per acre, you need to be able to get some of that fuel load out. So it isn't just a matter of trying to address acres treated. We need to figure out ways to get some of that product off the ground.
Mrs. CLAYTON. Mr. Chairman, thank you.
Mr. SIMPSON. Mr. Putnam.
Mr. PUTNAM. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Rivers, as a private landowner, what are some of the barriers that you face to provide better wildfire protection? Has the National Fire Plan attempted to move some of those barriers and what are the further steps that we can take?
Mr. RIVERS. We just said about the fuel buildup. Speaking from a personal standpoint, I haven't done any prescribed fire in several years. And the main reason is because of the liability. And other landowners, like myself, don't do it because one accident on the highway could ruin you completely. I have often thought about different ways to handle it, whether it would have a highway patrolman at the beginning and end and have people just gradually go through the smoke, but I have seen people drive through the smoke like 55 and 65 miles an hour, like there was nothing there, and it could have been most of the time. But I think that is one reason that a lot of people don't use prescribed fires. It is a liability. It is certainly for me.
Page 51 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. PUTNAM. In Florida, we actually initiated liability protection for the private landowners who have gone through the motions and were certified burners and all that. But from a Federal perspective, how can the Federal body address some of these liability issues or can we? Does that preclude the State?
Mr. RIVERS. Well, it would have to be in cooperation with the State or the local enforcement agencies, I would think, and on that same line that I just said. And, as far as being a certified burner, you don't do that just by going and getting an application. You have to go take some training. And I dare say that no street farmers are like most farmers, they don't take the time to go take some special training to be a certified tree burner. So there again, that would be a problem. But, as I understand it, as you said, these certified tree burners are not under as much risk as one that is not certified. But the problem is becoming being certified.
And then, Congressman Putnam, as you know, just about 47 percent of the State of Florida is owned by nonindustrial landowners. And they are a lackadaisical bunch of people. When you try to get some of them to join the Florida Forester Association, I got a new respect. I tried to get one to join the Florida Forester Association, and he said, oh, I let you guys do it. There is too many of them like that. They want to put it off on somebody else.
Mr. HUBBARD. Mr. Putnam, from the Federal perspective, as a city forester, I probably shouldn't take this on, but you will see a considerable increase in the use of fire with the implementation of the National Fire Plan on Federal lands. And you will see that the Federal agencies complying with State regulations, especially in regard to air quality.
As it applies to liability, any of us could be sued if there is the wrong results from smoke or a prescribed burn. I think after New Mexico last year, we have checked our procedures again. We have made some adjustments. And I think we still have to be willing to use fire and there is always some risk in that and there will always be some liability with that. But I think Government agencies are going to have some limits to liability, but they are going to make sure they are following strict standards as they use fire. But they have to use fire if we are going to get on top of this problem.
Page 52 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. PUTNAM. And, Mr. Rivers, he got at the crux of the issue. Aside from Federal lands and, granted, Federal lands out West are the big issuebut East you have got to find a way to encourage private landowners to reduce fuel loads. And all the king's horses and all the king's men aren't going to be able to encourage people to do that if, at the end of the day, they are not going to be given some protection from the liability.
Nobody can control the elements. Nobody has total control over the weather. You can go through the prescribed burn training. You can get the permit from the division. You can get the sign-off from the meteorology folks, and things can still go wrong and people can get hurt. And at the end of the day, we are not going to be able to reduce loads if there is not some kind of liability protection. And I don't see how the Federal Government can do anything about that.
Mr. RIVERS. Well, on the private lands, I don't either. I think that is an individual State matter.
Mr. SUMMERFELT. Congressman, let me talk a minute about what we have done within the city of Flagstaff. And there is a liability issue and we do a lot of our burning on private land. It is not a question of if we have a fire. It is a matter of when and how severe that fire will be when it occurs and the number of fires that occur at the same time.
We have several hundred wildland fires a year within our corporate boundaries. We have elected to deal with that issue up front and we would rather deal with the property owner prior to the event, in terms of doing it as a prescribed fire, than deal with that individual either during a wildfire or after the wildfire. The impacts on our community and on them, as property owners, would be much more severe if we were to wait until the latter. So we have viewed it as it is our opportunity to actually reduce our liabilityis to get it before the fire and do it properly.
Mr. RIVERS. Mr. Chairman, may I make one other remark to Mr. Putnam? I am very much in favor of prescribed burning. I used to do it all the time. And it wasn't that hard of a job. You get it done quickly and you do it for 2 or 3 years and it really helps everything. The plants come back that don't normally would come back if I hadn't been burnedor you got dead growth for wildlife and so forth. And I would like to do it. And I think it is a bit safe. And as far as not letting the fuel build up, if you let the fuel build up, that is a huge mistake, in my opinion, because once the fire starts, then you have got a big fire.
Page 53 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Actually, instead of burning, I have been herbiciding. And, of course, that is much, much more expensive. I would rather go back to prescribed burning. And I just wanted to clear the point that I am not against prescribed burning and I think it is a wonderful thing. And I would like to be doing it all the time. It would do a better job quicker and a whole lot cheaper than herbiciding. Thank you.
Mr. CHRISTOFFERSEN. Mr. Chairman, can I add one short comment to that?
Mr. SIMPSON. Sure.
Mr. CHRISTOFFERSEN. Our initial efforts with the private sector in Wallowa County and looking into processing of small diameter logs, came at the request of our private family forest owners who were dealing with the same problem as the gentleman from Florida. I worry about introducing fire in dense stands and not having markets that would support the cost of treating those stands. And so they asked us to look into that and that is how we started it. Because they wanted to see processing capacity and market development for products from small loads. So there is certainly an opportunity there to continue with the Economic Action Program and the title IV funding to microbusinesses to support the emergence of the processing of small diameter logs.
In the Western States, or in the interface areas, between public and private land, you also have the opportunity to use the Wyden amendment to do prescribed burn treatments across the landscape on public and private land and have the liability and the management under the State and Federal agencies that would oversee them.
Mr. SIMPSON. Thank you. I really want to thank this panel for their testimony and I look forward to working with you as we work to implement this National Fire Plan so that we can coordinate our efforts to new and better topics, as you said, in not only fighting fires, but preventing fires, catastrophic fires, that occasionally occur. I mentioned in the first panel, we, in the West, have a tendency to think we are the only guys that have fires.
Page 54 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC But this has been an interesting panel because we have got Colorado, Virginia, Arizona, Oregon, Florida, all represented here. And it is national problem that we need to address. I had never thought of Virginia as having serious fires before until I thought back to my days when I was reading about the Civil War and the Battle of the Wilderness where that was how they got to the other sidethat was why they started the fire out there. And when you walk back there and you try to walk through this stuff, this is as thick as it gets. I don't know how you ever marched through it.
So it is a national problem and I look forward to working with you and, as issues come up, if there are things that we need to do as a Congress, that we can work with you or with the Forest Service and the Department of Interior, let us know. And I appreciate all of your testimony today.
The Chair would seek unanimous consent to allow the record of today's hearing to remain open for 10 days to receive additional material and 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 of Department on Operations, Oversight, Nutrition, and Forestry, is adjourned. Thank you.
[Whereupon, at 4:10 p.m., the subcommittee was adjourned, subject to the call of the Chair.]
[Material submitted for inclusion in the record follows:]
Statement of Lyle Laverty
Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee:
Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today to talk about the implementation of the National Fire Plan. I am Lyle Laverty, Associate Deputy Chief and National Fire Plan Coordinator of the Forest Service. I am here today to bring you up to date on what has been accomplished thus far and what we plan to do next.
Page 55 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The severe fire season of 2000 captured the attention of the American people on the need to find ways to protect life and property and minimize losses of natural resources. On September 8, the Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of the Interior issued a report entitled, ''Managing the Impact of Wildfires on Communities and the Environment.'' The report, referred to as the National Fire Plan, contains recommendations to reduce the impacts of wildland fires on rural communities and ensure sufficient firefighting resources in the future.
Mr. Chairman, implementation of the National Fire Plan is well underway and significant progress has been made. However, we recognize that there are many challenges to complete the significantly increased workload. Long-term, it is going to take many years and a continued commitment in resources to effectively reduce the impacts of wildland fire on rural communities.
Even though it is early in the year, we have made a good start with the following:
Treated over 80,000 acres, 713 miles of roads and 245 miles of trails to restore and rehabilitate areas damaged during the 2000 fire season.
Reduced hazardous fuel on over 400,000 acres of the 1.8 million acres we plan to treat this year.
Hired over 850 new permanent fire personnel and expect to have another 1900 (650 permanent, 1250 temporary) hired by April 30, 2001 along with planning to acquire 412 fire engines and the services of an additional 47 contracted helicopters to provide the highest practical level of fire fighting capability.
Initiated assistance for training and equipment for 4000 volunteer fire departments.
Published a preliminary list of communities at risk prepared by the States and Tribes to ensure that we increase the focus of our future efforts on reducing fire risk in the areas adjacent to these communities.
Page 56 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Started 63 research projects to increase scientific knowledge in support of the National Fire Plan.
Initiated discussions on a framework and draft of the national 10-year comprehensive strategy for the National Fire Plan.
Before I talk more about our accomplishments and our planned actions let me explain how conditions on our forests and rangelands developed the level of uncharacteristic fire risk that exists today.
Fire Conditions. Decades of excluding fire from our forests and past management practices have drastically changed the ecological condition of western forests and rangelands and dramatically affected fire behavior. A century ago, when low intensity, high frequency fires were commonplace, many forests were less dense and had larger, more fire-resistant trees. Over time, the composition of our forests has changed from more fire-resistant tree species to species non-resistant to fire such as grand fir, Douglas-fir, and subalpine fir.
Fire ecologists point out the paradox of fire suppression: the more effective we become at fire suppression, the more fuels accumulate and ultimately create conditions for the occurrence of more intense fires. As it became Federal practice to extinguish fires aggressively in the west, firefighting budgets rose dramatically and firefighting tactics and equipment became increasingly more sophisticated and effective. In the early 1930's the annual acreage burned by wildfires in the lower 48 states was about 40 million acres a year. In the 1970's because of our effective fire suppression the annual acreage burned by wildfires in the lower 48 states dropped to about five million acres. In the 1990's, the annual average acreage burned by wildfires was less than 4 million acres.
In addition to changes in tree species and ecological conditions of forests and grasslands more communities are at risk of wildfire than in earlier years. During the last two decades dramatic increases in the population in the West has resulted in housing developments in fire-prone areas, often adjacent to Federal land. This area where human development meets or intermingles with undeveloped wildland is called the ''wildland-urban interface.''
Page 57 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Reversing the effects of a century of aggressive fire suppression and past management practices will take time and money targeted to high priority areas to protect people, communities, readily accessible municipal watersheds, and habitat for threatened and endangered species. Although not all areas will need to be treated, the Forest Service and the General Accounting Office have estimated that there are around 60 million acres at risk of uncharacteristic wildfire in the interior West and more than 72 million acres nationwide. Many of these acres are not in the wildland-urban interface and include acres distant from habitation.
The Forest Service and its interagency partners have increased their efforts to reduce risks associated with the buildup of brush, shrubs, small trees and other fuels in forest and rangelands through a variety of approaches, including controlled burns, the physical removal of undergrowth, and the prevention and eradication of invasive plants. In 1994 the Forest Service treated approximately 385,000 acres across the United States to reduce hazardous fuels. In 2000 we treated over 750,000 acres almost double our earlier efforts.
ADDRESSING FIRE CONDITIONS: THE KEY POINTS OF THE NATIONAL FIRE PLAN
To address these changed conditions the recommendations in ''Managing the Impact of Wildfires on Communities and the Environment'' and actions implementing the National Fire Plan focus on five key points:
Firefighting. Be adequately prepared to fight wildland fire.
Rehabilitation and Restoration. Restore landscapes and rebuild communities damaged by the wildfires of 2000.
Hazardous Fuel Reduction. Invest in projects to reduce fire risk.
Community Assistance. Work directly with communities to ensure adequate protection.
Accountability. Be accountable and establish adequate oversight, coordination, program development, and monitoring for performance.
Page 58 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The report also recommended substantial increases in funding for the land management agencies to address the five key points.
In response to the recommendations in the Report, Congress and the Administration increased funding for agency firefighting, fuels reduction, and other fire-related programs. We appreciate the quick and decisive actions of Congress and the Administration to fully fund the fire budgets for both the Department of Agriculture and the Department of the Interior. (See Appendix A.)
The Conference Report for P.L. 106291 contains explicit direction for the implementation of the National Fire Plan. The Appropriations conferees directed the agencies to work closely with State and local communities to maximize benefits to the environment and to local communities. They directed the agencies to seek the advice of the State Governors and local and tribal government representatives in setting priorities for fuels treatments, burned area rehabilitation and public outreach and education. The appropriations conferees also directed the Departments of the Interior and Agriculture to work together to formulate complementary budget requests and to carry out the other tasks, including developing criteria for rehabilitation projects, developing a list of all communities within the vicinity of Federal lands at high risk from fire, and working collaboratively with the State Governors to develop a 10-year comprehensive strategy. (See appendix B.)
