SPEAKERS CONTENTS INSERTS
Page 1 TOP OF DOCWILDFIRE MANAGEMENT IN THE
TUESDAY, JULY 15, 1997
House of Representatives,
Committee on Agriculture,
The committee met, pursuant to call, at 10:00 a.m., in room 1300, Longworth House Office Building, Hon. Robert F. (Bob) Smith (chairman of the committee) presiding.
Present: Representatives Doolittle, Goodlatte, Canady, Everett, Lucas, Thune, Stenholm, Peterson, Clayton, Pomeroy, Farr, Berry, Goode, McIntyre, Stabenow, Johnson of Wisconsin, and Boswell.
Staff present: Sharla Moffett, Monique Brown, Callista Bisek, and Wanda Worsham, clerk; and Danelle Farmer.
OPENING STATEMENT OF HON. ROBERT F. (BOB) SMITH, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF OREGON
The CHAIRMAN. This hearing will come to order, please.
I have a very brief statement. This is the sixth hearing that this committee has held examining the health and condition of America's forest resources. Today we will specifically focus on how we address and manage a growing problem on our National Forests: wildlife. We will hear from the U.S. Forest Service, State foresters, academic, nongovernmental organizations about the critical conditions of the Nation's forests as well as specific management recommendations to reduce risks and protect precious resources, ensure public and community safety, and minimize costs.
Page 2 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Last year wildfire ravaged more than 6 million acres of forests, woodlands, and other wildlands in this country. Human lives were lost, private property destroyed, valuable resources and habitat for sensitive species were devastated. The cost of fighting these fires exceeded $1 billion, excluding the cost of rehabilitation that these fire-scorched landscapes were to have received.
These are not ecologically, socially, or economically acceptable losses. It is our responsibility to find solutions that will address this complex and sensitive issue in a decisive and timely manner.
We are not going to make fires go away, but we can and we must do a better job of managing fire. It is critical that we reduce the intensity of fire through active management of our national landscapes if indeed we are to maintain functioning ecosystems. We cannot change the weather, the topography, or the land ownership patterns, but we can change the fuels and the stocking levels of forests.
For the past few months, the committee has been in the listening and learning phase as it relates to these numerous and complex forest issues, and I sincerely appreciate your participation this morning and your recommendations as to how we may consider legislative solutions or management solutions to improve our situation.
Does the gentleman have an opening statement?
Mr. JOHNSON of Wisconsin. No, Mr. Chairman. I just appreciate having these series of hearings. Fortunately, in Wisconsin with our National Forests, we haven't had the subject of the bad fires that they've had in some other parts of the Nation. And I look forward to the possibility of legislation that will help improve management techniques so that we don't have the devastating loss that we have suffered in many parts of the country. And I think the idea of getting the input from a wide variety of sources is commendable, and I appreciate all of the members showing here today.
Page 3 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Thank you.
The CHAIRMAN. All right. I thank the gentleman.
If Members have a statement to submit for the record, it may be included at this time.
[The prepared statement of Mrs. Chenoweth follows:]
"The Official Committee record contains additional material here."
The CHAIRMAN. Now we would be pleased to invite our first panel to the table. Ms. Joan Comanor is the Deputy Chief of State and Private Forestry for the USDA Forest Service. Ms. Comanor is being accompanied by Mr. Bob Joslin, who is the Deputy Chief of the National Forest System for the Forest Service. Dr. Mary Jo Lavin is Director of Fire and Aviation for the Forest Service. Dr. Ann Bartuska is the Director of Forest Health Protection for the Forest Service.
Welcome all of you this morning. Ms. Comanor, I invite you to begin, if you please.
Ms. COMANOR. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
STATEMENT OF JOAN COMANOR, DEPUTY CHIEF, STATE AND PRIVATE FORESTRY, FOREST SERVICE, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
Ms. COMANOR. We are pleased to appear today before the committee to discuss the wildfire program in the United States. As you mentioned, I am joined by Bob Joslin, the Deputy Chief for our National Forest System; Mary Jo Lavin, the Director of Fire and Aviation Management; and Ann Bartuska, Director of Forest Health Protection.
The scope of the hearing, wildfire management in the United States, is a very ambitious one. Any one of the aspects of the wildfire program, whether it be prevention, suppression, preparedness, fuels reduction, or cooperation among all the firefighting forces in the country, would merit a full examination in their own right. However, there are a number of key considerations that we believe are central to a full understanding of wildfire management and the measures we are taking to improve it. I'd like to begin my testimony by highlighting these points.
Page 4 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC And I have five. First of all, our combined firefighting forces, Federal, State, and local, are well-trained, responsive, and adequate to the task at hand. Speaking for the Forest Service, additional resources could be used to improve our firefighting capacity, but only incrementally. It would not fundamentally change the challenges we face, especially in the Inland West.
Second, we are changing the focus of our program from one of fire suppression to fire management. Fire is an integral and unavoidable part of ecosystems. We can certainly mitigate the consequences of wildfire, but we cannot, nor should we, fireproof our forests.
Third, the greatest challenge we face in managing wildfire does occur in the Inland West, where years of fire exclusion have created overstocked stands with high fuel loads. Nationally we have identified about 35 million acres of National Forest system land at risk for catastrophic fire.
Fourth, fire must be a tool in the array of management techniques that we need to use to restore our forests to a more healthy, fire-resistant condition. Economically and ecologically, we cannot afford to forego its use as a tool.
The last point is that fire management is a joint venture. It involves State, county, local governments as well as Federal resources. And without the cooperation and integration of all of these forces, effective and efficient fire management cannot be realized.
To elaborate on these points, I'd like to first discuss the condition of firefighting forces. In assessing the wildland firefighting agency, one statistic continues to stand out. And that is we are able to suppress 98 percent of all wildfires at initial attack. This minimizes both the losses and costs of fighting wildfires. This statistic has remained constant for some time, notwithstanding the growing wildland-urban interface problems, years of drought in parts of the country, epidemic levels of insects and pathogens, and Forest Service and cooperator downsizing. However, those large fires that do escape our initial attack are more dangerous and costly to suppress.
Page 5 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC For the Forest Service, the President's budget for fiscal 1998 provides capability to prevent forest fires and take prompt, effective initial attack suppression operations on wildfires. But given the fuel conditions present in many parts of the country, not all unwanted wildfires can be safely or efficiently suppressed. We must continue to use a multifaceted approach of fuels management using the whole array of tools for fuels management and fire suppression to reduce the threats of catastrophic fire over time.
Fire is part of the natural cycle. All forests will eventually burn. For too long in too many parts of the country, we ignored this fact. Exclusion of wildland fire has had a profound influence on the composition, structure, and function of short-interval, fire-adapted ecosystems. And the most critical effect has been the buildup of fuels.
To mitigate these conditions, we have developed program objectives that are emphasizing large-scale fuel treatment programs that focus on restoring and maintaining the fire-adapted ecosystems.
While many of our attentions have focused on the western United States, we have often overlooked fire programs in other parts of the country. And that may in some way distort our perceptions of where we have had program effectiveness.
For example, in the southern region of the Forest Service, where Bob Joslin was recently the regional forester, we have a very comprehensive fire management program. This region is responsible for over 60 percent of all the acres treated through prescribed fire nationally to reduce fuels. As a result, wildfires in the Southeast typically burn with lower intensity and resource damage.
Turning to the problems of the West, exclusion of fire from these fire-adapted ecosystems has created extremely high levels of fuel loading and stand structures, where fires that historically burned at relatively low intensity with beneficial results now burn extremely hot with unacceptable losses.
Page 6 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In many of these overstocked stands, bark beetle outbreaks have caused increased mortality rates. In eastern Oregon and Washington, forest inventories show that mortality has been above average over the past decade across all forest ownerships.
In situations like this, we simply cannot reintroduce fire into these forests. Our early estimates indicate that anywhere from 50 percent to as much as 90 percent in some States of the acreage may require mechanical fuel treatment before prescribed fire can be used as a tool in the long term.
We are dramatically expanding our fuels treatment program. We especially appreciate the congressional support that we have received for doing that. In 1996, the Forest Service treated approximately 532,000 acres. By the year 2005, if we're continued in our success to ratchet up our efforts, we plan to treat about 3 million acres annually using again all methods of fuel treatment. The treatments will focus on high-hazard areas, such as the Blue Mountains in Oregon.
Congressional support, both in terms of increased appropriations and a willingness, at least on the House side, to change our budget structure for the wildland fire management appropriation is also very helpful and appreciated. The new budget structure moves hazardous fuel reduction activities from preparedness and fire use to a new category called fire operations. We believe this will allow us flexibility in funding hazardous fuel activities without detracting from the capability to prevent forest fires and take prompt, efficient initial attack suppression on wildfires.
Fire experts and research findings both indicate that fire is beneficial and in many cases essential to maintaining healthy ecosystems and that suppressing all fire interferes with natural processes. Fire returns valuable nutrients to the soil, opens areas for sunlight, allows new growth that provides food and habitat for a variety of animals. It removes dead wood and debris that can kindle larger and more destructive fires. Low-intensity fire creates a mosaic of burned and unburned areas. It reduces the potential for catastrophic wildfire.
Page 7 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Still, it is imperative that we maintain a strong fire suppression program to help protect life, property, and natural resources from unwanted fire. Our treatment alternatives must remain consistent with land management planning decisions made locally. And they will all draw from a variety of tools, utilization, creative solutions, fuel treatments, both mechanical and prescribed fire.
Again I'd like to reinforce the point that wildland firefighting is a multi-agency team effort involving local, county, State governments, the land management agencies of Interior and Defense, and regulatory agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency.
Also critical players are the private forest landowners, both large industrial forest owners and homeowners in the wildland-urban interface. We have examples that are outstanding that demonstrate interagency cooperation. The reputation of our National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, ID for successfully allocating resources from a variety of agencies is one outstanding example of the cooperation we have.
Another program that we draw from is the Federal Excess Personal Property Program, through which the Forest Service is able to lend State forestry agencies excess Federal property, primarily from the military, for use in wildland firefighting. Overall we have about $800 million in equipment on loan to State agencies through this program.
Another important cooperative program is the Rural Community Fire Protection Program administered by the State foresters with oversight from the Forest Service. It is designed to strengthen fire departments in small communities. And through grants for training and equipment, we are able to strengthen our resources nationally. In 1996, we distributed $17 million to State foresters for this program.
We're also making progress on one of the more controversial aspects of prescribed burning. And that is smoke management. We do not see air quality regulations as an obstacle to use of prescribed fire. Rather, these regulations recognize the importance of protecting air quality in carrying out management activities. We work closely with the Environmental Protection Agency and State air quality regulatory agencies to mitigate and manage visibility and health impairment from smoke emissions.
Page 8 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC We are encouraged that other governmental entities, such as the Grand Canyon Visibility Transport Commission, recognize that air quality is affected by smoke, not only from prescribed fire but also from wildfires, and that a strong prescribed fire program can, in fact, produce overall improvements in air quality.
Having touched briefly on the programs and cooperations, it would be remiss of me not to acknowledge our comprehensive research program and the role it plays. We're concentrating on developing better knowledge about issues such as methods for better predicting fire danger and behavior for assessing fire effects on various plants and animals, especially using prescribed faraway at virus times of the year, on smoke management, on improved harvesting techniques, and improved merchantability of small diameter trees.
This last area of research is particularly important as we look to fuel reduction efforts, where because of conditions prescribed fire cannot be used in the near term. Thinning of small diameter trees is necessary to remove fuel ladders and to reduce fuel loads to minimize the risk of wildfire. The absence of an industry that can effectively harvest the small diameter trees is a major obstacle to attaining many of the forest health objectives that we have in the Inland West.
In summary, we have a number of challenges that we face in managing wildfire. While they're great, they aren't unsurmountable. By restoring fire to fire-adapted ecosystems, we can improve the health of many forests and reduce their susceptibility to catastrophic fire. Through improved collaboration among all of the firefighting agencies at the Federal, State, and local level and with the private sector, we can maximize our effectiveness and efficiency in firefighting.
But we cannot lose sight of one fact. The current situation developed over many decades. Any solutions that we take will also require time and commitment. With perseverance, we believe we can restore forests to a condition where catastrophic fire is truly the exception. This will require not only resources but a realization that fire is inherently dangerous and unpredictable.
Page 9 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC But, in sum, we know of no practical, cost-effective method to meet the challenges of wildfire management other than the aggressive pursuit of those programs that I have mentioned in this testimony. Your continued understanding and support for these efforts is critical to their success.
This completes my testimony. My colleagues and I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.
[The prepared statement of Ms. Comanor appears at the conclusion of the hearing.]
The CHAIRMAN. I thank you very much. Are there others of the panel who would care to make a statement?
Ms. COMANOR. I think we're available for questions.
The CHAIRMAN. Well, thank you very much.
I wanted to emphasize one statement and to be sure I heard it correctly. I think you said that eventually all forests will burn. Is that what you said?
Ms. COMANOR. Yes, sir.
The CHAIRMAN. I guess that is kind of an underlying idea that seems to be amiss in the management of forestry in the United States that if all forests indeed are going to burn, then we can either help them to become minimal burns or we can allow them to be catastrophic. Would you agree to that?
Ms. COMANOR. Yes, sir. And I think when we say all forests could burn, it's depending on the conditions that are present at the time. We can certainly exacerbate their final ability.
The CHAIRMAN. And I perceive that there is a problem with the interpretation of how fires are going to be used. I'm sure there is confusion about it. First of all, we put out every fire. Now we say fires are good. I'm sure people are very confused about that, as some of us, the rest of us, may be.
Page 10 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC So pursuing an attempt to clarify that situation, I understand the background of the problems of catastrophic fires, particularly in the West. And let me ask you about prescribed fires that we now believe are a tool to forestry management.
But there are two kinds of prescribed fires, are there not? One is the prescribed fire set by man or woman. The other is a prescribed fire that is set by nature and allowed to continue to burn, which is indeed a prescribed fire. Am I correct?
Ms. COMANOR. Yes.
The CHAIRMAN. Then I'm finally getting to the point that I think there's confusion, even forest managers' interpretation. And I take you back to last year, where we lost, 6 million acres, a billion dollars to fight those fires. And in the West, there were several examples of a prescribed fire set by human nature that got out of control.
Now, granted, anybody could make a mistake in judgment. I admit that. However, you're more prone, it seems to me, to make a mistake in the West, in July, August, and September, than you are to make a mistake in April and November.
So has the Forest Service reviewed the question of judgment of prescribed burns set by human nature as well as by human hands during that fire season?
Ms. COMANOR. I'd like to respond to your question in three ways. First to get at your explicit point, we are aware of the concerns that you had for some escaped prescribed fires last summer.
Nationally we are not going to set the standard of timing for burning. We think those are local decisions that need to take full account of all of the conditions, both on the land and with the air quality people, the variety of conditions that need to be taken into account.
We certainly reviewed carefully the incidents that occurred last year and determined what we needed to learn from those experiences to make sure that we are using a full array of judgment when we make a local decision to go with a prescription or not.
Page 11 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Second, I think you're right in terms of the confusion that exists within our agency among the larger firefighting community. One thing I'd like to call attention to throughout my testimony, we're trying very hard to carefully use the term ''fuel treatment,'' recognizing that we have a variety of tools that we can use. Prescribed fire is one. It's an economical one that is not the tool of choice in many conditions or settings.
We think those decisions need to be made locally as well as the time of year and the other concerns that you addressed, but we are trying to emphasize fuel treatment and an array of tools that can be used within that. It is confusing, I suspect, to a number of people.
The CHAIRMAN. Well, I don't want to put you down and I don't mean to, but I just don't want you defending the obvious either. Mistakes were made last year. Is that correct?
Ms. COMANOR. Yes.
The CHAIRMAN. Especially in the West, especially in those situations in which there was a fire caused by nature and then allowed to continue with catastrophic results?
Ms. LAVIN. Mr. Chairman?
The CHAIRMAN. Dr. Lavin, please.
Ms. LAVIN. Last year we used the mistakes, as you referred to those. We used those as an opportunity for us to learn. We realize thatfirst of all, our chief went out there to visit those fires himself, which indicatedhe was not a fire expert, but it indicated the seriousness by which our leadership viewed those fires.
We also sent out fire experts, who went out and met with the region and looked at what had happened. We looked at the prescription that they had, the plan. That's what the basis for any decision in any management of a fire is based on, that plan.
We looked at that. And we found some mistakes had been made in the planning process. We worked with the region so that the region and national standard could meet and work together. What we have is a plan of action that we have confirmed the region is working through. They will work with the communities. They made a resolution. But they stand as a model now for the rest of the Nation.
Page 12 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC We will work with the individual communities as we work through the prescription. We would welcome the opportunity to take your staff from the office or you if we have the opportunity to take you to see how that plan has worked and how the plan will be carried out.
We are meeting with the individual members of the community, not just the important ones who sit in Congress. They are meeting with the community that would be affected by the decisions and the actions.
And then we're making sure that the people who are doing the planning and the line officers who are supervising the carrying out of that plan have the proper training so that the plans will be complete, the plans will involve the community which will be affected by them, and that the plans will be successful.
We always run the risk with any fire, whether it is set by management or it is a natural fire that's ignited by lightning or if it is a wildfire, that we do not see any benefit to the resource or the community and need to put out, we always run the risk of that fire escaping our capability to manage it.
The CHAIRMAN. While I think that's commendable, I understand that statement, yet, what is the plan in Oregon and Washington?
Ms. LAVIN. There is a range of plans because it is not a single plan, Mr. Chairman.
The CHAIRMAN. What is the plan for the east side of Oregon and Washington, then, Dr. Lavin?
Ms. LAVIN. It begins with the individual forest plan. And then those forest plans have a prescribed fire management plan. And then with the natural ignition, there is a very specific burn plan that goes into effect within 72 hours of that ignition which looks at the individual situation.
We also have an analysis that we will do in a wild land fire where we will do an ongoing analysis to make sure the conditions are the same that match the planned action.
Page 13 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The CHAIRMAN. Do you plan to have prescribed fires in July, August, and September on the east side of Oregon and Washington?
Ms. LAVIN. Mr. Chairman, we don't go by a calendar. We go by the situation which is in the prescription. So we go by when the situation matches. I know what you're saying about the calendar. We can't ignore it.
