SPEAKERS CONTENTS INSERTS
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HEARING ON THE USE OF FIRE AS A MANAGEMENT TOOL AND ITS RISKS AND BENEFITS FOR FOREST HEALTH AND AIR QUALITY
COMMITTEE ON RESOURCES
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
ONE HUNDRED FIFTH CONGRESS
SEPTEMBER 30, 1997, WASHINGTON, DC
Serial No. 10545
Printed for the use of the Committee on Resources
COMMITTEE ON RESOURCES
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DON YOUNG, Alaska, Chairman
W.J. (BILLY) TAUZIN, Louisiana
JAMES V. HANSEN, Utah
JIM SAXTON, New Jersey
ELTON GALLEGLY, California
JOHN J. DUNCAN, Jr., Tennessee
JOEL HEFLEY, Colorado
JOHN T. DOOLITTLE, California
WAYNE T. GILCHREST, Maryland
KEN CALVERT, California
RICHARD W. POMBO, California
BARBARA CUBIN, Wyoming
HELEN CHENOWETH, Idaho
LINDA SMITH, Washington
GEORGE P. RADANOVICH, California
WALTER B. JONES, Jr., North Carolina
WILLIAM M. (MAC) THORNBERRY, Texas
JOHN SHADEGG, Arizona
JOHN E. ENSIGN, Nevada
ROBERT F. SMITH, Oregon
CHRIS CANNON, Utah
KEVIN BRADY, Texas
JOHN PETERSON, Pennsylvania
Page 3 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCRICK HILL, Montana
BOB SCHAFFER, Colorado
JIM GIBBONS, Nevada
MICHAEL D. CRAPO, Idaho
GEORGE MILLER, California
EDWARD J. MARKEY, Massachusetts
NICK J. RAHALL II, West Virginia
BRUCE F. VENTO, Minnesota
DALE E. KILDEE, Michigan
PETER A. DeFAZIO, Oregon
ENI F.H. FALEOMAVAEGA, American Samoa
NEIL ABERCROMBIE, Hawaii
SOLOMON P. ORTIZ, Texas
OWEN B. PICKETT, Virginia
FRANK PALLONE, Jr., New Jersey
CALVIN M. DOOLEY, California
CARLOS A. ROMERO-BARCELÓ, Puerto Rico
MAURICE D. HINCHEY, New York
ROBERT A. UNDERWOOD, Guam
SAM FARR, California
PATRICK J. KENNEDY, Rhode Island
ADAM SMITH, Washington
WILLIAM D. DELAHUNT, Massachusetts
CHRIS JOHN, Louisiana
Page 4 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCDONNA CHRISTIAN-GREEN, Virgin Islands
RON KIND, Wisconsin
LLOYD DOGGETT, Texas
LLOYD A. JONES, Chief of Staff
ELIZABETH MEGGINSON, Chief Counsel
CHRISTINE KENNEDY, Chief Clerk/Administrator
JOHN LAWRENCE, Democratic Staff Director
C O N T E N T S
Hearing held September 30, 1997
Statement of Members:
Chenoweth, Hon. Helen, a Representative in Congress from the State of Idaho
Additional material submitted for the record by
Additional material submitted for the record by
Explanation of photographs
Miller, Hon. George, a Representative in Congress from the State of California, prepared statement of
Vento, Hon. Bruce F., a Representative in Congress from the State of Minnesota
Statement of Witnesses:
Babbitt, Hon. Bruce, Secretary, U.S. Department of the Interior
Prepared statement of
Page 5 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCBrowner, Hon. Carol M., Administrator, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Prepared statement of
Dennison, William, Plumas County Supervisor, Board of Supervisors, Quincy, California
Prepared statement of
Glickman, Hon. Dan, Secretary, U.S. Department of Agriculture
Prepared statement of
Mutch, Robert, Missoula, Montana
Prepared statement of
Pearson, Robert L., Radian International LLC, Denver, Colorado
Prepared statement of
Peterson, Earl, Florida State Forester, Chairman, National Association of State Foresters Fire Committee, Tallahassee, Florida
Additional material supplied:
Davis, Stanley B., prepared statement of
National Association of State Foresters, Washington, DC, prepared statement of
HEARING ON THE USE OF FIRE AS A MANAGEMENT TOOL AND ITS RISKS AND BENEFITS FOR FOREST HEALTH AND AIR QUALITY
TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 30, 1997
House of Representatives,
Committee on Resources,
The committee met, pursuant to notice, at 10:13 a.m., in room 1324, Longworth House Office Building, Hon. Helen Chenoweth [acting chairwoman of the committee] presiding.
Page 6 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCSTATEMENT OF HON. HELEN CHENOWETH, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF IDAHO
Mrs. CHENOWETH. The Committee on Resources will come to order.
I just want to say that these are the times that try men's souls toward the end of the year when the work on the House floor, as you remember, will scare the ducks off the pond, and so, therefore, the committees are scarcely filled and a lot of work is going on concurrently. With this hearing and actual floor work, we will try to move as quickly as we possibly can through this very interesting hearing.
And, as you know, the committee is meeting today to hear testimony on the use of fire as a management tool and its risks and benefits for forest health and air quality. Under rule 4(g) of the committee rules, any oral opening statements at the hearings are limited to the Chairman and the Ranking Minority Member, and this will allow us to hear from our witnesses sooner and help Members keep their schedules as well as help the witnesses keep their schedules. Therefore, if other Members do have statements, they can be included in the hearing record under unanimous consent.
We're very, very pleased to have with us Secretary Glickman, the Honorable Carol Browner, and Secretary Babbitt.
Today the Committee on Resources convenes for an oversight hearing on the uses of fire as a management tool and impacts of the Environmental Protection Agency's national ambient air quality standards on that use.
It is clear today that our past success in suppressing forest fires has led to unintended consequences, and I just want to say, it's my personalvery strong personalfeeling, as chairman of the Forests and Forest Health Subcommittee, that what we're dealing with today in our forests is not a result of any one administrative policy. These problems began in probably the 1960's; they have been continuing through various administrations to the point that we are at a critical mass now. And, so as we proceed through this hearing, I just wanted to make sure that that was on the recordthat we need to work together to solve the problems not just in the forests, but also in the air.
Page 7 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Despite the continued improvement in our fire-fighting capabilities and the seemingly endless budgets for fighting fire, the acreage burned and the intensity of the fires has increased dramatically in recent years. Scientists tell us that this is due in part to the increase growth of shade-tolerant trees that have grown up in the understory of otherwise fire-tolerant forests. And then these smaller trees act as fire ladders to fuel intense wildfires that cannot be easily suppressed and cause a tremendous amount of damage to forest resources. Clearly, we need to take action to reduce the fires' danger in our forests.
The Community Protection and Hazardous Fuels Reduction Act of 1997, which I introduced earlier this month, is designed to address this need in the highest priority areas: the wildland-urban interface. My bill provides the Forest Service a much-needed new tool for dealing with this critical concern. Importantly, a problem that has taken decades to develop can only be resolved by using all the tools in the agency's tool kit.
Secretary Babbitt has taken the lead on promoting the increased used of prescribed fire on Federal lands; and I understand the Federal land management agencies intend to increase the acreage they burn each year using prescribed fire by as much as five-times.
And at the same time, our Administrator Browner, just a few months ago, issued new stricter national ambient air quality standards in the proposed rule to reduce regional haze which appear to conflict with the land management agencies' plan to increase burning. As I understand it, these rules will allow for smoke from natural wildfire, but will restrict the land manager's ability to use prescribed fire.
At a time when the risk of catastrophic fire is so severe, I question our ability to increase burning with out first reducing the heavy fuels in our over-crowded forests. Forest Service Chief Mike Dombeck said 40 million acres of national forests are at high risk of catastrophic fire and we need to act responsibly to improve the conditions of these lands and ensure that our fire management policies do not make the situation even worse. But it remains to be seen whether this is possible under the constraints of the new and proposed air quality standards.
Page 8 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The Chair now recognizes Mr. Vento for an opening statement.
STATEMENT OF HON. BRUCE F. VENTO, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF MINNESOTA
Mr. VENTO. Thank you, Madam Chair. I ask unanimous consent that all Members have opportunity to place their opening statements in the record. I put Mr. Miller's statement in the record, without objection, Madam?
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Without objection so ordered.
[The statement of Mr. Miller follows:]
STATEMENT OF HON. GEORGE MILLER, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA
The subjects of forest fire management and clean air are of significant concern to many citizens in my home State of California. the fact that we have two cabinet Secretaries and the EPA Administrator here today is ample evidence of the priority given to these matters.
Frankly, this administration inherited a huge mess in the western forests. For years, the professional foresters assured us that clearcutting the biggest and most mature trees was the best way to manage public forests. While those polices may have served the short-term interests of the commercial loggers, they have fundamentally changed the nature of our forests. Instead of fire resistant old-growth trees, we now have too many forests dominated by small diameter, densely packed trees.
Compounding the problem was the ''Smokey the Bear'' policy of putting out every forest fire. Fire is part of the natural system in western forests and the result of decades of fire exclusion, ironically, is that we now face a situation where so much fuel has built up that wildfires tend to be larger and more severe.
Some see the threat of forest fires as an excuse to turn back the clock and let the loggers loose on forests. But the administration is on the right track in increasing the use of preventative treatments such as prescribed burning. We have spent over a billion dollars in just one year fighting fires and fuels treatment prevention efforts are much more cost-effective.
Page 9 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Instead of building new roads and subsidizing timber sales in controversial roadless areas, we ought to be using these taxpayer dollars to make a greater investment in fuels reductions, especially in the roaded areas near communities.
When it comes to the interplay of the new EPA Clean Air standards and prescribed burning, it appears to me that we can and should have both. Without controlled burning, the alternative is greater carbon emissions from high intensity wildfires.
I look forward to today's testimony and welcome our distinguished panel of witnesses to the Committee.
Mr. VENTO. Madam Chair, I appreciate you calling the hearing, and especially from hearing from those Secretaries: my good friend, Dan Glickman, a classmate, Secretary of Agriculture; Carol Browner, and of course, Secretary Babbitt. I very much appreciate you being here at this hearing.
I think that the chairwoman has indicated her legislation which she has advanced, and there are other proposals advanced along these lines that seem to have as a goal to increase or justify increased harvest of trees in the National public domain and in the national forests. I think we can get very concerned about that because this type of activity may or may not be related to some of the dilemmas that we face in terms of managing forests.
I think historically with the revisiting and revamping of forest management practices and harvest practices it's become clear that the reduced revenues have impinged or affected the ability of the land managers to have some of the revenue that they need to manage these lands. Under some of the KnudsenVandenberg and other laws that exist, we face real challenges with regards to that today. As a matter of fact, the amount of prescribed burning that occurs is very much limited by the dollars available to do that. I think, between BLM and the Forest Service, it is something less than $50 million is principally aimed at that type of activity.
Page 10 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC At the same time, of course, we're adding hundreds of millions of dollars to other activities which are geared to assist in terms of timber harvest. I think that some revisiting of that; if the real goal here is in terms of trying to reduce fire, than we ought to address it through that. Plus, I think, a goodly amount of money, nearly a billion a year at least in some of the bad years, has been used in terms of forest fighting fire. And again, if we can get ahead of the curve here, we can shift some of those dollars, if we have some good years, some years that aren't so dry, to, in fact, try and deal with avoiding the sort of catastrophic fires that all of us recognize as being a serious problem.
But this isn't the problem, really, of these land managers that are before us today, Madam Chair. It's a problem that's been going on because of 50 years of policy that was attempted to try and control these fires; in many respects doing so. When they failed then, the fires end up in being very catastrophic. So, it's really been based on a new understanding and a recognition of knowledge.
What we're supposed to do in this particular forum, incidently, is to translate new information, new knowledge into public policy. That's the ideal that we all have.
But we're faced with certain circumstances, given the history and given the practices that have occurred in the past, that have compounded many of these issues that we have today. And, obviously one of the issues that have come upand I guess some have relished the fact that there could be, in fact, a problem between air quality goals and trying to manage prescribed burns in the forest. Clearly, I think most of us recognize an inability to, in fact, deal with some of the type of catastrophic fires that are reminiscentlike the Yellowstone fire. We've spent, you know, hundreds of millions of dollars, or something of that nature, and still have not been able to have any positive effect in terms of the outcome.
And I think the gentlewoman has mentioned the urban interface, and of course, this is something where we really need to have if we really want to save money in terms of fire-fighting. We need a lot more cooperation in terms of how the counties and States regulate construction of sites that are within our forests and within the public domain. And it's clear that we can't rewrite history in terms of people making tens or hundreds of thousands of dollar investments in these urban-forest interface areas, but we can ask States to begin to address this. In fact, the Forest Service and BLM itself, under some policies have actually promoted that. There are policies that go back with regards to leasing, where they have actually promoted some of these long-term leases which in fact compound the effort to manage the forest and run the risk of safety and health problems.
Page 11 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC So we have to deal with the safety and health issue today, but clearly, we need to expect the States and counties, as our partners, to work collaboratively with us to avoid further conflicts of this nature. It gets into urban sprawl; it gets into all sorts of questionspolicy questions, quite franklythat I think, that for the most part are not easy answers.
But I understand that the leadership being provided by Secretary Babbitt, by Secretary Glickman, and by Director Browner are very much appreciated from my standpoint in terms of trying to come to grips with this in a contentious and political environment. So, I appreciate your effort; look forward to your testimony; look forward to working with my colleagues and with the administration on this issue.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Thank you, Mr. Vento.
I agree with you in part.
Mr. VENTO. I'll have to recheck it.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. That always worries you, doesn't it?
I want to let you know that we were just called for another vote. It's just one vote, and I'm going to just temporarily adjourn the committee immediatelyrecess the committee, immediatelyto go take the vote and come right back. There's just one vote. And, then they promise us that there won't be another vote for 30 minutes to an hour.
So this Committee is temporarily recessed.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. The Committee will come to order.
Page 12 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I am very pleased to introduce our panel of first witnesses: the Honorable Bruce Babbitt, Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior; the Honorable Carol Browner, Administrator, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the Honorable Dan Glickman, Secretary, U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Before we continue, I'd like to explain that I intend to place all witnesses under oath. And, this is a formality of the Committee that is meant to ensure open and honest discussion and should not affect the testimony given by witnesses. I've been assured by my staff that the witnesses were all informed of this before appearing here today and they have each been given a copy of the Committee rules. And, so, if you would please stand and raise your right hand.
We'd like to proceed with testimony from
Mr. FARR. Madam Chair?
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Yes?
Mr. FARR. Are we going to do the same thing for Members of the Committee?