ACCOMPLISHMENTS OF THE NATIONAL FIRE PLAN
Implementation of the National Fire Plan is well underway. Since the very beginning we have worked collaboratively with Department of the Interior agencies, the Governors, State Foresters, tribal governments and county officials.
Our implementation efforts focus on addressing the five key points of the National Fire Plan. The status of our actions include the following:
Firefighting Readiness We are focusing on increasing firefighting capability and capacity for initial attack, extended attack, and large fire support. We believe our efforts will keep a number of small fires from becoming large, better protect natural resources, reduce threat to adjacent communities, and reduce the cost of large fire suppression.
Page 59 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The expanded capacity will be used in a manner consistent with our knowledge and experience of the causes of fire risks. The agency will be guided by fire management plans that we intend to have updated and completed by the end of 2001.
To date the Forest Service has hired over 850 new permanent fire personnel and plan to hire a total of over 2,750 (1500 permanent, 1250 temporary) to provide the highest practical level of protection efficiency. This will include twelve new hotshot crews for a national total of 74 crews. We plan to acquire an additional 412 fire engines and have contracts for an additional 47 helicopters for a total of 106 helicopters and 40 fixed-wing aircraft. In addition we will have another 500 aircraft available through ''call when needed'' contracts. We are also in the process of awarding the retardant contract for 20012003 to ensure adequate supplies.
In addition, we will construct several new fire facilities and increase the level of maintenance on existing fire facilities to support initial attack. This construction includes projects such as a new airtanker base and national fire cache in Silver City, New Mexico, new hotshot crew housing in Ft. Collins, Colorado, and a new helitack base in Price Valley, Idaho.
The agency is also investing in applied research to improve the efficiency, effectiveness, and safety of the national firefighting effort. In addition to the progress made in the Forest Service research and development program, the Joint Fire Science Program (JFSP) has been increased. This additional applied research and development will assess fire behavior and fire restoration techniques during and immediately after fire events; upgrade aircraft-based tools for monitoring fire behavior; increase understanding about post-fire conditions, fire effects, and the effectiveness of past land management treatments; and establish protocols for evaluating rehabilitation measures. The Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior have also established a stakeholder advisory committee to advise the JFSP Governing Board. The committee plans to hold its first meeting in April.
Page 60 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Rehabilitation and Restoration. We are focusing rehabilitation efforts on restoring watershed function, including protection of basic soil, water resources, biological communities, and prevention of invasive species in priority watersheds. Healthy, diverse ecosystems are resilient and less likely to produce uncharacteristically intense fires when they burn.
Burned area emergency rehabilitation (BAER) teams mobilized after the 2000 fire season. Plans were developed and approved for over $40.8 million of emergency stabilization for 235 projects on moderately and severely burned National Forest System lands. Most of the emergency treatments were completed before winter, including 62,000 acres of grass seeding, 3,606 acres of mulching, 17,886 acres of intensive log and wattle erosion barriers, and drainage improvements on 713 miles of roads and 245 miles of trail. For example:
In Idaho, 650 acres were seeded, 242 acres intensively mulched, and erosion control barriers installed on 3,157 acres on the Trail Creek fire on the Boise NF.
In Montana, drainage was improved on 410 miles of road and 4,732 acres of intensive erosion control barriers were installed on the Skalkaho-Valley fire on the Bitterroot NF.
In California, 890 acres were seeded and 200 acres intensively mulched on the Manter fire on the Sequoia NF.
In New Mexico, 13,500 acres were seeded, 3,070 acres intensively mulched, and 5,170 acres of erosion control barriers installed for the Cerro Grande fire on the Santa Fe NF.
In Colorado, 1,000 acres of mulch and erosion barriers are being installed on the Bobcat burn.
The remaining acres will be treated as soon as the land is accessible this spring.
Page 61 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In addition, long-term rehabilitation and restoration on over 400 projects is currently underway. These activities will include reforestation, replacement or repair of minor facilities, treatment of invasive species (including noxious weeds) resulting from fire, survey and monitor impacts to wilderness, survey and rehabilitate impacted heritage resources, reconstruct fencing, restore critical habitat and restore impacted trails.
We are also conducting additional research in rehabilitation and restoration methods. One example is research at Rocky Mountain Research Station quantifying the soil and water quality consequences of catastrophic fire, using the Cerro Grande and other southwestern fires as study sites.
Hazardous Fuel Reduction. We are focusing hazardous fuels reduction projects in communities at risk, readily accessible municipal watersheds, threatened and endangered species habitat, and other important local areas, where conditions favor uncharacteristically intense fires. We will remove excessive vegetation and dead fuels through thinning, prescribed fire, and other treatment methods.
Following congressional direction we asked State, local and tribal governments, and interested parties to identify urban wildland interface communities within the vicinity of Federal lands that are at high risk from wildfire. The Departments of Agriculture and the Interior published a preliminary list in the Federal Register on January 4, 2001. The States and Tribes each developed criteria for selecting communities that resulted in some States listing numerous communities and others listing only a few. The Departments of Agriculture and the Interior have asked the Governors and the National Association of State Foresters to help the Federal Agencies to work with Tribes, States, local governments, and other interested parties to develop a national list based on uniform criteria.
We have completed hazardous fuel reduction on over 400,000 acres of the 1.8 million acres that are planned for treatment this fiscal year. Many of these projects focus on wildland-urban interface areas. In the future, we intend to focus the majority of this work on wildland-urban interface areas where hazardous fuel conditions exist near communities.
Page 62 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In addition to work on Federal lands, we will also provide technical and financial support to State and local fire departments to implement 329 projects to improve conditions on wildland-urban interface areas on non-Federal lands. The States will also be implementing projects in impacted areas using the Community and Private Land Fire Assistance funding.
Research is also focusing on hazardous fuels projects. An example is work to characterize and map vegetation and fuels from remote sensed data to locate urban interface areas exposed to high fire potential. These methods will be helpful in prioritizing investments in fuels treatment.
Our success in accomplishing hazardous fuel reduction objectives will be largely dependent on focusing our treatments in the areas of greatest need. Our goal is to do this efficiently and with the least amount of controversy, getting the most amount of high-priority work done. Protecting communities and restoring forests represents the sort of win-win solution that will allow us to build a strong constituency for ecologically sensible active management.
Community Assistance. We are assisting State and local partners by providing funding assistance to rural and volunteer fire departments and through programs such as FIREWISE to educate homeowners to take actions to reduce fire risk to homes and private property.
We plan to expand community assistance to rural volunteer fire departments to increase local firefighting capacity. Rural and volunteer fire departments provide the front line of defense, or initial attack, for up to 90 percent of communities. Strong readiness capability at the State and local levels goes hand-in-hand with optimal efficiency at the Federal level. We will increase our assistance for training and equipment to 4,000 volunteer fire departments in high-risk areas.
The Forest Service has been working with the State and private landowners, the National Fire Protection Association, and local firefighting organizations to help ensure that home protection capabilities are improved and to educate homeowners in fire-sensitive ecosystems about the consequences of wildfires. Also homeowners are being taught techniques in community planning, homebuilding, and landscaping to protect themselves and their property. Efforts include FIREWISE and other high priority prevention and mitigation education programs, as well as fuels reduction, defensible space development, and community hazard mitigation on non-Federal lands.
Page 63 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC We expect implementation of the National Fire Plan can create over 8,000 new jobs in rural areas and provide economic opportunities for rural forest dependent communities.
We are also beginning research to test the effectiveness of different models of collaboration, education, and community actions and to compare different local regulatory and incentive-based policies for encouraging residents to adopt FIREWISE practices. These new efforts will provide useful insights and guidelines for implementing effective communitylevel programs for wildfire protection.
Accountability. The agency is working to establish adequate oversight, coordination, program development, and monitoring for National Fire Plan performance to ensure accountability.
A key component in ensuring accountability is tracking funding and accomplishments. In keeping with Congressional reporting requirements, the Forest Service is finalizing a database to track projects funded by Title IV funds. It will include project accomplishments and funding for work in hazardous fuels reduction, rehabilitation, and community assistance. Once it is fully operationalwhich is planned for the end of this monthwe will be able to report, for example, numbers and types of rehabilitation work being done in a particular national forest, congressional district, or State.
Of course, the Forest Service must be accountable for all funding. In fiscal year 2000, obligations in the Wildland Fire Management Appropriation totaled $1.5 billion, exceeding available funds by $274 million. An anti-deficiency report was sent to President Clinton and members of Congress as required by law. This violation was caused by delays in entering suppression costs into the agency financial system. The agency is conducting an intensive Anti-Deficiency Act violation review to more fully determine the specific causes and implement procedures to prevent a reoccurrence.
Another recent development associated with the implementation of the National Fire Plan is the ''Review and Update of the 1995 Federal Wildland Fire Management Policy.'' The Review and Update was completed in January 2001 in response to a request from the Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior. The working team concluded that the 1995 Federal Fire Policy is generally sound, but that some changes and additions are needed to address issues such as fire planning, program management and oversight, and program evaluation.
Page 64 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC If you refer to the list of Reporting Requirements in Appendix B, you will see the Forest Service and the Department of the Interior have accomplished several other important tasks and reported to Congress in a timely manner. These include a report on criteria for rehabilitation projects; a report on the need for revised or expedited environmental compliance procedures; and a financial plan and an action plan showing how agencies will spend the emergency funds.
Next Steps. The following are the next immediate actions to be taken by the Forest Service to continue implementation of the National Fire Plan:
Complete the fuels management projects underway and continue planning for 2002 focusing fuels treatments in urban interface communities where they are most likely to reduce risk effectively.
Continue work on a long-term strategy for the National Fire Plan (200210) in collaboration with Governors and other stakeholders.
Complete the hiring of new fire personnel to produce an extremely high level of firefighting capability.
Complete analysis of fire risk and integrate with other resource information to prioritize treatment areas.
We will continue to provide timely information to Congress and other interested parties about the National Fire Plan.
Mr. Chairman, my staff and I will continue to work closely with the Department of the Interior Team to work with communities to restore and maintain healthy ecosystems and to minimize the losses from future wildfires on National Forest System lands, other Federal, State, Tribal, and privately-owned lands. Our successes to datebeginning to define the wildland-urban interface communities, hiring firefighters for the 2001 fire season, and ongoing rehabilitation, restoration, FIREWISE education workis evidence of the strong start. However, our continued success will depend on what happens this field season.
Page 65 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC We are committed to increasing the Nation's firefighting capability and ability to protect communities and restore resources, but it will take longer than 1 year.
This concludes my statement. I would be happy to answer any questions you or the members of the subcommittee might have.
Statment of Tim Hartzell
Good morning Mr. Chairman and members of the committee.
I appreciate the opportunity to address this committee concerning a natural resource effort that is historic in its scope and presents a unique challenge, implementation of the National Fire Plan. My name is Tim Hartzell and I am the Director of the Office of Wildland Fire Coordination for the Department of the Interior. I am pleased to report that the Department of the Interior firefighting agencies have made substantial progress in responding to the mandate that Congress gave us in the appropriation language for fiscal year 2001 to minimize the severity of another fire season such as we had in 2000, lessen the dangers to communities at risk, restore ecosystems and the natural role of fire, protect our critical natural resources, and most important, keep our firefighters and the public safe.
The 2000 fire season was long, stubborn, volatile and widespread. The fire season started on January 1st, when a small blaze ignited near Ft. Myers, Florida, and lasted well into the fall. As late as December, more than 14,000 acres burned east of San Diego, California, destroying fourteen structures.
In total, almost 93,000 wildland fires burned close to 7.4 million acres. While neither the number of fires nor the number of acres approached all-time records, the conditions, fire behavior and potential for an even more explosive season were perhaps unparalleled in the last fifty years. The intensity of the fires was the result of two primary factors: a severe drought, accompanied by a series of storms that produced millions of lightning strikes and windy conditions, and the long-term effects of more than a century of aggressively suppressing all wildfires, which has led to an unnatural buildup of brush and small trees in our forests and on our rangelands.
Page 66 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The 2000 fire season also caught the attention of the public. In early August, President Clinton visited a battalion of soldiers from Ft. Hood, Texas, pressed into duty as firefighters on the Burgdorf Junction Fire, near McCall, Idaho. During that trip, President Clinton asked the Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior to develop recommendations on how to reduce the impacts of fire on rural communities and ensure sufficient firefighting resources for the future. On September 8th, the Secretaries responded with a report entitled, ''Managing the Impacts of Wildfires on Communities and the Environment: A Report to the President in Response to the Wildfires of 2000,'' also known as the ''National Fire Plan.''
The National Fire Plan recommended that the Departments of Agriculture and the Interior seek an increased appropriation for fire management, and do several things:
Continue to make all necessary firefighting resources available.
Restore landscapes and rebuild communities.
Invest in projects to reduce fire risk.
Work directly with communities.
We are grateful that Congress took quick and decisive action once the report was issued. As a result, the wildland fire budgets for both the Department of the Interior and Department of Agriculture were substantially increased for fiscal year 2001.
At present, we are concentrating our efforts in the Department of the Interior on three main areas: fire preparedness, fire operations, and assistance to rural fire districts. Later in my statement, I will detail some of the steps that have been taken and will be taken in the coming months to address these three critical areas.