But they're not scheduled by calendar. They're scheduled by when the situation is appropriate so that we will have good smoke; for example, good smoke pattern, so that we're not inflating the community with smoke. We're looking at ignition that will take clean, a clean ignition, and give us the capability to manage that fire.
The CHAIRMAN. Do you plan on putting fires out in July, August, and September on the east side of Oregon and Washington be they wildfire-caused or be they lightning-caused?
Ms. LAVIN. If they're not meeting the plan, Mr. Chairman, we will put immediate suppression action, yes.
The CHAIRMAN. If they're not meeting the plan?
Ms. LAVIN. Yes, Mr. Chairman.
The CHAIRMAN. Maybe the plan allows them to burn, then?
Ms. LAVIN. The plan will look. The plan tells us what is the best management for the benefit of the resource or the best management action that we should take.
The CHAIRMAN. We lost a million acres, Dr. Lavin, in Oregon alone and at least three examples of fires that got away. I'm pressing you simply, and I don't mean to pare, but I'm pressing you because that ought not to happen again. And the plan ought to include that not happening again, I would hope.
Ms. COMANOR. Certainly I think that would be our intent that if it's not within a prescription, if we're not conformable that we can maintain the conditions that would allow for a safe fire, then our intent would be to suppress.
Page 14 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The CHAIRMAN. Sure.
Ms. COMANOR. And we've tried to learn what we needed to learn about the incidents from last year and tighten our standards and tighten our risk assessment.
The CHAIRMAN. Good. Thank you.
The gentleman from Texas? No questions. Mr. Johnson? No questions. Mr. Boswell?
Mr. BOSWELL. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I think you've made some good points because I'm new to this process as far as dealing with fires certainly. I am quite familiar with a lot of other agricultural things, but this might not be one of them.
As I've heard you point out some points here regarding how this comes to pass, I'm a little unclear on just what drives this. And so thank you for pursuing it. And I don't say this as a criticism to the panel.
It is a little bit confusing what's prescribed and what's not or if you have the prescription in placeand I'm assuming now in the short length of time that means all of the factors meet the so-called formula. And then if it ignites at that time, you let it go.
Ms. COMANOR. Generally, that's correct. There's a management objectives for the pieces of ground that we're responsible for. And they prescribe a variety of management tools that you would use to maintain those objectives. Within, bedded within, that is the role that fire can play.
And we do have a number of parameters. We look at what are the other resource values? What are the ownership patterns adjacent?
Mr. BOSWELL. I understand all of that. I understand that, what you're saying there. But it seems like, then, that the factor of the calendar, I just wonder if you weigh it enough. You raised the question in my mind if the calendar really gets the weight that it needs in this consideration when you think of the dryness of the July and August or whenever the dry period is.
I've got some question in my mind. And I guess as I read the materials and so on, maybe I'll have them resolved or understand it. But, Mr. Chairman, you've started a process for me to try to realize that there is some confusion here.
Page 15 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Ms. LAVIN. I understand
Mr. BOSWELL. So I'll be quiet and listen now. Go ahead if you want to say something.
Ms. LAVIN. I didn't mean to cut you short.
I wanted to answer the question that you raise. It is a question that we look at very carefully as well because we have limited resources nationally and we're shepherding those resources, especially during July, August, September and into October. So we're looking very carefully at the situation.
But sometimes where we need to in order to reduce the potential for catastrophic fire, where we need to reduce the fuels on the ground, those occasions come up only every so many years. In other words, we may not have seen the prescription come, all of the factors in the prescription fall into place for maybe 40 years from before that time or 30 years from before that time. So that's why we take advantage of it, even if it does occur in a time when we have a draw-down on our resources.
What we look at is using a cooperative approach so that we're able to meet the needs across the Nation as well as the need of that particular locality for a prescribed fire.
Mr. BOSWELL. Well, thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Just as a sidelight, I might add years ago, many years agoI'm from IowaI was in California at Christmas time in 1951 or thereabouts. And there was a big fire on Mount Wilson or somewhere nearby. I was walking down the street with my girlfriend, and I got drafted. I got taken to the mountain and was up there a long, long time. Anyway, it didn't hurt me.
Do they still do that? Do they still have drafting authority or was I just being
Ms. LAVIN. We've noticed that the quality of our draftees has fallen off, Congressman.
Mr. BOSWELL. I'm not sure how to take that.
Page 16 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC [Laughter.]
The CHAIRMAN. Did she stay with you, Mr. Boswell, after that?
Mr. BOSWELL. No, never mind.
The CHAIRMAN. Mr. Everett?
Mr. EVERETT. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
You referenced the growing problem of development in the urban-wildland interface, but you never made any recommendations on how to address this serious problem. As the Nation's largest land manager, it would seem that the Forest Service has a pretty great responsibility to actively manage its land so that human life and property are not threatened.
Is the agency address wildland interface as a priority? And if it is not, why isn't it?
Ms. COMANOR. Yes, we are addressing the wildland-urban interface through a variety of approaches. One, we're looking more closely at the management of the national forest and how we can better restore conditions there so that they don't pose a threat to the adjacent property.
Second, through our cooperative programs of working with the State foresters, we make equipment available. We also provide funding assistance to help train and equip local firefighting departments, the volunteers, which are really the backbone for a lot of communities, their first line of defense. So we do have an array of tools that were are working on to help strengthen what we can do in the wildland-urban interface.
We're also participating in dialogues. There are several in different parts of the country. I'm sure Richard Wilson will be talking about some of the work he's doing in California. We have dialogue going on in Colorado and other places. We're working with a variety of people that can influence the conditions in the wildland-urban interface through zoning, through development, through preventive information that we can provide to homeowners on how to fireproof their rural home setting. We're trying to use all the tools that we think we have available to us to work on those conditions.
Page 17 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The CHAIRMAN. I thank the gentleman.
Mr. FARR. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. And thank you for having these hearings. I think the committee is getting a good board view of the forest management issues.
I've also had some experience. I had my first public service job working for the U.S. Forest Service. And so I tell everybody I got my start in public life by throwing dirt.
I appreciate everyone coming today. I wanted to just ask a couple of questions. You talk about the fact that you can't fireproof the forests, and you give a figure that there's a $303 million fund for preparedness activities. What is the cost of suppression?
Ms. LAVIN. It's driven by whatever the events of the year bring us.
Mr. FARR. What did last year bring us?
Ms. LAVIN. Last year the Forest Service spent about $800 million.
Mr. FARR. So we're spending about $300 million on prevention and $800 million on suppression?
Ms. LAVIN. That was last year's experience, which was a particularly severe fire season.
Mr. FARR. I think the feeling of this committee and feeling of Congress is essentially how do we spend less money on suppression and more money on prevention? And that really is management.
And I think what is keen in this is as you drive around the country, no one knows where the boundaries are. Even though we have signs saying ''National Forest,'' you don't know whether you're in a State forest, private forest, or National Forest.
And it seems that if you're going to have an effective management program, that it's got to be transboundary. It's got to be just as much the ownership of the landowner, regardless of where that landowner sits.
Page 18 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC And what are we doing to make sure that this collaboration goes? The only place that, frankly, have ever seen it is we have a Federal consistency process in the coastal zone in California, where essentially the local community decides how to manage all of those resources and every Federal activity has to be consistent with that local activity and locals have veto power over Federal ideas that don't fit.
Do we have anything like that in the fire management process, where the locals and States, can prescribe how the Federal Government ought to operate within that State?
Ms. COMANOR. We have several platforms with which we try to have common ideas agreed upon. I'll let Mary Jo Lavin elaborate on those, but we have geographic area-coordinating committees that try to bring together the key players.
Mr. FARR. What do you do when you coordinate? Do you come up with a plan?
Ms. LAVIN. Yes, we do, Congressman Farr. We have a national organization that is the National Wildfire Coordinating Group. It brings to around the table three times a year the State representatives, State foresters. It brings together all the Federal agencies, the directors of fire from the Federal agencies. And it includes, for example, a representative of FEMA. That national group
Mr. FARR. Do you have different plans for different type of fire behaviors, for different kind of fuel loads and things like that?
Ms. LAVIN. I was getting to that. That group does the standards, the standards for training, the standards for participation so that there is a standard, a national standard accepted by all levels of government that is recognized on the fire line. That group is represented in geographic regions.
So then we add to that group at a geographic area. They're coordinating groups they're called, geographic area coordinating groups. We add the fire marshall as well in many places. And they do do a plan, and they come together and look at their resources, how they're going to meet those in that particular geographic area.
Page 19 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. FARR. How many plans have been adopted?
Ms. LAVIN. We observe and follow the decisions of all of the geographic area boards. They're carrying out a national policy, and they're making individual geographic decisions.
Mr. FARR. Is this a top-down policy or bottoms-up policy?
Ms. LAVIN. I would call it a bottoms-up policy in that, in those decisions.
Mr. FARR. And when does it get adopted? When does it become formalized?
Ms. LAVIN. Those decisions are made at the time that that group meets. They meet usually once a year. And that plan is for how they will proceed during the year. Then when there is an emergency situation, they can also come together and serve to look at limited resources in that geographic area.
Mr. FARR. Is this limited to suppression, coordination of suppression, activities?
Ms. LAVIN. It is at this time.
Mr. FARR. It's not a management
Ms. LAVIN. It is at this time. There are some States, for exampleand Richard Wilson can speak to itwhere the State of California, for example, is quite advanced in the amount of planning that they are doing and in involving all of the ownerships in the State. That varies from State to State.
Mr. FARR. Well, I'll ask him, but let me ask you, too. Does that, then, allow the State to take the lead? If the States are more advanced than the Fed, then why don't you let the States lead?
Ms. LAVIN. I think we looked for the best resource. And that varies from State to State. And, for example, in the wildland-urban interface, that's exactly where the States should be. The Federal Government is the support in the wildland-urban interface and supports the efforts of the State. In some States, where the State does not have the authority to be the lead in structural defense, for example, then they would look to a local community group that had the lead in structural.
Page 20 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Where there is a recognized lead, we do let others take the lead. We're in a support role. The Federal Government is in a support role in the wildland-urban interface in structural protection, and we do let the State take the lead. We encourage that and support them in doing that.
Mr. FARR. Can the State take the lead on a Federal fire?
Ms. LAVIN. Yes because we have, actually, an incident commander on our number one team that is a State person. We do have State people on our teams. When they're the incident commander and we have them on the national team, they are the lead and they're the ones we follow.
Mr. FARR. The last comment, Mr. Chairman, is that if we have an incident command for suppressing fires, why don't we have an incident command for management of forests? That's all. Thank you.
The CHAIRMAN. I thank the gentleman.
Mr. GOODE. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I was intrigued by the starting of fires by the Forest Service. If you had a forest, let's just say, that received a lot of ice storm damage and you had a lot of debris and wood on the land, that might be a situation where you would think a burn would be in order. Is that correct?
Ms. COMANOR. It would certainly be where some form of fuel treatment would be in order.
Mr. GOODE. Well, let me ask you
Ms. COMANOR. We may have to use mechanical methods.
Mr. GOODE. What about just letting chippers or clear-cutters come in there and just grind it up, instead of burning?
Ms. COMANOR. We do use chippers where that's an appropriate use as a tool.
Page 21 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. GOODE. Give me the few factors when you don't allow chipping and you take burning ahead of the chippers. Give me some characteristics.
Ms. LAVIN. First of all, there would have to be a manageable amount of biomass on the ground, Congressman, so that we would need to have the assurance that we could meet a prescription. When they're doing the prescription, they actually are determining the methodology that they would use. We have in the
Mr. GOODE. When you say ''they,'' who is determining the methodology?
Ms. LAVIN. The local jurisdiction, the ones who are
Ms. COMANOR. The forest supervisor.
Ms. LAVIN. The forest supervisor and the forest staff who are doing the plan.
Mr. GOODE. In other words, they would decide whether it would be a chip or a burn?
Ms. LAVIN. Yes, sir. Yes.
Mr. GOODE. Let me ask you this. I get a lot of cards and letters from the animal rights people. Do you kill more animals if you burn or if you chip?
Ms. LAVIN. I would have to go to and we would involve at the local level the wildlife people that would be telling us what is there.
Mr. GOODE. All right. I would like for you to tell me the names of any that say you kill more animals by chipping than burning. If you have got anybody in the Forest Service that wants to make that assertion to me, I'd like to know their names.
Ms. COMANOR. I'm not aware of any that have.
Mr. GOODE. Next question. I recently had the opportunity to speak with some people in Greene County. They were like Mr. Boswell. They had a lot of volunteers that have helped you with firefighting in the National Forests. And they just wanted me to deliver this message, that you have written so many tickets for their dogs being on the land out there that they have asked the Board of Supervisors tothey have sent you a resolution objecting to your policy and said don't come and knock on their door when you need volunteers in the future because of your treatment of the local people. I just wanted to convey that to you.
Page 22 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Ms. COMANOR. Well, we can certainly followup and see what the issue is there.
The CHAIRMAN. We would like an answer to that, please, officially.
Ms. COMANOR. OK.
The CHAIRMAN. Thank you.
Mr. BERRY. I have no questions, Mr. Chairman. Thank you.
The CHAIRMAN. Thank you very much, Mr. Berry.
We'll start another round if our folks don't mind.
Ms. COMANOR. Mr. Chairman, I don't know if you'd like me to take just a minute to call to attention the packet of materials that we provided for each of the committee members.
There's a map in there of the country that shows by ecological type the different forest types where fire is a natural recurring part of the process. So we have that.
We have a couple of photos of before and after. Mr. Goode, you might be interested. The first one that you find is a fuel treatment through mechanical treatment. I think it was a chipping operation that shows the before and after conditions in a forest we were treating. And the second one is the use of fire as the fuel treatment tool.
And then we just have some background information about fire conditions.
The CHAIRMAN. Sure. Thank you very much.
You know, I spent some time in Georgia. Frankly, I was quail hunting, I must admit, but it was in an area that's a timber-growing area. And I'm sure it's like much of the South, where they burn every year. The trees are maintained, and they prosper. And, yet, the undergrowth is taken out. That kind of prescribed burn makes a lot of sense.
That's 180 degrees from the issue that we're talking about in the West, where if you allow a prescribed fire like that, when you have 25 tons of fuel on the ground, a third of the timber dead standing, you allow fire. You get out of the way. You can't fight a fire likely unless it comes to a natural barrier. So there is a very different question here about using fire.
Page 23 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The thing that I want to ask you aboutand I admit it would be your judgment simplythe Chief of the Forest Service has testified that there are roughly 40 million acres of land under stress of possibility of catastrophic fire of all of the forests in the Nation.
We know that this budget is going to treat about 1.1 million acres. That means 40 years from now we'll get to the last treatment. That's unacceptable to you. It's unacceptable to us.
Now, are we going to manage these forests or are we going to let them burn? They will burn. Eventually they will all burn. So the question is simply this: With $1 billion spent in fire suppression last year, how much fire suppression money would be spent if all 40 million acres were to be treated next year?
Ms. COMANOR. That's a difficult question to answer, Mr. Chairman.
The CHAIRMAN. I understand that, but I wanted your judgment, not your sworn testimony.
Ms. COMANOR. It will take us a number of years of continued treatment to bring conditions down to something similar to what you were observing in
The CHAIRMAN. Oh, I understand. Please. I think you've missed my point. We're spending $50 million in your budget for 1.1 million acres.
Ms. COMANOR. Correct.
The CHAIRMAN. What I'm suggesting is why aren't we moving a half a billion dollars from fire suppression to management, thereby not having to spend a half a billion dollars on fire suppression?
Ms. COMANOR. We are trying to bring up the fuel treatment at a pace that we can
The CHAIRMAN. I know. It went up $21 million, Ms. Comanor. I'm not trying to argue with you. I'm trying to help you. Please understand that. So we need to raise this issue in America so that the Congress understands and the public understands that we've got to manage these forests or they're going to burn.
Page 24 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC And if they burn, they lose everything. We lose all of the things we're trying to protect. All the endangered species, all the fish, all the management of the terrain, all the great things we're trying to protect, we lose.
So it seems to me we have to move forward, not at $21 million a year. That's not acceptable either. Your judgment?
Ms. COMANOR. Mr. Chairman, I agree with you that we definitely could save dollars in the long term if we're able to more aggressively manage the forests. And we are trying to bring into prescription as many of the areas of the country as we can.
The pace at which we do that will obviously be dependent upon the availability of resources. But I don't think that in 1 year we could just simply substitute and get the conditions to the point where we need to be.
The CHAIRMAN. Of course not, Ms. Comanor. But if you don't request it, how can we help you? That's my point. If you don't bring the issue forward in a national sense of urgency, then we can't initiate it here. So you bring a request that we don't fund totally, but at least the request is there. That's all I'm saying.
And I guess I'm trying to send a message. In another year, in the next budget cycle, would you please bring a budget that you don't anticipate getting? [Laughter.]
All right. Mr. Joslin?
Ms. COMANOR. We'll do our part.
Mr. JOSLIN. We'll do our best to do that.
The CHAIRMAN. Mr. Joslin, do you agree that there needs to be a viable industry if indeed we are to address overcrowding forests and reduce fuel loading?
Mr. JOSLIN. Yes. As part of the treatments, the various treatments, that we use, whether it be thinning or normal timber sales or crushing or whatever else, it's much better to have utilization of that material. And, as Ms. Comanor mentioned in her testimony some of the smaller sized material, there's work going on there to try to make some uses of that. But that certainly is added value when you can utilize those methods.
Page 25 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The CHAIRMAN. As you know, the industry has adjusted downward the opportunity to harvest small timber just to try to comply with that kind of an attitude. And, yet, we are starving for even thinnings in the West. Our mills are still closing. We can't seem to get even a salvage sale after a burn to market in a timely fashion, as we know, together.
Delay wins the day because finally in a salvage situation, the timber is not worth anything commercially. Therefore, no one will help the Forest Service take out those dead trees.
So I hope it's within our interest, both of us, to provide a timely fashion in which we offer salvage timber and also to increase the opportunity for thinnings and for the use of small, taking of small, logs commercially.
Mr. JOSLIN. Yes, Mr. Chairman. I agree that at many of the salvage areas, the longer you go, that the material does become of little value. I think it's much preferable to go out and do those management activities way before those fires come along. And, as Ms. Comanor mentioned, the combination of those activities and you also mentioned with your visit to Georgia, I think that's exactly what you saw down there, a combination of the tools to manage the fuels that we have out there.