Mrs. CHENOWETH. I think we've had this discussion before, and I think you understand the rules of the Committee.
I'd like to proceed with testimony from the Honorable Bruce Babbitt. Mr. Babbitt?
STATEMENT OF THE HONORABLE BRUCE BABBITT, SECRETARY, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR
Secretary BABBITT. Madam Chairman, Committee Members, I appreciate the chance to be here and to be with my colleagues Dan Glickman and Carol Browner. The work that we have done together over the last several years, I think, speaks for itself. And I emphasize ''together'' because, I think one of the most unique features of the administration policy that we will discuss briefly, is that, in fact, it is administration policy which the three of us have worked out together and with many of our other colleagues.
Page 13 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Madam Chairman, the problem that we come here today to discuss is well understood. The fact is that in many, if not most, of the inland forests of the West, we have seen large changes in the composition and structure of forests: a shift in species composition; in stand structure, characterized in most cases by considerable crowding and many more trees per acre than historically. With those species shifts and stand-structure shifts have come problems of: disease; insect infestation; stunted growth as trees compete for nutrients, and water which is sometimes in scarce supply, and, of course, the fire hazard issue that we know so well.
The really important study of these issues was done in the Blue Mountains right across from the Idaho border by Professor Nancy Langston. And for those who are interested in pursuing these issues, I highly recommend that book. She makes it crystal clear, as you suggest, Madam Chairman, that there are related problems and they go clear back to the 19th century: improper logging practices, over-grazing, and of course, a history of fire suppression. The three of them together have produced the kinds of fire hazards that we now see.
Now, the administration response began several years ago in the form of the Federal wildland fire management policy and program review, signed off by myself and Secretary Glickman, and concurred in by Administrator Browner. The principal conclusion of that is, of course, that we must take management and administrative steps to restore the natural fire cycle. These forests in pre-settlement conditions were healthy and vigorous precisely because they co-evolved with rather regular, less-intense fires that kept them thinned out and healthy and prevented the situationthe fuel buildupswhich leads to these catastrophic fires that we have been seeing.
Now, this document has since then been translated into budget changes which Secretary Glickman and I, on behalf of the administration, have presented to the Appropriation Committees, and which are, I am pleased to tell you, now being acted favorably upon by the Appropriation Committees; and we can discuss those to the extent that you chose to do so. I just want to express my gratitude to the Appropriation Committees for helping us work through the necessary adjustments in fire accounts and fire funding to get on with the implementation of the policy that is reflected here.
Page 14 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Lastly, Madam Chairman, I would urge the Committee, as you begin looking at these issues, to have a look at not just the paperwork, but at what's actually happening out on the ground. Because these administrative changes are now well underway and they are working exactly as predicted, and I think that the success stories really merit your careful attention.
I would leave you, briefly, with three examples. The first one, of course, picked absolutely at random, is on the Boise National Forest in Idaho, where successive forest supervisors have demonstrated strikingly favorable effects with prescribed fire. The foothills fire in 1992 can be compared to the Tiger Creek prescribed burn, which effectively stopped the wildfire. Another nice example: the cottonwood prescribed burn-up above Boise which effectively stopped the 1994 Star Gulch fire.
In California, the California Department of Forestry, the Federal agencies, have a wonderfully developing experience in the Sierra Nevada that I would call your attention toparticularly interesting because the Federal agencies which are managing a new regime are doing that in cooperation with the San Joaquin Air Quality District. It's an example of how we've actually handled these air quality issues out on the ground.
Lastly, I would call your attention to a land management project at Mount Trumbull, north of the Grand Canyon in Arizona, where Northern Arizona University and the BLM have done a fire-driven, mechanical-thinning fire restoration project which is producing merchantable, pole-size ponderosa pine for a re-tool mill in Fredonia, Arizona. I single that one out, in conclusion, because it is my belief that the restoration of the landscape must be fire-driven; that mechanical-thinning has a role to play which depends very much upon the specific landscape, and there are, at least in this case and some others, some economic benefits that can be derived from ecologically planned, fire-driven restoration.
Madam Chairman, I see the red light, I appreciate your indulgence in my running overtime, and thank you very much.
Page 15 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC [The prepared statement of Secretary Babbitt may be found at end of hearing.]
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Thank you, Mr. Secretary. I don't know whether it's the power of your testimony or what, but is that table tilted? Or, is it?
Ms. BROWNER. Staff requested it.
Secretary GLICKMAN. We're trying to get as close as we can
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Thank you, sir.
The Chair now recognizes Ms. Browner.
STATEMENT OF THE HONORABLE CAROL M. BROWNER, ADMINISTRATOR, U.S. ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY
Ms. BROWNER. Thank you, Madam Chairman, and Members of the Committee for inviting us here today. I am pleased to join my colleagues, Secretary Babbitt, Secretary Glickman, in this discussion on wildland fire management.
Let me say, right at the outset, that the Environmental Protection Agency recognizes the importance of fire as a natural part of the forest and grassland ecosystem management. Fire releases important nutrients into the soil; they reduce undergrowth and debris on the forest floor. Fire allows trees and grasses to be more healthy. We know that firesparticularly planned, prescribed, managed fireshave been, and will continue to be, an integral part of keeping forests and our grassland healthy, and that they help prevent the larger, unplanned, catastrophic wildfires that pose serious threat to public safety.
I want to be very clear about EPA's position. The primary reason for coming here today is to assure this Committee, all of the Members, that EPA's newly updated public health air quality standards for ozone, for particulate matter, will notlet me be clear about thiswill not hinder the government's ability to implement sound fire management programs. It is just that simple.
Page 16 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC These new standards, these public health standards, will not cause prescribed fires to be banned or reduced. They are fully consistent with measures already underway that are designed to minimize any impact these fires might have on air quality and public health.
These standards are about protecting the public's health. They represent the most significant step we have taken in a generation to protect the American people, most particularly our children, from the health hazards of air pollution. Taken together, they will protect 125 million Americans, including 35 million children, from the adverse health effects of breathing polluted air. They will prevent approximately 15,000 premature deaths, about 350,000 cases of aggravated asthma, and nearly a million cases of significantly decreased lung-function in children.
Clearly, the best available science shows us that the previous public health air standards were not adequately protecting Americans from the hazards of breathing polluted air. Revising these standards, as we did this summer, will bring enormous health benefits to the Nation.
Now, obviously, prescribed fires, natural fires can cause smoke-containing particles that above certain levels would fit the definition of fine particles which would pose a threat to human health. I think what some people have done, unfortunately, is taken this to mean that complying with the public healththe more protective air quality standardswill require a reduction, or even an outright prohibition, of managed fires on public land. That is simply not the case. I have heardit is a rather tantalizing argument that's been put forward by some, I guess you could summarize it as: EPA air quality standards are bad for forests. Not true; that's not the case.
In terms of natural fires, which do occur, on the days that those occur, the data, the air quality data for those days is excluded. It is thrown out of the system. It is not a part of how we evaluate whether or not a particular community's air meets public health standards.
Page 17 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In terms of prescribed fires, we think they are an essentiala valuabletool, and we would never allow our air standards to inhibit sound forest management practices designed to reduce the danger of wildfires to humans and to property.
Madam ChairmanChairwomanwe can have both: clean air, public health protection, and sensible forest agricultural fire management. We do not have to choose.
We have worked very closely with the Department of Interior, Department of Agriculture, to carry out their policies to allow for the sensible implementation of prescribed burning practices. We have agreed on how best to manage these so they do not contribute to air quality problems. We will continue with each of these departments, with State and local officials, as we see these policies implemented.
We can accomplish both objectives and protect the public health. We can use fire as a sensible management tool.
We look forward to answering any questions the committee may have.
[The prepared statement of Ms. Browner may be found at end of hearing.]
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Thank you very much.
The Chair now recognizes the gentleman from Kansas, the Honorable Dan Glickman.
STATEMENT OF THE HONORABLE DAN GLICKMAN, SECRETARY, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
Secretary GLICKMAN. Thank you, Madam Chairman, and it's an honor for me to be here, back with some of you who I served with for so many years.
I would like to introduce the Chief of the Forest Service is with me, Mike Dombeck, behind me; and Mary Jo Lavin, who's National Director of Fire and Aviation at the Forest Service. They are very knowledgeable about some of the specifics that you might have.
Page 18 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC And, I have a longer statement and I would ask that it be included in the record as a whole, and I'll just make a few comments.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Without objection.
Secretary GLICKMAN. One is to tell you that I have enjoyed the relationship with Secretary Babbitt, the relationship between the Department of the Interior and our Department. And, there is an era of cooperation and collaboration which I don't think existed in years past, and I think it is important that we have a national policy, not a USDA policy or a Department of the Interior policy. I believe that exists.
I also would like to say, and I've heard this said before, that our fire policy is notand I repeat ''not''to simply put a match to the forests. Our policy involves: mechanical forest treatment, budget-structured changes, new planning priorities, personnel training, new research, carefully planned prescribed burns, and dozens of other initiatives to meet this challenge. And, I would like to echo Secretary Babbitt's views that the Congress has been most helpful in terms of giving the resources necessary to do this kind of effort.
Four basic points: No. 1, we cannot eliminate fire totally from the world, but we must manage it. As you know, and everybody in this room, that fire is a natural part of the ecosystem; it's impossible to totally fireproof a forest, so what we have to do is make a forest's condition such that a fire does not get out of control.
Fire data shows that fires are getting more frequent, more intense. So the idea is to do fuels treatment as opposed to fire suppression, not only because we keep a forest from burning down, but the costs are extraordinarily. The Chief tells me that the costs are about 10 times more to do suppression than to do fuels treatment, anywhere between $40 per acre for fuels treatment to $400 an acre for suppression. And as the Chief has stated to you before, over nearly 40 million acres need fuels management in our forest system and in our total system. So that's the first issue.
Page 19 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The second issue is: The solutions have to be comprehensive and sophisticated. As Secretary Babbitt says, they involve a lot of things: Mechanical fuels treatment, thinning, and harvesting are important. We estimate that nearly one-half of that 40 million acres needs some form of mechanical fuels treatment in order to get into a situation where other forms of treatment are useful. The budget structure needs to be changed to facilitate appropriate treatment, more fuels treatment, and in fact, we are working on that. Employee training has been changed to meet new challenges, and land management planning addresses new understandings in fire ecology which we are learning.
Third, is: Solutions are being implemented on the ground today. The acres of prescribed fire treatments nearly doubled in 1997 from 1996, more than meeting the targets that the Forest Service, and the folks at the Department of the Interior had planned upon. The area of fuels treatments have doubled from 1992. Safety policies have reduced injuries and fatalities since the catastrophic fires in the early 1990's. And, research programs, particularly our Research Forest Products Lab in Madison, Wisconsin, have refocused on many aspects of fire management as well as alternative uses for some of the wood products that have had not a lot of value in times past.
The fourth point I would make is: The collaboration is there. There is effective collaboration with EPA on air quality issues, and Interior and Agriculture are working together to coordinate policies. We are also working with State foresters, western Governors, local units of government; we provide assistance, including monetary assistance, to local firefighters in order to facilitate more efficient and effective management.
And, I would finally point out, which you already know: When there are fires, we do not fight these fires as independent agencies. There is a fire center, in which the fires are fought as if there is a war on. And the battle is to extinguish that fire; and the soldiers in that fire are all the elements of the Federal and State and local governments working under a management scheme that's appropriate to that particular fire. And, you know, fire knows no boundaries, nor should its organization know any one chief, so to speak, to run the fire. It's based upon who has the knowledge, where it's located, and who is involved. And, I think that's one of the reasons why we've really made some successes in the last two or 3 years that we want to continue forward.
Page 20 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC And I thank you very much.
[The prepared statement of Secretary Glickman may be found at end of hearing.]
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Thank you, Mr. Secretary, and I certainly am pleased with the work that has been pulled together by a number of agencies at the Boise Interagency Fire Center; that is remarkable.
Chair now recognizes Mr. Schaffer from Colorado.
Mr. SCHAFFER. Thank you, Madam Chairman.
I have a number of questions. One, Ms. Browner, did I hearyou mentioned that the quality regulations are relaxed on those days that it is known that a fire has taken place?
Ms. BROWNER. It's not a question of them being relaxed. In determining whether or not a particular area meets the public health air quality standards for fine particles, data is collected over an extended period of time, generally a 3-year period of time. If within that 3-year period of time you had a wildfire, for example, the data for that day or for those days on which the wildfire was burning would simply be excluded from the data base.
Mr. SCHAFFER. Do you anticipate that to also be true on those days when a prescribed burn is known to have taken place?
Ms. BROWNER. Well, the first thing with respect to prescribed burns is that they be done following specific guidelines that are designed to speak to air quality benefits and public health and safety concerns. What we have foundand we are working with the Department of Agriculture in terms of prescribed burns, both on forest lands and agricultural landsis that the vast majority of these can be sensibly managed and not in any way contribute to an air quality problem. What it generally means is that you have to burn under certain weather conditions. Frequently, those are the same kind of weather conditions that you would be using for public safety reasons; you need to be monitoring in a particular way. I mean this is just
Page 21 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. SCHAFFER. But, because of those guidelines, you have no plans to exempt the measurement, similar to the way you do for wildfires? Is that correct?
Ms. BROWNER. We're completing our work with the Department of Agriculture on the prescribed burning policies and that is certainly something we can look at, which is if a prescribed burn were to perhaps get out of control, if it were to create a data problemagain it's many years of data that you selectof what we would do with that particular data point.
Mr. SCHAFFER. So you are studying this and considering it, but there are no plans to exempt those days where prescribed burn takes place. Is that accurate?
Ms. BROWNER. No, that's not accurate.
Mr. SCHAFFER. OK, tell me again what you said. Maybe I
Ms. BROWNER. What I said is that we are now working with the Department of Agriculture to ensure that we have an agreed-upon set of guidelines, if you will, for managing prescribed burns. If someone follows those guidelines, if they manage their prescribed burn pursuant to those guidelines, then everything is fine; there's no problem.
Mr. SCHAFFER. And no exemption on those days for the
Ms. BROWNER. There won'tif you do it, they're designed to make sure that you don't contribute to the air quality problem.
Mr. SCHAFFER. Right.
Ms. BROWNER. You know we're preventing pollution the way
Mr. SCHAFFER. Right, I understand the intent. I just want to establish that it's your belief that, by burning these on effective time schedules, that meet your concerns that there will, in your opinion, be no necessity; therefore, there will be no exemptions from
Page 22 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Ms. BROWNER. No one's going to be taken to task for utilizing a prescribed burn pursuant to the guidelines.