ACCOMPLISHMENTS TO DATE
The fiscal year 2001 appropriation provided an injection of critically needed support and funding for wildland fire and resource management. Although the agencies have managed wildland fire in the past as efficiently and safely as possible, the fiscal year 2001 appropriation provided a much needed boost to ensure that adequate resources are available in the face of today's significant fire and resource management issues, such as rangeland and forest health, the increasing size and intensity of wildland fire that is resulting from much of the land's unhealthy state, and the ever- expanding wildland-urban interface. Late in 2000, the Department of the Interior and the USDA Forest Service began implementation of the National Fire Plan by detailing support, direction and funding for wildland firefighting agencies to better manage fire and resources on the land. An interagency steering group convened with representatives and leads from each Federal wildland firefighting agency, including DOI's Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, and USDA's Forest Service. Each of these agencies developed an agency-specific National Fire Plan implementation strategy to provide field personnel with procedural guidance.
Page 67 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The National Fire Plan is founded on a long history of cooperation among fire-fighting agencies. Its long-term success depends on cooperation and collaboration among Federal agency partners, Tribal, State, county and local governments, contractors and other service providers, and users of Federally-owned land. As soon as agencies received the fiscal year 2001 budget, National Fire Plan leads from the Departments of Agriculture and the Interior met with such partners as the National Association of State Foresters, the Western Governor's Association, and the National Association of Counties, to discuss the ramifications of the fiscal year 2001 appropriations.
Within weeks of the passage of the fiscal year 2001 Appropriations Act, requests for pertinent data and status reports were sent to the field to determine staffing, rural fire district, and planning needs, and to determine which hazardous fuels treatment projects are ready for implementation in fiscal year 2001 and which remain in the planning stages. Deferred maintenance and capital improvement projects were prioritized and allocated, and project tracking systems were developed. Weekly interagency and agency meetings, satellite broadcasts and information bulletins help coordinate efforts and disseminate information throughout the agencies.
In January 2001, the Department of the Interior and the Forest Service issued the ''Review and Update of the 1995 Federal Wildland Fire Management Policy.'' This report came in response to a request from the Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior. The National Fire Plan is built upon the foundation and framework of the Review and Update. The Review was conducted by 14 Federal agencies and the National Association of State Foresters, who concluded:
The 1995 Fire Policy is still sound, but additional emphasis is recommended on science, outreach and education, restoration, and program evaluation.
The fire hazard situation is worse than predicted in 1995.
The scope of the Urban Wildland fuels hazard problem is even more complex and extensive than predicted in 1995.
Page 68 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Additional research is needed on the effectiveness of different fuels treatment options, and post-fire rehabilitation activities.
Additional collaboration and integration of all Federal agencies with land management responsibility as well as non-Federal agencies is needed.
The National Fire Plan addresses these concerns by:
Increasing fuels hazard treatment activities for DOI to a planned target of 1.4 million acres of Federal land in fiscal year 2001. This represents an increase from an average of 800,000 acres of fuels treatment activities.
Increasing on-the-ground fuels hazard reduction work in fiscal year 2001 around a greater number of vulnerable communities, and by developing a collaborative partnership with the State Foresters and others to design a long-term fuels treatment strategy in the Urban Wildland interface.
Increasing research in: a) the economic and environmental consequences of fuels treatment alternatives in a variety of fuels types across the country; b) the effectiveness of post fire rehabilitation techniques including the control of noxious weeds and invasive species.
Increasing outreach and partnership activities with the Western Governors' Association, the National Association of Counties, Tribes, other Federal partners, and non-governmental organizations in designing a 10-year strategy to restore health to fire adapted ecosystems and a plan of action to implement the NFP.
Also in January 2001, the Department of the Interior completed an action plan to implement the National Fire Plan. This action plan contains proposed accomplishments for fiscal year 2001 in wildland fire preparedness, operations, and rural fire assistance. It addresses actions needed to implement the National Fire Plan, including:
Hiring additional personnel and obtaining needed equipment.
Page 69 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Completing deferred maintenance and construction.
Enhancing fire science work.
Planning and implementing hazardous fuels treatments.
Planning and implementing burned area rehabilitation.
A financial plan for complying with Title IV of the 2001 Appropriation Act.
We divided our accomplishments under the National Fire Plan into the three key areas: fire preparedness, fire operations, and rural fire district assistance.
Wildland fire preparedness provides agencies with the capability to prevent, detect and take prompt, effective initial attack suppression action on wildland fires. Preparedness includes staffing, aircraft and equipment, maintenance and construction, fire science and research, and the associated Federal acquisition practices.
Interior and Forest Service personnel have been working together to create consistency in position classifications. Outreach and recruitment to obtain diverse, well-qualified candidates began in December 2000 to fill firefighter, fire manager and support positions, and for fire and fuels specialists. Many of these positions have been advertised jointly and centrally to eliminate duplication of effort and to streamline the application process.
We are contracting for the use of an additional 16 aircraft, and we purchased equipment, including 40 new heavy engines, 43 light engine upgrades, 14 crew carriers for Hot Shot crews, 7 water tenders, 5 helitack trucks, and 3 dozers and lowboys. Although this equipment has been purchased in 2001, some of it will not be delivered until 2002.
Within the Department of the Interior agencies, 50 fire facilities require maintenance or construction. These projects have been prioritized and the funding has been allocated.
Page 70 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The Joint Fire Science Program, a six agency partnership to address wildland fuels issues, was established in 1998 to fill the gaps in knowledge about wildland fire and fuels. The purpose of the Program is to provide wildland fire and fuels information and tools to specialists and managers who make wildland fuels management decisions. The information and tools will also help agencies develop sound, scientifically-based land use and activity plans. The Joint Fire Science Program will fund important new research to explore effective methods of mapping and treating fuels. The program will also direct a significant portion of funding to answer questions about important regional or local suppression, fuels management and rehabilitation needs. The Department of the Interior and the Forest Service recently issued a request for proposals for fire science projects. We expect new proposals to focus on the feasibility of developing a locally- based biomass conversion industry. Other proposals will examine carbon storage, soil compaction, water quality, and habitat as they relate to fuels treatments. We have also requested proposals to determine the cumulative effects of fuels manipulation on fire behavior and severity, wildlife populations, and habitat structure. In addition, on January 18, 2001, we established the Joint Fire Science Program Stakeholder Advisory Group under the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA). The purpose of the Group is to advise and assist the Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior, through the Joint Fire Science Program Governing Board, on priorities and strategies for completing wildland fire and fuels research and implementing research findings.
The National Fire Plan calls for a dramatic increase in the amount of fuels reduction and fuels management work, and much of this work is targeted for completion by independent contractors or through service agreements. In December 2000, an interagency team of contract and fuels specialists met in Boise, Idaho, and developed model contracts and agreements that agencies will use for fuels reduction, rehabilitation and restoration projects, and model grants and cooperative agreements to assist communities and rural fire departments. We created a web site that houses these model contracts so that each field office can access them easily, saving valuable time and effort, and increasing consistency among agencies.
Page 71 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Although fuels management by contract has grown over the last 10 years, there is still a need to foster growth in the number of contractors available. A primary focus of the 2001 appropriation is to facilitate awards to firms that will hire locally. Although the term ''local'' is undefined, managers and contracting personnel will emphasize the use of sealed bid awards to firms that are in closer proximity to project work and best value awards to firms that commit to specific plans to hire local workers.
The interagency contract and agreement team has developed an outreach plan that will:
Locate firms that are not currently active in bidding or proposing on Government procurement for fuels management contracts.
Introduce local independent contractors to the benefits of contracting for this type of work with the Government.
Encourage continued participation by firms that currently have fuels management contracts.
Wildland fire operations include suppression, burned area rehabilitation and fuels management, including fuels reduction in wildland-urban interface areas that pose a risk to people, property and natural resources. To better facilitate these operations, several steps have been taken:
First, a list of communities most at risk from wildland fire in the wildland-urban interface (discussed in more detail later in this testimony) and hazardous fuels reduction projects within and around those communities has been developed. Work is continuing to refine the criteria and the list of communities at risk.
Second, a cohesive fuels management strategy has been drafted that will provide a broad, national framework for Interior agencies to ensure:
Page 72 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Effective collaboration among Federal agencies, Tribal, State and local governments and other stakeholders.
Alignment of all program areas to prevent further degradation, and to work toward the common goal of reducing unnaturally intense wildland fire.
Integration of fire and resource management within and across all agencies.
Third, on February 7, Secretary Norton approved the release of $4 million to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and $2 million to the National Marine Fisheries Service, needed to perform consultations under section 7 of the Endangered Species Act for work identified by DOI. This money will facilitate consultation for critical hazardous fuels treatment projects as implementation of the National Fire Plan progresses.
Finally, both Departments are engaged with the Governors, Tribes, non-governmental organizations and others in an active and open partnership to develop a ten-year comprehensive strategy to implement collaboratively the National Fire Plan and to begin to effectively and efficiently manage the Nation's hazardous fuels situation. This ten-year strategy will unify State, Tribal, and Federal efforts to cooperate across jurisdictions, coordinate activities and maximize capabilities to reduce the impacts of wildfires on communities and the environment.
RURAL FIRE DEPARTMENT ASSISTANCE (RFDA)
The 2001 budget appropriation provided $10 million to the Department of the Interior for a new program to enhance the wildland fire protection capabilities of rural fire departments (RFD). In December 2000, representatives from each of the Interior agencies met and developed basic selection criteria for the distribution of these grant funds. Grants will be limited to $20,000 per RFD, and the RFDs that apply will be reviewed for criteria that include:
Having an agreement in place with the State Forester or an Interior agency.
Page 73 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Serving a community with a population of less than 10,000, in the wildland-urban interface.
Using funding only for training, equipment and prevention.
Sharing a minimum of 10 percent of the total cost.
An Interior work group was formed to develop an interagency agreement/contract which will be used by field offices to facilitate the transfer of funds to rural fire departments. A draft of this document is currently undergoing field review and will be finalized in the next few weeks.
The money for RFDA has been allocated by each Interior Bureau to field offices, and fire managers are working with partners at the local and regional levels to establish priorities and to allocate available funds.
The Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior were asked in the fiscal year 2001 Interior Appropriations Act (Public Law 106-291) to publish jointly in the Federal Register a list of all wildland-urban interface communities that are at high risk from wildfire.
The list was published in the Federal Register on January 4, 2001. Communities on the list were proposed by States, Tribes and local governments. The criteria for listing varied from State-to- State, which explains why some States listed hundreds of communities, while others submitted a much smaller list. The list also identifies communities with ongoing fuels treatment projects and those with projects planned for fiscal year 2001. A total of 37 States participated and more than 4,500 communities were listed. Since then, four more States have submitted their lists, and the total number of communities has grown to more than 6,400. We appreciate the work that went into the list, especially the work performed by the State Foresters and Tribes.
Developing the list of communities was only part of the Federal Register notice published on January 4. The notice also provided a definition of wildland-urban interface, and included suggested criteria for categorizing interface communities and evaluating the risk to those communities. The January 4 list is a starting point. It needs to be refined, possibly narrowed, and focused so that we can set treatment priorities for the coming years. The list of communities far exceeds our hazardous fuel reduction capabilities.
Page 74 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Revising the list is a formidable task. Working closely with the Western Governors' Association, we have developed a process to address this daunting task. Some communities are much more vulnerable to wildland fire than others. Our next task becomes one of identifying, again in collaboration with our Tribal, State and local partners, the communities in the vicinity of Federal lands that are most at risk, which are the places where we will begin hazardous fuels reduction work. The results of this effort will be published in the Federal Register later this spring. The Federal Register Notice will identify the full extent of the high-risk wildland urban interface problem along with communities where hazardous fuels reduction treatments will not be planned, and the reasons why.
The revised lists of communities at risk in each State will be developed by an interagency team consisting of representatives of the Department of Agriculture, Department of the Interior, State Foresters, and Tribes. Representatives from other Federal agencies such as the Departments of Energy and Defense will be included where appropriate. Others who may be invited to participate include representatives of county government, local fire response organizations, State emergency management offices, and community forestry organizations. A specific process for refining the urban wildland communities list has been developed by the Forest Service, the Department of the Interior, and the National Association of State Foresters. We envision that these teams will continue and will serve the long-term goals of identifying, prioritizing and implementing fuels treatment projects, to ensure that the long-term needs of communities vulnerable to wildland fire are addressed.
Existing project proposals in these identified urban wildland communities that have approved plans and completed environmental compliance will have the highest priority for fuels treatment, and work is already underway in many of these communities. DOI's projects will cover about 300,000 acres. Additional projects that can be readied for implementation this fiscal year will receive the next priority. Finally, for those newly identified projects or projects not ready for implementation, the planning process will be initiated toward future treatments and implementation schedules will be developed.
Page 75 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC A cornerstone of the National Fire Plan has been enhancing the communication for preparedness and strategic planning among all partners in the wildland fire management arena. To facilitate this objective, all of the National Fire Plan Coordinators from the Department of the Interior and its bureaus, as well as the Forest Service, and representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency, Council on Environmental Quality and others, assembled in Denver on February 21 and 22, 2001, to share concerns and issues, clarify roles and expectations, validate the importance of success, and define a management structure for collaboration at the geographic area level throughout the country. This meeting provided a springboard to unify State, Tribal and Federal efforts to cooperate across jurisdictions, coordinate plans and activities, and collaborate with local governments to implement efficiently and effectively the goals and commitments outlined in the National Fire Plan.