The CHAIRMAN. Further questions?
The CHAIRMAN. All right. I thank the panel very much.
The second panel I'd like to invite, please: Mr. Richard A. Wilson, State forester from the California Department of Forestry. Mr. James Hull is a State forester for the Texas Forest Service. Mr. James Johnson is a State forester for the Missouri Department of Conservation.
Gentlemen, please join us. And, Mr. Wilson, if you are prepared, please begin.
Mr. WILSON. Thank you, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee.
STATEMENT OF RICHARD A. WILSON, STATE FORESTER, CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF FORESTRY
Page 26 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. WILSON. I have submitted a written testimony, but perhaps it would be more productive if I tried to highlight for you what we're trying to accomplish in California and respond to some questions I think that probably you may have after I make my comments.
California, as you know, is a huge State of 100 million acres, 33 million people and has been accruing in not only increased population, but also the fuels issue has been growing and we have seen droughts since the late sixties to seventies right on through to our current time. This has put enormous pressure on our resources, both at the Federal and at the State and local levels.
Historically, as has been well-pointed out by members of the Forest Service, the suppression capabilities are outstanding. We have been able to suppress 95 to 98 percent of fires, wildfires. That sounds very good on a statistical basis, but then when you look behind that statistic, you find that those fires that we don't pick up are getting bigger and more costly.
So the net effect is that suppression is no longer an answer to the problems that we're facing today. We have to get another track going on prevention, and we have to have a strategy for prescription and some way to be able to try to get ahead of the problem that continues to grow.
In California, we have a fire plan that we use every 5 years. Traditionally it basically is done to evaluate those areas under State responsibility areas, of which my responsibilities are something in the neighborhood of 35 million acres.
In 1995, it was time to reevaluate. It was my decision that we should look at the whole state under the next fire plan and not just look at State responsibility areas, but look at the State, Federal, and local jurisdictions, keeping in mind that the fire doesn't understand the jurisdictions very well. It runs wherever it goes and it goes at a horrendous pace and a very expensive cost to all citizens and their resources.
For that reason, we basically built a fire plan and got it funded by the legislature. It's a 3-year program. We're in year 2. We'll finish next year.
Page 27 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Basically, the areas that we're interested in are the areas of level of service; assets of risk, weather, and fire history. What we have been able to do is model on a GIS computer basis the vegetation throughout the State and display it in a manner to people so that they can see themselves in what we call the fire environment and begin to realize that there are serious problems confronting the public, as well as the fire community.
I emphasize this because I think that we have reached the point where we have to have public and private industry participation, along with the suppression forces, if we're going to be successful. That means that they have to buy in and they have to be party to this whole problem of trying to get a hold on these enormous fires that are getting out of control and burning up so much of our resources, country and lands.
These interests include insurance and real estate. Of course, they include all of the timber industry and the wood products people because they all have an enormous stake in this.
We have tried to bring this fire plan forward and educate people so that they begin to see for themselves, in a way that reading and going to committees and taking testimony before the legislature doesn't always bring home, the message of what we can now do with our technical skills. That is, we can break an area down, for instance in Idyllwild, southern California, we can take a community. We can show that community the fire history. We can show that community the vegetation. We can show them what they have available, what we can do to prevent fires and what they need to do if they don't prevent fires.
This is working. We followed up in 1997, in June, with a fire summit. A fire alliance was formed with the major playersthe Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Managementthere's the California Department of Forestry, the State fire marshall, and the Los Angeles County Fire Departmentto see if we cannot empower areas below us to begin to take a proactive role in doing something about their problems. I emphasize empowering because the meetings and the hearings and everything are all well and good, but from my point of view and from the leadership of these other agencies, we feel we've got to get people activated and put them in a proactive stance.
Page 28 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC We have projects. We have some models. We have the Quincy Library group, among others. We think that we're going to be able to ensure public and community safety. We think we can minimize costs and losses. And we think we can maintain the quality of the environment. But we've got to get this thing down on the ground and get going and make this thing work in the field. This is where we're going with this program.
Mr. Chairman, I'll stop here because there will probably be questions and we can perhaps have some discussion after the other members testify.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Wilson appears at the conclusion of the hearing.]
The CHAIRMAN. I thank you, Mr. Wilson.
Mr. HULL. Mr. Chairman, members, thank you.
STATEMENT OF JAMES B. HULL, STATE FORESTER, TEXAS FOREST SERVICE
Mr. HULL. Governor George Bush recently said that drought and wildfire is a way of life in Texas. I'm here to tell you that in a State as large and diverse as Texas, it seems like there's always some place in our State that's experiencing a severe wildfire situation to go along with the drought that is there.
I can also tell you that this situation is continuing to escalate and become more critical every year. I can also tell you that the wildfire situation in Texas is much more complex than just dry weather and drought and wind. There's a lot more to it.
Like California, there are two basic things I think that are causing a lot of this. One is the increased fuel loading, and the other is the rapidly growing population. Unlike California, we think we can do something about wildfires in Texas because 99 percent of all of the fires there are started by people.
Let me go to the fuel buildup briefly. There are several forces that we think are causing this buildup: changes in agricultural practices, shifts in land ownership patterns, the decline of small forming operations, absentee landowners, land that's just being left idle. And then, as you know, there are occasional times when Federal and State policies and programs will solve one problem while creating another.
Page 29 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I think the Conservation Reserve Program is a classic example of what I'm talking about there. In Texas, we have 3.9 million acres of stabilized soil under this program. We have an identical 3.9 million acres of highly flammable fuels as a result of this program.
In a recent 2-week period in 20 counties in north Texas, we burned over 30,000 acres. Sixty-eight percent of that was CRP lands. Much of this land was located near improved property. Thirty-four buildings were threatened. One house was destroyed, three outbuildings, and three barns. It's impossible and definitely not a safe thing to try to suppress a fire in CRP acreage in Texas. Texas has not received a single dollar to help address this situation that was created by Federal policy.
Mr. Chairman, you're very much aware I think that Texas is one of the fastest growing States in the Nation. Eighty percent of our population lives on 3 percent of the land. It's this population spillover into this rural-urban area that's really causing the concern.
Down in Texas, we say it's country folks moving to this area thinking they're moving to the city, the city folks moving into this area thinking they're moving to the country. And major challenges result from this.
Typically the fire departments that are in that area that are responsible for fire suppression are not trained or equipped to deal with the situation. It was long thought that this urban-rural interface area was just a matter of urban concern, for the urban people to handle. But in 1996, the Pooleville fire in Texas that occurred 75 miles west of Fort Worth demonstrated the developing reality and the magnitude of this interface situation. The 16,000-acre fire there burned and destroyed 55 homes, 86 outbuildings, and nearly 100 vehicles.
One of the lessons that we learned from that is that much of Texas today is an interface area. In fact, almost all of the forested area of the State would fall into this category. And by design, one of the things that we learned from that is that we need to incorporate into our fire catch area the nontraditional firefighting sources. That 16,000-acre fire at Pooleville was suppressed largely because all we had available were 12 motor graders furnished to us by the Texas Department of Transportation.
Page 30 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC That Pooleville fire kicked off the fire siege of 1996. Five thousand fires burned in some 600,000 acres, one of the most prolonged fire incident periods in the State of Texas, very expensive. We mobilized firefighters from 29 States and brought with them helicopters, airplanes, and all that goes with it.
Texas was not ready for Fire Siege 1996, but we're rapidly getting that way at this time because of our cooperative efforts. We're putting together a statewide mutual aid plan. We continue to leverage Federal programs, such as the Federal Excess Personal Property Program. And let me encourage you. Please don't let Congress mess with that program. It's working great just like it is right now, and we need that to stay as it is.
The Rural Community Fire Program work with volunteer fire departments is going great, our efforts with the U.S. Forest Service to bring and build cooperatives linkages beyond anything that we have ever done to share facilities, to share personnel, to share programs and build these into one program.
Mr. Chairman, in Texas, we think there is still a role for fire prevention. In Texas, we don't have the luxury of standing around waiting on fires to go out and watch them burn. Even if they're doing well, we just can't afford that. We don't have the people, the resources to watch that happen. The only way to deal with fires in Texas we feel like is find them when they're small, put them out, and then get on to the next fire.
Fire prevention takes expertise. It takes patience. It takes funding. But most of all it takes commitment. And it takes realizing the fact that as much glory as we get from man engaging the enemy in fires, Texans would still rather not have fires in the first place. And that's the direction that we're headed.
You heard a lot today and you're going to hear more about fire burning as one of the solutions to forest health issues and wildfire hazard conditions. Let me just tell you in Texas, I'm not very optimistic that that has much possibility there to date.
Page 31 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC We're burning less than 1 percent of our forest land. And because of the environmental hazards liability issues and all that goes with it, I'm not optimistic that we are going to be able to do much.
But, Mr. Farr, let me tell you I appreciate so much the comments that you made a while ago about integrating the Federal and the State efforts in this fire prescribed burning effort. I think there may be some real possibilities in that.
Mr. Chairman, let me conclude by saying that I feel like the most powerful force in Texas and in the Nation is when Federal, State, and local resources become committed to working together and quit worrying about who gets the credit for it.
The benefits that we have learned Nationwide from participating in wildfire efforts have spilled over into other programs. So when you're talking about these cooperative efforts, let it know it's not just fire because of the spillover from that.
I would just call your attention to the fact that the Texas Forest Service fire incident command system team was called in early during the Republic of Texas standoff recently to coordinate all those law enforcement officers that were coming in there to address that. Two weeks later we were at Jarrell working on the tornado disaster, a week after that flood damage out in the hill country. Whether it's from wildfires to hurricanes to oil spills to July 4 rock concerts, the Federal, State, local cooperation over the years has paid huge dividends.
Mr. Chairman and members, I'm convinced that the most effective action that can come from the U.S. House Agriculture Committee is the deliberate development, support, and recommended funding of these continued cooperative efforts.
And I'll be happy to address questions. Thank you.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Hull appears at the conclusion of the hearing.]
The CHAIRMAN. Thank you, Mr. Hull.
Page 32 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCSTATEMENT OF JAMES JOHNSON, STATE FORESTER, MISSOURI DEPARTMENT OF CONSERVATION
Mr. JOHNSON. Thank you for the opportunity to be here.
To state our policy, we have a little bit different situation than Texas or California in that we don't have fuel loading and we don't have the problems of the real, real large fires like they do out in California. We didn't have quite the dry conditions that they had in Texas in 1996, but we still had a drought.
What I'd like to do is to tell you briefly how we got into using prescribed fire and kind of how we use it, then tell you a little bit about our Fire Program. Our Conservation Department was started in 1937. Since then, we've had an active and very aggressive fire suppression program, which now we call the Fire Management Program because we are using fire. In the 1950s, late 1950s, and the early 1960s, we were starting to get a handle on the fire problem, although we still have a lot of fires.
One of the first uses that we had of fire was burning railroad rights-of-way. The railroads caused a lot of fires. And we knew they were going to cause them, and we knew when they were going to cause them. Finally, working with the railroads, we figured out a solution. And so fuel reduction agreement with the railroads kept us from having those fires and allowed us to concentrate on other areas of suppression.
Now, in recent years, we have started to look at the management of ecosystems and broaden our view of landscapes. We have looked at pre-settlement conditions and what effect fire had on the landscape at that time. And we have started to reestablish prairies and glades and savannahs. We could see that fire can be a useful tool.
Our first attempts in the early days of prescribed fire were to reduce woody vegetation on native prairies and to establish a good seed bed for sowing short-leaf pine seed. Both were successful.
Page 33 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC A major job when the department was established was to control fire so that we had something to manage. And although the wildfire problem will always be with us and, to give you an example, in 1996 we had 5,800 fires and lost 123,000 acres to wildfires, we do see a beneficial need to use fire. After all, the decision not to burnand we have heard this discussed here todayis a management action with at least as many ramifications and potential pitfalls as the decision to burn.
We have some good examples. There are certain objectives that can't be accomplished just by using fire alone. On our Henning Conservation Area in southwest Missouri and on the Indian Trail Conservation Area in the Ozarks, we have to physically remove some of the large cedars before we can use fire to maintain that condition.
I'll switch a little bit to our current fire situation. A few years back we started to realize the benefits of rural fire departments and the role they played in Missouri to protect structures as well as wildland resources, but we realized that they needed help and they realized they needed help. So first we started a program to offer training. That was all the funds we had right then at that time, to offer training. And that helped.
Then with the establishment of the Excess Property Program and the Rural Community Fire Protection Program, we were able then to help fire departments with obtaining equipment.
There are very few areas in the State that are not covered by rural fire departments at this time. And if not for these two programs, many of these smaller departments simply would not be there to protect the private citizen.
Fire protection in rural and wildland areas, as has been mentioned, is not the same as fire protection in the cities. The quality of the public fire protection is generally related to the population density of the area to be protected. So, therefore, in the wildland-urban interface areas, where, by design, there are fewer people and more trees, the availability of fire protection is going to be less than many former city residents might expect.
Page 34 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC If we had to name one program that has helped more than any others in Missouri, it would be the Federal Excess Property Program. We, too, would like to see that continue. There are numerous rural fire departments throughout Missouri and nationally that wouldn't have any equipment if it were not for the Excess Property Program. To date, we have approximately $35 million worth of excess property assigned to the rural fire departments.
Where do we go from here? Well, in general, I think the public does not perceive a risk from wildfires. The effects of public education efforts have not been significant when compared to the need. Unless some catastrophic event occurs, wildland fire protection issues generate very little interest. We need fire departments. And we need them to become better equipped and, therefore, better able to protect lives and property.
We feel the key to solving the total wildfire problem rests with the development of a unified partnership of Federal, State, local governments and the private sector. This partnership should identify risks, hazards, values, and responsibilities. To be successful, the emphasis must be on the local level supported by the States and coordinated with the Federal agencies. This fire protection and prevention issue cannot be solved by any one entity acting independently.
I'd be happy to answer questions.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Johnson appears at the conclusion of the hearing.]
The CHAIRMAN. I thank you, Mr. Johnson. And I appreciate the panel's discussion here.
Mr. Wilson, I'm intrigued by your example of Idyllwild. And Mr. Johnson and Mr. Hull had really addressed this issue in separate ways. But how do you prepare a community for the possibility of fire which would be catastrophic? It sounds like you've attempted to do that in Idyllwild. Tell me about it.
Mr. WILSON. Well, Mr. Chairman, through the fire plan and through the graphic, the way we can display the issues facing people, we found what's happened is an acute awareness and interest has come about that we haven't been able to do, really, heretofore.
Page 35 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC One of the things that's been so gratifying with the fire plan is that we now have 12 fire-safe councils in the State of California, voluntary people coming forward in their own communities, and saying, ''What do we need to do to better fire-safe our communities?'' In San Diego, the first meeting, 100 people showed up.
Now, I think what they're finally doing is becoming aware that they are at risk and that there is something they can do. What we have been able to demonstrate is to show them the fire history, show them what prevention has done, and what they need to do as a community to take further action as needed to better fire-safe their communities.
This kind of strategy we feel can be employed at all different kinds of areas in the State. If you have a very expensive park, a sequoia stand or something, we may have to employ a wildfire protection zone with the Federal Government, to be sure we've got a 300-foot buffer in there to stop a wildfire from coming across and burning that stand down. We know we can't burn 500 to a million acres a year because it's just out of reach.
But we know we can get into some strategies and put them to work in other communities. We've also done the same thing. I used Idyllwild, but we have worked with other communities.
The reason these things are working is we're getting this down to the local level and getting these people activated. That's why we need the coordination of the Federal Government with us at the State level to help this happen. It's this coordination and cooperation. You just can't withdraw any more to your line and call it good anymore because it's too big and it's beyond us. So we have to be able to have a strategy.
I think we've started. And I'm really hopeful that with the Forest Service, the BLM, the local government, and the State fire marshall, and even National Park Service, that we all collectively can begin to use our expertise down below. That's the whole key, to get it down into those areas where people have a real interest and can see for themselves.
Page 36 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The CHAIRMAN. I suppose that's why you support Quincy Library.
Mr. WILSON. Well, I do. I think that Quincy Library has beenI have supported it. In fact, some of the ideas I think were some of the things I had talked to some people about several years ago and that the idea with Quincy is that they are rearranging the game plan a little bit.
But the point is that it's reducing it down to where there is a certain amount of empowerment down at the local level and there are some very, very diverse interests there, as you know, between then environmental community and the local community and the timber industry.
But the good part of that, it seems to me, is that we have a program there that is going to try to change the way we are doing business. The net affect is it's going to be monitored and it can be evaluated. If it isn't right, it can be stopped, and we can rework it. But we are moving.
I would call to your attention that recently when Secretaries Babbitt and Glickman were at Tahoe that was a pre-summit before the President goes out on, I believe, July 25 and 26. Tahoe is a great example, 208,000 acres, of which 160,000 is Federal land. There are parts of that forest, 80 percent of it, are dead and dying. It's standing there. It's a potential for what you said. Are we going to have it all go down or are we going to get at it?
The question was asked: What is the goal for burning those Federal Forest Service lands, 10,000 acres? How many acres are being burned? Two hundred. Well, it's going to be a long time before we ever get there. That's why we need to get coordinated and have cooperation and empower these regional people at the Federal level to act with the State in concert, so that we can actually get down there and begin to do work.
I think we have the capability, Mr. Chairman. We just have to do it.
The CHAIRMAN. I so much agree with you. We always hold these hearings. And we always walk out and say, ''My gosh. What a great hearing.'' And then nothing happens.
Page 37 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC You know, I have been around this place, in this Government, a long time. And we have been working on this very issue of forest health in the eastern part of my State for the last 15 years. We have known it's there. And, yet, we're in gridlock. We can't do anything. Nothing is happening. So we'd better get something going on the ground or the result will be the loss of the resource.
Thank you very much for that point, Mr. Wilson. Just a side comment. You realize these are powerful forces that you're bucking here. First of all, you've got a National Forest Service that says, ''Turn our obligation over to local people? You're out of your mind.''
Then we've got the environmentalists who say, ''My God. We can't turn this over to local people or we don't have a national structure anymore.'' Congratulations on taking on two giants.