Mr. SCHAFFER. Are you familiar with the Grand Canyon Visibility Transport Commission study in 1990? It involved eight western States at considerable cost, about $8 million over the course of 4 years. That report found that land managers, in fact, were the largest source of air quality degradation. In fact, the 20 worst days were linked to forest fires and controlled burns included in that. Hastell us how these new regulations in a prescribed burnthe policy to increase prescribed burning by 400 percent corresponds to the Grand Canyon Visibility Study and the recommendations that the Commission made?
Ms. BROWNER. I mean, there shouldn't be any problem. Again, if it is a wildfire, and I don't know which events you're talking about within that study, but if it is a wildfire, if it is something outside of a prescribed burn, then the data point, the air quality monitoring data point
Mr. SCHAFFER. I'm talking about prescribed burns. That was the result of this Commission, was to basically fix a large portion of responsibility, in fact an inordinate portion of responsibility, on public lands managers associated with controlled burns.
Ms. BROWNER. We agree. We think controlled burns are an absolutely essential tool, both in terms of managing our forests, managing our agricultural lands, and quite frankly, managing our air quality. We would rather have a prescribed burn and avoid, obviously, all of the problem, not the least of which are public safety, associated with wildfires. It's just common sense.
Mr. SCHAFFER. The increase in controlled burns is on the order of about 400 percent by the proposal that Secretaries Glickman and Babbitt have suggested. Once again, in studying the air quality problems that western States have confronted, in an 8-State region, it was determined that the existing controlled burn strategies by public lands managers contributed inordinately to air quality problems that we have in the West. Now, increasing controlled burns by 400 percent, isI think you're going to have a hard case to make to suggest that this is going to somehow improve air quality standards and not threaten the new standards at allcertainly not in a way that is to the detriment to all of our other efforts, whether it's auto emissions or manufacturers or whatever the case may be.
Page 23 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Ms. BROWNER. We believe that you can manage prescribed burns in a way that does not contribute to air pollution problemsit's just that simpleincluding the proposals that have been put forward by the Department of Agriculture, the Department of the Interior.
You know, to suggest that somehow or another people need to choose between having a sensible forest management strategy, including prescribed burn and clean air, it's just not accurate. I'll be honest with you, that is not what wethat is not a choice the public needs to make. They can have both, and they should have both, and that's what these policies will allow for.
Secretary GLICKMAN. May, I just make one quick comment, Madam Chair?
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Mr. Glickman.
Secretary GLICKMAN. I would note that we have seen in 1997, about 1 million acres in prescribed burns, which is a significant increase over 1996, and I don't believe there were any violations of EPA standards at all in that. Because, you know, we have been working with them very closely. I would also say
Mr. SCHAFFER. Is that the new standards?
Secretary GLICKMAN. Well, we've just been working with them based upon our general collaboration. But the Grand Canyon Visibility Transport Commission, as you mentioned, did produce some dialog with air quality agencies, stakeholders like Federal land management agencies in States which have led to some common-sense changes in mechanical and chemical fuels treatment and also additional support for biomass energy production and research that we're doing in mitigation smoke emissions. So, I think that that Commission has helped us in terms of making sure our prescribed burns are done correctly and without it contributing to air quality problems.
Page 24 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. SCHAFFER. Thank you, Madam Chair.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Thank you, Mr. Schaffer. The Chair recognizes Mr. Vento.
Mr. VENTO. Thank you, Madam Chair.
It's sort of the way we sit herethey've had this Western Pacific problem in terms of how not to manage rainforests in terms of what's happening there and in terms of the deforestation and some of the problems associated with it. So, obviously, forests and burning of forests can contribute substantially to air quality problems.
But isn't it true, Secretary Babbitt, Secretary Glickman, that in the various management plans for the land that you, in fact, take into account that they are, in fact, consistent withthey go through EIS; they go through a process where you're actually working collaboratively to say we're going to treat this land or this forest or this BLM district in a certain manner and a part of it could be or is prescribed burn? It is an effort to get rid of these fuel loads; you provide for thinning and you provide, obviously in some cases, for harvest where appropriate. Secretary Babbitt?
Secretary BABBITT. Mr. Vento, I would make this point: A properly constructed prescribed fire program will improve air quality on a running average over the air quality you would have without the prescribed fire program. And, I must tell you, anybody who has ever been in a fire camp on a wildfire will understand that with no further explanation.
Mr. VENTO. But I'm just saying that the plans that we have for the landI understand that, Mr. Secretary, but, obviously, there are some questions being raised about it, but I'm just trying to reassure those that have these
Secretary BABBITT. Oh, sure the plans
Mr. VENTO. The plans actually provide forand they go through an EIS, and they go throughso they are consistent with current and whatever future policy rules and regulations that
Page 25 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Secretary BABBITT. The plans must comply with the local air quality management regulations. We went through that back in the 1980's, when the superintendent of Yosemite National Park, running a management prescription, got a citation from the adjoining county for violating air quality standards. Then and there, we resolved that issue by saying we're going to sit down in advance and we're going to comply with the local air quality management plans, and it's done routinely.
Mr. VENTO. Well, for that matter, I mean, Secretary Glickman, when the Forest Service has a harvest area, don't they have some slash that sometimes is burned as well? And so that also has to comply with the air standards; is that correct? It isn't just this prescribed burning? Well, I mean it does, if theyif it's a non-attainment area, if there's some other problems, they may say you have to treat that slash in a different way?
Secretary GLICKMAN. Correct.
Mr. VENTO. You know, so, it'swhat you're pointing out isand I'm very impressed that the fact that the Forest Service has this aggressive plan and I hope that we can continue funding it faced with the budget realities that we do.
But, Mr. Secretary, Secretary Babbitt, I notice you have 55 million acres that you say need treatment. And you know, the best bet that you have on the chart that I have there looks like within about three or four years we might hit a million. So, based on that, and based on sort of a recurring problem here, isn't itwould it be accurate to say that, you know, this 50-year plan is probably one that should be accelerated, if possible?
Secretary BABBITT. Well, Mr. Chairman, I think both the Forest Service and our agencies have a similar fix on this. There is no way that we can make up a century of accumulated problems in 5 years or 10 years. Now, the targets for the Interior Department are: We'd like to get up to about a little over 2 million acres a year by the year 2000. And that's against a total acreage needing treatment of 55 million. Now, if that were all the same kind of land, that would mean a 25-year rotation. And, that's probably not adequate, because most of this land probably needs a fire rotation of more like the order of 5 to 15 years, something like that. But it's a significant start, and if we use good judgment in setting priorities, I think it's a very adequate approach.
Page 26 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Priorities, obviously, for the Forest Service would be Lake Tahoe, urban-wildland interface; for us, similar areas around western cities. Other priorities would look at the stands that have been badly damaged by insect outbreaks, that kind of thing, but those are judgments that I think we can make.
Mr. VENTO. Well, I appreciate that. One of the issues I raised, Secretary Glickman, was the issue of the urban-forest interface, and the Forest Service especially with its leasing programs sometimes has actually contributed to that. I talked about collaboration with the States and counties. Obviously, we need to spend a lot of money, and much of what is spent on fire-fighting today is spent in terms of health and safety because we have that urban-forest interface. Do you have any comments on that, and any types of programs?
It's, obviously, not exactly what you want to hear in terms of the coming from Washington trying to tell people what their local zoning ought to be, butand so it does represent a serious concern. I'm not implying that you should do that, or Secretary Babbitt; I think you've got enough difficulty with the responsibilities that you have. But, I think we should expect States and counties to, in fact, respond to, in fact, help us with and eliminate the need for suppression in these instances. Mr. Secretary?
Secretary GLICKMAN. I would ask the Chief to respond. Just quickly, I would say that we are doing our best to try to train these fire departments in the areas of urban interface, cooperatively, in terms of how to respond better, getting informationcommunicationsout in terms of fire prevention techniques.
I was up the Buffalo Creek fire myself, right outside of Denver where that particular fire occurred, and seeing the number of people who were involved in camping activities very close to the Denver area, this is a very high priority. But the Chief, I'd like him to, if possible, respond.
Mr. DOMBECK. With the permission of the Subcommittee Chairman?
Page 27 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Secretary GLICKMAN. Why don't you identify yourself for the record?
Mr. DOMBECK. Mike Dombeck from the Forest Service. I'd just like to say ourin the new fire plans that we haveour top priority is dealing with the urban-wildland interface. In the planning process, in our response, and that, you know, I think, because, you know, these residences get there by a variety of reasons. But, when you travel in the West, and in any parts of the country, and when you see the 5-acre lots, the 10-acre lots, with dense forests around them with fuel problems, I think, that really paints the picture for us.
Mr. VENTO. Well, Madam Chairman, one of our best allies is communities like Portland where they're trying to deal with the urban sprawl, and I just think that this all comes together and we have an interest in it. I won't be able to return after this vote, Madam Chair, because of the Eximbank legislation is going to be next on the foreign. They need my help.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Thank you, Mr. Vento. The Chair now recognizes Mr. Calvert.
Mr. CALVERT. Thank you, Madam Chairman.
Administrator Browner, we've had discussions on the new clean air standards, and, as you know, I've had my problems with the new standards considering the fact, you know, California probably cannot meet its existing standards until at least 2010. And, as was pointed out in an editorial that was in a recent Science magazine issue talking about the lack of science on particulates, primarily of 2.5 and below, is lacking at best. But saying all of that, my logic obviously wasn't listened to and we're moving on to these new clean air standards. There may be discussions about this in the halls of Congress later this session; we'll find out.
But back to the issue at hand, and that's the forest fires and how that's going to be handled. You know, I'm from the South Coast Air Basin, probably the most polluted air quality in the United States. However, we've done a particularly good job, I think, in the last 50 years, and we're celebrating our 50th anniversary of cleaned-up air. As a matter of fact, Jerry Lewis, my colleague, wrote one of the first clean air acts in the United States, and we've made great progress. And, by the way, Jerry has his problems with this new standard also.
Page 28 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC But saying that, fires, when they occurand by the way, fire suppression in California, you know, we've gotten it down to an art; we have more fires than anybody else in this country and we do a pretty good job of getting them out, though we hear about the ones we don't put out. That's one of the problems. We have a lot of land that needs to be burned off, probably more, I suspect, then most areas in this country. And because of that, and because of these new clean air standards, even though you're not going to put them into effect until 2010, is to say that the fire days themselves are the days in which they will be removed from the formula in which we're going to put together both our ozone standards and our particulate standards. Those particulates hang around for a few days. It's like in-laws, you know, once they come, they stick around.
Ms. BROWNER. We'll take those out. We'll take the in-laws out.
Mr. CALVERT. Those things have got to be considered when you put together those averages. Because we have thewe consider in southern California, particularly from the district that I representthe law of unintended consequences. I don't think the flower-loving, delphi sandfly was supposed to shut down the 10 freeway either, and discussions of that occurring, you know, scares a lot of people. And, these air standards scare a lot of people. And, I would hope that, if in fact these go forward, that we can make sure that these are common sense and not the irrational regulations that we have experienced in my area before.
Ms. BROWNER. Well, first of all, we would also join you in applauding the South Coast Air Resource Board for the work that they have done. They have not only done a good turn for your part of the country, but in many ways for the rest of the country. We have all learned, from many of the efforts they have been engaged in, how best to find the common-sense, cost-effective solutions to air pollution and provide the public health benefits.
Page 29 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In terms of forest fires, as I said earlier, don't create an ozone problem. The question is, obviously, the fine particles. And, I want to be absolutely clear, that where you have a wildfire, a natural event, it is absolutely our intentionwe have been talking to the States about this to ensure thatthe air quality data collected around that event is not included. You know, it just wouldn't make any sense to us. I mean, why do we want to put something into the data base that is beyond everybody's control? What this is about is getting people clean air in a sensible manner. So you have our commitment that those days, as you say, the in-laws on the front end or the back end, whatever
Mr. CALVERT. Forgive me for being suspicious, and I understand your intent, it's what really happens that I'm concerned about. Because, in the years that this is imposed, I suspect that many of us won't be here in Washington.
Ms. BROWNER. Well, I can assure you I won't be here.
Mr. CALVERT. Secretary Babbitt may be back in Phoenix, and I'll be back in Riverside, and we want to make sure that these laws are being imposed on people the way we say they are and not down the road when we get into issues like the Endangered Species Act, where we get into some pretty interesting fights around here.
Ms. BROWNER. But, I wouldn't ask you to simply take our word; we have committed, and are in the process now of, and have already put portions of the implementation strategy in the public record. All of this goes into a Federal Register notice. I mean, no one is being asked to take anyone's word here. What I am explaining to you is how we have articulated a common-sense strategy particularly designed to deal with these kinds of events, and it will be in writing, and it will be in the Federal Register.
Mr. CALVERT. That makes me feel better.
Mr. VENTO. Will the gentleman yield to me? Gentleman yield to me?
Page 30 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. CALVERT. Whatever time I have left.
Mr. VENTO. Well, I know we've got to go for a vote, but I was just going to point that they don't include in the record natural forest fires; and when the plan for this is you deal with humidity, wind, fireload, in terms of dryness, and so forth, so there are a lot of different factors that go into it that minimize the air quality problems.
Ms. BROWNER. Madam Chair? If I might just
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Ms. Browner?
Ms. BROWNER. There are monitors out there right now, a monitoring network measuring 2.5. We do not have a 2.5 violation where there has been a fire. So, it hasn't happened. I understand why people are raising the concern, and we should speak to it and ensure that if it ever does happen, we know how to manage it. But we have records already, and it is not happening; the concern that people are raising has not yet occurred. But that doesn't mean that we won't speak to it in The Federal Register.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Thank you, Ms. Browner. When we return, if Ms. ChristianGreen will yield her time to Mr. Farr who's asked for it, we'll return immediately to Mr. Farr. We only have a little less than 5 minutes on our vote. So
Mr. FARR. Make a quick statement, Madam Chair, that's all I wanted to make.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. I'm afraid we're going to have to temporarily recess, so we can go for our vote.
Secretary BABBITT. Madam Chair, if I may, I have a 12:30 appointment, and if you will be willing to do without my presence, I would be very grateful.
Ms. BROWNER. I have a 12:25.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Mr. Secretary, I'm very sorry about these votes and, yes, I do see you only have 9 minutes to make your appointment. But, we do needMr. Glickman, if you can remain; Ms. Browner, if you can remain.
Page 31 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Secretary GLICKMAN. My problem is that I think I have the same appointment as Mr. Babbitt. But, I can be here about 15 more minutes15 or 20 more minutes.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. I think, then, what the Chair will do is simply say that we will submit our questions in writing to all of you, and if we could receive your responses early on, I would very much appreciate it.
[The information referred to may be found at end of hearing.]