We appreciate the opportunity to testify at this hearing. We are grateful that Congress has afforded firefighting agencies an opportunity to reverse the trend of deteriorating health for our forest and rangeland ecosystems. We view the funding for fiscal year 2001 as an investment that will, in the future, help save communities, money, our natural resources, and the lives of firefighters and the public.
Like any long-term investment, it will require patience. It took many decades for fuels build up to reach their current levels. The demands on public land and its resources will only increase in the future. It will take time for all of us, the Federal agencies, our Tribal, State and local partners, rural fire districts, elected officials and others, to ameliorate the volatile and dangerous situation that currently exists in many parts of our country. The Department of the Interior has made a commitment to see this process through to a successful conclusion. We intend to honor this commitment, and we look forward to your continued support.
Thank you, again. I will be happy to answer any questions from the committee.
Page 76 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCANSWERS TO SUBMITTED QUESTIONS
Does the Most Efficient Level system for determining Federal resources needed for fire fighting account for the wildland urban interface, or does it strictly consider Federal lands?
The normal year fire readiness calculation (formerly called most efficient readiness level (MEL)), reflects both the people and the resources necessary to staff the firefighting organization to protect Federal lands. MEL is calculated on a unit-by-unit basis. When Federal lands in a unit are surrounded by structures on non-Federal land that may be vulnerable to wildfire, the cost of readiness is higher because those non-Federal structures must be taken into account. Ordinarily, the MEL system does not pay for preparedness on non-Federal lands as States and local governments are generally responsible for covering these costs.
How are air resources (aircraft, helicopters, etc.) allocated in the Most Efficient Level system, do they account for the wildland urban interface needs?
Air resources are allocated based on the historical incidence of fire, and are available for re-deployment based on need, which would include needs in the wildland urban interface.
Hazardous fuels reduction activities will result in the removal of copious amounts of small diameter trees and other woody debris. It would be a shame if this by-product simply goes to fill a landfill or gets burned up when it could be used as a side benefit to the surrounding communities.
What is being done to make sure that utilization of this material occurs?
In some cases, timber sales can be utilized to supplement the purposes of the National Fire Plan to remove excess vegetation and enhance overall ecosystem health. However, in many cases the material being removed under a fuels treatment project is smaller in size than what would be removed under a timber sale, and has little or no commercial value. The high risk areas are priority for fuels treatment and the existing fuels and tree sizes will be a major factor in determining whether a commercial timber sale is feasible and should be considered as one of the treatment tools. Thinning of forest stands is done in order to meet a specified land use objective as identified in the umbrella land use plan which covers a specific geographic location. For example, some thinning activities in the Pacific Northwest may occur on lands identified as part of the matrix (Federal land outside of reserves and special management areas that are available for timber harvest at varying levels). A primary objective of such a thinning would be growth enhancement. Thinning within lands identified as late successional reserves would be designed to enhance the attainment of old-growth characteristics in younger stands within the reserves. Thinning activity that occurs in the wildland-urban interface may be designed to remove ladder fuels (small trees growing under larger trees, which can carry fire from the ground into the crowns of the larger trees) and reduce fire hazard. Any of these types of thinning activities could result in merchantable logs being produced. All of these activities would be subject to environmental review and would be completed in compliance with all applicable environmental laws and any restrictions or best management practices required by the land use plan.
Page 77 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC A thinning project should be measured against its attainment of overall land use objectives and its ability to be implemented in an environmentally sound manner. The Department of the Interior and the Forest Service are examining other utilization alternatives, including conversion of treatment by-products to energy through biomass conversion, and development of small-scale industries in wood chips and pressed board.
What obstacles are currently in the way?
The multiple use land managing agencies, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), have neither barriers nor policies prohibiting the use of traditional timber sales to augment the purposes of the National Fire Plan. The other two land managing agencies in the Department of the Interior, the National Park Service (NPS) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) also actively pursue hazardous fuels reduction. Consistent with law and policy, the FWS and the NPS conduct fuels reduction as a component of broader forest management programs, primarily for ecological benefits, including habitat improvement. The agencies thin forests by removing smaller trees and brush to change the fuels complex to a less flammable state and to improve wildlife habitats, overall forest health and ecological values. In contrast, traditional commercial timber harvest programs target the removal of larger trees. Thinning trees mechanically is an acceptable fuels treatment, but the primary purpose of the treatment is not for market utilization of the resource. Any economic benefit is incidental and many projects may not produce merchantable material. No specific obstacles exist to prevent the Department from developing alternate utilization strategies.
What sort of markets currently exist for these types of product?
Currently, there is a limited market for products such as stove pellets, engineered wood products, chips, and presto logs. However, we continue to work toward expanding these markets through research and working with industry.
Page 78 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCA provision of our appropriation commonly known as ''the Wyden amendment'' was intended to provide land managers the ability to use Federal funds and personnel on non- Federal lands, if that work improved the greater watershed.
Has this law been of any assistance to you in managing the fire program?
The Federal fire management agencies have used the authority provided under the Wyden amendment on a limited basis, principally to rehabilitate non-Federal lands that were damaged by fires that originated on Federal lands. Title IV of the 2001 appropriation gives us the authority to use contracts, grants and cooperative agreements to accomplish fuels reduction, rehabilitation and restoration treatments and for training and monitoring associated with these activities. By linking the watershed restoration and enhancement agreements provided for under the Wyden amendment, we believe that Title IV's contracting and other authorities can be extended to non-Federal land.
As you see it, does the amendment require any further revision to make it more applicable to wildland fire management?
We have considered using this authority more broadly for fuels treatments on non-Federal lands. Since the provision was not specifically targeted to watershed improvements that stem from fire treatments, it would be useful for the Congress to recognize in report language that it is its intent that the amendment may apply to fuels treatments on non-Federal lands when the project benefits the greater watershed and is executed with a willing State, private, or non-governmental cooperator.
This year you received a tremendous increase in your fire budgets. If we had not had a record fire season last year your budgets would probably have stayed level with past years.
How do you justify a continuation of this level of funding?
Page 79 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The intensity of the fires during the 2000 fire season were in part the result of more than a century of aggressive suppression of all wildfires, which has resulted in an unnatural buildup of brush and small trees in our forests and on our rangelands. Moreover, the hazardous fuels situation this year is only slightly different from last year. The Pacific Northwest, Northern Rockies and Florida were all unusually dry this past winter, with snowpack across the west at below normal levels. As a result, 2001 may be another severe fire season. It will take time for Federal agencies, as well as our State, Tribal and local partners, rural fire districts, elected officials and others to ameliorate the volatile and dangerous situation that currently exists in many parts of our country. In order to address this situation, a long-term commitment and investment is necessary.
You were given the authority to award procurement contracts, grants or cooperative agreements to small businesses, local non-profit entities, and volunteer service organizations in the conference report of the fiscal year 2001 Interior appropriations bill. It makes a lot of sense to create skill-training and job opportunities in communities at risk of experiencing wildfire.
What efforts are being made to fulfill this mandate?
The Department of the Interior is employing the following techniques to locate and develop firms with which we can do business:
Sharing bidders lists among Federal agencies, and seeking out similar lists maintained by State and private organizations that conduct similar work, such as commercial timber companies.
Contacting nonprofit organizations such as local worker training development groups that work toward local employment; Referring the organizations to the U.S. Department of Labor for possible use of the Job Training Partnership Act (JTPA) to fund payments to trainees.
Page 80 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Advertising and conducting workshops for potentially interested firms; Inviting the leadership and membership of reforestation contractors' associations and loggers' associations to workshops, and including on the agenda technical specialists that can describe work techniques, site visits to on-going contract work, and contract personnel to explain the bidding process.
Contacting the Small Business Administration for assistance in locating small businesses and providing guidance on bidding on Government contracts.
Examining the list of eligible firms in SBA's 8(a) program and firms registered as Historically Underutilized Business (HubZone) firms for potential candidates.
Contacting local and State fire protection associations and rural fire districts to determine their interest in conducting fuels reduction, possibly in rural interface areas.
Investigating community colleges and universities for any programs they have, or may be interested in utilizing, or developing a curriculum to train workers or potential bidders on fuels management opportunities.
Contacting local Job Corps for programs or ideas on program development.
Working with watershed councils or associations for participation by their member organizations.
Examining agency emergency service and supply plans for companies that are available for emergency fire suppression and which also may be interested in project work.
Developing contracts that provide work at various times of the year, such as prescribed fire work in the spring and fall, thinning and slashing in the winter, and emergency fire suppression in the summer, in order to keep active contractors in the program.
Inserting a clause in each contract that permits other land management agencies the ability to place orders, giving firms more flexibility to work on different ownerships that frequently have somewhat differing work seasons or elevations.
Page 81 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC When determining best value awards, including an evaluation criterion that targets a company's commitment to hire locally for contract work.
Making some awards multiple year in order to provide for a more stable longer-term employment potential and to encourage lower pricing for a longer contract.
How will interested parties know where to inquire about fuels treatment and burned area rehabilitation projects?
The Department of the Interior has an outreach plan for contracting officers. The outreach plan has been posted on the National Fire Plan Web Site at http://www.nifc.gov/fireplan/index.htm. The objectives of the plan are (1) to locate firms that are not currently active in bidding or proposing on Government procurements for fuels management contracts; (2) to introduce these firms to the benefits of contracting for this work with the Government; and (3) to structure the program to encourage continued participation by firms that currently offer fuels management contracts.
Will these groups be given preference over other commercial businesses for Federal contracts?
Yes. Guidance sent to each bureau instructs contracting officers to give preference to these groups whenever possible under the law. Public Law 106291, the fiscal year 2001 Department of the Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, authorizes the use of local contractor personnel whenever possible. The contracting officers should take into account the contractor's ability to enhance local and small business employment opportunities when awarding contracts or issuing task/delivery orders.
How are your agencies tracking the number of contracts issued to local businesses?
The agencies have directed their contracting offices to input any procurement related to National Fire Plan (NFP) activities into the Federal Procurement Data System (FPDS). Included in this direction are coding instructions for the FPDS reporting document, which will enable the agencies to track and identify the number and dollar value of NFP-related contracts to local businesses in a specified area. The Department of the Interior expects to be able to provide a variety of reports on NFP-related contract awards through the FPDS.
Page 82 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Last year a lot of attention was focused on the Forest Service's development of forest health maps. Obviously, forest health is an important consideration when determining fire risk in a forest.
What is the current status of those Forest Health risk maps?
The Department of the Interior has begun collecting data on the condition classes of its lands. These data are used to illustrate the risks that fire poses to key components that characterize ecosystems, as such data applies to forests, rangelands, and other areas that roughly correspond to the system being used by the Forest Service.
How are these maps being used under the National Fire Plan?
These data and maps will be used to inform decisions regarding fuels treatment project selection.
Are the risk maps being used in making program or funding decisions with respect to the National Fire Plan?
The risk maps and underlying data will help guide decision-making on fuels treatment project selection, especially outside the urban wildland interface.
How about risk maps and the Cohesive Strategy for reduction of Federal wildland fire threatswhat links are there?
The Department of the Interior will soon complete a cohesive strategy regarding treatment of Department of the Interior-managed lands. Our draft strategy relies on condition class data that corresponds to the Forest Service assessments. Those data will also be the basis of risk maps.
We must always be prepared to defend life and property from wildland fire. As in many situations, it pays to take a proactive stance rather than a reactive one.
How do the costs for fire suppression compare to hazardous fuels reduction and other preventative restoration work on a per acre or per employee basis?
Page 83 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC For the Department of the Interior, approximately 4,400 employees supported a suppression program in fiscal year 2000 that cost $332 million (a total of $500 in combined suppression and preparedness expenses). Of the 7.4 million acres of public land that burned in 2000, 3.2 million were on lands managed by this Department. An additional 340 employees supported hazardous fuels reduction treatments on more than 500,000 acres at a cost of approximately $30 million.
The accumulation of hazardous fuels has developed over many decades. Even with an aggressive hazardous fuels reduction program, it will take many years to restore these lands. The success of this program depends on sustained, long-term funding.
If funding continues over the long term, we are confident that the hazardous fuels treatment program will be successful, and that we will reverse the upward trend of escalating suppression costs and damages from wildland fire. With continued funding, we will reduce impacts to firefighter and public safety and demonstrate a reduction in suppression costs and damages from wildland fire. In addition to reduced costs, damages and impacts to public and firefighter safety, the hazardous fuels reduction program will restore land health and productivity and protect critical habitats and watersheds.
What other economic losses or gains are associated with suppression versus fuels reduction?
If we do not increase the rate of hazardous fuels reduction, we can expect larger fire suppression and rehabilitation costs. By reducing hazardous fuels, fires should be of lower intensity, and should provide a larger array of management options requiring fewer and less expensive resources. Increasing the amount of money spent on suppression alone is counterproductive. Beyond a certain point, you cannot put enough money into suppression to prevent a repeat of a catastrophic fire season. On the other hand, money spent on hazardous fuels reduction will result in less property damage, and, potentially, fewer tort claims against the government.