Mr. Hull, I never thought about the CRP as a fire threat until you raised it. That's going to be an interesting point to continue on with because obviously if it's in crop, it's not a fire threat. But you put it in CRP and you let it grow up knee high and it dries. And, of course, that is an insurmountable problem. I understand that.
Mr. HULL. Well, I can tell you, Mr. Chairman, that we are working very actively with the Natural Resource Conservation Service, the Farm Services Administration to see if there's not some type of mitigation that we can do up front in the planning for these. They're aware of it and very cooperative.
The CHAIRMAN. Good.
Mr. FARR. Well, thank you, Mr. Chairman.
And I just wanted to note that right behind you is Ed Hasty from BLM. He's being a tourist here today with his granddaughter Christine. I'd like to welcome a great Federal employee to the Agriculture Committee.
Page 38 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I wanted to followup on your questioning with Mr. Wilson. If you were going to design the plan for how you would integrate, say, the Quincy solution or something conceptual like that, I was just sharing with the chairman the idea that very people understand that's in the Coastal Management Act, where essentially you have a bottoms-up plan that meets Federal requirements. And then that plan is signed off by the Federal Government. And, therefore, then all of the activities in that plan have to be consistent with the locals so that you have some local control.
You're very familiar, having been on that first coastal commission. Is there any similar type process for forest management? And you were talking about how it transcends all of these boundaries, whether those boundaries, in fact, Mr. Chairman, be CRP boundaries.
It seems to me that if we're going to effectively manage the diversity of America's forests, which are incredibly diverse, you can't do it with one shoe fits all. It's got to have, like communities, a local, regional approach to management and suppression.
What do you recommend that we do?
Mr. WILSON. Well, I think, Congressman, you may have stepped out. I did bring to the attention of the chairman the fire plan, but I would bring another matter to your attention which I think is very constructive and productive to this discussion.
That is thatand behind me here is perhaps the father of the idea known as the Biodiversity Council the State of California has bio-regions. Bio regions are basically communities of interest on a natural setting. I mean by that that the desert of the south is different from the Central Valley, from the Klamath of the north, from the coast to the eastern Sierra.
Traditionally we have always thought of ourselves as being in counties, and pretty much that's the way our political thinking went. We've never really gotten anywhere talking about regions.
But the idea of our regions is that you have like regions in communities of interest, particularly with vegetation and landscapes, I think has really caught the attention of people. And it certainly plays into the whole idea of the fire plan because those kinds of vegetation in areas immediately play into the idea of dealing with these fuels, and areas such as southern California have a very different problem than the Sierra or even the Klamath in the north coast area.
Page 39 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC So what's happening with the fire planand I emphasize if we can get everybody in the same harness and not worry too much about everybody's turf and come to a common understanding of where we need to put our emphasis in these areas and the leadership that seems to be coming out of these fire-safe councilsis we're beginning to get at that whole core problem of getting the bottoms up because, as I say, we've got the insurance industry and the real estate people. They are actively working with us funding and helping us educate people to the needs of establishing a fire-safe California.
Mr. FARR. Well, following up on the chairman's comment that after we leave these hearings, we talk about ''Why don't we do that?'' what would you recommend we do from this?
Mr. WILSON. Well, I would hope that you would encourage the Federal agencies to be partners with the State and to help with any kind of funding and coordination that they can bring to the table.
Mr. FARR. We were told that that's what they're doing with the
Mr. WILSON. Well, recognize that there are some things by statute the Federal Government can't do that the State can. We all recognize that, but there are things where we have a real mutual interest. In the alliance, I think that we set the tone at the summit and said, ''We are going to take those areas that we can basically do together,'' not emphasizing what we can't do, but what we will do, ''and see in 1 year's time what we can do to put some of this work in the field.''
One is the front on southern California, where we have a lot of Forest Service, BLM lands, and even Nature Conservancy people, that we need to be able to do some prescription burning.
Now, this alliance can deal with some of the problems that are going to challenge us. One is going to be air. Here's an area you could probably look into for us. We're going to have serious problems with air pollution because of the particulate issue. We may have trouble with wildlife people or something because of some facet.
Page 40 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC We hope the alliance can talk to these people, bring them in, and make them realize it's in everybody's best interest to make this happen. That's the bottom line. We want to make it happen. But I think you could be very helpful if you could monitor and watch how air resources basically play in this whole field, because they're going to be a very key component.
Mr. FARR. Are they at the table?
Mr. WILSON. They are whenever you go for a permit.
Mr. FARR. No. I mean, they're at the table of the planning process.
Mr. WILSON. We're trying to get them in. We're trying to get them all in. And the reason I say an alliancealliance is whoever the parties are that fit on the prescribed day in a specific project because they might change. And that's having the flexibility.
The other thing I would encourage is to see that the Federal agencies remain flexible and empower their people to be flexible in the field. That will be extremely helpful.
Mr. FARR. What I would appreciate is some suggestion on how we can force that coordination to the table. I've seen it work in base reuse in Fort Ord, where essentially all the parties of interest sat at the table ahead of time and agreed, even the regulators, agreed that this would be a common accepted cleanup practice, for example, State cleanup issues and Federal cleanup issues and local cleanup issues, the same way with the endangered species. They all sat down ahead of time and agreed on a common protocol. And we've done it under budget and ahead of schedule.
If we're going to move some of this money from suppression to prevention and to management, then the only way we can do it is in a coordinated effort, where all of the players are at the table to agree on a strategy.
Mr. WILSON. I hope the table is set certainly through the fire plan, but also with the alliance. We met here in June, just a couple of weeks ago, and talked about this so that now that the table is set, we're going to see what we can do. It's right there that I think perhaps some of these revenues and monies might be helpful for us as we begin to set these up.
Page 41 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC We're going to set up projects, Congressman. We're not talking about some theoretical policy. We're talking about actually doing work on the ground, and it's going to require money. We're going to go to the private sector, and we're going to go to Government. And we're going to go everywhere we can to try to see that this is done.
This is an area where you could very well be helpful to us as we begin to establish these priorities and these projects.
The CHAIRMAN. Thank you.
Mr. GOODLATTE. I don't have anything.
The CHAIRMAN. All right. I thank the panel very much. You have been most instructive.
The CHAIRMAN. I would call our third panel.
Dr. Ron Wakimoto is the professor of wildland fire management at the University of Montana, School of Forestry. Dr. Jason Greenlee is forest ecologist at the International Association of Wildland Fire.
Dr. Wakimoto, welcome. Thank you for joining us. Please begin.
STATEMENT OF RON WAKIMOTO, PROFESSOR, WILDLAND FIRE MANAGEMENT, SCHOOL OF FORESTRY, UNIVERSITY OF MONTANA
Mr. WAKIMOTO. Chairman Smith, distinguished members of the committee, it is a great privileged to be here for this opportunity to give my testimony on this subject.
I would like to present a discussion of the conditions that exist in the forests of the West reflecting on the past and present role of fire on the landscape. Where appropriate, I will discuss past and present management and fire suppression actions and conclude with what I believe should be some of our future actions.
Now, in order to communicate some of these ideas, I'd like to talk a little bit about fire regimes. I think some of you are quite familiar with it, but I think we forget about how the forest works. And they don't necessarily work the way most people think they work.
Page 42 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC And what I'd like to do today because of time is talk, first of all, about short-interval fire regimes, where fire is a very important recurring event or at least historically has been, and then contrast that with long-interval fire regimes, which makes up a large portion of the forests of the West, where there is no direct opportunity to do prescribed under-burning, as we have been pretty much talking about throughout this session. It's very different.
Short-interval fire regimes are those that have historically had fires occur every 4 to 25 years on average, frequent fire-favored grassy under-stories and widely spaced, thick-barked trees with few limbs near the ground. Fine fuels, litter and grass, were everywhere, but the buildup of fuel was low because of the frequent occurrence of fire. These fires were low-intensity surface fires. And many of the congressmen as well have been talking about such fires.
Crown fires were rare. Such fires became quite large, burning over long time periods on time, in continuous fine fuels. The spread of these fires was checked only by other recent fires, rivers, major rock outcroppings, and significant changes in weather.
In such forests, nutrient cycling was dominated by rapid chemical decomposition by fire, not by fungi or insects, periodic fire-consumed decaying woody materials limiting the substrate needed for fungal decay, and it also reduced the stocking of trees to limit insect outbreak.
Native Americans frequently set fires to these short-interval fire forest types. Fire was as important as wind and rain in these types. And the removal of Native Americans as an ignition source in the West combined with extensive and intensive overgrazing by livestock brought about fire exclusion from these western forests as far back as 1860 to 1880 if you really look at the record in the trees.
The majority of the trees on these sites that we have now have never been exposed, to fire in their lifetime. And I want to say the contrast is amazing. In such forests in Montana, the longest single fire-free period since 1600 has been the last 80 years.
Page 43 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC These forests grow on productive lower-elevation sites that dry out early and they become flammable every year for long periods of time relative to the forests around them. They dry out the earliest in the year, and they wet up the latest in the season.
Fire exclusion has allowed plant succession toward dense, all-age stands dominated by shade-tolerant species with limited fire resistance. And this conversion to these shade-tolerant species has been most rapid on the most productive sites. These areas are the core of the forest health problem because we have removed fire from these systems, fire that was like wind or rain.
Over 20 years ago, a friend who was then a California State park ranger when I taught at Berkeley characterized such forests as overcrowded, undernourished, and riddled with insects and disease. And that was 20 years ago.
The crowded trees are highly stressed each year on these dry sites. The remaining over-story weakened by moisture stress are often killed by insects that are a part of a large background population. Root diseases, simply fungi trying to recycle nutrients in place of fire, also predispose these trees to insect attack. And I have to remind you that all of this occurs on very fire-prone sites.
In the short-interval fire regime types, there is no substitute for periodic fire. My comments include all of those southern forests that some of the Members of Congress have spoken of today. There is no substitute for periodic fire, either from the fuel management standpoint or an ecological standpoint.
Prescribed burning will remove the tremendous quantity of fine fuel that no other manipulation can. Restoration of fire to these types is critical to their survival. Wildfire at this time will eliminate the seed source of fire-resistant species from the site.
Now, if we were to apply prescribed fire, the fires that we apply in these types will kill many trees, regardless of the care put forth in the planning or in the execution of the fire treatment. These trees have never seen a fire in their lifetime.
Page 44 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Now I'd like to have you take a look at some of these photographs. To my right is an example of an Oregon pine stand where we have had prescribed burning applied in the under-story. Notice that the pretreatment stand is shown in the upper photo. If you look at the pre-treatment stand, you can see that succession was slower, the trees are not merchantable, they're not very large, and we're able to apply under-story fire to give that treatment, to reduce the fuel ladders that are there and the fuel loading.
On my left or your right is another condition where because succession has gone on so far we had to actually go to a different treatment where we actually did thinning from below, mechanical treatment, removing it, harvesting the trees from below to again give us the very similar fireproof, relatively fire-resistant forest.
Now, again I'll remind you that there had to be excellent fuel treatment done on those sites after that manipulation and particularly working on the fine fuels because they can still carry fire throughout those stands.
In such areas, we must fight fire with fire. We must construct site-specific, coordinated interagency fire management plans that allow lightning-cause fires to burn, as well as provide for large-scale aerial ignition. We have to be up front with dealing with communities, people, and the homeowners who have indefensible structures. And I think Mr. Wilson spoke of that originally, that we have to be up front there.
Fire management plans should directly address that situation so that insurance companies can account for their risks. Fire management zoning that considers a full range of appropriate suppression actions and fire use actions must be completed as a priority.
Now, that's a part of the forests. Those are the forests that areexcuse me. I see that we're running low on time. Let me finish up real quickly.
The CHAIRMAN. Please just conclude at your leisure.
Mr. WAKIMOTO. The long-interval fire regimes are a major portion of the West. And I want to have you recognize that during the late 1800's, prior to many of these areas becoming National Forests, we had massive fires, burning millions of acres.
Page 45 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC And now we're at a stage where these forests, these long-interval fire regime types that only burn 150 to 300 years between fires are now coming on line, where natural process has allowed a very slow accumulation of fuel, a slow mortality of those trees so that now we have fire problems in those sites. Those sites, the fuels that dominate are large-diameter woody fuels. They can be manipulated.
But prescribed fire in the under-story, as we see here, is not a feasible option. It is not a feasible option because those trees are not fire-resistant. Those same fires, low-intensity fires, as light a treatment as we would like would still kill almost all of the trees on the site.
The real difference, sir, is that our fire suppression has done away with a mosaic of different age classes of fires, historic, large-scale fires. Our Yellowstone experience in 1988 indicated that the only thing that stop large-scale, high-intensity fires, is another very large fire.
And so what I'm saying in a management action is that we have to look at strategic, clear-cutting, if you will, managing fuels so that we maintain large areas, large areas, of lesser fuels, lower fuel accumulations. And we may do that with a chainsaw. We may do that, where it's appropriate, with other large fires.
That is the way. Only by maintaining that mosaic of age classes can we stop those fires. In Yellowstone, we regularly had half-mile spotting of fires. And a simple cat line or whatever will not stop those kinds of fires.
I'll conclude here by referring to my keynote address to the 1994 Interior West Fire Council, where I asked the group two questions. First of all, does our fire management policy lead to decreased costs in fire protection in the long run? As long as we continue to suppress fires, systematically suppress fires, and not take the proactive manipulation of fuels and the prescribed burning of fuels in the appropriate types, we will continue to increase our costs.
Page 46 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC And, second, does our fire management policy lead to increased forest and rangeland health and sustainability? Again, the answer: It's up to you, and it's up to all of us in how we make those choices.
I ask you to consider those questions. If we do not change what we are doing, we will be pouring money down a rat hole. In the short run, by adding prescribed fire to our tool kit over large areas, we will alter the current landscape. We will produce a lot of smoke. We will kill a lot of trees. But if we do nothing, we will continue to have continuing higher costs of fire suppression and fire-dependent communities will be eliminated.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Wakimoto appears at the conclusion of the hearing.]
The CHAIRMAN. Thank you very much, Dr. Wakimoto.
STATEMENT OF JASON GREENLEE, FOREST ECOLOGIST, INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF WILDLAND FIRE
Mr. GREENLEE. Chairman Smith, distinguished members of this committee, it's my pleasure to have the opportunity to present my testimony to you today. Basically I have two messages I want to bring to you. One is that the professional community is in consensus about the issues before you today; and, second, that it badly needs your support.
The forestry and fire communities in the United States are tightly linked groups. Many of us wear both hats and share a common education and ethic. From my own background in both of these fields, I believe that there is consensus on the broader issues of forest fire and forest health amongst our professionals. And I think that we have come a long way.
When I first started school, prescribed burning in the West was anathema. This was only 25 years ago. And now we are at a point of consensus on this issue. We agree, first, that there is a crisis in forest health, largely driven by past fire and forestry practices and exacerbated by drought and climate change.
Page 47 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The use of fire as a forestry tool has gradually declined over this century. And the suppression of wildfires has become increasingly effective, as you have heard. As a result, forest fuels are increasing, causing wildfire intensity and size to increase.
The irony of our great experiment with fire suppression, which began only 80 years ago, is that we can effectively suppress fires, at least 98 percent of them. The unfortunate aspect of this is that the fires that do escape each burn tens of thousands of acres in large climatic events.
Fire suppression tends to be self-defeating since it results in the accumulation of fuel for the next fire. These changes are self-evident. But other, more insidious changes are also occurring and harder to see.
When I was a student, my soil professor had a standing bet with all of his classes that he would give a case of beer to any student that could find a square meter of soil anywhere in the United States that didn't have charcoal in it. His point was that fire is everywhere in our landscape and has been since the dawn of time.
We know that change is inherent in forest ecosystems. Fire is frequently the agent of this change. Scientists now know that exclusion of fire from our landscapes has a myriad of well-documented, long-term impacts that are hard to see on a short time scale.
The second point that members of our communities are in consensus with is that we're at the brink of a social crisis professionals call the wildland-urban interface problem. And you have been talking about this.
Just as forest fire activity is increasing, people are choosing to locate their homes in the fire zone. When the fires come, we throw our young firefighters into their path and annually lose an average of 11 firefighters to these fires.
Last year 200 firefighters were forced into their flimsy fire shelters while trying to defend homes that were constructed in indefensible locations. Twelve of these people died.
Page 48 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Third, after 90 years of debate, we're all ready to agree that natural and prescribed fires are long overdue as two tools that should be used to combat the forest crisis. Better minds than mine have devoted careers to solving these forestry and social problems. And there isn't much that hasn't been said or tried. We know what needs to be done now, and we know how to do it. It's time to get into gear.
There was a question asked about the money involved in suppression versus pre-suppression work. My off-the-cuff answer is you're going to save a lot of money if you move these funds over into pre-suppression. I can't see how that would not be true. And perhaps an analysis should be done, but it's pretty obvious that this kind of expenditure is going to be much more effective in the long run. We need to get these forests in a management mode under good management, under good fire and good silvicultural management.
Much more fire is needed. And we need to introduce fire now. And we need to introduce it on a broad scale. You're not going to hear any professional stand up and say anything different than that.
Second, another point of consensus is that it's obvious that many areas can no longer have fire reintroduced without intensive mechanical treatments that accompany that fire. These include piling and burning, pre-commercial and commercial thinning, and commercial harvests.
We need to have what I call a balanced program to treat our forest health crisis. We need to embrace and resolve the few remaining controversies that are involved, but we need mostly to move on. Prescribed fire and mechanical treatment are needed most urgently in those very wildland interface zones where the controversy is going to be the hottest. And that's where we need to put fire.
Third, we need to restore the use of natural fire in wilderness and roadless areas. And I know this is controversial. We need to accept the risk that these fires are going to escape, as they did in 1988. The risk of allowing natural fires to burn and igniting prescribed fires is low compared to the risk that wildfires will burn when we do nothing to remove the fuel.
Page 49 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC And this is one of the issues about the calendar aspect of fire, that some of these high-elevation, low-vegetation zones only burn in July, August, and September. And that's when we're going to need to let the fires burn. There's no way around that. We're going to have to make the public understand that. That's the only time that these areas will burn. And some of these fires will need to go.
Fourth, Federal and State forestry and fire agencies are downsizing at a time when we need to be adding to our organizations to do this restoration work. We need new people, and we need new skills.