Secretary GLICKMAN. I would also say, Mr. Dombeck, I will have him remain, the Chief of the Forest Service, if you would like to have that?
Mrs. CHENOWETH. I would appreciate that very much. And, if Ms. Browner has to leave, if someone could remain to answer questions for you?
Ms. BROWNER. Certainly.
Secretary BABBITT. And, I will leave Jim Douglas as my proxy.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Thank you, Mr. Secretary, thank you very much.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. The Committee will come to order.
Mr. KILDEE. Thank you, Madam Chair. I appreciate the way you are handling all these votes, and I appreciate the witnesses' understanding. I think the only person who really understood the votes was Dan Glickman, having served in this body for about 18 years.
I have one question: It was stated that about 55 million acres of land are candidates for prescribed burning and we're doing about 1 million acres a year and we'd like increase that to 2 million. How many additional acres, however, are being added to that figure by the same forces of nature that have caused this present situation? Per year, how many additional acres might be added? I'm trying to figure out how we're really making progress on this, because I am sure there are additional candidates for that category.
Page 32 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. DOMBECK. Yes, theand we will try to getI can't give you a specific acreage, but we will try to be as specific as we can on a written response. But, what I can tell you is that from the standpoint of the 191 million acres in the National Forest System lands, our goal is to treat up to 3 million acres per year. And, at that rate we would be where we want to be by 2012.
And, as Secretary Glickman mentioned earlier, our target this year, this current year that's ending the fiscal year ending tomorrow?todaywe had planned on doing 750,000 acres, and we reached 1 million. The reason we were able to exceed our targets is because we had a fairly easy fire year, the weather conditions, and we had additional resources we could deploy in ato deal with some of the problems, rather thanwe were blessed with an easy fire year from the standpoint of suppression. I guess I can't speak for Interior on acreage.
[The information referred to may be found at end of hearing.]
Mr. DOUGLAS. For the Department of the Interior, I would say the same thing that Mike has said: We will provide more detailed figures for the record. But, you're correct, when there is wildfirenatural ignitionsa lot of times those are occurring in areas that we would otherwise be treating with management-ignited fires at some point. Of course, not all. And, take for example, the fire that is just happening right now outside Sacramento, that's clearly an area that we wouldn't be burning deliberately, certainly under those kinds of conditions and circumstances. So we couldn't count that as a fuel-treatment acre.
[The information referred to follows:]
INSERT OFFSET FOLIOS 75 TO 79 HERE
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Mr. Douglas, excuse me.
Page 33 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. DOUGLAS. I'm sorry.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Could you state your name for the record?
Mr. DOUGLAS. Oh, I'm sorry, I'm Jim Douglas with the Department of the Interior.
So there is a combination there of some of the natural ignitions certainly will count against those acres.
Mr. KILDEE. OK. Well, get the figures both for BLM and the Forest Service about how many acres, just by the same forces of nature, might be added each year, so we'll see how much progress we are making hopefully by 2012. I assume you have factored that into that expectation for 2012?
Mr. DOMBECK. Yes, the challenge is a net gain.
Mr. KILDEE. Right. Knowing quite well that they are quite different, and I know they are horribly different andbut the fires that are occurring in Malaysia, have you studied what they have done wrong over there, and are they in turn studying what you are doing right over here?
Ms. LAVIN. Yes. I'm Mary Jo Lavin from the Forest Service. Yes, we have looked at those acres, and we have looked at the problem in Indonesia. We have actually four teams that have gone in the past, from the early 1990's. We have had several teams that have gone over and provided training for them in fire-fighting. We actually had a combination four-person crew that went over recentlyjust returned 2 days agothat included three members from the Forest Service and it also had a person from Interior. What we did was provide training for them, as we have in the past, for their management as well as their crews. We know what they're doing that is a problem; that's a decision of their government to continue those practices.
Mr. KILDEE. I appreciate your answer. I have been very concerned about that and I encourage you to continue to do what you are doing. I think it's very important.
Page 34 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC If I could ask just one additional questionI have in my folder here, this is probably to Sally Shavers; is she still here? It says, ''Projected non-attainment counties for the PM 2.5 and ozone revised,'' and I don't see any source of where thisis this from EPA or not? Are you familiar with this document?
Ms. SHAVERS. No, sir, I'm not familiar with the one you have. I know there is a projected list, but those are not based on
Mr. KILDEE. I thinkcould you take a look at the one there and see if that's from EPA. I always like to know the source ofthere's no authority on here.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Let me ask counsel.
Ms. SHAVERS. No, sir, that's not ours.
Mr. KILDEE. It's not yours. OK, all right.
Ms. HEISSENBUTTEL. Staff provided that for the information of the Members.
Mr. KILDEE. Who provided that?
Ms. HEISSENBUTTEL. We received that from the American Petroleum Institute.
Mr. KILDEE. From the American Petroleum Institute. OK. I think it's very important, Madam Chair, if we could give the source for these things, because EPA putting it out and American Petroleum Institute, they might have a different perspective or different way of counting. I appreciate that.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Thank you, Mr. Kildee.
Mr. KILDEE. Thank you very much.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. In my desire to make sure that the Committee was afforded as much time as possible while Mr. Dombeck was here, I neglected a responsibility of mine and that is to make sure that all the witnesses are identified and that they are all sworn in. And, so, I wonder if you could stand and raise your right hands please.
Page 35 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC [Witnesses sworn.]
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Can we start for the record with the identification of the witnesses with Mr. Dombeck? Mr. Mike Dombeck. And then next is
Ms. LAVIN. Mary Jo Lavin.
Mr. DOMBECK. She is Director of Fire and Aviation of the Forest Service.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Yes; and then next?
Ms. SHAVER. Sally Shaver with EPA, Director of the Air Quality Strategies and Standards Division.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Thank you.
Mr. DOUGLAS. And, I'm Jim Douglas of the Department of the Interior in fire policy.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Thank you. And while we knew who you were, we wanted to make sure that the record was very clear.
So with that, the Chair recognizes Mr. Pombo.
Mr. POMBO. Thank you, Madam Chairman.
Ms. Browner said that the forest fires would be exempt from the standards, or that that period of time when the fire was burning would be exempted and that something would be worked out similar to that on prescribed fires. Why, and I know she said it just made common sense, but why is it being exempted? I mean, it happened?
Ms. SHAVER. What we are doingwe have a natural events policy which was published in 1996, which for wildfires that are under active suppression, we discount those data where standards are violated because those were not controlled; they were not instigated by man and that kind of thing. What we're looking at in the policy, and we've not finished with that yet, is someif you are in accordance with the land management plans which are part of thego through the NEPA processand you've addressed the air quality issues, then we don't envision there will always be air quality standard violations. In fact, if you manage the burns appropriately, there probably won't be. In the event that the weather conditions might change, or in the event that we didn't follow through correctly on the burns, we didn't follow the prescription for the fire, then we would say that there might be somethere could be a violation at that point in time. Then the appropriate response would be taken to that. However, if you're following the prescription, and you get an air quality violation, then we don't think that there should be a non-attainment designation based on that. And that's the type of policy that we're trying to put together right now.
Page 36 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. POMBO. Are there other natural events that are not controlled by man that are exempted as well?
Ms. SHAVER. Yes, the natural events policy addresses dust storms as well as volcanoes, including the wildfires.
Mr. POMBO. What about weather patterns, unnatural weather patterns? Is that also exempted as well?
Ms. SHAVER. No; of course, the unnatural weather patterns would be a part of the dust storm aspect, but then that's based on whether the soil conditions and the wind conditions in that area would constitute an unusual event.
Mr. POMBO. I wanted to ask the Forest Service, I know, Mr. Dombeck had to leave, but how are the wilderness areasand this I guess would involve Interior as wellhow are they going to do prescribed fires in those particular areas?
Ms. LAVIN. We will continue to do prescribed fires, regardless of location, but particularly, since you asked, on the wilderness areas, as we have in the past. We will use primarily natural causes but we do have the authority, and will use as we have in the past, management ignitions, if that would be more appropriate. We will look to follow the same regulations that we have followed in the past; there will be no change, because these are the Federal fire policy or the new air quality policy.
Mr. POMBO. Why is it preferable to allow a fire to burn, whether it's natural or man-made, than to do mechanical thinning?
Ms. LAVIN. I'm sorry, sir, I didn't hear the last part of your question.
Mr. POMBO. Why is it preferable to allow a fire to burn, whether its natural or man-made, in preference to mechanical thinning or other management techniques?
Page 37 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Ms. LAVIN. Right. There are times when it isn't preferable. What we do is in the preplanning process, in the planning process, and looking at it ahead of time, and looking at what is the best way to manage those resources, we make options and make those choices. There are times, for example, when we cannot use fire as an appropriate tool because the biomass is so great that we would start a catastrophic fire ourselves. And that is basically what the situation that you have in Indonesia, which was the question asked earlier.
We must follow a prearranged plan, and that plan tells us what are the most effective ways to manage that resource. And in times, in fact, in about 50 percent of the lands that the Forest Services manages across the Nation, we feel that we will need to use mechanical treatment prior to our introducing a regular regime of prescribed fire.
Mr. POMBO. About 50 percent?
Ms. LAVIN. About 50 percent nationally. In some of the States in the Westfor example, the State of Montanawe know that they have told us there that only 10 percent will be able to use fire as the first means of managing those resources. So we will work our way toward using fire, low-intensity fire, which is a more natural process than the mechanical treatment.
Mr. POMBO. It seems like in the last several months a real emphasis has been placed on controlled burns, on fire; and logging the forests, cutting out the trees of any kind, has been decreased dramatically in recent years. How do you go about making that decision as to when it's best to let something burn or to light a fire versus allowing someone to go in and thin the trees?
Ms. LAVIN. Those decisions are made on a site-specific basis. So they are made as a local decision.
In the planning process, when you're looking at the prescribed fire, or you're looking at the land management plan, you're involving the public. That's the advantage that we have over the wildfire, which doesn't involve anyone when it actually happens. So, in the planning process we're making those decisions, but making those decisions with the local ''experts,'' and I'm putting quotations marks around that, as well as the public who are living there who have very expert opinions about the place where they live. So we're making those decisions together on what is the best way to treat that particular area.
Page 38 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. POMBO. So those decisions will be made locally and they will not be made back here?
Ms. LAVIN. Very definitely. They have to be made locally. We can make general policy, and we do, from a national basis, but when we actually look at implementing that policy, that is a site-specific, local decision involvingespecially in the planning processinvolving all the publics.
Mr. POMBO. Madam Chairman, I have just one additional question for the Department of Interior. One of the issues that has arisen around the forest over the past several years has been the issue of endangered species within those particular forests. How is it going to be handled to go into a particular forest and light it on fire with the endangered species that may exist there, or the potential habitat? One of the issues that has been raised quite a bit in recent years is that, even though the species may not be there currently, it's potential habitatand I think most of the forests that we've talked about are potential habitatfor an endangered species.
Mr. DOUGLAS. Let me address that by also addressing the last two questions you asked as well.
All of the work on land management practices, forest management practices, is done in accordance with the planning process. So, whether it's harvesting of timber or burning or managing for a particular wildlife species or for recreation, whatever, it's all based on land management planning, and all of the Federal agencies have roughly similar land management planning practices. So, in the course of that planning, we would consider all of the resource management issues involved, including endangered species: what's there now, what the habitat is, what it needs to survive, what's in the area, that sort of thing.
We would look at, in particular with relationship with fire, the role in that particular area that fire has historically played in maintaining and sustaining a healthy and natural system there. In many cases, those endangered species depend on a particular vegetative forest type that's driven by fire in order to survive. So there's not necessarily a direct conflict between an endangered species population or an endangered species habitat and the use of fire, and in fact, we may want to use fire to maintain suitable habitat for that.
Page 39 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC So, the answer is: through the planning process, through the analysis of scientific information, other management constraints, including socio-, and political, economic constraints, we'll look at what our resource options are, what makes sense from an ecological standpoint, what makes sense from other land management standpoints, and take appropriate management actions. It may be a combination of fire, use of mechanical treatments, depending on what our constraints are and what we're trying to manage for.
So, endangered species becomes one of the factors that are considered. It's not the only factor; it fits in there along with everything else.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Thank you, Mr. Pombo. The Chair recognizes Mr. Doolittle.
Mr. DOOLITTLE. Thank you, Madam Chairman. Let me ask the Forest Service, if 50 percent of the public forest land in the country is deemed to be unsuitable for prescribed burn, what would be the percentage you estimate in the State of California.
Ms. LAVIN. I can't answer that with exact percentages, Mr. Doolittle. I can do that by checking with our region and I will get back to you in writing.
Mr. DOOLITTLE. OK. And, you might break it down, too, by, you know, the sections of the State: the Sierra Nevadas, for example. The area that's on fire now, which I believe is Yuba County, is that an area that is deemed unsuitable for prescribed fire?
Ms. LAVIN. Well, it would be unsuitable for the Federal Government to be doing prescribed fire there because those particular lands that are involved in the two large fires in California, I believe, are on private land that is protected by the State of California.
[The information referred to may be found at end of hearing.]
Mr. DOOLITTLE. What about the public lands in that region? Do you know their suitability for prescribed burn that are on public land?
Page 40 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Ms. LAVIN. I can't speak to them specifically. I looked at the details of the two fires and I questioned the ownership of the fire because I saw that they were inthat the fires were in 60- to 70-year old timber with a high accumulation.
I can't answer that, but they are the factors that we would use as we look at those and get the specific figures for you. We would look at what was the fire regime in that area, and I would be asking the region to tell me what, how they had planned to treat that area.
We have an interesting study that our research people have developed and that is a simulated exercise. We did it on one of the forests in California following the Huffer fire, so it was on the Lassen National Forest. And we looked at that, what was the historic land cover, and we have that data across the Nation for all of the forests, national forest lands. And we looked at what is the current land cover there, and we saw that with the current land cover, for example, with fire having been suppressed in that area, that the fire intensity, the length of the flame, for example, currently with the present ground cover would be much greater than it was historically when fire was a natural part of the process.
And, so it's that kind of use of research, use of the expertise that is local to that community, that we'd use in the planning process, and that we will use in getting back to you and giving you an answer on the question relative to the Sierra Nevadas.
Mr. DOOLITTLE. For a long time the Forest Service and the experts behind it believed that suppression of fire was the appropriate public policy. Is that not the case?
Ms. LAVIN. That's very much the case, Mr. Doolittle. We alsoI know I used to work for the State of Washington, before I came to the Forest Servicecame into the Forest Serviceand I know that the State agencies, for example, used to call their divisions of fire or their programs, ''fire control,'' because we thought, at that time, that we could control fire.