Page 84 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC How are you going to track progress toward meeting your commitments under the Action Plan and other reports to Congress?
The Department has established a regular reporting process through Bureau Directors, tracking accomplishments such as acres of hazardous fuels treated, personnel hired, and equipment acquisitions. The bureaus are modifying the existing management information systems of the BLM, BIA, FWS and NPS to track activities. The Department is holding weekly meetings with bureau directors to ensure that fire program oversight is a high priority. The allocation of resources is subject to extensive review by these senior officials. In addition, through the Federal Financial System, funds are disbursed only with a fund and project code that identifies individual projects. The bureaus are in the process of developing an interagency database to track accomplishments by various National Fire Plan units of accomplishment, including project location, expenditures, and fuels acres treated. All bureaus routinely conduct program reviews and audits to ensure proper financial controls are in place and functioning.
What will you do when the goals and objectives of the National Fire Plan are different from the goals and objectives of large-scale ecosystem restoration and management projects undertaken by the Forest Service in recent years (such as the Sierra Nevada Framework or the Interior Columbia River Basin Ecosystem Mgmt Project)?
For the Department of the Interior, no such differences exist. The draft decision documents for the Interior Columbia Basin Ecosystem Management Plan all specifically highlight the need for fuels treatments to improve forest and rangeland health, consistent with the National Fire Plan.
Statement of James E. Hubbard
My name is Jim Hubbard and I am the State Forester of Colorado. I am here today representing the National Association of State Foresters, which represents the directors of the State Forestry agencies from all 50 States and seven US territories, as well as the District of Columbia. Our members are actively involved in wildland fire suppression and are working in partnership with the USDA Forest Service and the agencies of the Department of Interior to implement the National Fire Plan. I serve as the liaison between the National Association of State Foresters and the National Fire Plan.
Page 85 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The long-term stewardship and sustainability of our natural resources and communities is of utmost importance to the membership of the NASF. As many states saw during the 2000 fire season, catastrophic wildland fire poses a significant threat to both of these priorities. On behalf of NASF, I want to thank you for helping focus attention on the long-term challenge of restoring our forests and rangelands to a more resilient condition.
My testimony today will highlight three major areas: First, I want reiterate our support for the overall approach to the issue espoused by the Western Governors Association. Second, Congress must recognize that this is a long-term problem that will be costly in the short term but will hopefully prevent higher costs over the long term. Last, I'd like to point out why the wildland urban interface is the most critical problem facing wildfire managers and which aspects of the National Fire Plan are best equipped to address it.
State Forester Priorities
As the extraordinary scale of the 2000 fire season became apparent, particularly in the Interior West, many Western Governors felt compelled to become more intimately involved with the recovery and response efforts being mounted by the Federal land management agencies. The Governors met face-to-face with the Secretaries of Agriculture and Interior in September 2000 and emphasized that their priorities for both short and long term wildfire response are as follows:
Full state involvement in all relevant planning, prioritization, decision-making and implementation processes at the national, regional and local levels;
Funding and implementation of rehabilitation, hazard reduction, and ecosystem restoration projects across all lands, regardless of ownership; and
Development and funding of a long-term (10+ years), intergovernmental strategy to address the wildland fire and hazardous fuels situation as well as the needs for habitat restoration and rehabilitation in the Nation.
Page 86 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The Governors and Secretaries left the gathering in full agreement that an active state-Federal partnership would be necessary to effectively address the immediate wildfire recovery needs of the Nation as well as the long-term restoration and maintenance needs of our fire-adapted forest and rangeland ecosystems. The group further agreed that local communities must play a more integral role in designing and carrying out these activities on the ground. The State Foresters fully support these priorities and are working in active partnership with the Federal agencies to ensure that implementation of the National Fire Plan adheres to them.
FULL STATE INVOLVEMENT IN PLANNING AND DECISION-MAKING
State governments share responsibility with their Federal counterparts for the administration of many resources and public services within their boundaries. This cooperative, intergovernmental partnership is crucial in providing for safe and effective response to wildland fire. This is especially true in the wildland-urban interface where initial attack may be conducted by volunteer, local, county, state or Federal firefighters regardless of where the fire started.
The Governors insisted on full state involvement in all levels of wildland fire response, including rehabilitation and hazardous fuels mitigation, because they recognized that states bring to the table valuable resources such as established networks with local governments and communities, knowledge of statewide land management priorities and access to local workers and industries. If states are closely involved in wildland fire preparedness, mitigation and response activities, they can help coordinate the efforts of diverse Federal land management agencies, ensure that opportunities for interagency collaboration are identified, and improve the understanding and support of local residents for priority land management actions.
Congress acknowledged the importance of these intergovernmental relationships in the fiscal year 2001 Interior appropriations bill (PL 106291) and accompanying Conference report. In several instances, the bill directed the USDA Forest Service and Department of Interior agencies to work closely with States and local communities. The 2001 Appropriations bill further directed the agencies to ''seek the advice of governors, and local and tribal government representatives in setting priorities for fuels treatments, burned area rehabilitation, and public outreach and education.''
Page 87 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Clearly it was, and continues to be, the expectation of Congress that the Federal land management agencies would incorporate state and local representatives into all levels of their wildland fire activities. This enhanced level of state-Federal partnership is, in fact, beginning to develop in many States as Federal agencies are faced with the task of identifying projects and allocating increased levels of funding according to both Congressional and Administrative direction.
Many States have established an interagency state-Federal team to coordinate implementation of the National Fire Plan within their state. My state of Colorado has convened an interagency coordination team that we hope will improve our collective land management efforts by identifying areas of mutual importance where we can effectively focus our efforts and funding.
It is important to note that each of these partnerships has been strengthened by the availability of increased funding to state and community assistance programs. These additional dollars for cooperative fuels reduction on non-Federal lands, for training and equipping of local fire departments, and for assistance to communities impacted by wildland fire greatly increase the ability of non-Federal entities to participate fully in large-scale project planning and prioritization. Moreover, these are the critical components to reducing the risk to life and property in the wildland urban interface, which is creating unprecedented levels of complexity for wildland firefighters from coast to coast.
The kind of intergovernmental collaboration now occurring could have happened previously but, for the most part, did not. Specific direction from Congress combined with increased funding for state and private fuels management and wildfire preparedness activities have given both sides the impetus to work together. I encourage you, on behalf of the State Foresters, to continue to provide both of these motivational elements funding and direction with the hope that this kind of cooperation will eventually become our standard way of doing business.
Page 88 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCCROSS-BOUNDARY LANDSCAPE SCALE ACTION
Anyone who has spent much time walking across a Western landscape will realize that natural forces such as insects, disease, fire, invasive weeds and flooding do not generally abide by fencelines or other jurisdictional boundaries. In many of our Eastern and Southern landscapes, interface fires cross multiple property lines and run freely from undeveloped lands into areas with homes and other developed property. We must maintain this same boundary-less mindset in our efforts to rehabilitate burned areas, mitigate future fire hazards or restore forests and watersheds to a more resilient condition.
The need to work across boundaries is particularly important in the wildland-urban interface which is, by definition, a landscape characterized by multiple private ownerships and structures surrounded by wildland which could be under local, state or Federal jurisdiction, or a combination thereof. While individual homeowners can reduce their risk from wildfire by using fire-resistant building materials and clearing defensible space around homes and structures, it takes several landowners working together across a landscape or watershed to truly impact fire behavior and improve the ability of firefighters to protect residents' lives and homes.
Cross-boundary project planning and implementation is also important beyond the interface zone in fire-adapted ecosystems where actions are aimed at restoring natural fire cycles, protecting municipal and priority watersheds, reducing susceptibility to insect invasions or enhancing fish and wildlife habitat. All of these goals will be more effectively accomplished if land managers coordinate their efforts and improve forest and rangeland condition on a more functional landscape scale.
Both Congress and the Administration can facilitate this boundary-less concept by prioritizing Federal fuels funding on projects that involve multiple landowners and/or can be implemented on a landscape scale so as to maximize positive results on-the-ground. These efforts will be further strengthened by allowing and encouraging the expenditure of Federal funds across non-Federal boundaries when that expenditure makes sense on a landscape or watershed scale. The continued availability of focused incentives for private landowners to participate in large-scale hazard reduction or ecosystem restoration projects will make the cross-boundary puzzle complete.
Page 89 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Long-Term Strategy and Funding
Since last year's fires, the Western Governors have placed particular emphasis on the need for a long-term, strategic response to wildland fire response rather than a one-year influx of funds. The State Foresters strongly agree with them on this point and we seek your support for such a multi-year approach, particularly for the programs that help fire managers cope with the wildland urban interface.
Many of us are now familiar with the General Accounting Office's (GAO) estimate of 39 million acres of forestland in the interior West at high risk of catastrophic wildfire. What often gets lost is the realization that this number does not take into consideration the condition of Federal lands not under Forest Service management, state and locally owned lands, private lands, or that vast majority of lands outside the interior West. As we've seen in recent years in States such as Florida, Texas, Virginia, New Jersey, and New York, fire is no longer a hazard faced only by Westerners but by all Americans.
Clearly, the condition of fire-adapted ecosystems and the related risks to lives, property and natural resources is an issue of national proportions and significance. The heavy fuel loads in many Western forests is a situation that has developed over more than one hundred years. The expansion of development into the interface in the East and South has also been ongoing for decades. Treating the lands to reduce fire dangers and equipping and training local fire departments will take a multi-year investment of time, money and people to address.
The Interior Appropriations Committee members echoed these sentiments in the Conference Report by stating, ''the managers strongly believe this fiscal year 2001 funding will only be of value if it is sustained in future years.'' The managers further strengthened this declaration by directing the Secretaries of Agriculture and Interior to ''work with the Governors on a long-term strategy to deal with the wildland fire and hazardous fuels situation, as well as needs for habitat restoration and rehabilitation.''
Page 90 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The Western Governors and their staff have taken the lead in bringing this direction, and their own stated priorities, to fruition by serving as the catalyst for the development of an intergovernmental strategic plan aimed at restoring health to fire-adapted ecosystems across the nation. The drafting team for this ambitious plan is national in scope and includes representatives from Federal, state and local government, non-governmental and environmental organizations, ranching and grazing interests, the timber industry, and community forestry groups, to name a few of the stakeholders involved. Representatives from State Forestry agencies from all regions of the country are included in this effort.
The draft document that is currently being circulated for comments outlines a ten-year strategy focused on achieving the following goals:
Reduce the risk and consequence of catastrophic wildfire, and increase public and firefighter safety;
Improve conditions of fire-adapted ecosystems to make them more resilient;
Promote local action by increasing public understanding and providing tools to enhance local responsibility;
Maintain and enhance community health and economic and social well-being;
Increase resource protection capabilities;
Provide for the restoration and rehabilitation of fire-damaged lands and,
Enhance collaboration/coordination among all levels of government and stakeholders for joint planning, decision-making and implementation.
As of March 14, 2001, the most recent draft of this document, titled ''A collaborative Ten-Year Strategy for Restoring Health to Fire Adapted Ecosystems,'' was version five released for comment on February 20, 2001. Copies of this draft may be obtained from Rich Phelps at email@example.com.
Page 91 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In addition to these goals, the final strategy will include indicators for success that can be tracked through monitoring and adaptive management. Progress will be guided by yearly performance goals, objectives, budget estimates for land ownerships and state participation, and time lines that facilitate implementation of the strategy within a ten year time frame.
The draft document also calls for reviews of Federal laws and regulations, such as contracting procedures and agreements, liability issues, National Environmental Policy Act and Endangered Species Act processes and other procedures, for opportunities to improve their effectiveness and efficiency in meeting the goals of the Strategy.
Once finalized, this strategy will serve as a blueprint for intergovernmental and multi-stakeholder action at the national, state or regional, and local levels. This represents a significant shift in the way we traditionally allocate public funds in response to wildland fire. Rather than viewing the issue as simply a costly stimulus-response cycle, where we suppress wildfire and then attempt to rehabilitate the land, the strategy attempts to plan for a coordinated interagency approach to wildfire that treats the problem as one of landscape management.
IMPLEMENTATION: REDUCING RISKS IN THE WILDLAND-URBAN INTERFACE
Before concluding, I would like to re-emphasize the importance of reducing the risk to lives and vital community resources in the wildland-urban interface. As we begin implementing projects and carrying out activities in response to the recent fire season, addressing the interface challenge must be our top priority.
The USDA Forest Service and the Department of Interior agencies have each produced documents outlining their priorities and actions in conjunction with the National Fire Plan. Congress established additional direction and goals through Appropriations language. The states have expressed their priorities through communication with the Secretaries and Congress, interstate resolutions, and the draft ten-year strategy. Each of these documents and expressions of intent acknowledges the critical importance of reducing risk and improving protection capability in the interface.
Page 92 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC One way that Congress conveyed this message was by dedicating $240 million in Federal hazardous fuels dollars to projects within the wildland-urban interface on Federal lands or adjacent non-Federal lands. Congress complemented this funding with $50 million in State Fire Assistance for cooperative state and private efforts. The states are focusing this funding through a competitive grant program for private land incentives, hazardous fuel reduction, and public outreach and education.