Fifth, we need to encourage partnerships between Government, industry, and small business. The key to a balanced forest management program will be on-the-ground decision-making. There's no cookbook that we can follow. The land treatment prescriptions can't be written here in Washington or even in the district offices. People need to get out on the ground to make these decisions.
An example of this cookbook problem is the discussion about season, that this is going to be a site-specific decision that needs to be made and we need to trust the professionals to make these decisions. Another one is the chipping.
The question was asked about chipping. I'd just like to say that in some cases where chipping may not kill as many animals as fire, you're going to find other cases where fire is absolutely necessary to maintain some of our rare and endangered species. And chipping would hurt those species. So it's a very complex issue that has to be ground-specific and site-specific.
From Washington, we need to support these professionals in every way in their decision-making. Funding is woefully inadequate. Legal barriers must be removed. Liability issues have to be cleared away.
Fires are going to escape. Winds will shift and blow smoke into communities. There will be public protests over the harvesting activities. But we need to support the professional when the smoke hits the fan.
Page 50 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC All parties involved need to resolve their conflicts and present a single coordinated agenda to the American public. Our country did a phenomenal job with Smokey Bear. And it's time to oil those gears and bring Smokey Bear back into the picture but with a new agenda of a modern forest management program.
To achieve this, our forestry, fire, and conservation communities need to come to this consensus that I believe already exists. ''Forest health'' needs to become a household word. And everyone needs to understand the reasons, the risksand there are risksand the costs for this national program.
To me, the message is simple. As long as wildlands remain, wildland fire will flourish. It's a mistake to let the public think that we could control fire any more than we can control a volcano or a tidal wave or an earthquake.
We usually are successful in saving lives and property on these fires, but we can't control fire in the larger sense. To the extent that we have succeeded in controlling fire, we have accumulated a backlog of fire that now threatens to sweep over us. And we have created an economic problem for ourselves.
In a new balanced fire program, we need to devote equal amounts of energy into fire suppression to protect property and lives, into the use of fire and other forestry tools to restore forests, and to public education about why we're doing this and what risks are involved.
Mr. Farr asked the question about what should we do. Well, it's pretty simple. We need to provide money for burning, and we need to hire companies. We need to do preparation in burning. We need a lot more money to do all of these things. We need to address the legal and policy blocks that are obstructing us. We need to promote flexible management on the ground.
And we have a great opportunity right now with all of the areas that are burned to put management on the ground with those burned areas. And I don't want that point to escape. We burned millions of acres last year. That's a good place to begin. We've got a fuel-cleared problem there now. And we can pick those acres up and manage them forward in the future. They're not destroyed acres. They're going to come back.
Page 51 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Greenlee appears at the conclusion of the hearing.]
The CHAIRMAN. Thank you, Dr. Greenlee. It may be maybe a priority of steps that I'm confused with you about or maybe it isn't. You're suggesting that we go to the public and say, ''It's all right to burn in July, August, and September because we can't put the fire out anyway.'' Is that what you said?
Mr. GREENLEE. No, sir. What I was saying was that
The CHAIRMAN. Good.
Mr. GREENLEE. Yes, yes. I agree with you about your point about the calendar that that kind of fire is extremely disturbing to the public. To see fires in one area being suppressed and in another area we tell them we're letting those fires go is very confusing to people.
The CHAIRMAN. Yes.
Mr. GREENLEE. What I was saying was that there are fires that are going to be burning in those months that we should let burn because
The CHAIRMAN. Well, maybe in a place like this.
Mr. GREENLEE. No, sir, not in a place like this, but in high-elevation, low-vegetation areas, like in some of our natural wilderness areas.
The CHAIRMAN. I was going to ask you about wilderness areas. Do you want to let fires burn in wilderness areas?
Mr. GREENLEE. Not always and not in every case.
The CHAIRMAN. We're confused about that, as you know. We don't know whether to go into a wilderness area and fight fire or not because we're confused about mechanical vehicles and all of that business. You know, you never drop borate over a wilderness fire.
Mr. GREENLEE. Mr. Chairman?
Page 52 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The CHAIRMAN. You don't cut it when it breaks out of the wilderness area. By that time, it's a good one normally in Oregon.
Mr. WAKIMOTO. I guess I'd like to address that. The fire issue you're speaking of in Oregon last year originated as prescribed natural fires in wilderness.
The CHAIRMAN. Some were.
Mr. WAKIMOTO. Some were. Particular major escapes were. Those fires are in area where via the 1964 Wilderness Act, man is supposed to be only a visitor and those processes are supposed to hold true. In their defense, the forester was simply trying to follow through on that same policy.
Now, I'll say this, that, unfortunately, in the cases in Oregon, both of those were where politically we had drawn wilderness boundaries on these low-growth forests and put them on the top of a ridge that ran north-south essentially and the winds blow from the west. So it was kind of an automatic ''You are going to lose'' kind of situation. And I think the Forest Service has done a very serious review of those sites and that planning the went on there.
As a former member of the national fire policy review team following the Yellowstone fires, we recommended in our 1988 report that there be some active fuels management on the boundaries of wildernesses. And to this date, in the western wildernesses, there are no prescribed burns in western wilderness. That is where managers ignite fires so that we can allow that process to be a part of that forest.
The CHAIRMAN. I'll get back to you, Mr. Wakimoto.
Dr. Greenlee, again, I want your point emphasized. Why don't you fight fire in a roadless area?
Mr. GREENLEE. We certainly do fight fire in roadless areas, sir. And we use fire in those same areas. And that's part of the balanced program that I have been discussing. We have been approaching this from many different angles over the years trying this and that. And we continue to fight fire in roadless wilderness areas.
Page 53 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC But the point I was making about the calendar was that some of these areas only get lightning fires because of their elevation and their vegetation. They only get lightning fires in the season that you're concerned with. And it might be appropriate to allow those fires to burn under some prescribed and preplanned conditions and also to learn from the mistakes when they occur.
The CHAIRMAN. Well, of course, those higher alpine areas, there are a lot of them that are already in wilderness and have. And they're so late in the season they have little to burn should there be fires attracted by nature.
But let me get back to the question of priorities. If you have an overstocked area, mostand I'm speaking now of forests that I'm familiar withsome in Montana but primarily in eastern Oregon and eastern Washington and maybe many other areas. If you have an overstocked area with heavy fuel loading, with dead and dying timber in that forest, how do you burn as a tool?
Mr. GREENLEE. I started my career in Santa Cruz, California asking that very question. I had San Francisco to my north and San Jose to my east, Monterey to my south. And the short answer is very carefully with a lot of
The CHAIRMAN. I'm trying to get you to the step before burning.
Mr. GREENLEE. The preparation of the site?
The CHAIRMAN. Yes.
Mr. GREENLEE. The way we used and the way that I recommend in many sitesand, again, this is site-specific.
You have to decide for each case. But we did mechanical fuel removal, piling, and burning, a lot of public information programs, news announcements in preparation. And then we had to work really closely with smoke authorities to be sure that the smoke traveled out over the ocean. And over that 15-year period, I had some major problems in that urban area when the smoke shifted. It was an unplanned shift.
Page 54 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The CHAIRMAN. But I'm getting to the forest health issues specifically because I think you and I agree, I believe we agree, that it's very dangerous to burn in the fire season in those kinds of areas that are heavily fuel-loaded and have a lot of dead and dying timber in them. It's very dangerous to do that.
You must take the step prior to that hopefully in management practices, either mechanical operations or thinning or relieving some of that load on the forest floor. At that point, you get your forest into position. You can manage with fire that is predictable.
Am I wrong in that thought?
Mr. GREENLEE. Sir, you're right on.
The CHAIRMAN. OK.
Mr. GREENLEE. You have the point exactly. And I would never be one to recommend July, August, September burns in areas that are low elevation, close to population centers.
My point in bringing that up was that we don't have a cookbook where we say, ''Well, we're not going to burn this month'' or ''We're going to use these techniques.'' We have to look at the individual site and trust the professionals that are making those decisions and be sure they're accountable when they make mistakes and that the organizations learn from those errors.
The CHAIRMAN. Do you think we should fight fire in wilderness areas?
Mr. GREENLEE. Yes, sir, I do. Under certain circumstances, we need to get in there right away. And I think the Federal Government recognizes that also.
The CHAIRMAN. Well, I'm not sure. We're very confused about that.
Dr. Wakimoto, you have vast experience. And now in Montana, you understand what we are facing as far as forest health. I noted in your testimony, you said that every forest will burn, I believe, within 80 years.
Mr. WAKIMOTO. Well, no. What I did is tried to give a range of different kinds of forests. There are these types that have historically burned quite frequently, like these pine forests of eastern Oregon. And there are others were the natural process would be more in the 150- to 300-year kind of range, some even longer than that.
Page 55 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The CHAIRMAN. But they will burn?
Mr. WAKIMOTO. They will burn. All of our fire suppression efforts add about 65 years to the natural fire intervals that we have talked about.
The CHAIRMAN. And the question of the priority of management I want to get to. What is your priority of management of restoring these forests that havewe thought we were protecting them. Now we find that didn't work. What is your priority of bringing them back?
Mr. WAKIMOTO. Well, if we're talking about these types that have low-intensity, high-frequency fire, the short-interval fire regime types, there I do believe that for me the priority is to do just what you two have been talking about, to assess that situation in terms of the quantity of fuel there and whether or not under-story surface fire can be applied.
I do want to caution you in the sense of forest health because we do have situations where because of the historic goings-on in the particular sites where cutting trees, the manipulation creates stumps which are actually utilized by the fungi that are on the site. And they become tree killers at times because they're getting all of this high nutrient load from these stumps with no protection out there and the diseases kill all the rest of the trees. So you do what you consider a perfect job of manipulation. And 5 years later all the trees are dead from root rot.
So we do have that. Professionals can identify what those sites are. But I just want to caution you that this automatic prescription to cut trees is not an easy way to deal with it.
The CHAIRMAN. Is that true with thinning as well?
Mr. WAKIMOTO. Yes. And that's why when they're younger trees with not a lot of merchantable value, I preferand that's my preference because of how I was trainedto light the fire first, kill those under-story trees, let them dry out so they do not become major receptor for the spores that are flying all through the forest, and then cut them down. You can make it look aesthetic afterwards.
Page 56 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Oftentimes we don't have that kind of money up front. We do it after the harvest or it goes with the harvest.
The CHAIRMAN. We have an interesting budgetary situation in this country. The budget is open-ended to fight fire. We restore it, whatever it takes. But to prevent fire, we can't get $50 million out of this Congress. We spent a billion last year on the open-ended end, and we can't find $50 million for forest health. While we are, it's inadequate, as you know.
Thank you, gentlemen, very much, I appreciate it.
Mr. WAKIMOTO. Thank you, sir.
The CHAIRMAN. Mrs. Clayton.
Mrs. CLAYTON. Mr. Greenlee, in your testimony, you made reference to that people are indeed choosing to live very near in the path of these fires. And in the larger managing fire is the whole relationship of the urban interface with wildlife.
Would you comment or do you know if there have been any efforts in terms of home ownership or financing of homes or the insurance of homes to begin to anticipate the risk that's involved in that? And as we do with floodplains and other disasters, it has a risk that is assumed by some insurance and is insisted upon by those who finance homes. Is there any move to recognize that element of risk from the mortgage or the homemakers or the people who finance these homes and the insurance companies?
Mr. GREENLEE. Mrs. Clayton, you've addressed a question that's right on the cutting edge of the very interesting problems that a lot of us face. We've had almost no luck in getting the attention of the industry and financial community in the urban-wildland interface problem primarily because the fire losses that we sustain are small potatoes compared to some of the things like flooding and earthquakes that they're dealing with. And, fortunately, over the last couple of years, that has just begun to turn around. I'm not talking about the banking industry so much as the insurance industry. But it has been very slow getting their attention, and it has been a real uphill battle just to educate them and get them up to speed on what can be done.
Page 57 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC One thought I want to leave you with is that if people can be induced through positive incentives, maybe tax incentives, insurance incentives, financial incentives, if they can be induced to do two things, have the right kind of construction material and have clearance around their home, proper amount of clearance, they can reduce the risk of loss of their house 85 percent. It's been shown over and over again in the United States and Australia and Canada that those two measures have real payoffs for the homeowner and, of course, for us.
I work part-time on-call for FEMA. And we're also looking at these issues. FEMA was very proactive in the flood management. And we're exploring ways that we can help people decide, once an area has been declared a disaster help them decide, not to have that disaster revisit them. And we need to work with those two industries and with the homeowner.
There's a lot that a homeowner can do on Sunday afternoons that will save their house. And we just need to get that message out to them. We're doing the best we can, but it's hard.
Mrs. CLAYTON. Thank you.
The CHAIRMAN. Thank you very much.
Mr. THUNE. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I appreciate the emphasis today as well on prevention, rather than cure. One point I guess I would like to makeand I probably should have made that earlier directed to the USDA when they were herebut in terms of our national treasure in South Dakota, the Black Hills National Forest, it seems ironic to me. We have a hard time at the same time that we arethis year the forest plan proposed increasing the amount of acreage subject to controlled burns from about 300 to 500 acres per year to 8,000 acres annually at the same time that they are reducing the million board feet that can be harvested for timber purposes by about a third, which suggests to me that it's okay. We'll allow people to burn it down, but we don't want them to harvest it. And that seems to be a sort of a paradox as I look at it.
Page 58 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I guess to me it would make sense that if you were going to burn some of these areas that you'd do it after they have been harvested for timber. I say that more as an observation, but I will come back to a question which I think maybe you could comment on. And that isand this might be digressing for a moment from things that you have said previously, but, Mr. Greenlee, you mentioned neither salvage logging nor the no-touch approach to address the current risk of catastrophic fire. What is your view on these options?
I mean, in our particular case, as I mentioned, we have a problem in that we have timber that could be harvested. We have small businesses that survive industry who are unable to get in there and every time that they try go through this long, protracted appeal process. And, yet, when it comes to the area of burns, we don't seem to have that problem.
Mr. GREENLEE. Sir, I'm glad you asked that question because, actually, although it's in my written testimony, I had to cut those parts out to do the 5 minutes. On the salvage logging issue, first, my view is not a consensus view. There is a lot of contentious about that issue, obviously.
And my personal view as a forest ecologist is that I don't favor a lot of emphasis on salvage logging, only because I feel like we're reacting to a problem. We've had a fire. We're going to salvage it. What we need to do is put the emphasis on solutions to prevent the problem. And that's where prescribed burning plays a role.
Once a forest has burned, salvage logging is such a contentious issue that we may want to try to extract ourselves from that issue so that we can move on with the prevention measures. So that's my opposition to salvage logging, is that it's a reaction, rather than prevention.
And I have the same feeling about hands-off policies. When I started my career as a youngster and a wanderer through wildernesses of the United States, I was very in favor of hands-off. And now I see the error of that policy. Hands-off is a very definitive type of management. And as we've tried to keep our fire out of woods, keeping our hands off the woods is going to be just as destructive. We need active management in there.
Page 59 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Going back to your point about harvest, part of that active management does need to be commercial thinning and commercial harvest. Again, that is site-specific. If we can look at a forest and we can see where our prescribed fire is going to destroy some large merchantable trees, yes, the prescription might be we'll get in there and harvest those trees first.
But I emphasize to you if you haven't seen a fire, a prescribed fire, that most of the kinds of fire that Dr. Wakimoto and I are talking about and the other folks testifying today, most of those kinds of fires are light under-story forest fires that creep through the forests at about a foot flame length, as opposed to the wildfires that are so dramatic. These fires don't kill those trees. So you could harvest before the fire. You could harvest after it. You can mix in the management to have both types of activity going on at different timing.
So it's a site-specific problem. And I agree with you it is very confusing to people. We really need to explain to folks what's going on out there and bring the locals in, show them the site, and explain to them what we're doing, get their input.
And I think any good professional is going to do that. And we need to trust them to do their job. We can't prescribe that from here.
Mr. THUNE. I guess I would simply addand maybe some of these issues are above my pay gradesimply apply some level of common sense to these issues and again drawing on my experience in our particular instance, realizing that it's different than what you might be encountering in other parts of the country. But it certainly is an issue that has been raised by those again who are in the small businesses that are involved in logging the timber industry in South Dakota.
I thank the Chair.
The CHAIRMAN. Thank you.
Dr. Greenlee, I want it clear in my mind again the point that you made. I think intellectually I agree with you that we ought to stay away from salvage logging and go to prevention. I agree. But what do you do with a forest that has one-third standing dead timber?
Page 60 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC This is a case. This is exactly true in some areas, larger numbers of trees than that. If you're going to manage the forest for the remaining green trees, you don't like salvage. What do you do?
Mr. GREENLEE. Mr. Smith, I was hoping you weren't going to ask me that.
The CHAIRMAN. Well, sir, I'm going to ask you because it was lingering in my mind how in the world you're going to do this.
Mr. GREENLEE. Again a site-specific situation. I think where salvage logging disturbs me the most is probably in areas that are roadless wilderness areas because with my background in fire ecology, I recognized the role of fire in creating dead trees and
The CHAIRMAN. Well, now let's take out the wilderness areas. We're not going to
Mr. GREENLEE. Then I'm more comfortable.
The CHAIRMAN. Depending on how you want to fight fire in the wilderness. I grant you that.
Mr. GREENLEE. Then I'm more comfortable. If we could take salvage logging out of wilderness areas because that is such an issue with the American public because they see all kinds of things hiding behind the trees on
The CHAIRMAN. Cutting a dead tree is an issue with a lot of people in this country all of a sudden.
Mr. GREENLEE. Yes, sir. As you say, if we can remove wilderness, then I'm a lot more comfortable on areas where commercial logging is
The CHAIRMAN. I'm sure you must agree that you've got to do something with those dead trees or you're going to contribute to the loss of the forest and the green trees left without question.
Mr. GREENLEE. Mr. Smith, you and I may be working on the great compromise here.
Page 61 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The CHAIRMAN. Well, I hope you're right, but I doubt that we're going to make it today.
It's good to have you both here. Thank you so much.
Now I'd like to invite Mr. Edward Muckenfuss, who is the manager of sustainable forestry for the forest resources division of Westvaco Corporation; as well as Mr. Douglas Ladd, who is the director of science and stewardship for the Missouri Field Office of Nature Conservancy.
Gentlemen, welcome. Mr. Muckenfuss.