Page 41 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Yellowstone taught us a lot of important lessons, and then we have learned a lot since that time. And, I'm hopeful that we will continue to learn in the process. We have learned a lot of things about fire. We didn't realize in the past that they hadthat fires were like floodsand that you had regular, recurring basis for both events.
Mr. DOOLITTLE. You brought up Yellowstone. It's my understanding we do not manage the forests on national parklands. Is that correct?
Ms. LAVIN. Let me ask Mr. Douglas to answer your question specific to the national parks, although I just was out there last week and saw both the national park and the Bridger Teton National Forest, and there is a difference in the way we manage. But let me turn that question, if that's all right with you, sir, over to Mr. Douglas to answer.
Mr. DOUGLAS. Yes, Yellowstone National Park is a National park, of course, but the same basic rules apply. And that is: There are land management, resource management plans, that are done and they're based on the underlying purpose of that land unit. In the case of the national park, it's not managed for resource production in the same way that many national forests are; it's managed more for its natural conditions. So they're probably going to have different fire policies, fire strategies, and land management strategies than they are adjacent. But they're all going to be based on, in both cases, what is the historic fire regime; what works best for restoring and sustaining healthy natural systems there.
Mr. DOOLITTLE. So, do they remove understory on National parks?
Mr. DOUGLAS. If it's appropriate to do so. One of the things we have to remember is that a forest is not a forest, is not a forest; and the kind of forest we're talking about in the greater Yellowstone area is much different than we're talking about further west in the inland West there. Ponderosa pine
Mr. DOOLITTLE. Well, let's talk, in the Yosemite area, for example?
Page 42 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. DOUGLAS. In the Yosemite area? Well, if things were going normally, and that is, we hadn't suppressed fires, as you point out for so long, we wouldn't have to go in and mechanically remove because fire would havelow-intensity frequent fires would haveremoved a lot of that understory. We believe, in many casesand this is what's going on in Sequoia Kings Canyon National Park right nowthat we're able to, with judicious use of fire, and I think they're doing that as we speak, remove some of that understory with fire. If there are cases in which it is too thick, it's too close to structures or other high-value resources, we'll go in and do some kind of removal in order to facilitate the reintroduction of fire. But, ultimately, we wantthe goal isto place fire back in there in a role it played historically.
Mr. DOOLITTLE. Is it not, though, indeed, the case that in much, at least in California, if notwell, we've heard 50 percent of the Nationthat they, the forests, are so choked with over-growth now that you could not safely use prescribed burning as a way of clearing out the understory?
Mr. DOUGLAS. And, that's exactly, I think, what both Secretaries said earlier today, which is: We need to use fire along with mechanical treatments to get back to a point where fire can safely be used. In some cases we can go straight to fire. In many cases, I think, that's what the Forest Service has been talking about with the 50 percent number; some mechanical treatments are necessary before we can use fire. In some cases we're always going to use mechanical because of the proximity to the communities, and so on. So we need to use all of those tools, not any one by themselves.
Mr. DOOLITTLE. Here's the question I've never had a satisfactory answer to. Let me pose it to you, or any of you there. It's my understanding, from testimony we've had before this Committee and others that I sit on, that the annual rate of growth on forests exceeds the annual removal of timber by like four or five to one. And my question to you is one: Do you accept those figures? And, two, if you accept those figures, how can we ever prevent catastrophic forest fires from occurring when we talk about some mechanical thinning? You'd have to quadruple the size of the Forest Service and have emergency regulation to hire logging teams to go in and log beyond historical standards to ever even hope to catch up with this. And, I'd like to know how you see us getting out of this dilemma.
Page 43 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. DOUGLAS. I don't know the specific number that you're referring to, but I will say if you think about back before at least European settlement of this continent, there was a balance: Trees grew and either they died and fell down or they were burned or some combination thereof.
Mr. DOOLITTLE. Well, let me just jump in on that note. I mean, why do we assume that these were not managed before European settlement. We know for a fact the Indians managed the forests. And is there any reason to believe they weren't managing the forests before Europeans arrived?
Mr. DOUGLAS. There's ample evidence that indigenous peoples where in fact using fire to a great degree. My point, simply, is that ourcertainly Europeansettlement has increased the amount of human intervention in the forest. But my basic point is that fire has always been there in one way or another consuming fuel.
And, going back to your observation earlier, Mr. Doolittle, we thought it was prudent policy for many, many years to put those fires out before they burned very much of that fuel, so we're left with a lot that under other circumstances would have been consumed by fire. We clearly have a problem of too much fuel. What we clearly need to do is remove some of it mechanically, where that's the prudent thing to do, and get fire back in there as soon as possible. It's cheaper; it's more ecologically sound whenever we can do that; and we need to use a combination of tools to do that.
Mr. DOOLITTLE. Well, but I'm still not, Madam Chairman, I'll be finished here in just a minute. When we're growing four to five times annually in the forest what we are harvesting, the approach the administration is taking is so minuscule compared to the problem. In fact, you've thrown roadblocks, frankly, every possible way you could in the harvesting of trees, as we saw with the Emergency Salvage Law and how that was implemented. And, I'm just amazed how you couldwhy isn't this a catastrophic problem that we're facing, when we're growing annually four to five times on these forests what we are harvesting? Am I missing something? Aren't we compounding almost geometrically the problem?
Page 44 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Ms. LAVIN. Mr. Doolittle, I can't speak to those numbers either that you give us in the growth rate because that's not my field of responsibility, but let me answer the question that we're distinguishing here. The 50 percent acres that we're telling you are the 50 percent of the acres that we're talking about as being not able to treat are limited to those that we know have a problem that needs fuel treatment, not the total number of acres that the Forest Service is managing. So when the Forest Service speaks of that, we're talking about 50 percent or 20 million acres. We're talking about those acres that need treatment that we know of. The timber you're talking about as growing is green and growing timber, and although there have been very intense firesand there is no question about thatwhich have involved green and growing timber, we usually count the green and growing as an opportunity, as a break in the fuel. So, what we're talking about as needing treatment are those acres which include trees that are a problem or a biomass that is a source of fuel for us, that it's very dry; it's tinder dry, and that's what we're talking about.
Mr. DOOLITTLE. My point is is that in forests, when they get so overloaded with growth, they begin to die. And there you haveand it's strewn throughout the green and growingyou've got the dead and dying. And I mean the forests in the central Sierras are just chock-full of all of this. I doubt that you could use prescribed burning in any area of the central Sierra forests, and you'd have to commissionwe'd put everybody to work in the central Sierra and then some if we did the job that needed to be done, but all I hear is, ''We're going to do some thinning and some prescribed burning.''
I mean, it sounds like a very, you know, Marquis of Queensbury-type rule, and we've got a crisis out there, and we're growing four to five times annually the amount of timber that we're harvesting. How can we ever hope to catch up? And I still haven't heard the answer. I've got a panel of experts there, and you're not responding.
I think the Chairman will back me up on those figures that we heard. It is four to five times annually. Let's assume for a minute that's true. Tell me how the administration's approach, its very careful, methodical thinning, how that's going to respond to this problem.
Page 45 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Ms. LAVIN. Mr. Doolittle, I know that in the Forest Service that we have an action plan that will involve planning at the local level that will get us to 3 million acres of prescribed or fuels-treated; we will get to 3 million acres per year of acres treated for fuels by the year 2003, and that we're recommending that we continue that for the next 20 years. We know that by the year 2012 we will have, give or take a year, we will have reached a treatment of the 40 million acres that we have identified as being the most critical.
We know that this year we were able to move ahead because of weather conditions and also that by having fewer fires to suppresswildfires to suppresswe were able to move ahead and treat 1 million acres. We know that this exceeded the amount of acres that were lost to wildfire or engaged in wildfire by quite a substantial amount. We have todaythe current morning report said we have, in the Forest Service, had 146,770 acres burned, and we know that was in wildfire. We know that we far exceeded that in the amount we were treating with prescription.
Mr. DOOLITTLE. Well, how many million acres have you identified that need treatment across the country?
Ms. LAVIN. How many? Your question was how many acres have we identified that needed treatment?
Mr. DOOLITTLE. Yes.
Ms. LAVIN. We have identified approximatelyI believe we have identified approximately 40 million acres.
Mr. DOOLITTLE. So you've got 40 million acres that need treatment, and you're only doing 3 million a year. And what's happening in all those hundreds of millions of acres that aren't quite as critical, but that are increasing the timber supply year after year after year, in excess of what's taken off? Isn't that out there compounding, building up geometrically? That's my point. How can 3 million acres possibly be doing the job?
Page 46 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Ms. LAVIN. We think that that is an amount that we in the Forest Service can handle safely and then can handle productively.
Mr. DOOLITTLE. Well, you may be able to handle it safely and productivelyI don't mean to be argumentative, but my point is these forests are overchoked with growth, and, you know, your response isn't meeting the need. Am I the only one that sees that, or do you see what I'm talking about?
Mr. DOUGLAS. Mr. Doolittle, I think that the fact that you had three Cabinet-level officials here today speaks for the fact that the administration does take this very seriously. Secretary Babbitt, in his tenure as Secretary, has been speaking out strenuously on these issues because of the urgency of the situation.
We are looking at from now untilin the Interiorfrom now until the year 2001, almost tripling the amount of treatments that we will be doing. That is an enormous increase in the amount of activity, and it speaks for the urgency which we see.
When we talk in the Department of the Interior about 55 million acres needing treatment, that doesn't mean that 55 million acres need to be treated every year. What that means is that's the amount that needs to be treated on the cycle in which naturally there would be some kind of fire occurrence. In some cases that may be every 3 to 5 years; in other cases it might be every 80 to 100 years.
So all of that rolled together in the Department of the Interior means that we should be trying to treat something over 2 million acres year. We're not there yet. We're trying as hard as we can to get there, but we're certainly doing a lot more than we did in the past. And I think that we view this as one of the most critical land management problems that we have out there, and that's why we're here today, to tell you where we are and how we hope to be doing better at it.
Mr. DOOLITTLE. I do respect that and that your numbers are increasing, but I don't think they're increasing anywhere near the point where they need to be. It's probably an order of magnitude or two different than what you have in your reports, and I would ask, Madam Chairman, that the Committee's staff ought to propound further questions and line these things up. I justit seems to me that there's no way this response can meet what the need is.
Page 47 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Thank you.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Thank you, Mr. Doolittle.
Mr. PETERSON OF PENNSYLVANIA. My first question is, EPA has organized a Federal advisory committee under the Federal Advisory Committee Act to develop recommended policies to address prescribed burning. It's noted that the committee is made up of Federal and State officials, with but one or two representatives from the private sector. One of the representatives is from the Sierra Club, and they certainly don't represent private landowners. Why was this committee set up with no input from our vast resources of the private sector and private landowners?
Ms. SHAVER. Originally, when we set up this group, it was a followup to the natural events policy, and it was to primarily address the issue on the Federal lands. And there has been much more interest in, ''Does this apply to the private lands?'' And the way the State and Federal partnership works, we didn't want to preempt the States' prerogative to address the fire issue on the private lands within their States, so we're trying to address the Federal land issue first. We may extend some of that to the private lands, but we will not do that without involving those stakeholders as well. So we're trying to approach this in a piecemeal fashion, and that's why it's shaped the way it is.
Mr. PETERSON OF PENNSYLVANIA. Well, I guess I don't understand your answer when you look at the size and scope of this problem. I think you're saying that you're not dealing with private land, but private landowners who manage huge forests have a lot of information that Government could use. And when you only use State and Federal employees, you're really missing out on a huge resource of people who do this for a livingpeople who make a profit at it, people who do just as much research and care just as much about their future and probably do more about it than public land does, from history.
Page 48 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC And I guess I justas someone who's been in State Government for 19 years and now in the Federal Government, and in local government 8 years before thatI mean, every time we look for innovative answers we bring in the private sector, who are professionals, too, and don't have any stake but can give a lot of advice. And to set up an advisory panel of just public people, I think, is very short-sighted.
Ms. SHAVER. And I appreciate that, and that was not our intent. Like I said, this particular advisory committee that was set up was to address the implementation issues for ozone, particulate matter and regional haze, and when it was initially set upit's already up to 85 memberswe couldn't get all the stakeholders for the ag-burning issues as well as the private forest issues, and so we would like to work with those stakeholders separately. So that's one of the reasons we had broken it up the way we have. It was just the sheer numbers of it.
We will be running any policy that this sub-group develops or recommends by the larger subcommittee, but, certainly, we do intend to seek broader stakeholder involvement from the private sector before the policy would be extended to them.
Mr. PETERSON OF PENNSYLVANIA. Well, I would hope; I would hope that is the case, but I think you're passing up a huge resourceeven academia; it doesn't appear academia was included.
The next question isI think Congressman Doolittle just expanded on the scope and immensity of this problem, and I was on the western tour as an easterner a few weeks ago and saw the amount of the forest that was burnedthe 100,000 acres. It was pretty awesome, and then when you saw the huge amount of the forests we flew over in choppers, where one-third of the forest is dying, and I was told another third of it probably will die, and the fuel load that's there, and the problem and the immensity.
I guess I would suggest to all of you, your budget requests, in my view, do not represent even asking for what is needed to begin to address this problem. And you know, from my 19 years in State government, I always judged departments on their budget requests, what they asked for, if they really were serious about solving a problem, and it's my view that your budget requests are very inadequate to address this problem, and you're giving us lip service.
Page 49 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. DOUGLAS. Sir, I respectfully disagree. I believe that the budget we've submitted to the Congress in 1998 and what we're proposing internally in the administration for future years now is pushing the envelope in terms of our ability to actually use those dollars effectively. We're pushing aggressively, and as you know dollars are not easy to come by, both within the Administration side and our ability to get dollars into the President's budget, and then the appropriations committees, in living within the ceilings that they are living within, have made them available to us.
I think that dollars are not really our problem at this point. We do have some other resource constraints. We need, badly, more skilled peopleecologists, fire fighters, planners, economists, and so on, to do a lot of the analyses we need. We need to get, basically, our capabilities up.
I think the dollars, from everything that we've seen, and we've been working together between the two departments very closely on this, are coming along. But we can't turn on a dime, you know, and I think that we need to be careful about pumping too much dollars in and seeing those not used as wisely as they ought to be. So, I'm very optimistic on the dollar side right now.
Mr. PETERSON OF PENNSYLVANIA. I'll yield to Congressman Doolittle.
Mr. DOOLITTLE. You know, let me just say to you that that testimony flatly contradicts what we heard in Sonora, where we heard the Forest Service officials testify that money has been sharply reduced for the timber sale program, for example, and therefore the sales cannot be prepared as they used to be and that is resulting in less timber being cut.