Appropriations Committee members also highlighted the importance of addressing the interface by directing the Federal agencies to work with the states and tribes to develop and jointly publish in the Federal Register a list of all urban wildland interface communities within the vicinity of Federal lands and at high risk from wildfire.
The initial version of this list, published in December 2000, was developed under a very short timeline without an adequate level of consistency from state to state. A team of Federal and state representatives has since developed a standard set of definitions and criteria and outlined a revision process that will be used nationwide by interagency state-level teams to refine the original community lists.
Although difficult, the development of these lists has served to connect state, Federal, and, often local land managers and has furthered conversation and information exchange on the status of the interface across the nation. The revision of these lists will necessarily be an ongoing process as the needs of various communities are assessed. However, the version provided for the May 1, 2001 publication should provide a meaningful display of the enormity of the problem facing us and should also serve to highlight those areas where we can most effectively work together. We urge the agencies involved to keep lines of communication open with the States on these lists, and we suggest that the Congress use them as guidelines, not requirements, for funding allocations.
Finally, Congress underscored the importance of safe and effective initial attack in the interface by providing nearly $20 million in additional funds for assistance to local and volunteer fire departments. According to the conference committee, effective management of fire related issues in the wildland urban interface requires strong commitment and resources from state, tribal and local government. Fire readiness capability must be on an equal par between state, local and Federal organizations. NASF believes that we need to view the budgets provided for the Cooperative Fire and Cooperative Forestry programs in response to last year's fire season as the baseline for future budgets if we are to achieve this goal.
Page 93 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In addition, some adjustments will likely be needed in the Federal agencies' Most Efficient Level (MEL) analysis system. Currently the method for determining MEL only considers likely suppression needs on Federal lands and therefore does not adequately address the wildland-urban interface.
A successful response to the 2000 fire season revolves around full state involvement, implementation of land management projects across boundaries on a landscape scale, and the development and funding of a long-term strategy for the restoration of fire adapted ecosystems.
I also want to stress that last year's fire season was not an isolated event, either historically or geographically.
Since roughly 1988, the year of the Yellowstone fires, we've seen fires growing in intensity and frequency, in all parts of the country. In the West, we've seen a convergence of fire regimes, as fire suppression has changed stand structures in certain forest and range types, resulting in fires there hotter and more destructive. Other forest types, which typically regenerate through catastrophic fire, are becoming more susceptible to these stand replacing fires. In the East, in spite of effective firefighting and more intensive forest management, the growth of the wildland urban interface is putting more values at risk with every fire and is complicating the jobs of wildland firefighters at all levels.
The partnerships necessary to implement the National Fire Plan are forming, state by state, as disparate field personnel work to realize the common goals laid out for them by Congress and by their own agency leadership. In Colorado, we are further refining this vision by concentrating our initial efforts on reducing risks in the wildland-urban interface. By focusing our planning and activities on an issue of relative common ground, we hope to build trust among our partners and constituents. We hope to build support for the more complex actions we will need to carry out in the long term.
Page 94 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC But the success of Colorado's efforts, like those of every other state, will depend on the sustained commitment of both Congress and the Administration to provide the necessary long-term funding and program direction. The NASF has written to Secretaries Norton and Veneman and expressed our belief that the level of funding needed for the land management agencies in fiscal year 2002 and beyond to implement the ten-year strategy will be consistent with funding received for fiscal year 2001.
This will require not only a continued increase in the budgets of the USDA Forest Service and USDI agencies, but also sufficient resources for the regulatory agencies that may otherwise become a bottleneck for this important work to go forward. We believe that the agencies are making good faith efforts to implement important fuel reduction and rehabilitation work this year, but they have understandably focused on projects for which NEPA analyses and ESA consultation have been completed. We hope to see future activities focus on projects that have been planned and prioritized by collaborative efforts at the State and local level. Unless Congress supports the budgets of both the land management agencies (i.e. the Forest Service, BLM, etc.), and the regulatory agencies (in particular the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service), our ability to carry out such projects in the next ten years will be limited.
The devastation of the 2000 fire season has resulted in the emergence of several opportunities that hold promise for helping land managers and interested stakeholders find and implement mutually agreeable solutions to the wildland fire and ecosystem restoration challenge. Focused and consistent leadership from both Congress and agency administrators will enable us realize this promise. We urge you to support budgets that enable firefighters and land managers to work cooperatively to implement a fire plan that protects life and property in the wildland urban interface while working towards restoration of the landscape.
ANSWERS TO SUBMITTED QUESTIONS
Page 95 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC 1. State Foresters are obviously closer in touch with the communitities most at risk from wildfire than the Federal agencies. However, Federal programs are of great aid in these endeavors. In your view, which Federal programs do you see as most efficient at reducing the danger to improved property, particularly homes and other structures, in the wildland urban interface zone? What about incentives? What role should they play in reducing the wildland urban interface hazard?
The Cooperative Fire Programs funded through the USDA Forest Service's State and Private Forestry branch provide critical technical and financial assistance to state, local and volunteer fire response organizations. Local and volunteer firefighters provide initial attack on nearly 90 percent of wildland fire starts, particularly in the high-risk wildland-urban interface. State and Federal entities generally provide back up and support during the transition from a fire start to a wildfire incident. A coordinated, well-trained interagency fire suppression force is thus of utmost importance to the protection of lives and property.
The State and Volunteer Fire Assistance programs form the core of the Cooperative Fire effort. Through State Fire Assistance, State Forestry agencies receive support for the delivery of a coordinated wildfire response, the distribution of public wildfire education programs such as Firewise, and compliance with national safety and training standards which allow State and local crews to be deployed on Federal fires and other emergency or disaster situations. The Volunteer Fire Assistance program provides technical and financial assistance to local, rural and volunteer fire departments for training and the purchase of personal protective equipment and other badly needed resources.
In the fiscal year 2001 Interior appropriations bill, Congress also provided support to interface communities through the Community and Private Fire Assistance program. This wildfire response effort plays an important role in the National Fire Plan by connecting state and Federal agencies to local communities. Activities supported by this program include hazard mitigation, multi-resource planning, economic assistance, and public education.
Page 96 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC A final program that helps protect interface communities is the Hazardous Fuel Reduction program funded through the Forest Service's Wildland Fire Management program. Many interface communities, particularly in the West, are surrounded by or intermingled with Federal land that is at high risk from wildfire. Reducing the hazardous fuel load on these Federal lands contributes significantly to the protection of adjacent communities.
The wildland urban interface, by definition, involves a number of private landowners. Incentives can be a very effective tool in encouraging these landowners to participate in cross-boundary hazard reduction efforts. Incentives must include both technical and financial assistance to help landowners plan and implement hazard reduction activities on their property.
If provided, incentives should focus on landscape-scale efforts which result in broad public benefits. Congressional language currently allows for focused incentives to be provided through the SFA program for interface hazard reduction on private land. The State Foresters support the long-term continuation of these incentives.
2. Fires do not respect property boundaries and fuel reduction projects will not be effective if fuel loads are high on adjacent private lands. Are there adequate incentives for private landowners to work on cross-boundary fuel reduction projects? What kind of tools will the states need to ensure that this work is done?
Natural forces such as insects, disease, fire, invasive weeds and flooding do not generally abide by fencelines or other jurisdictional boundaries. We must maintain this same boundary-less mindset in our efforts to rehabilitate burned areas, mitigate future fire hazards or restore watersheds to a more resilient condition.
The need to work across boundaries is particularly important in the wildland-urban interface which is, by definition, a landscape characterized by multiple private ownerships and dispersed structures. While individual homeowners can reduce their risk from wildfire by using fire-resistant building materials and clearing defensible space around homes and structures, it takes several landowners working together across a landscape or watershed to truly impact fire behavior and improve the ability of firefighters to protect lives, homes and critical natural resources.
Page 97 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC A variety of tools must be available to encourage and assist private landowners in mitigating hazardous fuels and restoring a more resilient condition on fire-adapted landscapes. First among these is a cost-share assistance program to help private landowners defray the costs of participation in large-scale, multi-ownership projects which do not often result in any direct economic benefit to them.
These private land efforts will be further strengthened by allowing and encouraging the expenditure of Federal funds across non-Federal boundaries when that action makes sense on a watershed scale. The USDA Forest Service and USDI Bureau of Land Management currently have pilot authority to do this through the Wyden amendment. Permanent authority should be sought.
Continued funding for public education programs such as FIREWISE will allow state, Federal and local agencies to provide valuable wildfire information to homeowners and landowners in WUI areas.
Ultimately, the success of hazard mitigation and landscape restoration efforts on both Federal and non-Federal land will depend on the sustained commitment of both Congress and the administration to provide the necessary long-term funding and program direction. This must include adequate levels of funding for consultation, contracting, state-level fire management planning and other activities which will be required in order to implement priority projects.
The State Foresters have written to Secretaries Norton and Veneman and expressed their belief that the level of funding needed for the land management agencies to continue strengthening wildfire response efforts in fiscal year 2002 and beyond will be consistent with funding received for fiscal year 2001.
The devastation of the 2000 fire season has resulted in the emergence of several opportunities that hold promise for helping land managers and interested stakeholders find and implement mutually agreeable solutions to the wildland fire and ecosystem restoration challenge. Focused and consistent leadership from both Congress and agency administrators will enable us realize this promise.
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Statement of Wilson S. Rivers
My name is Wilson Rivers and I am a private non industrial forest landowner from Lake Butler, Florida. Lake Butler is about 60 miles southwest of Jacksonville.
I am pleased that you have invited me to share some views on the implementation of the National Fire Plan. As is all to often the case, a large portion of the population knows little or nothing of the National Fire Plan. Government has defined our problems or needs and propose solutions based on government input. The issues are too critical to public welfare not to get input from the public you hope to protect. Implementation of the National Fire Plan must recognize that there are differences around this great country and not try to approach the solution with a one size fits all philosophy.
I am no stranger to the devastation of major wildfires. In 1998, I experienced major losses as did many other landowners in my state. Florida's 1998 wildfire siege will linger forever in the memory of many. I am no exception. From that experience I had hoped the Nation would come to realize that wildfires are not exclusively a western phenomenon and we must adopt a national perspective with plans and strategies that accommodate regional differences. Those differences are many and critically important. They include landownership, fuel types, terrain, population distribution, weather and firefighting tactics and equipment.
I commend Congress for providing $1.8 billion to address our Nation's wildfire protection needs. This is a very large amount of money to address a very large problem that has developed over time. Let's not think we can achieve overnight success or work miracles. A good National Fire Plan must be implemented in a well thought out process that meets national needs but recognizes regional differences. It do not feel it should be the sole responsibility of the Federal Government to design, fund, or implement a national wildland fire policy. Government at all levels must be participants and committed to solving the problem. The private sector, whether homeowner, landowner or just private citizen, must be educated about the problem and become involved in the solutions since they will be paying the bill.
Page 99 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC After the 1998 fires, Florida quickly assessed its needs to be better prepared to deal with major wildfires. It more than doubled its aerial firefighting capabilities, it organized, staffed, equipped and trained wildfire mitigation teams to reduce fuels in and around communities, it purchased specialized equipment, it hired more firefighters, it assisted in training and equipping the National Guard, other state agencies and local fire departments, it strengthened its working partnerships with the U.S. Forest Services and FEMA. At the state level, the Florida Division of Forestry working with the Division of Emergency Management, local fire departments and the forestry industry stepped up and fostered more solid working relationships to address future wildfire incidents. Florida's Division of Forestry also assumed a lead role for bringing and promoting the FIREWISE Communities Program to our state. They have held meetings to brief and train its forest industry cooperators and landowners with equipment. They are currently contracting for a computerized statewide risk assessment. The implementation of the National Fire Plan hopefully will help us continue these efforts and begin new initiatives.
My recommendations for your consideration on implementing the National Fire Plan are:
Fire Prevention. As I see it, the least destructive and least expensive wildfire is the wildfire that doesn't occur in the first place. There is no more effective fire protection program than a good fire prevention program. Smokey has served us well through the decades but times have changed and he can't carry the program alone. We must spend the necessary resources up front to lift public awareness for all ages on the importance and personal responsibility for fire prevention. Through well focused research we must identify the best mediums for reaching all ages with a properly targeted message on fire prevention. Landowners, small and large, as major stakeholders must be included in designing and delivering a fire prevention program under the leadership of wildfire agencies. The message must be clear and designed so that the agencies do not send conflicting messages out. I have seen situations where some agencies are working a prevention and suppression while others are stating that the fires are natural and beneficial. This is somewhat hard for the public to understand. You must require the agencies to come together and address these conflicting messages. There are times that fire prevention must take priority over the natural processes, especially when private non industrial lands are burning. The implementation of the National Fire Plan should have a newly designed, well focused fire prevention plan that we all can support.