STATEMENT OF EDWARD MUCKENFUSS, MANAGER, SUSTAINABLE FORESTRY, FOREST RESOURCES DIVISION, WESTVACO CORPORATION
Mr. MUCKENFUSS. Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, I thank you for this opportunity to contribute my ideas on the prescribed burning and the benefits that accrue from the use of this important forest management tool.
My name is Ed Muckenfuss. I'm manager of sustainable forestry for Westvaco Corporation. Westvaco owns approximately 1.4 million acres of land in the United States and assists other landowners in managing an additional 1.4 million acres.
Our primary objective in owning forest land is to provide a sustainable source of wood fiber for our mills. However, the forests we manage also provide wildlife habitat and clean water for the lakes and streams adjacent to our forests. We firmly believe that active management allows our forests to be healthy and contributes to the full range of benefits that forests provide.
Prescribed or controlled burning is an important tool for managing our fine forests in the South. Without prescribed burning, our average annual timber casualty losses would increase by several orders of magnitude. In addition, our fire suppression costs would be significantly higher. And none of us should forget injuries and the loss of life can be reduced through the use of prescribed fire by reducing the number and severity of wildfires.
Page 62 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In our southern forests, as in other fire ecology forests, it is not a question of if a forest will burn, only when. Prescribed burning reduces excessive under-story vegetation and fuel, which, in turn, reduces the intensity of wildfires when they do occur.
The key, as you so correctly mentioned, Mr. Chairman, is to utilize prescribed fires that burn with low intensity. High-intensity fires in combination with heavy accumulations of fuel, on the other hand, will burn or damage a tree's crown, killing even the most fire-tolerant species.
We prescribe burn about every fourth year, selecting the days when temperatures are low, soil moisture is adequate, and smoke disbursal is good. This creates the protective mosaic mentioned by Dr. Wakimoto. This management technique protects not only the trees but our environment.
We expend considerable resources to protect our forests from wildfire. And our forest management personnel consider prescribed fire to be their most important tool. For example, of our nearly 340,000 acres of pine forests in South Carolina, we prescribe burn between 30 and 35,000 acres each year. Our goal is to reduce the wildfire occurrence on Westvaco lands to zero.
Over the last 5 years, we have averaged fewer than 45 fires per year, with about 325 acres of severe damage each year. This compares with the projected potential of more than 100 fires per year and thousands of forest acres severely damaged or destroyed. The most important factor in this very successful effort can be directly attributed to the use of prescribed fire.
I might add, Mr. Chairman, the extensive road system which is typical on Westvaco property has added measurably to our ability to effectively use fire as a tool.
In addition to limiting our losses to wildfires, prescribed burning often provides other benefits. These benefits include improved habitat for many species of wildlife and is considered to be the best method available to maintain essential habitat for the endangered red cocaded woodpecker.
Page 63 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC And, while I'm on the subject of animals, Mr. Chairman, I might mention that based on 30 years of experience, prescribed fire does not in any way damage animals. And the same could also be said for chipping.
On private lands in the South, hundreds of thousands of acres are prescribed burned each year. These fires are managed by competent professionals to ensure containment within the target area and to avoid undesirable impacts of smoke. The magnitude of use and the relatively low incidence of problems attests to the successful use of prescribed fire.
The cost of application throughout the South represents a significant investment. The continued use by the thousands of private landowners who consider fire to be an absolutely essential and cost-effective tool for the management of a wide range of objectives on their property should serve as a model for forest managers in every part of the Nation.
However, the continued use of prescribed fire is not without problems. For example, an item of serious concern for usand it's already been mentionedis the production reduction in particulate matter size from 10 microns to 2.5 microns in the proposed national ambient air quality standards.
If this regulation is adopted, it has the potential to eliminate our ability to prescribe burn. The elimination and prescribed burning would surely lead to a disastrous increase in severe wildfires similar to those witnessed in the West. These wildfires would actually increase air pollution since the accumulation of forest fuels, as you also have mentioned, will be burned eventually by high-intensity fires during weather conditions which favor the emission of particulate matter of the size being targeted for control.
Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, I respectfully urge you to protect the use of prescribed fire and to take the steps necessary to expand its use on public lands. The problems associated with fire exclusion should by now be evident to every citizen of the United States. The magnificent forest resources of this country deserve the best possible management prescriptions. And that will only be possible when our public lands managers are freed from well-meaning but misguided restrictions on the use of fire.
Page 64 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Muckenfuss appears at the conclusion of the hearing.]
The CHAIRMAN. I thank you very much.
Mr. Douglas Ladd, welcome.
STATEMENT OF DOUGLAS LADD, DIRECTOR OF SCIENCE AND STEWARDSHIP, THE NATURE CONSERVANCY
Mr. LADD. Mr. Chairman, members of the committee, I appreciate the opportunity to appear before you today and share the Nature Conservancy's views and experiences regarding the role of fire management in sustaining natural habitat.
I'm a biologist with the Nature Conservancy. A large portion of my work involves fire ecology research and on-the-ground pragmatic considerations of fire management.
The Nature Conservancy is an international nonprofit land conservation organization dedicated to the long-term conservation of our national heritage. As a land-based conservation organization, we own and manage the largest privately owned set of nature preserves in the world, totally about 1,400 sites covering some 710,000 acres.
The major premise underlying our mission is that successful conservation requires identifying, protecting, and managing suitable habitats while integrating conservation into the needs of human populations.
We work with a broad coalition of public and private partners to achieve our conservation goals and have developed an impressive track record of on-the-ground conservation success. We're interested in fire management issues because, as other speakers before us today have made abundantly clear, the role of fire in sustaining many of the critical habitats and the plants and animals they maintain has been well-established throughout the country.
The Nature Conservancy has been involved in prescribed fire management for over 35 years. During that time, we found that fire management can be used to achieve conservation goals safely, effectively, and efficiently while at the same time often accomplishing a reduction in site fuel buildups.
Page 65 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Of the 1,400-odd nature preserves owned by the Conservancy, more than 30 percent have been identified as having critical fire management needs. That is, from a biological perspective, these preserves contain plants, animals, or natural habitats for which fire is an essential process.
In the interior highlands of Missouri and Arkansas, where I conduct most of my work, we found that fire was a critical force in the formation and maintenance of the natural habitats of that part of the world for thousands of years prior to European settlement of this continent. Therefore, if it is a goal to try to conserve the plants and animals of that region, we have to include the processes, such as fire, to which the plants and animals have become adapted.
Failure to do so is going to result in species loss from critical habitats. It's also going to result in increased probability of invasion by aggressive Eurasian and exotic species.
The relationship between habitat integrity and fire management and fire is evident throughout North America, again as has been pointed out previously. But I think it's important to realize that fire is a critical force in sustaining and conserving many of the uniquely American aspects of our natural heritage.
For instance, our Nature Conservancy lands alone, which constitute a minuscule fraction of the total lands of conservation significance in this country, more than 150 of the rarest plants and animals on the planet; that is, those who are classified as G1 or G2 by the Natural Heritage Program network, exist on Nature Conservancy sites and require fire management to sustain them.
Lack of fire management of these sites or improperly conceived or executed fire management risks the irreplaceable loss of these elements of our natural heritage.
I think it's important to realize that fire management is subject to so many variables that it can affect different outcomes at a given site based on the tremendous variety of variables that we can't always control. I think it's crucial when we attempt to evaluate fire management protocols that we take into account the conservation needs of the plants, animals, and habitats that comprise the system.
Page 66 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In conclusion, I'd like to emphasize two points that the Nature Conservancy feels are critical when evaluating fire management standards and strategies from a national perspective.
First I think we need to recognize that fire is an essential component of a wide variety of habitats and ecosystems throughout the North American continent. In many respects, we're hostage to the biological history of our continent about this. And there's nothing we can do about it.
I think it's also important to explicitly acknowledge that there are no known alternative management treatments which have the same effect as fire management. This isn't to say that they might not be efficacious in certain situations, but we need to realize when evaluating the situation from a conservation perspective, that fire management does provide some unique influences on the habitats, plants, and animals we're concerned with.
Second, I think it's important to realize that when devising fire management strategies, there's no single national fire management protocol which is going to work because, as has been pointed out previously, there's a tremendous amount of variability and diversity among the habitats, ecosystems, plants, and animals on the North American continent. Therefore, when we evaluate and devise fire management strategies, we need to take into account the unique attributes of each individual site and its component habitats, plants, and animals.
I think if we're going to be successful in conserving our national heritage for future generations, we're going to have to increase the amount of fire management that occurs in many habitat types and landscapes throughout the North American continent. I think there is opportunity if we do this judiciously and take the individual needs of the habitats, plants, and animals into account that we can achieve conservation goals in conjunction with fuel reduction and other benefits.
Thank you very much.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Ladd appears at the conclusion of the hearing.]
Page 67 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The CHAIRMAN. I thank you both very much. I am interested again in both of your testimonies, first Mr. Muckenfuss.
You gave us your testimony, in fact, in favor of fire as a tool, but prior to the time that you use fire as a tool, I assume you manage your forests so that fire doesn't become catastrophic. What do you do before you use fire?
Mr. MUCKENFUSS. Mr. Chairman, we began the use of fire many, many years ago. And while it's true that it doesn't go back to the beginning of our history, probably the best way to answer that question is we suffered losses from very large and catastrophic wildfires.
At the time, many of the lands in our ownership were forested with very old-growth timber in the sense of the South, which was 50 to 60 years old. And those trees were better able to withstand the kinds of fires that we experienced. Currently we're on a 25 to 30-year rotation. And so the susceptibility to damage now is much greater. And fire has certainly served us well in protecting those kinds of stands and allowing us to meet the needs and objectives of our corporate philosophy.
The CHAIRMAN. What happens, Mr. Muckenfuss, to your wildlife? What happens to your quail, for goodness sakes? I'm very interested in that.
Mr. MUCKENFUSS. In every instanceand I base this answer on 30 years of experience with fire. In every instance, fire is beneficial to wildlife, including quail.
As you know, having hunted in Georgia, as you mentioned, quail like and require open stands of both pine and hardwood. And fire is what generates that kind of ecosystem which they thrive in.
I know of absolutely no instance, including the use of mass ignition with the help of helicopters to ignite a several hundred-acre block in a matter of minutes, where we have ever documented the loss of a single animal. I think those animals are much smarter than we give them credit for. And when the fire begins, they leave immediately. We just don't notice any problem with that.
Page 68 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The CHAIRMAN. Those are ''low-intensity'' fires. I come from a country that literally has catastrophic fires with huge buildups. And you never see the identification of loss of wildlife, but there is huge loss of wildlife. When those fires rage and jump, animals, like people, become very confused. And with smoke inhalation and other problems, we lose wildlife in large numbers.
I wanted to ask you, Mr. Ladd. In your presentation of use of fire, you said that we don't lose mammals. But you're familiar with fires in which we do lose wildlife, I'm sure.
Mr. LADD. I'm sorry, sir. I never identified that we didn't lose anything during my testimony.
The CHAIRMAN. I see.
Mr. LADD. I think certainly there is mortality in animal populations in most prescribed fire events I'm familiar with. I think we need to consider carefully the habitat conditions that those populations require and the goal of maintaining those habitats for sustainable populations of those animals. I would not advocate that all fires are benign on animal life. And certainly many are tremendously destructive.
The CHAIRMAN. That's right. So if I were on the side of protecting animals and wildlife and, in fact, water in quality in quantity, I would want I think to stop catastrophic wildfires, which endanger every one of those goals. Would I not?
Mr. LADD. I certainly agree with that. And the Conservancy agrees with that.
The CHAIRMAN. Well, that's interesting because, as you know, there are many, ''environmental'' organizations in this country who demand that no management is the future, never enter the forest, never harvest a tree because that's the way the good Lord wanted it.
That certainly doesn't get to my thoughts or yours, I suppose, as a biologist of preserving wildlife species. Does it?
Mr. LADD. Sir, if I could digress just a moment? And I think
Page 69 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The CHAIRMAN. I don't want to put you in a bad position.
Mr. LADD. No. You're not. One of the fundamental problems I think the environmental communities and others have faced is that there has been a movement of you people as an aberration in the natural systems. And I think one of the most compelling challenges facing us is to make people realize that people are an integrated component of nature and that in order to succeed, we're going to have to reintegrate people with nature while taking into account habitat and plant and animal conservation needs. Certainly that's the Nature Conservancy's view.
I think that a lot of the problems that we've gotten into today have been with the best of intentions by removing people from many aspects of the systems we're charged with sustaining for future generations.
The CHAIRMAN. Do you believe in wilderness areas?
Mr. LADD. My organizationagain, I can only speak for my rather provincial experience in the interior highlands in the southeastern United States. I think there's a role for wilderness areas from a biodiversity conservation standpoint. I think in many respects we're going to have to reevaluate our looking at the role of people in wilderness areas because in many cases in the areas I'm familiar with, we are sustaining losses, potential losses, of biodiversity with the best of intentions with a hands-off management policy.
The CHAIRMAN. I thank you. That's very interesting.
Any points that you'd like to make that we haven't asked about? Yes, sir?
Mr. MUCKENFUSS. Just a point of clarification, Mr. Chairman. And I think this is the way you took my answer on animals being killed by fire. My comments were strictly addressed at, as you said, low-intensity, controlled fires.
There are animal deaths associated with wildfires, as you also pointed out, as there are human deaths. I just can't imagine a situation in the South where we could not use controlled fire to prevent those kinds of very unfortunate situations. ''Prevent'' may be the wrong word. That is, reduce the occurrence of those very damaging wildfires.
Page 70 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The CHAIRMAN. Thank you both very much.
Mr. LADD. Thank you.
The CHAIRMAN. This hearing is adjourned.
[Whereupon, at 12:35 p.m., the committee was adjourned, subject to the call of the Chair.]
[Material submitted for inclusion in the record follows:]
TESTIMONY OF RONALD H. WAKIMOTO, PROFESSOR, THE UNIVERSITY OF MONTANA, SCHOOL OF FORESTRY
Chairman Smith, distinguished member of the committee, it is a great privilege to have the opportunity to present my testimony to you today.
I would like to present a discussion of the conditions that exist in the forests of the West reflecting on the past and present role of fire on the landscape. Where appropriate I will discuss past and present management and fire suppression actions and conclude with what I believe should be our future actions.
In order to communicate information concerning diverse and complicated relationships in forest fire ecology, forest ecologist often simplify the role of fire by characterizing how often fires occurred historically in a particular vegetation type. Rather than dwell on the specific responses on particular plant species and tell nice stories, I have chosen to discuss the issue at hand by reviewing three generalized fire regimes.
1. Short-interval fire regimes
2. Mixed-interval fire regimes
3. Long-interval fire regimes
SHORT-INTERVAL FIRE REGIMES. Short interval fire regime forest have historically had fires occur every 4 to 25 years on average. Frequent fire favored grassy understories and widely spaced thick barked trees with few limbs near the ground. Fine diameter fuels ( leaf litter and grass) were everywhere, but the buildup of fuel was low because of the frequent occurrence of fire. These fires were low intensity surface fires with flames generally less than 4 feet long. Crown fires were rare. Such fires could become quite large, burning over long time periods, in continuous fine fuels. The spread of these fires was checked only by other recent fires, rivers, major rock outcroppings or a significant change in weather.
Page 71 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In such forests nutrient cycling was dominated by rapid chemical decomposition by fire not fungi or insects. Periodic fire consumed decaying woody material limiting the substrate needed by decay fungi and reduced the stocking of trees to limit insect outbreak.
Native Americans often set fire to these short interval fire regime forest. They did this for a wide variety of reasons. To increased visibility to see their enemies, to concentrate wildlife in particular seasons of the year to facilitate hunting, and to improve forage for their horses are just three of many reasons for fire use. Their removal as an ignitions source from the West combined with severe, extensive grazing by livestock brought about fire exclusion from these forest between 1860 and 1880 according to tree fire scar records. Most of the trees currently on these sites have never been exposed to a fire in their lifetime. The contrast is amazing. In such forests in Montana, the longest single fire-free period since 1600 is the last 80 years!
These forest grow on productive lower elevation sites that dry out and become flammable every year for long periods of time relative to the forests around them. They dry out earliest in the spring and wet up latest in the fall.
Fire exclusion has allowed plant succession towards dense all aged forests dominated by shade tolerant species with limited fire resistance. Our past forest practices often removed the overstory of large fire adapted species hastening the conversion to forests with fuel conditions that lead to low frequency, high intensity fire. This conversion was most rapid on the most productive sites.
These areas are the core of forest health problem. Over 20 years ago a friend who was then a California State Park Ranger, characterized such forests as over crowded, under nourished and riddled with insects and disease. The crowded trees are highly stressed each year on these dry sites. The remaining overstory, weaken by moisture stress are often killed by insects that are part of a large endemic population. Root diseases, simply fungi cycling nutrients in place of fire, also, predispose trees to insect attack. All this happen on fire prone sites.
Page 72 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Unfortunately these forest are very sites that have been developed for summer homes and are even bed room communities in to West. The probability of ignition goes up with the presence of people and the consequences of fire are often tragic. The mixed of fine flammable fuel, dead and downed trees, and dense understory creates wildfires that move quickly, spot frequently over large area and move into the trees crowns on typical fire days with no need for extreme conditions. The presence of fire receptive structures with flammable roofs within the forest creates life threatening situations for fire management personnel and homeowners
It is hard to believe that near the turn of the century early forest rangers were very effective in fire suppression with a horse, shovel and canteens of water. Early settlers emulated Native Americans by burning around houses and settlements to protect themselves from summer wildfire.
In the short-interval fire regimes there is no substitute for periodic fire either from a fuel management standpoint or an ecological standpoint. Prescribed fire burning will remove the tremendous quality of fine fuel that no other manipulation can. Restoration of fire to these types is critical for their survival. Wildfire at this time will eliminate the seed source for fire-resistant species on the site.
Prescribed fires will kill many trees regardless of the care put forth in the planning and execution of the fire treatment. The first fire in 80 years is a difficult one to accept. Understory shade tolerant species will be killed by low intensity fire and some large overstory trees, filled with decay due to years of fire exclusion, will burn down. In many cases, depending on land management objectives, the harvest of understory trees (thinning from below) will be required to restore structure and function. Even the planting of fire resistant species, taken from the appropriate seed zone, may be required following burning.