So, how do youI realize you're with the Interior Department, not the Forest Service, but we see this going on fairly widespread in the central Sierras and I cannot, you know, hearing that the budgets are being increasedthey're not being increased; they're being cut back. Now there's always plenty of money once we have the forest fire. We'll spend whatever it takes to fight it; that's great. But, boy, don't get the timber sale program going because that's looked upon as an undesirable program, and we've got to cut back to save money on that.
Page 50 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. DOUGLAS. Let me let the Forest Service answer that specific question, but I want to clarify. I was referring to dollars that we're requesting for fuels management through the fire program, not other land management dollars that may, in one way or another, relate to this particular program. That was the nature of my answer.
Mr. DOOLITTLE. OK.
Mr. DOUGLAS. I'll let the Forest Service talk about the larger issue.
Mr. DOOLITTLE. Well, I'm on Mr. Peterson's time.
Mr. PETERSON OF PENNSYLVANIA. Go ahead; you can respond.
Ms. LAVIN. Mr. Peterson, Mr. Doolittle, I would like to say that I represent the full budget of the Forest Service, but I do not. I represent a major portion of that budget, but that portion is in fire, and I would agree with Jim Douglas that in fire it is not a question of adding additional dollars when we're looking at the prescribed fire program.
We are very concerned that we do not have enough people and we do not have the expertise, so we're looking at other ways in which we can increase that expertise. We're working with the State of Florida, which is going to testify later. We're working with the State of Florida to work on having improved training for both the State and the Federal people who will be conducting prescribed fire.
Remember that we always look at the fact that all of the prescribed fire program is for sustainability of our forests, and that's the only reason that we look at the fire program or work toward that. And it does involve timber, and it does involve timber management.
Mr. PETERSON OF PENNSYLVANIA. I agree with the Congressman from California, though, that if we're going to deal with the forests appropriately, it's not just fighting fires and prescribed burns. It's also managing that resource and making sure that land that has three-times the stems that it should have is adequately addressed. I mean, there's a whole lot to this, but I know we have a huge anti-cut-down-a-tree group that thinks cutting down a tree is some sinful thing and that we shouldn't do that; and they're part of the problem, but we all have to deal with them.
Page 51 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mrs. CHENOWETH. Thank you, gentlemen.
I want to say that we have two votes up; one is on House Resolution 255, ordering the previous question, and then we'll have a vote following that on the rule. And after that we will return, and I will ask my round of questions then, so I need to have this panel of witnesses remain. But I will say that our Committee will be temporarily recessed for 30 minutes, and that will give you a chance to get something to eat. Thank you.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. The Committee will come to order. I thank the panel for waiting. Like I say, this does take a fair amount of patience to work in this body and to become a part of it through your willingness to be witnesses, all of you, and I thank you very much for your patience.
I do want to say that one of the reasons that the Chairman called this hearing was ourand I want to direct this particular statement and question to Mrs. Shaver. One of the reasons that the Chairman called this hearing was because, while we have heard Ms. Browner testify that agricultural burningand we heard her testify to this in the Ag. Committeeagricultural burning would be exempt from the standards, as well asnow we're hearing todaythat prescribed burns by the Forest Service would be exempt.
And while that would normally, one would think, give us a fair amount of comfort, our concern is that it puts a lot more pressure on our point-source emitters, such as our utilities and private industry. And that's why we're so concerned, because of thein fact, this weekend I was in Denver giving a speech, and they are claiming that they are impacted by the smoke and smog that is coming in from southern California.
And so it looks like, certainly in areas up in the Northwest where I come from that need to be protected because of their wilderness qualities and because of the national parks up there, it looks like it's going to severely impact our western part of the country.
Page 52 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC And I have some photographs here that I wanted to enter into the record, and I do want to say that for record, as Chairman, as I enter these photographs, that I will attest to their accuracy and to what I testify; I will attest to that under the penalty of perjury.
[The information referred to may be found at end of hearing.]
Mrs. CHENOWETH. The first photographthese photographs have to do with the prescribed fire that was done in the fall of 1996 by the Department of the Interior. This was the Coggins fire in the Whiskeytown Recreation Area near Redding, California.
Are you familiar with that fire, Mr. Douglas?
Mr. DOUGLAS. Only in very, very general terms. I know they've been doing some treatments in the park there and have a series of burns that they have done and will be doing, but that's as much as I know at this point of the specifics.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Well, the photos were taken on September 19 of this year, and this is the first photograph, and I think you have a copy of the photos there.
Mr. DOUGLAS. Right.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Mrs. Cubin, do you have a copy of the photos?
Mrs. CUBIN. No, Madam Chairman.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. OK.
Photo No. 1 shows the edge of the fire area and the adjacent underburned area, while photograph number 2 shows a portion of the fire area, and it does not appear that any fuels were removed before the prescribed burn. And these photos clearly show that there's a lot of small trees growing underneath the larger trees, creating ladder fuels. These photos also show that the fire killed many of the larger trees, as you can see in photograph No. 3 and photograph No. 4.
Page 53 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC What was the prescription for this fire?
Mr. DOUGLAS. Ma'am, I can't tell you precisely the prescription at this point. I'm not familiar with that. I'd be happy to provide that for the record.
[The information referred to may be found at end of hearing.]
Mr. DOUGLAS. I will tell you that it's my understanding that this fire was conducted within the prescriptionit did not go out of prescriptionand the purpose of the fire was to achieve ecological benefits. And, of course, what happens when you have fire is that some trees are killed, some trees are damaged. That's part of the natural events within a healthy forest. And so it's not surprising to us that some trees would die.
It looks to meand we can get, certainly, more details for you on this particular fireit looks to me like it burned hotter in some areas than in other areas, and perhaps there were some localized hot spots that killed a few more trees in one spot than it would have in another area. And, again, that's what would have happened naturally, that fires do not burn uniformly across the landscape, but they spot, they burn intensely, then they die back.
And so we would expect to see this as a natural kind of occurrence. If the fire had been started, say, by lightning instead of by management, you'd see the same kind of pattern of just a variety of effects throughout the forest. You know, some big trees die; some big trees don't die. And that's the point of trying to use fire in a place like this; it is to re-create the kinds of natural conditions that occurred for so many hundreds of years in that type of forest.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Well, this is my major concern because we do have a ladder fuel situation here, and it would create a tremendous potential for an explosive fire which really messes up our air quality standards. In fact, just September 25 of last week, we saw another eruption in this same area of the fire, which created an awful lot of smoke and haze and extended over a long, very wide area.
Page 54 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC So, that, combined with the fact that we may be creating more fuel that is more explosive, while still trying to contain our ambient air quality emittents, is creating a conflict that I worry about greatly in the Northwest.
I also want to showis there a graph there? Yes, air quality graph.
Mr. DOUGLAS. Madam Chairman, if it would be all right with you, I think it would be helpful for us to provide some further information on this particular fire for the record
Mrs. CHENOWETH. All right.
Mr. DOUGLAS. [continuing] and perhaps we can provide some information to interpret each one of these pictures and help the Committee understand what the park's objective was.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. All right. I appreciate that, and I'll look forward to it.
[The information referred to may be found at end of hearing.]
Mrs. CHENOWETH. For Mrs. Shaveras you can see, the little red dots on that map indicate the national parks and the wilderness areas where these class I standards will likely be imposed.
[The information referred to may be found at end of hearing.]
Mrs. CHENOWETH. The next graph showsBill, can you show her the next graph? The next graph shows the 100-mile radius of control of the air quality out from those national parks, wilderness areas, and which may be imposed in our class I areas.
[The information referred to may be found at end of hearing.]
Page 55 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mrs. CHENOWETH. And then the next graph then shows the 250-mile radius that is also being talked about for imposition out from these areas, and, as you can see, that covers most of the United States.
[The information referred to may be found at end of hearing.]
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Now the 100-mile radius really impacts the Northwest and has a pretty serious impact across the Nation, but the 250-mile radius for a class I impact would be most of the Nation. So, we're seriously concerned about the impact of prescribed fire, agricultural fires, and point source emittents.
Mrs. Shaver, one of my concerns, too, is our elderly people who, a lot of times, in the summer time, turn off their air conditioners because they can't afford to pay for the additional utility bills. And we're almost defeating ourselves when we realize that a lot of our older people die in the extreme heat. And so while I think it's laudatory that we're trying to help the asthmatics and, of course, the younger children with respiratory afflictions, we tend to ignore our elderly, I think, with this program.
And the reason that we see the combination here in this hearing of the natural resources, plus your proposed rules, is the fact that we are very concerned about the point source emittents that normally would have come in under your standards, but with prescribed fires or runaway fuel fires, which can happen with the fuel load that you've heard Mr. Doolittle and various other people talk about, our forests are at a point now where it's not easy to control those fires at all, and so that is our major concern.
And with that, I'd like to just give you the time necessary to address that.
Ms. SHAVER. Well, I guess there are two issues. One, of course, is the regional haze rule, which addresses primarily the class I areas, and as a part of that particular rule the State and locals would be able to establish a baseline which would incorporate the natural role of fire. And then, certainly, in terms of making progress on improving visibility over the long timesay 10 to 15 yearsthen they would work from the baseline, which incorporates the role of fire.
Page 56 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Certainly we are concerned about the health of our children, as well as the elderly, and certainly the health of everyone, but particularly those sensitive populations. That's why we are working with the States as part of this policy to do smoke management programs which mitigate the public health impact of these prescribed burns, and we think with adequate planning and proper operation and implementation of these plans, for the most part you will not see significant air quality violations under those conditions.
Where we do have the data now, we have not seen that, but, certainly, we will be placing our monitors in the high population areas and, in fact, working in those areas to make sure that we meet the air quality standards as best we can, which is, of course, the purpose of the policies that we are developing.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Could you give us a little more information on your smoke management policy and program?
Ms. SHAVER. Well, a lot of the States already have very good smoke management programs, and I think you'll hear from Mr. Peterson a little bit later about the smoke management program that they have in Florida, where they burn a significant number of acres each year and where they have not had violations of the particulate matter standard. There are other States, like Oregon, which have a good smoke management program as well.
And so these programs account for the meteorological conditions. There's a mechanism for authorization of the burns and certainly provisions for training of this kind for the fire managers. So, we're looking at those smoke management programs being implemented in advance of the burns, and certainly in cooperation with the land management planning, as well as the burn plans that occur.
So, I think that with the adequate planning up front, and the organization there and the cooperation, that we will be able to meet the air quality standards on a consistent basis.
Page 57 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In terms of where we might not be able to, or where the meteorological conditions change and a fire gets out of control, you do have a violation of the air quality standard. We certainly don't want to penalize the point sources in that area for that condition, and that will be another aspect of the policy as well. Whether it's a part of the designation or non-designation process, if you will, that will certainly be an aspect of it.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. So then there will not be a cumulative effect that will be imposed on the point source emitters?
Ms. SHAVER. We will not be penalizing the point source emitters for something that happens under the prescribed burn policy. That's correct.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. And that would also be true of agricultural burning, I take it, based on Ms. Browner's testimony in front of the Ag. Committee.
Ms. SHAVER. Right. We are not targeting agricultural sources. We are working with USDA's agricultural air quality task force to address the ag-burning issue, and that will be taken up with that committee the end of October. That would be the first time that's been discussed with that group, that's basically made up of agricultural stakeholders, and we are working with them on the ag-burning aspect of the policy.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Well, while you do offer us some degree of comfort here, nevertheless, there's a basic, philosophical concern that I have, and that is that the government feels that their activities may be worthy of exemption, while private industries' activities may not be, and I think we're moving into some dangerous territory here. And we've taken the blinders off of justice, perhaps, and I'm very concerned about that, but I do appreciate your testimony.
Ms. SHAVER. Thank you.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. I do want to say that I've received a letter from the mayor of a little town in IdahoSalmon, Idahoand I, without objection, will enter that into the record.
Page 58 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC [The information referred to may be found at end of hearing.]
Mrs. CHENOWETH. And so I'd like to now turn the mike over to Mrs. Cubin, from Wyoming.
Mrs. CUBIN. Thank you, Madam Chairman. To avoid any redundancy, since I've just very recently arrived, I will, if it's all right, submit questions in writing. Thank you.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. One more question that I wanted to ask was about wood-burning stoves. Will that be exempted at all? Because that can create a national cumulative effect, or a regional cumulative effect.
Ms. SHAVER. We have some wood-burning stove policies. I'm not familiar with the specifics of those, and, actually, some of those are occurring at the local levels; there are local policies or regulations concerning those. I would be happy to answer the question for the record regarding that, but the wood stove policy would not be covered by these policies we've been talking about today.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. OK; forest fires are allowed, but wood stoves are not.
Ms. SHAVER. No, I did not mean to imply that. I'm sorry. I just said that the policies that we are talking about today would not cover wood stoves.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. OK, let meperhaps I didn't hear it correctly. Let me ask it again. With regards to the imposition of standards for emittents from smoke, forest fires are allowed and they would be exempted, but wood stoves would not be exempted, right?although it's basically the same emittent.
Ms. SHAVER. No ma'am; I did not mean to imply that.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Imply what?
Page 59 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Ms. SHAVER. That forest fires were exempted and that wood stoves were not.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Prescribed forest fires are exempted.
Ms. SHAVER. No, ma'am.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Well
Ms. SHAVER. Wildfires that are not part of a prescribed burn are exempted under the natural events policy. Actually, they're not exempted. We're just saying that where you have wildfires that are burning out of control, they're covered by our natural events policies. Any violations of the standards that occur because of those are not used in determination of whether or not an area is designated ''non-attainment.''
OK, under the prescribed burning policy, we're saying that you have to be in accordance with your plan, your smoke programs, and this type of thing, and we don't anticipate that there would be air quality violations because of a prescribed burn. In the event that there was, or something like that, then we would address that situation. We would not penalize that area in terms of non-attainment designation, where a fire got out of prescription, or something like that, as long as you were following the prescription as it was designed.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. So what we're talking about, then, is the designation of an area rather than
Ms. SHAVER. That's correct.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. All right. Within that area, if a prescribed fire should occur and it creates an air quality situation where it violates the standards, then everything in that region would have to shut down because of the prescribed burn or the natural wildifire.
Ms. SHAVER. Not if you're not designated non-attainment. No, I don't think that's the case. You would not require those sources to be shut down.
Page 60 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mrs. CHENOWETH. All right. I willI don't think we're connecting on the same frequency here at all, but I
Ms. SHAVER. I understand, and I apologize for that. I'd be happy to try to answer in writing or try again now.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. OK. I think through most of this hearing we understood that prescribed burns conducted by the Secretary of Interior or Secretary of Agriculture would be exempt; that would be permissible. And as I heard in the Ag. Committee the other day, those firesprescribed fires for agricultural fieldswould also be exemptor allowed. Are we having a problem with the word ''exempt?'' Is there something I'm not seeing here?