Page 100 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC II Wildfire Preparedness and Management. At the best of circumstances, wildfire suppression is a dangerous and expensive undertaking. It is not a task that can be planned or designed after the fire starts. It is imperative that we as a nation elevate our wildfire preparedness to an acceptable level. We are not there. You must develop preparedness plans that accommodate and recognize the differences in population distributions, land ownership patterns, fuels, state and local laws, strategies and equipment. The Federal agencies should work with state forestry agencies to develop plans that allow for accessing trained and experienced personnel and proper equipment to meet local needs. We don't need people coming to Florida to take over a fire demanding a topographic map, not knowing the importance of low ground pressure tractors or establishing proper rapport with landowners as some have done in the past. Federal agencies in cooperation with state forestry agencies and their wildfire cooperators must develop preparedness strategies that include proper training, staffing, utilization and equipping of the available fire suppression resources. It is essential that Federal funding support this effort and include severity funding for stagging resources in advance in order to assure quick response and catching fires while they are small. The southeast would be a good place to pilot this effort as a key factor in plan implementation.
As a landowner, I have experienced first hand the great benefit of having the right equipment and properly trained personnel show up on a fire as soon as possible. In times of major fire activity such as we had in Florida in 1998, 1999 and 2000, this means resources from the host state, other states and Federal agencies must be mobilized promptly as the incidents of wildfire escalates. Once the number of fire starts exceeds the ability of the local fire agencies to respond to new fires, the losses to the private forest landowners in the South can be devastating.
Proper management and control of firefighting is as important as preparedness. The Incident Command System (ICS) is the key to success. This effort must be organized around interagency participation. Florida has developed an outstanding system with the Florida Division of Forestry and the U.S. Forest Service forming a unified command with agencies joining as interests are impacted. Proper liaison with other agencies and the landowners as stakeholders assure smooth operations with all interested parties at the table. These incident management teams not from Florida must realize that in many instances they are working on private lands and as such they need to be willing to incorporate our concerns into their planning and strategies for fire suppression. Preparedness and management must be guided by the proper emphasis on safety and cost. The management of wildfires must consider how all the agencies involved can work together to utilize their best available personnel to achieve success and the Incident Command System appears to do that if properly utilized.
Page 101 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC III. Risk Assessment and Hazardous Fuel Reduction. The National Fire Plan emphasizes and funds essential efforts of hazardous fuel assessment and reduction. If we are to ever have an effective wildfire protection strategy, we must be able to target the areas that are most vulnerable because of excessive fuel accumulation. A thorough and accurate fuels assessment is an essential beginning. The assessment must be localized as much as possible and ground truthed. My state of Florida, because of its subtropical climate and fuel types, represents a classic case of this critical need. We are in the first phase of a statewide assessment. The National Fire Plan implementation should support this endeavor.
Wildfire preparedness and management must be considered two of the most critical issues in wildfire protection. The combination of State Fire Assistance and Volunteer Fire Assistance are critical components of the National Fire Plan. They help bring to the ground level needed resources and training to help provide assistance to local communities and landowners. It's where the rubber meets the road, so to speak, and I encourage you to support these two programs on a continuing basis. You cannot expect to provide wildfire protection with sporadic funding.
The areas identified as being at high risk because of hazardous fuels must be treated as soon as possible. This need should be addressed across all ownership and should not be allowed to get caught up in the debate over harvesting or roadless areas like it sometimes does on national forest lands.
We must provide incentives, technical assistance and liability protection to private non industrial landowners in order to assure an effective fuels reduction program through prescribed fire, chemical or mechanical treatments. Governments at all levels should work together in establishing cooperative efforts to achieve fuel reduction in and around communities at risk. The wildland urban interface poses significant wildfire risk in Florida. Fuels management becomes an absolute necessity but rural non industrial private forest landowners such as myself can not carry the full responsibility. Land use planning by local governments, developers and homeowners must share the responsibility. The FIREWISE Communities Program is an excellent vehicle for implementing strategies to protect our communities. The National Fire Plan provides support and funding for these efforts. I encourage you to insist that these programs and other components of risk assessment and hazardous fuels reduction be allowed to occur at the state and local area.
Page 102 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC IV. Increasing Wildfire Fighting Capacity. Wildfire protection is a responsibility of government at all levels. Each state should provide a plan and resources to meet its basic wildfire protection requirements. This effort should include local government participation, however, state wildfire agencies should be the key player in an interagency partnership that is trained, staffed and equipped to meet wildfire protection demands. State wildfire agencies should provide leadership and coordination with local fire departments. This is essential since, in most cases, local fire departments have primary responsibility for structural fire protection and wildfire resources must be available for statewide mobilization. Local fire departments play a key role in assisting state wildfire agencies in suppressing local grass, brush and small woodland fires. It is important that these essential agencies to our Nation's wildfire protection needs have the capacity to meet the demands placed on them. State and local fire agencies must have help in building the essential capacity to meet high demands of large wildfire response. The Federal Government, both through funding and agency support, has a responsibility to help build this extra capacity'a capacity which will also be available for fires on Federal lands. In order to assure proper allocation of valuable resources and avoid duplication, Federal agencies should work through state agencies. The State Fire Assistance and Volunteer Fire Assistance Programs are intended to help build and maintain needed capacity. Congress, through the National Fire Plan, has finally provided more adequate funding for these programs. Let me caution that we must look beyond this year. These are two of the most critical parts of the Fire Plan. I encourage you to provide strong support in future years. If our state and local fire agencies don't have the capacity to provide wildfire suppression assistance to landowners
like myself and others, then we have failed in our job to provide for public safety and protect our Nation's treasured forest resources. Let's not forget to place emphasis on building the capacities of our wildfire agencies through the implementation process. We can greatly increase effectiveness and accountability by bringing our efforts and resources to bear at the ground level.
Page 103 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I appreciate the opportunity you have given me here today. I have tried to show my views and concerns as a private non industrial forest landowners. We cannot meet our objectives by having a one size fits all, top down approach. Interagency participation is essential. Equally important is the interests and input of the private sector.
Statement of James Garner
Mr. Chairman, my name is James Garner, State Forester of Virginia and director of the Virginia Department of Forestry. The Department's mission is that ''We protect and develop healthy, sustainable forest resources for Virginians''. Since our beginning in 1914, the legislative mandate and the agency's number one priority has been to protect the lives and property of our citizens and the forest resources from destructive wildfires.
I appreciate your kind invitation to share some of our efforts as we proceed to implement the National Fire Plan in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Congress has made emergency-contingency funds available for Community Assistance to expedite efforts aimed at restoring areas destroyed and damaged by the 2000 fires and protecting communities in the high-risk Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) from future fire damage.
USDA Forest Service, State and Private Forestry programs will play a major role in the successful implementation of the National Fire Plan. It is through State and Private Forestry programs that the Forest Service will be able to most directly offer technical and financial assistance to the communities impacted by wildland fire and help them to accomplish the mitigation of future risks. Virginia has a long and successful history of cooperation with our Federal partners, local governments, and rural fire departments.
COOPERATION AND COLLABORATION
In 1999, the Virginia Multi Agency Coordinating Group (VMAC) established a dispatch center in the Virginia Department of Forestry Central Office in Charlottesville. The VMAC group members are: USDA Forest Service, National Park Service, US Fish and Wildlife and the Virginia Department of Forestry. VMAC has served both in-state needs and National dispatch. Over 600 Virginia firefighters were sent to the western fires, through this Coordinating Center.
Page 104 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The VMAC group also shares the cost of a helicopter stationed at Weyers Cave Airport, near Harrisonburg, Virginia. The Weyers Cave airport is a critical location for successful air attack in the Northern Shenandoah Valley, where many mountainside woodland developments are located.
The dangers of forest fires to the woodland homeowners in Virginia are not new phenomena to the Department of Forestry. Beginning in 1991, the Department and the USDA Forest Service cooperatively sponsored the Wildland Urban Interface Demonstration project in Shenandoah County, Virginia. This unique pilot project was the model in developing the National Firewise concepts in use today.
Virginia also began surveying woodland home developments in 1979. Five successive surveys have shown a steady increase. The latest (1999) survey shows a 28 percent increase in woodland home development. Currently over 173,000 homes are listed on the survey with a potential of an additional 103,000 to be built in the future. This information is significant as we plan to implement on the ground projects under the National Fire Plan grants.
The State and Private Forestry programs are important to the states in helping us meet our agency strategic goals. The Department of Forestry Strategic Plan identifies and addresses many of the same goals and objectives that are desired outcomes of the National Fire Plan. The recent funding by Congress will allow the Department to achieve the goals of our Strategic Plan and the National Fire Plan in a more efficient and timely manner.
In 2000, a competitive grant process was established in cooperation with the State Foresters to implement hazard mitigation projects with a portion of the Cooperative Fire-State Fire Assistance funds. That initial effort proved to be a success. Virginia received an $85,000 training grant. The grant provided the ''Virginia Wildland Urban Interface Training Initiative'' which was designed to improve the skills and knowledge of personnel from numerous local fire departments throughout the State. The project involved instruction at a fire suppression and management course in Orkney Springs, Virginia. Over 80 firefighters representing 20 local volunteer fire departments attended the training in October 2000.
Page 105 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The WUI training funds will also allow us to establish the first Wildfire Academy in Virginia. In May 2001 eleven different forest fire suppression courses are being offered over the span of six days, designed to train 175 students per day at Fort Pickett, Virginia. This training enhances the skills and abilities of a community fire department to work closely with the Department of Forestry and Federal agencies to reduce losses from wildfire. The scope of the initiative was expanded to involve fire departments whose jurisdictional response area is adjacent to Maryland, West Virginia, Tennessee, and North Carolina. These adjacent States will also benefit from this training in coordination and reduced fire losses. Program partners in the Wildfire Academy include the Virginia Department of Forestry, Virginia Department of Fire Programs, Virginia State Fire Chiefs Association, U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Maryland Forest Service, West Virginia Division of Forestry and the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation.
NATIONAL FIRE PLAN 2001 AND BEYOND
The protection of life and property is the primary motivator for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Interior to provide additional resources for firefighting activities to ensure that fire suppression efforts are at maximum efficiency. Firefighters must continue to be well trained to accomplish this difficult and dangerous job, as well as be supplied with proper equipment. Safety of the firefighters and the public must always be the number one priority. Appropriate technology will be provided to conduct proper planning, prevention, detection, information, education, and training.
Since much of Virginia's forests are privately owned, the need to protect these lands from uncontrolled fires through a fully-coordinated rural fire response system falls to the Virginia Department of Forestry and the rural volunteer fire departments. The Federal lands in Virginia total just over two millions acres and are intermingled with the private forestlands throughout western Virginia.
Page 106 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Many communities across Virginia are adjacent to forested lands, which have been subjected to a series of natural disasters. These events have substantially increased fuel loads and hazards within the communities and in adjacent woodlands. Several ice storms, southern pine bark beetle, and gypsy moth in the mountains have killed thousands of acres of timber, which contributes serious fuels to the forest floor.
This accumulation of heavy fuels allows the fire to burn with greater intensity, creates erratic fire behavior, and hinders initial fire attacks. This condition has created extremely hazardous situations for fire fighters, and in places, limits travel of firefighters and equipment. When these fuels are near communities or woodland developments, the risk and potential for disaster increases at exponential rates.
The George Washington-Jefferson National Forest is one of the largest National forests east of the Mississippi River. It stretches the length of western Virginia. The Shenandoah National Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway also transverse the western mountains. Due to the spectacular views and the forest beauty, this region is also a popular recreation and retirement community. Last fall, a large fire occurred on the Shenandoah National Park near Luray, Virginia. The fire burned 24,500 acres of which 1,200 acres was on private land. The fire impacted several communities, threatened homes along the park boundary and burned into three counties. While this fire was small by western standards, a small fire in the east can threaten a large number of homes very rapidly. This reinforces the need for training, equipment, and close cooperation to stop fires with a rapid and efficient initial attack.
The National Fire Plan provides additional funding through Title IV competitive grants for Preparedness, Hazard Mitigation and Volunteer Fire Assistance. Virginia received $269,650 in additional funds for Preparedness. The purpose of these funds is to protect natural resources on state and private lands. This will be accomplished through fire prevention efforts, providing suppression assistance to the State's rural volunteer fire departments, and maintaining initial attack capability to keep forest fires small. The Federal funds are cost-shared with state and local funds. Virginia specifically plans to use these funds for the purchase of personal protective equipment for part-time Hot Shot Crews and full-time employees, upgrade helicopter buckets, purchase fire prevention equipment and to increase volunteer fire department training.
Page 107 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Virginia received two competitive grants for Hazard Mitigation totaling $537,575. The objective of the larger grant, named Project Riskwise, is to locate and rate all woodland home communities in the interface areas of the State. Those communities adjacent to Federal lands will receive high priority. The project will determine the hazard rating of each individual community. The surrounding forestland will be rated for fuel types, probability of ignition, community values, past fire history, and available suppression resources. This information will be stored on a Geographic Information System. Those communities exhibiting high risk values will be contacted and additional mitigation and fire prevention activities will be instigated. This will be accomplished with a partnership with the local volunteer fire departments, USDA Forest Service, National Park Service, and US Fish and Wildlife. The Department of Forestry expects to initiate the mitigation phase in the Northern Shenandoah Valley. In conjunction with a special Potomac Watershed Partnership grant, we are able to expand this effort and have already identified communities at risk.