In such area we have to fight fire with fire. We must construct site specific coordinated interagency fire management plans that allow lightning-cause fires to burn as well as provide for repeated large-scale aerial ignition. We have to be up-front in dealing with communities and homeowners who have undefensible structures. Fire management plans should directly address such situations so that insurance companies can account for their risk Fire management zoning that considers the full range of appropriate suppression actions and fire use actions must be completed as a priority.
Page 73 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC MIXED-INTERVAL FIRE REGIMES. Forest of mixed interval fire regimes historically had fires occur at relatively short intervals (20 to 50 years apart) burning with low to moderate intensity killing many trees and favoring more fire resistant species. Such forest then did not burn again for perhaps 100 to 300 years in a high intensity stand-replacing fire. Fires were patchy resulting in islands of more open fire-resistant stands surrounded by dense all-aged forest. Fine fuel buildup occurred in the patches while the surrounding forest fuels were dominated by large diameter woody biomass derived from tree mortality due to competition, insect attack and fungal disease. Nutrient cycling was dominated by breakdown by decay fungi and insects. Following the high intensity fire some fire adapted individuals may survive to reproduce and spread. Some non-fire resistant individuals may survive in moist riparian corridors. The longer the fire free interval the less likely any trees will survive the fire. On a landscape basis fire spread and intensity was dictated by the various combinations of wind exposure, fuel distribution and the lay of the land.
In the mixed interval fire regime types the changes brought on by fire exclusion are similar to those in the short-interval regimes, specifically within the patches. The long period without fire and the resulting succession frequently make recognition of these patches difficult. Forest health problems may be concentrated in the patches. Thinning from below may be required to facilitate re-introduction of fire depending on the rate of vegetation change and the size of shade-tolerant, non-fire resistant species.
Prescribed burning is only reasonable with the patches.. Managers may choose to enhance the size of large patches with cutting and prescribed fire. Patches may be created or enhanced with prescribed burning at strategic fire control points on the landscape and by harvesting and planting fire resistant species for more effective fire control in the long run.
Outside the patches, reduction of large diameter woody fuel, mechanically or by hand, may temporarily postpone the inevitable fire. This is economically feasible only around high-value properties or other high-value resources.
Page 74 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC LONG-INTERVAL FIRE REGIMES. Forests that historically displayed long-interval fire regimes are ones where 150300 or more years occurs between fire events. Such fires are, as a rule, high intensity events that kill all the trees within the burned area. Fuel buildup occurs slowly and fuels are dominated by large diameter woody biomass arising from mortality due to competition, blowdown, insect and/or disease.
Nutrient cycling in long-interval forests is slow, depending on breakdown of woody biomass by insects and decay fungi with fire being the inevitable final outcome, providing a flush of nutrients for regeneration of a new forest. As a rule, large high intensity forest fires repeat themselves over time since the first fire creates forest fuel conditions that are similar over large areas of land. Fire extent was limited only by the presences of an adjacent earlier fire of great size (no fuel) or a major weather change.
Significant long-term drought must occur before such large diameter woody fuels dry out enough tho sustain a wildfire. In most years lightning ignitions may burn out on their own since the fuels are too wet.
This fire regime is associated with spectacular, high intensity fires. Any fire in this type is generally lethal to the all the trees species present (regardless of size) so the opportunity to apply understory prescribed burning is almost non-existent.
Fire spread is limited by a historic mosaic of age classes of forest created by past fires. The size and shape of the pieces of the mosaic is dictated by the lay of the land and the occurrence of strong wind events and other weather changes. In the 1988 Yellowstone fires during major runs spotting regularly occurred over mile in down wind. Hence the ineffectiveness of suppression actions until the weather changed. Fire exclusion has not created abnormal fuel buildup, but has prevented the maintenance of the mosaic, which would limit the extent of fire spread.
On a larger scale fire management options range from strategic high intensity prescribed burning in Natural Parks and Wilderness areas combined with the use of prescribed natural fire to strategic clear-cut harvesting and proper slash treatment to maintain a mosaic of age classes of varying flammability. Both approaches must consider the social context in which they are proposed and politics of place. To ignore these approaches guarantees larger and larger high intensity fires in our future.
Page 75 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Direct thinning of trees and the removal of large diameter downed fuels is warranted around high value facilities. Such actions will reduce fire intensity near structures which can then be more safely protected. The probability of blow down must be considered in these forest since thinned areas may simply become defacto clear-cuts in the long run leaving large quantities of dead downed fuel directly adjacent to structures.
In my keynote address to the 1994 Interior West Fire Council asked the group two questions.
1. Does our fire management policy lead to decreased costs of fire protection in the long run?
2. Does our fire management policy lead to increased forest and rangeland health and sustainability?
I ask you all to consider these questions. If we do not change what we have been doing we will be pouring money down a rat hole. The new Federal fire offers opportunity to answer yes to both questions. It is a significant change. In the short run we will kill trees, alter the current landscape and produce large quantities of smoke but if we do nothing but continue as we have been doing the cost of fire suppression will escalate and fire dependent forest communities will be eliminated. We must budget up front for the management of wildland fire. Not just after the fact. If we do not change what we are doing catastrophic wildfires will consume our forest resources and kill suppression personnel, all at great social costs.
TESTIMONY OF JASON M. GREENLEE, DIRECTOR, INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF WILDLAND FIRE
Chairman Smith, distinguished members of this committee, it is my pleasure to have the opportunity to present my testimony to you today.
My association is comprised of a cross-section of the wildland fire community. As I monitor the flow of scientific and technical manuscripts into our publications and our library, I have gained a sense of where my community stands on the issues before you today. The forestry community and fire community in the United States are tightly linked groups; many of us wear both hats and share a common education and ethic. From my own background in these fields, I believe that there is consensus in the broader issues of forest fire and forest health amongst professional natural resource people in the United States.
Page 76 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Most professional people in these professional communities agree, first, that there is a forest fuel and ecological crisis at our door, largely driven by past fire and forestry practices and exacerbated by drought and climate change. The use of fire as forestry tool has gradually declined over this century, and it is practically gone today. As a result, forest fuels have increased, causing wildfire intensity and size to increase. These larger fires are creating unprecedented risk to our communities and are causing unprecedented loss of life, economic damage, and ecological damage to soils, vegetation and wildlife.
The irony of our great experiment with fire suppression in the twentieth century is that wildland fire organizations do effectively suppress most fires. Only 1 percent or 2 percent of the fires in the United States exceed a 1,000-acre containment. However, the few fires that escape burn tens of thousands of acres in a single event and account for most of the acreage burned in the U.S. Annual acreage burned in wildfires has increased in the western United States since the 1970's and suppression costs have been rising since 1985. At present, wildfires consume a greater volume of wood than is harvested or grown in forests in the western U.S. Fire suppression tends to be self defeating, since it results in an accumulation of fuel for the next fire. These changes are self-evident, but other, more insidious events are on the horizon.
When I was a student, my soil professor had a standing bet that he'd give a case of beer to any student who could find a square meter of soil in the United States that didn't have charcoal in it. His point was that fire, natural fire and human caused fire, was everywhere in our ecosystems and has been so since the dawn of time. We know that change is inherent in forest ecosystems. Fire is frequently the agent of this change.
Scientists now know that the exclusion of fire from U.S. ecosystems not only increases forest fuels and fire activity, but that tree density is increasing, plant and wildlife species composition is shifting (affecting both rare species and common species), tree growth rates are declining, trees are less vigorous, insects and diseases are becoming epidemic, herbaceous forage and shrub browse is declining, landscapes are becoming more homogeneous, the structure and function of ecosystems are becoming more simplified, stream flow and on-site water balance is decreasing, the potential for lethal fires in riparian zones is increasing, costs of suppression, rehabilitation and restoration are increasing, and aesthetic values are being degraded.
Page 77 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The second point that members of the forestry and fire communities agree on is that we are at the cutting edge of a human crisis that has been brewing since World War II, when masses of Americans responded to the lure of the country living and began moving to what we now call the wildland/urban interface. As our forest fire activity is increasing, people are choosing to place their homes in the path of these fires. When these fires come, we throw our young firefighters into the path of the urban interface fires, and annually loose and average of 11 firefighters in these fires. Last year 200 firefighers were forced into flimsy foil fire shelters while trying to defend homes that
were constructed in indefensible locations and 12 were killed.
Third, I think it's fair to say that, after nine decades of debate, we are all ready to agree that natural and prescribed fire are long overdue as two tools that should be used to combat the forest crisis. Few foresters or fire managers would disagree with this statement.
Better minds than mine have devoted careers to solving these forestry and social problems, and there isn't much that hasn't been said or tried. But we're now past the discussion and experimental stages of solving the problems we've created. We've had quite a few ''wake-up'' calls in the past decade: Yellowstone 1988; Oakland 1991; Idaho, Washington, Montana, and Long Island 1994 and Idaho, Florida, and Oregon 1996. We know what needs to be done and we know how to do it. It's time to make our move.
First, much more fire is needed and the reintroduction of fire needs to begin on a large scale right away. Second, it's obvious that many areas can no longer have fire reintroduced without intensive mechanical treatments preceding and accompanying the use of fire. These include piling and burning, pre-commercial and commercial tree thinning and commercial tree harvest in a balanced program with prescribed fire. We need to embrace and resolve the controversy involved, and move on.
Third, we need to restore the use of natural fire in wilderness and roadless areas, and we need to accept the risk that these fires may escape as they did in 1988. Allowing natural lightning fires to burn where they are safe is an inexpensive and effective way to restore former conditions over vast areas of the U.S. Alaska is a shining example of the success of a policy that mixes the use of natural fires, silvicultural practices, prescribed fires and fire suppression in a balanced program of fire management. The risk of allowing natural fires to burn and of igniting prescribed fires is low compared to
Page 78 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCthe risk that wildfires burn when we do nothing.
Federal and state forestry and fire agencies are down-sizing at a time when we need to be adding to our organizations to do this restoration work. New people with new skills are needed. A balanced program is needed to rehabilitate our forests. Our
professionals are ready for this task and need to move forward with the guidelines
already laid out by the new Federal fire policies. We need to encourage partnerships between government, industry and small business. We badly need training facilities where people from all three walks of life can learn the skills and debate the nuances of forest treatment.
The key to a successful forest treatment program will be on-the-ground decision making. There is no cookbook to follow. There is no one-size-fits-all. As an example of the problem with one-size-fits-all thinking, high intensity fires benefit some stands and are being prescribed in some situations. We have a wide variety of sick ecosystems from wetlands to high elevation forest stands, each with a different fire/fuel regime, and each needs to be individually evaluated and individually written prescriptions for treatment.
Professionals need the people's trust and they need the legal and financial flexibility to make decisions on the ground. In some cases, the prescription will be prescribed fire, in other cases, it will be pre-commercial and commercial thinning or tree harvest. In many cases, it will be a well-timed blend of these tools. Some places, like our wildernesses and parks, need to burn naturally, under our surveillance. These prescriptions can't be written here in Washington or even in District offices. People have to get out on the ground. We have to trust our professionals to make the right choices for us.
We also need to support these professionals in other ways. Funding is woefully inadequate. Legal barriers must be removed. People are afraid to use fire because of the liability. There is a risk, and there will be errors in our treatments. Fires will escape. Winds will shift and move smoke columns over communities. There will be public protests over harvesting activities associated with restoration. We need to support the professional when the smoke hits the fan.
Page 79 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I believe these problems can be addressed with a two pronged effort. First, our professionals need the training and technology to support their decisions. We've nearly lost our fire weather services and these need to be restored.
A national training academy is needed for everyone, government and private,
to become certified in restoration techniques, including the use of prescribed fire. Examples of such certification programs exist today in California State Parks and in the Nature Conservancy.
Second, all the parties involved need to resolve their conflicts and present a single coordinated agenda to the American public. Our country did a phenomenal job in the middle of this century with Smokey Bear, and it is time to oil those gears with a new, modern agenda. To achieve this, our forestry, fire and conservation communities need to come to consensus.
I think these professional communities can agree to certification and to on-the-ground decision making. I think they agree on the need for trust in professionals. I don't think we're that far from consensus. ''Forest health'' needs to become a household word, and everyone needs to understand the reasons, the risks and the costs for this national program.
To me, the message is simple. As long as wildlands remain, wildland fire will flourish. It was a mistake to let the public think we could control fire any more than we can control a volcano, a tidal wave, an earthquake or a tornado. We are usually successful in saving lives and property, but we can't control fire in the larger sense. To the extent that we've succeeded in controlling fire, we've created a backlog of fire that now threatens to sweep us away, if not literally, then at least in an economic sense. In a new balanced fire program, we need to devote equal amounts of energy in fire suppression to protect lives and property, in the use of fire and forestry tools to restore
forests, and in public education.
Also, I hold two other personal views, which are not consensus views: I personally do not favor salvage logging as a panacea cure for the problems we have. Salvage logging is a reactive approach, and we need a proactive restoration approach. Salvage logging is highly controversial, distracting attention from the real issues, and proponents should perhaps compromise so that we can move forward.
Page 80 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I also don't agree with the ''hands off'' approach advocated by some. I do agree that some forests are still healthy and need less immediate attention. We don't know what ''natural'' is, and the issue is not so much to restore what is ''natural'' as it is to produce forests that are ecologically diverse, healthy, productive and safe for our society.
TESTIMONY OF G. EDWARD MUCKENFUSS, MANAGER, SUSTAINABLE FORESTRY, WESTVACO FOREST RESOURCES DIVISION
Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, thank you for this opportunity to contribute my ideas on the use of prescribed fire and the benefits that accrue from the use of this important forest management tool. My name is Ed Muckenfuss, and I am manager of sustainable forestry for Westvaco Corporation.
Westvaco owns approximately 1.4 million acres of forest land in The United States and assists other landowners in managing an additional 1.4 million acres. Our primary objective in owning forest land is to provide a sustainable source of wood fiber for our mills. However, the forests we manage also provide wildlife habitat and clean water for the lakes and streams adjacent to our forests. We firmly believe that active management allows our forests to be healthy and contributes to the full range of benefits that forests provide.
Prescribed or controlled burning is an important tool for managing our pine forests in the South. Without prescribed burning, our average annual timber casualty losses would increase by several orders of magnitude. In addition, our fire suppression costs would be significantly higher and none of us should forget, injuries and the loss of life can be reduced through the use of prescribed fire by reducing the number and severity of wildfires.
In our southern forests, as in other fire ecology forests, it is not a question of if a forest will burn, but when. Prescribed burning reduces excessive understory vegetation and fuel which in turn reduces the intensity of wildfires when they do occur.
The key is to utilize prescribed fires that burn with low intensity. High intensity fires, in combination with heavy accumulations of fuel, on the other hand, will burn or damage a tree's crown, killing even the most fire tolerant species.
Page 81 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC We prescribe burn about every fourth year, selecting the days when temperatures are low, soil moisture is adequate, and smoke dispersal is good. This management technique protects not only the trees, but our environment.
We expend considerable resources to protect our forests from wildfire and our forest management personnel consider prescribed fire to be their most important tool. For example, of our nearly 340,000 acres of pine forests in South Carolina, we prescribe burn between 30,000 and 35,000 acres per year. Our goal is to reduce the wildfire occurrence on Westvaco lands to zero. Over the last five years, we have averaged fewer than 45 fires per year with about 325 acres of severe damage per year. This compares with the projected potential of more than 100 fires per year and thousands of forest acres severely damaged or destroyed. The most important factor in this very successful effort can be directly attributed to the use of prescribed fire.
In addition to limiting our loses to wildfire, prescribed burning often provides other benefits. These benefits include improved habitat for many species of wildlife and is considered to be the best method available to maintain essential habitat for the endangered Red Cocaded Woodpecker.
On private lands in the South, hundreds of thousands of acres are prescribe burned each year. These fires are managed by competent professionals to ensure containment within the target area and to avoid undesirable impacts of smoke. The magnitude of use and the relative low incidents of problems attests to the successful use of prescribed fire. The cost of application throughout the South represents a significant investment. The continued use by the thousands of private landowners who consider fire to be an absolutely essential and cost effective tool for the management of a wide range of objectives on their property should serve as a model for forest managers in every part of the nation.
However, the proposed reduction in particulate matter from 10 microns to 2.5 microns in the proposed National Ambient Air Quality Standards has the potential to eliminate our ability to prescribe burn. The elimination of prescribed burning would surely lead to a disastrous increase in severe wildfires similar to those witnessed in the West. These wildfires would actually increase air pollution since the accumulations of forest fuels will be burned eventually by high intensity fires during weather conditions which favor the emission of particulate matter of the size being targeted for control.
Page 82 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, I respectfully urge you to protect the use of prescribed fire and to take the steps necessary to expand it's use on public lands. The problems associated with fire exclusion, should by now be evident to every citizen of The United States. The magnificent forest resources of this country deserve the best possible management prescriptions and that will only be possible when our public lands managers are freed from well meaning but misguided restrictions on the use of fire.
STATEMENT OF DOUG LADD, DIRECTOR OF SCIENCE AND STEWARDSHIP, MISSOURI CHAPTER OF THE NATURE CONSERVANCY
Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, my name is Doug Ladd, and I am the Director of Science and Stewardship of the Missouri Chapter of The Nature Conservancy. A large portion of my work involves fire ecology and fire management issues, and I regularly work as a fire leader in on-the-ground fire operations. I appreciate the opportunity to appear before this committee and share The Nature Conservancy's views and experiences regarding the role of fire management in sustaining natural habitat.
The Nature Conservancy is an international, non-profit land conservation organization dedicated to the long-term conservation of our natural heritage---- For more than 45 years we have implemented our mission by focusing on local, on-the-ground conservation, utilizing the best available science, market forces, and partnerships with people and groups across the political spectrum. We currently have conservation programs in all 50 states and 17 other nations. The Conservancy has more than 900,000 individual members and over 1,385 corporate sponsors. Our Board of Governors includes renowned scientists such as E. O. Wilson and Dan Simberloff; distinguished leaders such as General Norman Schwarzkopf; and corporate officers from major U.S. companies such as John G. Smale of Procter & Gamble and Samuel C. Johnson of S. C. Johnson & Son.