Ms. SHAVER. Well, exempt is not a word, I guess, that I would choose to say in those things. I guess what I would say is, where a State has a smoke management program in place and where the land management agencies have done their land management planning, where they have done their burn plans, they've gone through the NEPA process, and where those are in place and are being followed, then the agency would bein case there is a violation under those circumstances where those plans are being implementedthen we would not count those data toward non-attainment designations.
Now if a State did not have a smoke management program in place, if they did not follow the burn plans, or cases like those, then we would still have our ability to designate those areas as non-attainment. So, I would say it's not a free ticket to strike matches. There needs to be a lot of planning done up front. There needs to be a lot of evaluation of the need for that, how to do that, and to make sure it's done in compliance with the planning that we're talking about.
So that's why I'm concerned about the use of the word ''exemption.''
Mrs. CHENOWETH. So we areso EPA will be asking the land management agencies to perform an EIS on their smoke management program, on their prescribed burn programs?
Page 61 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Ms. SHAVER. I may let them answer that.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Mr. Douglas.
Mr. DOUGLAS. Yes, what this is predicated on is going back to something we talked about before the break, and that is everything needsall of our actions need to be based on land management plans. The planning process is a multi-tiered process. It starts at the most general level. A strategic level would be a forest or a national park or a BLM area and then gets progressively finer as we're talking about smaller and smaller pieces of ground, and maybe particular activities, types of functions.
That planning process is subject to the National Environmental Policy Act. Whether or not an EIS, itself, is done, it is subject to NEPA and an environmental compliance is done. An environmental compliance involves public participation and evaluation of environmental consequences, of different alternatives, and a finding of whether or not there's significant environmental impact, and so on.
So, we don't necessarily do an EIS in every case, but we follow the National Environmental Policy Act in ensuring that the environmental consequences are identified, of the various alternatives, and that the one selected is appropriate. That underlies, then, ourin the caseif we're bringing this specifically back to fireunderlies our management decision to use fire in certain circumstances: ''Yes, that's appropriate. This is how we're going to manage that fire.'' We get into the prescription that we're going to use, weather conditions, fuel conditions, and that sort of thing.
Those are all of the types of things that we're committed to is that we will go through planning processes and take every step we can to minimize our emissionsburning techniques, times of year, meteorological conditions, and that sort of thing, in order to keep from putting more than absolutely necessary into the air.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Mr. Douglas, I think you're right, because it is a major Federal action. And let me ask you, have you done an EA or an EIS under NEPA on the other prescribed burns?
Page 62 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. DOUGLAS. Absolutely. There's always environmental compliance. Environmental compliance doesn't mean that there's necessarily an EIS done, but the NEPA is followed and the appropriate findings are made. In major cases, it results in an EIS. In smaller actions, it's an environmental assessment, but environmental compliance is done in each and every case.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Thank you.
Ms. Shaver, is the EPA prepared to do an environmental impact statement, especially if you impose the 250-mile radius criteria on all of these areas? As you can see from the overlays there, that decision is a major Federal action requiring an EIS. Has EPA, or is EPA preparing to do an environmental impact statement on this, on the new standards?
Ms. SHAVER. On the new standards? I'm not
Mrs. CHENOWETH. On the environmental impact of the new standards.
Ms. SHAVER. I'm not sure I can answer that today.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. I think that the courts have said, any time there's a major Federal action by an agency that there must be an EIS, so could you let us know?
Ms. SHAVER. Sure.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. OK.
Mrs. Cubin, do you have any other questions?
All right, I want to thank this panel very much for your patience and for your time. I, again, apologize for all the votes that have taken us away. This is no way to run a railroad sometimes, I think, but it happens, and it's the best system in the world. But, thank you very, very much. And I will be submitting additional questions to you, and the record will remain open for about 3 weeks. Thank you very much.
I want to call the next panel of witnesses up. Mr. Earl Peterson, Florida State Forester, chairman of the National Association of State Foresters Fire Committee in Tallahassee, Florida; Mr. William Dennison, Plumas County Supervisor, Board of Supervisors, Quincy, California; Mr. Robert Mutch, Missoula, Montana, and Dr. Robert Pearson, Radian International LLC in Denver, Colorado.
Page 63 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Gentlemen, thank you very much for your patience, but Mrs. Cubin and I will make up the difference. These are the days toward the end of the year when things get a little wild out there, but you are contributing to a very, very, very important record, and I thank you very much for your expert testimony.
So before we get going, I wonder if you wouldn't mind standing with me and taking the oath.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. We'll begin with Mr. Earl Peterson. Mr. Peterson.
STATEMENT OF EARL PETERSON, FLORIDA STATE FORESTER, CHAIRMAN, NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF STATE FORESTERS FIRE COMMITTEE, TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA
Mr. EARL PETERSON. Thank you, Madam Chairman. I appreciate the opportunity to appear before the Committee. I look forward to sharing with you some observations about the use of fire as a management tool, both in Florida and nationally.
As the director of the Florida Division of Forestry, I'm involvedmy agency's involvedwith the management of over 1 million acres of land in Florida, purchased by the Florida taxpayers to ensure that some of the unique ecology enjoyed by the citizens and the millions of visitors who come annually, each year, will be there for generations to come.
Without hesitation, I can say that one of the primary contributors to the current State of Florida's wildlands has been fire. In Florida, we call the use of fire as a management tool ''prescribed fire.'' And like a prescription issued by your personal physician, the medicine is aimed at curing a specific problem, while at the same time it can and often does have side effects. We must work to minimize those as they affect the other parts of the body. The trick is to make sure that these side effects are not worse than the cure. So too, with prescribed fire.
Page 64 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Fire's role on State and private lands in Florida has been that of the sculptor, molding and shaping the system over many thousands of years. As a result, many of the flora and fauna have come to depend on periodic fire for their existence. If this element is excluded, the result will be a system that is far less diverse in both plants and animals. In addition to this, many of the timber species that the forest industry depends upon shall disappear and will not survive.
Many other forest and grassland ecosystems also evolved with fire, including much of the southeastern pine forest, as well as many coniferous forests in the western United States. Recent research has also indicated a larger role for fire in regenerating hardwood species, such as oak. Each type of forest evolved with different types and intensities of fire, so prescriptions must be carefully matched to forest type. In some instances, prescribed fire would not be the preferred tool for management on many of these stands.
Floridians place such a high importance on prescribed fire, that in 1990, the legislature passed statute 590.026, the Florida Prescribed Fire Act; you have copies in your packet. The law provides civil liability protection for responsible prescribed burners. You also have an article in your packet from the Journal of Forestry, May 1992, that explains this act. This means that as long as the burners adhere to the law and associated administrative code, they cannot be found civilly liable for the potential negative effects of their prescribed burns, including smoke.
The South's fire heritage has allowed it to lead the Nation in promoting and practicing the art of agricultural and prescribed burning, and Florida leads the South, as well as the Nation, in prescribed fire activities. In 1996, Florida burned 2.2 million acres, most of it under canopy, and issued over 118,000 permits to reach this objective.
We're also cognizant of the fact that we're graced with both a favorable climate and topography to accomplish the mammoth amount of prescribed burning that is necessary to keep up with the rapid vegetative growth on our wildlands. In areas where mountainous terrain tends to trap smoke from wildfires for days, weeks, and months at a time, the amount of burning done in Florida could not be accomplished there.
Page 65 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Coupled with this, the policy of fire exclusion over the past 75 years has resulted in an enormous fuel accumulation from downed timber, insect, and disease attack. The future of fire in these areas seems to be almost an impossible task. Because of this we have, curiously enough, tended to place the responsibility back in the hands of fire to solve these problems. Once the fuel loads get to the point where we can no longer control the wildfires they start, the system is swept with catastrophic fires that can leave the land scarred for centuries.
In short, we have two choices in managing our wildlands: exclude fire until the system is overloaded and disaster strikes, or manage both wildfire and prescribed fire in a balanced system. Floridians have chosen the latter solution. In addition to the prescribed fire act of 1990, almost all of our 67 counties have passed resolutions or ordinances in support of prescribed fire. In March of this year, Governor Chiles and the Florida Cabinet named the week of March 11 Prescribed Fire Awareness Week.
There are mechanical and chemical methods that can duplicate some of the positive effects of prescribed fire. Reduction of fuel load to reduce the potential negative effects of catastrophic wildfires can be accomplished to some measure by thinning the overstocked forests. This process is very labor-intensive and in some instances can be very costly, and there isn't a market, always, for the material which is to be removed, in the way of poles and firewood. However, such methods may be necessary where prescribed fire has not been used as a regular management tool, and fuel loads are too high to allow for immediate reduction by fire.
The negative side effect of prescribed fire is the impact resulting from smoke. You are aware, as you've heard here today, of EPA's plan to revise the National Ambient Air Quality Standards and the visibility standard. These changes to the standard could have a significant impact on the use of prescribed fire, depending how the EPA intends to treat the contributions made by prescribed fire.
We believe the intent of the Federal Clean Air Act is to prevent the deterioration of air quality from human causes. Since fire is part of the natural system, as pointed out earlier, and necessary for the survival of our wildlands, we believe that the resulting smoke should be considered natural and excluded from consideration if these is an exceedance of the standard.
Page 66 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Prescribed burn practitioners are trained to reduce the impacts of the smoke from prescribed burning to a minimum. This will not eliminate the possibility of exceedance of the air quality standards or the visibility standard, but we believe the number of potential problems will be held to a very minimum. The reason for this is simple. Prescribed practitioners understand that the future of fire depends on the good will of the general public and their responsible use of this important tool.
It is important to note that in some of the areas of the country, there is a limited public tolerance of smoke from prescribed fires, and this has led to efforts to limit or end the practice. Many of these decisions will be in the hands of State air quality agencies, along with other State agencies.
NASF and its member State Foresters are working and will continue to work with State and Federal air quality officials to craft regulations that will allow this ecologically important management tool to continue.
Thank you very much.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Earl Peterson may be found at end of hearing.]
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Thank you very much, Mr. Peterson.
And we'd like to hear now from Mr. William Dennison, our Plumas County Supervisor. Mr. Dennison.
STATEMENT OF WILLIAM DENNISON, PLUMAS COUNTY SUPERVISOR, BOARD OF SUPERVISORS, QUINCY, CALIFORNIA
Mr. DENNISON. Thank you, Madam Chairman, and staff. I appreciate your tenacity to stick with this today. I've submitted a written statement for the record, if you would, please.
Page 67 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC My goal is to convey to you both support and concerns for the utilization of prescribed burning on national forests and national parks. Our support is based on the belief that prescribed burning must be reintroduced into the national forests if we're to attempt to restore their health. You've heard a lot about that today.
The concern is that prescribed burning will be utilized in northern California without first removing heavy fuels. The photos which you showed earlier today speak to that concern that we have. My written testimony contains statements about the amounts of material that must be removed prior to introducing fire, in our neck of the woods, at least.
Next, we find it difficult to believe that the new PM2.5 requirements under the National Ambient Air Quality Standards can be met if prescriptive burning is used on as many areas as necessary to make a difference in our forest health, particularly without emphasis on mechanical removal of fuels prior to burning. We've had to curtail open burning in parts of Plumas County to even meet the PM10 standard, and without significant amounts of prescriptive fires to date.
If National Ambient Air Quality Standards are broken by prescriptive fire, based on recent announcements by air management districts and now the proposed EPA regional haze requirements, there is good reason to believe that it will businesses and individuals who will suffer financially when the standards are violated. We have statements from our air management district that use of wood stoves, in fact, in our area, already are under jeopardy.
In addition Madam Chair, I have included testimony in my written statement based on the July 30th Huffer fire on the Lassen Volcanic National Park that sheds uncertainty on the Department of Interior's ability to effectively control fires through their current management of prescriptive, natural fires. We've listed six pollution and financial issues about the Huffer fire that should be addressed through a review of that policy.
A recent quote that covers our point most succinctly was made by Neil Sampson, president of Sampson Group, in a recent magazine article in which he said, ''Fire introduction is supported by a broad array of scientists, foresters, and conservationists . . . but it's not as easy as it sounds, and to simply propose lighting fires on most western forests is irresponsible and destructive.''
Page 68 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC We're concerned that there are some within departments and agencies who will peddle the medicine without revealing the costs. I'm talking about the real costs of the fire prescriptions if they're administered in a way that will maximize the goal of obtaining healthy forests that will give the less prone wildfire effect, while assuring that air pollution and escaped prescriptive fires do not impact our citizens, as you suggested they might.
We are on the right track with the reintroduction of fire, but let's recognize and resolve at least five conditions that have been posed by the Quincy Library Group, which prevent the immediate use of prescribed fire at large enough scale to address the hazard areas, at least where I live.
First, the QLG says the current high fuel loads make it too dangerous to use prescribed fire in any but the most favorable conditions, and even then it takes only a small weather change to put those out of limits. To be within acceptable limits, we must first reduce fuel loads.
Second, they say the continually reduced availability of expert fire managers makes it more difficult than ever to manage prescribed fire safely and effectively.
Third, the historic rate of prescribed fire usage is about 10 percent of the treatment required, and that has been done on the easiest terrain and the least hazardous fuel areas.
Fourth, major components of the current fuel load are unnaturally thick stands of small fire ladder treesthat you talked aboutthat carry ground fires up into the crowns and kill the large trees that would otherwise be nearly fireproof. The lower material, again, must be removed.
Fifth, the QLG says, significant increase in the use of prescribed fire comes into direct conflict with the air quality standards. In the long run, this conflict must be addressed in a way that provides those benefits and processes that only fire can supply.
Page 69 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Meanwhile, the Quincy Library Group has said that it will take at least 10 decadesI'm sorryat least a decade of thinning and other fuel treatment by non-fire means to make it feasible to employ prescribed fire at whatever level is found to be necessary for sustainable, long-term health.
In summary, we share the urgency to reintroduce fire into our forests. At the same time, there are problems with prescribed fires in both national forests and national parks, and conflicts with NAAQS. We respectfully submit that the issues we've emphasized are not new, but they are important and worthy of consideration before the Departments of Interior and Agriculture launch into the prescriptive fire program in northern California.
As noted by Congressman Peterson, the private sector needs to be involved in this process as well. We also emphasize that we do not wish this testimony to in any way cause a stumbling block. We would rather have this as an open door to relate problems, and in which we can work together toward a reasonable use of prescriptive fires. And if I could answer any questions later, I'd certainly be pleased to do so. Thank you.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Dennison may be found at end of hearing.]