A statewide Geographic Information System map will be created to be used in future decision making for volunteer fire department grants, excess property assignments, and the location of community dry hydrants. We can also focus on future needs for fire prevention and mitigation projects. Those communities rated as high risk because of high hazard fuel loads will be given future priority on suppression resource assignments, fire prevention activities and grants.
One project of the second grant under mitigation is to use the poplar Imax movie Wildfire: Feel the Heat as a drawing card for a major community awareness program. This event is targeted to a broad audience and will appeal to adults, the fire services community and the local school districts. The 3-month showing will provide a unique opportunity to educate children in local schools. The movie will be featured at the Science Museum of Western Virginia in Roanoke City. The objective is to educate community decision makers and school-aged children about fire danger in the Wildland Urban Interface. A secondary objective is to introduce our target audience to professional wildland firefighters and the methods used to suppress fires. The Roanoke Valley community was selected because of its location in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. The population of Roanoke and surrounding counties is 220,000. Over 60 percent of the area is forested. The area is rapidly spreading into the rural countryside and has been the target of several innovative urban programs including Project Impact. Over 80 woodland home developments have been identified in this area. Roanoke is also the headquarters for the George Washington-Jefferson National Forest. The Blue Ridge Parkway passes through the area. Urban growth along the National Park boundary has been an issue in the past. The Roanoke Valley area has been subjected to many of the natural disasters mentioned earlier and a 1,200 acre fire just outside the city clearly demonstrated critical risk of the wildland urban interface.
Page 108 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The Volunteer Fire Assistance grant was increased this year to $77,000 and an additional $116,400 in funding was added through Title IV funding. This vitally important grant improves the capability and effectiveness of Virginia's 543 Rural Volunteer Fire Departments to protect lives and other rural investments. The purpose of this program is to provide financial, technical and other assistance to State Foresters to organize, train, and equip fire departments in rural communities. Last year, the Department of Forestry, through this grant, was able to assist 74 rural volunteer fire departments. This program has been severely under-funded. The current level of funding using both the Title II and additional Title IV funding is a welcome improvement. However, to continue to replace worn and damaged equipment and provide an effective level of training, this funding level should be maintained and increased whenever possible. Virginia will purchase training materials to be used with the volunteer fire department; however, the largest portion of the funding will be made available in grants directly to the local volunteer fire departments. Applications for grants have already been mailed.
The last program that forms the Cooperative Fire Program is the Federal Excess Property Program (FEPP) The USDA Forest Service is charged with assuring that excess Federal property is acquired, used, managed, and disposed of in accordance with Federal laws and regulations. Federal excess personal property is loaned to state forestry agencies and their cooperators for wildland and rural community fire protection. It is imperative that the State Foresters continue to be able to acquire this property and distribute it to needy rural volunteer fire departments in a logical and fair manner.
Recently, additional funds have been offered through the Economic Action Plan. These small competitive grants focus on three areas of concern. High Risk Areas projects support diversified uses of forest resources. Materials removed during fuel reduction and hazard mitigation activities represent an opportunity for the private sector to utilize this wood in a useful manner. Community Planning for Fire Protection will also address the need for developing strategic action and wildfire risk plans. The effort will assist communities expand their economic ability by providing improved fire safe developments. In Virginia, the majority of the funds will be used to reduce fuels and fire hazards in high risk areas, while trying to develop markets for the materials removed. The desired outcome of this project is to reduce the forest fire risk to life and property and develop new jobs and products from hazard reduction work. The lessons learned from these small pilot projects will allow us to maximize funds from the National Fire Plan. We will be able to work in unison with Federal agencies, state agencies, local governments, community leaders, and the private sector. This effort will maintain Virginia's high quality of life. Together we will better protect our citizens and their property and sustain our environmental quality of air, water, wildlife, and outdoor recreation.
Page 109 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Virginia has not had such an opportunity before to conduct the necessary level of planning to assist the local community to assist themselves. The specific actions and priorities in fiscal year 2002 will be to begin the implementation of Community Fire Plans identifying the Firewise needs, specific mitigation projects and the suppression response needs of ''communities at risk''. Combining the objectives of the Hazard Mitigation, Preparedness and Economic Action initiatives Virginia proposes to develop WUI Community Fire, Logistics, Action, Mitigation and Education Plans (FLAME) beginning with those communities most at risk from wildland fire and those adjacent to Federal lands.
We have excitement. We have bonded partnerships. We have the opportunity to make Virginia a safer place. We will work together to clearly demonstrate how the creative use of Federal dollars can be leveraged into a working model for others to follow.
ANSWERS TO SUBMITTED QUESTIONS
How important is aerial suppression support for wildland firefighting in Virginia and what sort of challenges are associated?
Aerial suppression is critical to Virginia's forest firefighting efforts, especially the helicopter bucket contracts. We (DOF, USFS, NPS) view the helicopters as initial attack equipment. The mountainous terrain of western Virginia slows our ground response time, especially if the fire is off the road. Many of our mountain counties have developments, second home retreats or scattered remote residents. Aerial initial attack can, and often does, keep a fire small and manageable. We have many real life examples of where these units have saved homes or kept a fire small until ground forces are on the scene.
The real challenge facing Virginia (and some other States) is the resources to have these helicopters available during critical fire weather. We hope funds from the National Fire Plan will help.
It is important that I express my support and appreciation for the partnership helicopter at Weyers Cave Airport. Our agency, George Washington-Jefferson National Forest, and Shenandoah National Park feel this is a critically needed ship in a strategically important location. Our existing cooperative contract makes it affordable. I would also express my concern that the Weyers Cave site be maintained as a staging/loading area. There have been discussions of closing this base of operation. I believe it is an important site that needs to remain open and I believe we can document the need.
Page 110 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Our agency also has a cooperative arrangement with our National Forest for a helicopter stationed in Abingdon. This, too, is a critical resource. Southwest Virginia is a large fire problem area where access is very slow and limited. It is difficult to obtain and keep a helicopter available in that area. The partnership with our National Forest has made this contract an important part of our firefighting efforts in that area.
Does your agency receive support and cooperation from the National Forest in Virginia?
In response to this question, I can say without reservation that the support and cooperation between the staff of the George Washington-Jefferson National Forest and Department of Forestry has never been better. The Supervisor takes (and often seeks) ways to ensure the National Forest of Virginia is truly part of the larger forest community. His outreach to agencies, local governments and private citizens has been outstanding. The staff is sensitive to being inclusive to all on matters of natural resource issues. I can assure you that in Virginia, Federal dollars are maximized for the benefit of all citizens and our natural resources.
Statement of Paul Summerfelt
Mr. Chairman, members of the subcommittee:
Thank you for the privilege afforded me today. It is an honor to be here and I am grateful for the opportunity to present testimony regarding community involvement in the implementation of the National Fire Plan (NFP).
I am a Fire practitioner. With 26 years of field and management level experience at the Federal, State, and local level, I know fire: the role it plays in the ecosystem, the needs of those involved, the concerns of those affected, and the partnerships required to manage it.
I speak to you today in that role. The city of Flagstaff is a successful example of a community beginning to meet the challenge, and I will use that as the foundation for my remarks. However, in addition to my own city, I also represent many thousands of other communities across this country who are risk,
Page 111 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I am also duty-bound to represent the many wildland firefighters across this country whose safety and future are continually on-the-line. We owe them the very best we can do.
Eighty-thousand people.live within the greater Flagstaff area. We sit at 7,000 ft, 80 miles south of the Grand Canyon and at the base of the San Francisco Peaks. We are in the midst of the largest continuous stand of ponderosa pine forest in the world: a forest in disrepair. Within and immediately adjacent to our corporate boundaries, we experience several hundred wildfires each year. We have experience with interface wildfires.
It should come as no surprise that the No. 1 fire threat to my community is wildfire. We are not a lone community in that regard.
The mission of the Flagstaff Fire Department is ''Protecting Values At Risk''. To accomplish that mission we have become environmental activists. We cut trees and we light more fires than we put out. I understand that may not be the standard in all areas of this country, but for us it is a necessity.
In the late 1950's, a large fire burned just west of what was then the city boundary. Another fire in the late 1970's burned over a prominent mountain landmark within sight of the city. But both fires were regarded as an aberration, something that probably would never happen again.
In the past 20 to 30 years, the type wildfires our country has experienced has changed. That reality struck home in Flagstaff in 1996. In that year alone, three large wildfires burned within the City limits, and several others threatened our community.
Wildland fire behavior has three components: weather, topography, and fuel. Little if anything can be done to influence the first two. But we can manage fuel. We must manage fuel and restore our forests before it is too late. We can't eliminate fire, nor should we try. Fire is a natural part of our world. But we must work toward a system where fire again functions in its natural role.
Page 112 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In that summer of 1996, Flagstaff woke-up to the fact that during the previous 100 years, our forests had changed. There was far too much fuel and the potential for catastrophic disaster was very real. It was no longer a question of ''if'', but ''when'' and ''where''. The community acted.
Within my community alone, there are 20,000 acres requiring treatment. Surrounding us are many, many additional acres of state and Federal land requiring treatment. We are in this together. We don't regard this as an ''us'' and ''them'' issue, or as a ''city'', ''State,'' or ''Federal'' issue. It's a ''we'' issue.
The city's program involves four distinct, but interrelated activity areas. They are: Land Use Planning, Response Training, Public Education & Recruitment, and Hazard Mitigation.
Staffing dedicated to the effort includes myself, an Assistant Fuel Management Officer (AFMO) and three field technicians. The AFMO and three technicians are a result of Congressional appropriations we have received provided via the State Fire Assistance grants and the Ecological Restoration Institute of Northern Arizona University. These funds have provided the initial mechanism to expand our effort. However, because this issue requires a sustained long-term effort, we are prepared to assume full-funding responsibility for these positions in the near future.
Our effort also involves a 10-person seasonal fuel crew and a small corp of University student interns. Supervised by the AFMO and Field Technicians, their primary responsibility is to implement tree thinning, brush disposal, and prescribed fire activities, respond to wildfires, and conduct public education efforts. In so doing, they invest themselves in the community and gain valuable job-and-life experience
The result has been a complete paradigm shift in our community. Where once it was a sin to cut a tree and unheard of to light a fire, that is no longer the case. Fuel Management, with all of its benefits and customer service oriented goals, is becoming a core technology of our Fire Dept.
Page 113 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Last year, our second full year of field implementation, we treated 900 acres with selective thinning and another 450 acres with prescribed fire within our corporate limits. We are involved with and engage many groups, including the Grand Canyon Forest Partnership, an 18-member community-driven partnership dedicated to restoring our forests. In addition, we have, and will continue to, provide Fuel Management assistance to the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, AZ State Land Dept, and surrounding Fire Depts.
Our operational motto is ''Stumps & Smoke'', our measure of success is ''acres treated'', and we will work where opportunities arise and the need exists.
I recognize the acreage accomplishments I have shared are but a very small drop in the very deep bucket of the national fuel management challenge. But for us, they are significant. They represent the beginning of a commitment to make our community ''fire-wise''. We have initiated a long-term process to restore a healthy, sustainable forest, thereby ensuring a sustainable community.
In so doing, we have experienced the added opportunity to serve as an example to other at-risk communities.
A question sometimes asked is ''What responsibility does the Federal Government have in protecting communities from wildfire''? To answer that, I offer three thoughts:
First, wildfire can move either direction. It may start on Federal land and move onto non-Federal land, or it may be the other way around. Wildfire doesn't respect jurisdictional boundaries: why should we?
Second, we should not allow those boundaries to prevent us from working together proactively to reduce the severity and intensity of the impending wildfires. We must partner with each other to meet the challenge.
Third, we must recognize that loss of homes is not the major issue we face: if it were that simple we could limit Fuel Management treatments to within a few feet of homes. Managing the wildfire itself is the simple part of the whole equation. The more difficult issues, those which have far-reaching and long-lasting impact include public panic, loss of Threatened and Endangered species habitat, recreational opportunities, spiritual or emotion values tied to a particular site, and damage to watershed integrity, including soil erosion. In addition, the cost of rebuilding and loss of confidence in government cannot be overlooked. Finally, we can not ignore firefighter and public safety. This is why Fuel Management activities must extend well beyond a narrow border around a community.
Page 114 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC One pillar of the NFP is the direct involvement of local communities in addressing this challenge. The attitude demonstrated by Congress and the various agencies in efforts to expand community participation, increase local capacity, and encourage grassroots activism, through such venues as the State Fire Assistance grants, Rural Community Assistance and Economic Action programs, and other appropriations is absolutely critical to success.
The opportunity is ripe for us to make positive changes in our forests. Solutions do exist. Communities at-risk, and those groups who are truly committed to solutions, are willing to listen, learn, and do. Your leadership and presence in this arena is a focal point for public attention, and ultimately, for the implementation of those treatments so necessary for our common good.
I trust my testimony has provided you a brief glimpse of one community's perspective on this important issue. In so doing, perhaps I have shed some light on the larger issue of fuel management as well.
I once again thank you for the opportunity I've enjoyed today. In conclusion, I invite each of you to visit our community to see first-hand what is underway and what is possible.