. Our main focus is land-based conservation, and we own and manage the largest privately owned set of nature preserves in the world, totaling 1,400 sites encompassing 722,000 acres. The major premise underlying our work is that successful conservation requires protecting and managing suitable habitats while ensuring that human needs are integrated with conservation. Although our work is largely accomplished through private action, we have an ongoing record of successful partnerships for conservation with many Federal, state, and local governmental agencies.
Page 83 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The Nature Conservancy is interested in wildfire and fire management issues because our conservation work throughout this continent has demonstrated that fire is a critical factor in sustainable management of many habitats. Since its first prescribed burn more than 35 years ago, The Nature Conservancy has established a long history of using fire to ensure conservation of priority natural communities and the plants and animals they contain. Our work has also demonstrated that fire can be used safely, efficiently, and effectively to accomplish specific conservation objectives, and that ecologically-driven fire management can often accomplish a reduction in wildfire fuel build-up.
Of the 1,400 nature preserves owned by the Conservancy, more than thirty percent have been identified as having fire management needs. These sites contain habitats, plants, and animals for which fire is an essential process. For instance, in the Interior Highlands of Missouri and Arkansas where I conduct much of my work, fire was one of the primary forces that shaped and maintained virtually all terrestrial habitats for thousands of years before European settlement of the continent. Conserving the diverse plant and animal life of the region requires that we sustain both the habitats and the processes to which the plants and animals are adapted. Fire is one of the most important processes in many of these ecosystems. Failure to maintain continuity of processes results in species loss, and often in invasion by non-native plants and animals. These species losses occur particularly among the most biologically sensitive and least replaceable plants and animals.
This relationship between fire and habitat integrity is evident throughout North America. Critically important habitats throughout the United States require fire to sustain their biological richness. Examples include pitch pine barrens in the northeast, longleaf pine lowlands in the Gulf coastal states, immense prairies in the heartland, extensive conifer forests in the mountain states, and coastal grasslands and chaparral in the Pacific region. The role of fire in sustaining the uniquely American character of our landscape is critically importanton Conservancy lands alone, more than 150 of the rarest plants and animals on the planet (those ranked G1 and G2 by the Conservancy's Natural Heritage Program) occur in habitats requiring fire to sustain them. Lack of fire, or improperly timed or implemented fire management, could result in the destruction of these irreplaceable facets of our natural heritage. In many instances, fire is as essential an ecological process as rainfall. Like rainfall, fire comes in many forms, seasons, and intensities, and like rainfall, injudiciously applied fire can be a force with tremendous destructive potential.
Page 84 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Sound fire management actions must consider the biology of the system and its component plants and animals, and how to safely integrate fire management with human needs and land uses. Fire is not a single element, but rather a variable, dynamic force with different responses and effects based on frequency, intensity, timing, season, weather, previous land use history, and a variety of other factors. We cannot assume that, since fire is known to be an important process for a given habitat, any fire will accomplish conservation objectives. Fire management protocols must reflect both biological and human needs to effect sound conservation. Otherwise we risk implementing flawed fire management with potentially destructive long-term consequences.
In Missouri and Arkansas, for example, we have developed a successful fire management program to achieve our conservation objectives in a variety of habitats and fuel types. Our fire management program is designed to use prescribed fire to accomplish priority conservation goals for rare species and high quality natural habitats. As an example, in Missouri prescribed fire has increased the number of rare snake-mouth orchids in the state by more than fivefold, and has been responsible for the recovering of a population of collared lizards not seen for more than 30 years. In the western states, fire management is also being used to recover populations of the Oregon silverspot butterfly. Nationwide, last year the Conservancy conducted 350 prescribed burns on its lands, totaling approximately 36,000 acres.
In addition to fire management on Conservancy lands, we have developed cooperative fire management partnerships, both formal and informal, with Federal, state and local agencies. Examples of recent cooperative fire management partnerships between the Conservancy and Federal agencies include work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Florida and Virginia, the Bureau of Land Management in Arizona, the Department of Defense in Kentucky and Arkansas, and the U.S. Forest Service and National Park Service in Missouri. In each of these cases, shared resources, equipment, and personnel facilitate efficiency, safety, training opportunities, and information exchange, and allow joint accomplishment of conservation and other fire management goals. We also participate in and sponsor training and workshops, offering a different perspective on fire management issues, and emphasizing the unique ecological aspects and techniques of low-impact, ecologically-based fire management.
Page 85 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In conclusion, let me reiterate that fire is an essential process for sustaining the integrity of many natural systems throughout the country, and the plants and animals that inhabit them. We are hostage to the biological history of our continent in this respect, and there is currently no known alternative management treatment that provides the same biological effects as fire management. Fire is a tremendously variable process, and fire management policies must take into account the biology of the systems to which fire is being applied. Successful, biologically sustainable fire management integrates concerns such as fuel reduction while accommodating the unique attributes of each system and its plants and animals. There can be no single national fire management prescription for fuel reduction which will make conservation sense , our landscape and its components are too diverse and complex.
The Conservancy remains committed to working with a broad coalition of partners to accomplish sustainable conservation of the most unique and irreplaceable elements of our natural heritage. A key component of this is the appropriate use of prescribed fire, which will vary in different habitats and regions. Carefully planned and implemented fire management is an essential component of successful conservation. We will continue our 35 year tradition of successful work and collaboration with public agencies at the local level to achieve these goals.
STAETMENT OF JAMES B. HULL, DIRECTOR AND STATE FORESTER, TEXAS FOREST SERVICE
Texas Governor George W. Bush recently proclaimed, ''Rural land wildfire is a way of life in Texas.'' He was indicating his acknowledgement of the situation while expressing his appreciation for the outstanding efforts of firefighters during the Fire Siege 1996.
In a State as large and diverse as Texas, there seems to always be a severe wildfire hazard somewhere. Wildfires are a way of life from the Piney Woods Forests of East Texas to the mountains of West Texas some 700 miles away. Extremely flammable grass, range and brush fires are common everywhere in between. The newest and perhaps most challenging and complex fires are in the rapidly growing, highly populated rural/urban interface areas, not only near large metropolitan cities, but surrounding every town and community throughout the State.
Page 86 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. Chairman, the wildfire situation in Texas is becoming more critical every year. However, I want to make sure you know that my goal before I retire as State Forester of Texas is to come back to Congress and tell you that Texans are looking back in total disbelief that rural land wildfire was accepted as a ''way of life'' in 1997! Mr. Chairman, I don't plan to be a State Forester past normal retirement age.
Texas Wildland Fuel Loading. Over the past decade wildfire activity has been increasing across Texas. Although dry windy weather acts as a catalyst for wildfires, the underlying reason for the increasing fire activity is more complex. Texas is experiencing a problem common to all other States: an increase of wildland fuels.
Historic Background. Prior to settlement, most of Texas experienced a burning cycle of 3 to 20 years. These fires, caused by lightning and the activities of Native Americans, were a normal part of the forest and range ecosystems and played a key role in shaping the landscape. Periodic fires kept fuels reduced and strongly affected species composition. In East Texas these fires favored the development of fire resistant pine forests. Across much of the rest of the State, fires helped to develop vast grassland prairies, limiting brush and tree encroachment.
The settlement of Texas brought with it agriculture. Livestock and plows slowly replaced the burning cycle in reducing fuel levels. The native forests of Central and East Texas were harvested to make way for cotton and other row crops. Cattle and goats grazed the prairies of Texas while farming became established in the Panhandle.
The exclusion of fire resulted in woody vegetation invading Central and West Texas. Mesquite, juniper, and other tree species, once kept in check by fires, came to dominate much of the grasslands.
Current Conditions. Several forces are driving the build up of wildland fuels. A growing population, changes in agricultural practices, shifts in land ownership, and the urbanization of the State have resulted in ever-increasing fuel levels. Modern grazing practices leave more vegetation available for wildfires. The Federal Conservation Reserve Program took millions of acres out of production, which resulted in heavy accumulations of fuel. The decline in small farm operations coupled with the steady post-war migration from rural areas has combined to increase absentee ownership and idle acres. Growing urban centers take land out of agricultural production as they expand into the wildlands. These areas of wildland/urban interface experience increased fuel accumulations and wildfire activity. As long as these trends continue, Texas will experience increasing fire activity and related losses.
Page 87 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Conservation Reserve Program. Occasionally Federal and/or State policy and programs will solve one problem while creating another. The Conservation Reserve Program is a classic example where in Texas 3,910,984 acres of land highly subject to erosion have been stabilized because they were left to grow up in grass, weeds and brush. This vast acreage has developed into extreme fire hazards because of huge volumes of highly flammable fuels.
During a recent two week period in 20 counties of North Texas, of the 30,704 total acreage burned from wildfires, 68% (20,956 acres) was CRP acreage. Because much of the land was near improved property, 34 buildings were threatened. Actual losses included one house, three barns and one outbuilding destroyed. It is impossible, and definitely not safe, to stop a wildfire once it gets in to dry CRP acreage on a windy day. Such conditions are common throughout most of Texas, most of the time.
Texas has not received a single dollar to address this greatly increased workload created by Federal policy. We are working closely with the Natural Resource Conservation Service and the Farm Service Agency to initiate mitigation actions to protect property and lives in and around CRP acreage.
Wildland/Urban Interface. Texas is experiencing one of the fastest population growth rates in the nation. With over 80% of the population living on less than 3% of the land, the State has an expanding wildland/urban interface problem. New towns are not being established to meet the needs of the increasing population. New residents are settling in existing communities that are expanding out into the wildlands. Typically the fire departments that must protect these interface areas are not trained or equipped to cope with interface fires. The combination of wildland fires and threatened structures exceeds the capabilities of these departments. The role of government should be to provide the specialized training and technical expertise to both mitigate the problem and to conduct safe suppression operations.
The wildland/urban interface situation was once thought of as an urban wildfire issue immediately adjoining large cities. The 1996 Pooleville Fire in Texas that occurred 75 miles west of Ft. Worth demonstrated the developing reality and magnitude of the wildland/urban interface situation. This 16,000 acre fire destroyed 55 homes, 86 outbuildings, and nearly 100 vehicles.
Page 88 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Were it not for the unparalleled cooperative efforts from Federal, State and local forces, the devastation would have been much greater. During that period over 3,100 homes were saved at a value of $158 million. One of many lessons learned was that in a time of emergency, non-traditional firefighting forces can be used. On the Pooleville Fire, 12 motor graders called in from the Texas Department of Transportation were largely responsible for the fire containment.
Fire Siege 1996. The Pooleville Fire kicked off Fire Siege 1996. For the next 4 months, Texas experienced the most prolonged/devastating fire siege in recorded Texas history. Over 5,000 fires burned more than 600,000 acres of forest, range and grass lands throughout the State. Fire Siege 1996 also marked the largest disaster mobilization effort ever in Texas, including the Battle of the Alamo. At a cost of some $15 million, hundreds of firefighters and pieces of equipment were mobilized from 29 States across the nation. This type cooperative effort must become the standard for the Nation (but only after the State's resources in concert with Federal, local and non-traditional firefighting resources have been exhausted. The key is to have all of these resources identified, trained, equipped and ready to respond ahead of time. Texas was not ready for Fire Siege 1996, but we are getting there in a hurry now through a statewide Mutual Aid Plan and leveraging of State and Federal programs such as FEPP, RCFP, and cooperative linkages of facilities, personnel and programs with the U.S. Forest Service under the Fire 21 initiative.
Fire Prevention. We excel in firefighting and take pride in our accomplishments and recognition in the media through the story of man engaging the enemy. The irony is that we know how to mitigate and prevent fires as well, but just can't seem to convince anyone (perhaps ourselves) to commit the funds or time to do the right thing. In reality, most Texans would greatly prefer not to have wildfires in the first place.
Many examples of effective fire prevention are common in every State. A recent prevention example was in the response to the 20-county fire siege involving CRP lands mentioned earlier. By mid-April of 1997, wildfire conditions had developed to the point where the number of fires was averaging 4550 per day and had exceeded suppression capability of the local volunteer fire department. The Texas Forest Service mobilized manpower and equipment to Canadian, Texas, 16 hours away from their regular duty stations in East Texas. In addition a four-person fire prevention team was sent in to actively work with every media outlet, public and private schools, civic clubs, et cetera. We even borrowed a Smokey Bear costume from U.S. Forest Service in Oklahoma. The burning hazard conditions continued to escalate, but after only two days of massive fire prevention efforts, the number of fires dropped to less than five per day and remained that way until rain occurred 10 days later.
Page 89 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Similar efforts have been successful in Southeast Texas in addressing arson problems, although the approach is different and longer. Not only did it take public awareness, but basic long-term education to change a culture. Another totally different approach is essential and being shown effective in Montgomery County, Texas, to address the extreme hazards associated with wildland/urban interface areas north of Houston.
Fire prevention takes expertise, patience, and funding, but mostly it takes commitment. In the long run, it is far less expensive than fighting fires or Texans suffering losses.
Prescribed Burning. Prescription burning is being hailed as the obvious solution to many forest health and wildfire hazard conditions across the nation, especially on Federal lands. It should be encouraged and facilitated, but should also be kept in perspective to the total wildfire situation across the nation, not just what can be accomplished on an extremely few number of acres of Federal lands at enormous costs.
Implementation of prescribed burning on a large scale in a State like Texas, even though highly desirable, will be extremely difficult. Most of Texas is privately owned, requiring participation of thousands of individual landowners to make a significant wildfire hazard reduction or ecological impact. Most of the land base supports fine fuels such as grass and brush fuel models that would require re-burning on a 310 year cycle to replicate a natural burning regime. Land holdings in the high risk/high value areas surrounding urban centers are generally in small parcels and not under traditional land management practices.
The combination of land ownership patterns, urban land values, liability and smoke management issues all hinder implementation of large scale prescribed burning throughout much of Texas. Any hope of implementing fuel reduction/modification on private lands in Texas will require extensive partnerships involving landowners, volunteer fire departments, local and State governments and Federal agencies. Legislation will be required to address the liability and smoke issues. In terms of funding, the welfare of State and private property and lives should be as much a Federal policy concern as prescribed burning a few acres of Federal land at enormous costs.
Page 90 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Cooperation. Perhaps the most powerful force in Texas and the Nation is when Federal, State and local resources become committed to working together with no concern about who gets the credit for it. For all we do to preach cooperation, we still largely run separate fire programs at every level. The State of Texas and the Nation cannot afford this luxury in any form.
Federal cooperation through the Federal Excess Personal Property transfer program to State foresters to utilize in State and local VFD fire programs, along with the Rural Community Fire Protection program and the Rural Fire Prevention and Control program have served the States and nation well, but desperately need to be re-thought and expanded as an intergral part of national wildfire responsibility and policy. The National Wildfire Mobilization Act created a framework for such movement and needs to be funded.
The U.S. Forest Service response to the national fire policy through Fire 21 offers an excellent approach to Federal, State and local cooperation, but will remain only a great plan until specific actions are taken to make something happen on the ground. In that regard, the Texas Forest Service and the Texas National Forests and Grasslands have developed several proposals to link forces as a demonstration of effective action beyond planning. These include wildland/urban risk assessments, automated weather stations, urban interface and fire prevention specialists, mobile urban interface exhibits, combined interagency coordination center and shared fire management staff as just a start. The TFS, USFS and other Federal agencies have already developed an effective fire weather station network covering much of the eastern half of Texas.
Texas Example of Partnership Development. Austin is one of the most serious examples of wildland/urban interface in the nation. This rapidly growing, upscale metroplex is located in an explosive juniper/grass fuel mix. Fire protection is provided by ten very independent volunteer and paid fire departments. TFS has been working with the community and fire departments to address this growing problem. The partnership was developed over a 10-year period (truly effective partnerships take time to develop). Examples of involvement:
Page 91 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC TFS worked with Zoning Board and Planning Committee on identifying the fire risks and subdivision requirements.
Introduction and development of Incident Command System (ICS) on a countywide basis. The county is now implementing an interagency ICS plan incorporating fire departments, law enforcement, and emergency medical services.
Worked with the county and city emergency management coordinators to develop and implement a joint county and city Emergency Operations Center.
Developed an interdepartmental fire response strike team (which is ready to respond nationally). They meet all the national qualification requirements.
Assisted in the development of mutual aid agreements and resource tracking system so that fire departments do not strip their coverage area of resources when responding to a mutual aid call.
Cost-shared an automated weather station and provided training in determining fire danger. The departments can now scientifically determine when there is fire danger.
Cost-shared wildland firefighting equipment and trained the departments in the use of the equipment and tactical applications specific to the terrain and fuels.
Participate in monthly Travis County Fire Chiefs meetings as a full member.
Developing a seven-person cadre of Travis County firefighters who are helping us create our future training program for VFDs, based on the NWCG training curriculum (these firefighters attended the NVFC/USFS training session in Marana, Arizona). This is going to be a user-based training program, designed by and for VFDs.
Introduced Class A foam technology to the Travis County fire departments (proven to be very successful in wildland/urban interface fire suppression operations) through a series of workshops and seminars. All departments are now using Class A foam.
The county and fire departments have offered office space and support for TFS personnel. We plan on placing a Regional Fire Coordinator in Travis County in response to this offer.
Page 92 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The common thread throughout the Travis County initiative is cooperation. We did not go into this relationship telling the locals what they needed, based on what we could provide. We developed a relationship by attending their meetings, responding to fires with them, sharing meals, etc. We developed a bond based on a common trust, and took on their problems as our problems. At times, we altered our programs so that we could provide services specific to their needs. Through this relationship and our approach to their problems, they are willing to help us solve issues that are important to us from a State perspective.
National Response to Disasters. For years the Texas Forest Service and other State forestry agencies have trained and mobilized nationally in response to wildfire disasters. This is as it should be. In the process we have all become far better equipped and trained to handle State and local wildfire disasters at a cost far less than any of us could have accomplished alone. While becoming extremely qualified to handle wildfire, Texas and the Nation have also reaped the huge additional benefit of a force of leaders capable of assisting in any kind of disaster.
As example, the lead Texas Forest Service ICS team was called in early to coordinate 200300 law enforcement officers, tanks, helicopters, et cetera. During the recent Republic of Texas standoff. A couple of weeks later we were in Jarrell to assist with tornado devastation. The following week it was flood response in the Texas hill country. From hurricanes to oil spills to July 4th rock concerts, the Federal/State/local cooperation fostered over the years has paid huge dividends.
"The Official Committee record contains additional material here."