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Thank you very much, Mr. Dennison.
And the Chair now recognizes Mr. Mutch.
STATEMENT OF ROBERT MUTCH, MISSOULA, MONTANA
Mr. MUTCH. Thank you, Madam Chairman. I'm very glad to have the opportunity today to meet with this Committee, and especially to talk about the critical importance of combining silvicultural prescriptions, thinning, timber harvest, and fire prescriptions to restore the health to the forested ecosystems of the western United Sates.
I base my observations today on 38 years in the Forest Service, 17 years at the fire laboratory just over the mountain from Idaho in Missoula, and 21 years in operational fire management.
Page 70 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC A recent survey conducted by Forest Service research has indicated that 5 million acres are burned annually in the United States by Federal, State and private prescribed burners. Three-and-a-half million of this 5 million acres, or over 70 percent, occur in Mr. Peterson's southeastern part of the country.
When one considers the area managed by just the Federal agencies, an annual nationwide prescribed fire program of just 5 million acres for all burners is woefully inadequate. This is especially true in the West, where the prescribed fire programs of Federal agencies have been extremely modest in the past.
Let's cut to the chase by referring to this first bar graph. This graph depicting wildfire acreage burned in the 11 western States managed by Federal agencies between the years 1916 and 1996 should be of concern to everyone in this room, and it should be of concern to the American taxpayer. Look at this almost perfect U-shaped curve. For decades, Federal agencies went before Congress and said, ''Give us more money for bigger and better fire departments, and we will continue to reduce the area burned by wildfires.''
That strategy worked very well for several decades until we hit the point of diminishing returns in the middle of the 1980's, when widespread drought, insect epidemics, and our natural fuel accumulations reached a critcal point. And we can see an escalating problem in wildfires at the latter part of this century equal to what was occurring during the early part of the century, 1900 to 1919.
The next graph shows very clearly what a forest looks like after being affected by what some have called the grand ecological experiment, the attempted exclusion of fire from fire-adapted ecosystems.
Here is the same camera point on the Bitteroot National Forest between 1909 and 1989 and photographed periodically over those many years. One can easily see, in that upper left-hand photograph, the low intensity surface fires that would have characterized that kind of open forest with one-foot flame lengths, historically.
Page 71 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Compare that upper left-hand photo with the photo in the lower right-hand corner, taken in l989, with dense understory thickets of Douglas Fir, the ladder fuels that you have talked about earlier, and are contributing to crown fires today with flame lengths of over 100 feet.
If you had a home in the Bitteroot Valley, would you want it in that site pictured in the upper left-hand corner or in the lower right-hand corner? Or if you had a daughter or a son fighting fires in the West, would you want them fighting fires in the upper left-hand photograph, with open, grown, low-intensity fire conditions, or would you want them fighting fire in the photograph illustrating today's sorry state of affairs?
The next poster will show you current and projected prescribed fire programs of the four Federal agencies. The agencies know that an expanded burning program is necessary, and we've heard that testimony today. And several are projecting a doubling or tripling of their program by the year 2000 and an increase beyond the year 2000 that's already been discussed.
But this increase in prescribed fire, Madam Chairman, will not be easy, and a double standard impairs the ability of agencies to increase prescribed burning easily. Perhaps we will have some time later to examine this double standard in more detail.
I would like to conclude with the last poster now, with six lessons learned that can be applied in dealing with the declining forest health issue in western forests.
First, most forest ecosystems' plants and animals are adapted to recurring fire. The beautiful elk herds in the Selway Bitteroot wilderness in Idaho are dependent in large part in their diet on red stem ceanotheus. The germination of red stem ceanotheus seeds is triggered by fire that cracks the seed coat so that the seed can imbibe moisture and germinate. Mechanical treatment will not do anything for those beautiful elk herds in the Selway. They evolved with periodic fire.
Page 72 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC No. 2, it is not a question, as we know, of if a fire will occur. The question is only one of when and where. Fires will occur, and there will be smoke.
No. 3, we can either pay now for a more balanced program of fire prevention, fire suppression, and prescribed fire use, or we can pay a dear price later, as we have been paying recently, for escalated losses of people, property, and their natural resources in uncontrollable wildfires.
Four, and most importantly, silvicultural prescriptions, thinnings, harvest cutting, and prescribed fire must be integrated on a much larger scale to restore the health of fire-adapted ecosystems. This will require many strategies, including removal, to accomplish this objective. Many stand conditions, as we've heard today, are so highly flammable as a result of fire exclusion that prescribed burning without prior silvicultural treatment would be tantamount to igniting a conflagration. We need bothmechanical treatment and prescribed treatment.
Five, fortunately, silvicultural cutting treatments designed to maintain healthy forests, often will pay the way for followup hazard reduction treatment by burning.
And, finally, the buck needs to stop here. Risks for expanded prescribed fire projects must be shared among all stakeholders: agencies, the politicians, and the public.
That concludes my verbal testimony, and I thank you very much, Madam Chairman, to present these issues to the Committee today.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Mutch may be found at end of hearing.]
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Thank you, Mr. Mutch.
The Chair now yields to Mr. Schaffer, from Colorado, to introduce our next witness.
Mr. SCHAFFER. Thank you, Madam Chairman. I'm pleased to introduce Dr. Robert Pearson. Dr. Pearson is a scientist in the area of western region air quality, and has been for the past 25 years. In fact, he served as an appointed member of the public advisory commission to the Grand Canyon Visibility Transport Commission for 4 years. I'd like to mention that Dr. Pearson received his Ph.D. in remote sensing of natural resources from Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado, and Dr. Pearson, we look forward to your testimony.
Page 73 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCSTATEMENT OF ROBERT L. PEARSON, RADIAN INTERNATIONAL LLC, DENVER, COLORADO
Mr. PEARSON. Thank you, Congressman, and I might add that I was doing my graduate work in the College of Forestry and Natural Resources at CSU in Fort Collins. So, while I'm not a forester, I do have a fair acquaintance with some of these issues.
The Grand Canyon Visibility Transport Commission was set up by Congress as a result of the 1990 amendments to the Clear Air Act. The public advisory committee of that Commission was the group that I was appointed to by Colorado Governor Romer. We spent 4 years reviewing the science that had been collected on the subject of regional haze in the West, including new visibility data gathered specifically for the Grand Canyon Visibility Transport Commission.
The public advisory committee then formulated policy recommendations for the Commission to consider. You may recall the Commission was made up of the Governors of eight western States, plus tribal leaders of several Indian tribes. Throughout the conduct of this scientific study for the Commission, every interest group was represented, including environmental groups, the Federal land managers of the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the National Park Service.
On June 10, 1996, the Commission published its findings in its report, entitled ''Recommendations for Improving Western Vistas.'' This report discusses in detail the scientific study that was done and the recommended control strategies for all of the categories of sources of air pollution located throughout the West. One area of much study and discussion by the Commission was the subject of today's hearing, the impact of regional haze on class I areas from the use of fire in forest management, commonly called prescribed burning.
I'm here today to relate some of the information we learned as we struggled to craft a workable regional haze improvement plan for the West, as required by the Clean Air Act. Forest fires, either intentionally set or accidental, release quantities of fine particles made of carbon and other elements in the smoke. These fine particles cause several impacts on air quality.
Page 74 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC First, the concentration of fine particles in forest fire smoke may cause the PM2.5 National Ambient Air Quality Standard, recently adopted by EPA, to be violated near the fire. In addition, the fine soot particles in the smoke will affect visibility by both scattering and absorbing light. At times, smoke containing fine particles travels hundreds of miles and across several States.
I can vividly remember seeing the effects in Denver of several California wildfires, and also the 1988 wildfires in Yellowstone. These effects were much reduced visibility and a smoke smell in the air.
During the Commission's study of western regional visibility, we also saw photographs taken at Hopi Point at the Grand Canyon when a small wildfire on the South Rim of the canyon was brought under control and extinguished. Even such a small fire, which lasted only a few hours, filled the canyon with smoke. The point is that even a small fire in or near a class I area can cause dramatic effects on visibility and the concentration of fine particles in the air, similar to the effects seen at long distances from large fires.
The Federal land managers, the Forest Service, and the National Park Service, in particular, told the Commission that they intend to dramatically increase the number and extent of prescribed fires over the next several years to, quote, ''catch up from many decades of fire suppression,'' close quote, by reducing the amount of fuel available to burned by wildfires in the Nation's forests.
The Commission analyzed the effects of this increased use of fire as a forest management tool and concluded the effects on regional visibility could easily wipe out the gains made by all other sources categories combined, and that would include point sources as well as mobile sources. They also include power plants, copper smelters, cars, trucks, and area sources such as fugitive dust.
Note in the Commission's report, they combined all fires, both man-caused and wildfires, into a natural category for our analysis, and that's shown by slide 3, attached to my written testimony. Such natural causes contribute almost half of the visibility impairment in the West.
Page 75 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC To some extent, then, the Commission report is biased by considering smoke from intentional man-caused fires as, quote ''natural,'' close quote. This also, in effect, exempts the smoke from prescribed burns from being considered against your goal in the Clean Air Act of remedying man-caused sources of visibility impairment.
The point is that all of our hard-won incremental improvements in regional visibility across the West could be overwhelmed by the increased use of fire as a land management tool by Federal land manager agencies, even though their contribution is considered, quote, ''natural.''
One other point needs to be made in this regard. The EPA has recently proposed a set of regulations to protect and improve regional visibility in the U.S. One provision of current law, as well as in the proposed rules, allows the Federal land manager of a class I area to identify a source or some group of sources, some distance away, which could be impacting visibility in the class I areaand Madam Chairman, you were getting at this point a little while ago.
The State in which the source is located would then be required to evaluate the allegedly offending sources for the retrofit of air pollution control technology. In effect, this gives the Federal land manager land use control over lands outside of the wilderness area, despite the fact that wilderness legislation passed by Congress specifically prohibits the establishment of buffer zones around wilderness areas.
The Federal land managers have the authority to trigger clean-up activities on all other sources, while at the same time increasing their own air pollution activities through increased prescribed burns. This apparent ''Do as I say, not as I do'' philosophy of the Federal land managers suggests a double standard for allowing Federal agencies to emit fire smoke at will, but at the same time requiring others to spend large sums of money to reduce their emissions even a small amount.
Page 76 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC While this may sound far-fetched, it has been going on for some time in northwestern Colorado. The Forest Service manager of the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area accused the Hayden power plant of polluting wilderness areas some 30 miles away. The State of Colorado
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Mr. Pearson?
Mr. PEARSON. Yes.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. I wonder if I could interrupt you.
Mr. PEARSON. Sure.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. We have to run for a voteand this is very interesting testimony. I am very sorry. We only have about 3 minutes left to scoot over there, but we look forward to your continuing when we get back.
Mr. PEARSON. OK.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. There's just one vote. It's on a motion to rise, meaning they want to go home.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. But we're obligated to make the vote, and so we'll run right over and be right back.
Mr. PEARSON. I understand; thank you.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. The hearing will come to ordermy golly, we're going to get down to business here. We'll resume with the testimony of Dr. Pearson.
Mr. PEARSON. Thank you, Madam Chairman. Let me just conclude with a couple of final comments.
The point I was making when you had to leave for the floor vote was that Federal land managers can indeed influence land use policy outside of their wilderness areas, and I was trying to make the point in concert with the earlier maps that you showed with the red circles around the class I areas, that indeed that is the case right now in Colorado.
Page 77 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In the Yampa Valley in northwestern Colorado, there is the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area, and the Forest Service which manages that area has accused the Hayden power plant at Hayden of polluting the wilderness area some 30 miles away. The State of Colorado Health Department, along with the Forest Service and the Colorado utilities conducted a $3 million scientific study to determine the sources of visibility impairment in the wilderness. The recently released results of that study show that the Hayden Power Plant was only a minor contributor to visibility impairment in the wilderness.
Despite this evidence, however, the source owners have committed to spending over $100 million to reduce the emissions from that plant. All the while, the Forest Service can go ahead and conduct prescribed burns or allow wildfires to burn at will to reduce forest fuel levels in and near the wilderness area. The other Federal land managers can do the same in other areas.
There's also an irony here that we need to keep in mind, and that is that there's a great concern now about global warming, and fires release carbon as carbon dioxide. It is to be noted that if you burn the forest, you're putting the carbon that is locked up in those trees back into the atmosphere, thus possibly exacerbating the global warming issue. And also, by removing some of this material from the forest, you're reducing the forest's ability to lock up carbon that they would be putting into wood over the next several years.
While I'm extremely concerned that prescribed burns will hamper and even possibly prevent our attainment of the goal that you set for us in remedying man-caused effects of visibility impairment in the West, we recognize that forest fires can and will occur. Therefore, the Federal land managers must take this into account and work out other options for reducing timber in the forest, while still helping us achieve the class I visibility requirements set out in the Clean Air Act.
And with that I will say thank you, and answer any questions you may have.
Page 78 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC [The prepared statement of Mr. Pearson may be found at end of hearing.]
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Thank you, Dr. Pearson, and the Chair recognizes Mr. Schaffer for questions.
Mr. SCHAFFER. Thank you.
Dr. Pearson, my first question deals with the second issue that you touch on, which is the ability of land managers of various sorts, with respect to the Forest Service, in particular, to have some impact on the operations of various human activities in other jurisdictions. You mentioned the Mount Zirkel incident, which I'm familiar with. To what extent does occur throughout the rest of the country?
Mr. PEARSON. Well, I'm most familiar with Mount Zirkel, but I'm sure that it has happened elsewhere. Let me say that the Federal land managers' authority in this regard is written into the Clean Air Act as an advisor capacity, but the most recently proposed EPA rules on regional haze make it an out-and-out right, if you will, of the Federal land managers. So, again, I'm most familiar with Mount Zirkel, but I'm sure it can and has happened elsewhere, and will probably happen more with these new authorities.
Mr. SCHAFFER. I want to go back to the questions that I asked of Carol Browner at the EPA with respect to the Grand Canyon Visibility Transport Commission. She said, when I asked, that the findings of that report were somehow built into the new air quality standards, and with the contemplation of a 400 percent increase in prescribed burning, as one who served on that Commission, I'd like to get your perspective on whether the findings of the Commission were acknowledged by the EPA.
Mr. PEARSON. Well, they acknowledge that such a study took place, but they do not in any way, in any major way, anyway, incorporate the findings of the Commission into their proposed regional haze rules. And, in fact, I testified in Denver a week ago before EPA on this very rule and made that comment, that they ignored the Commission's findings across the board when they drafted these rules.
Page 79 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC So, I don't know how Carol Browner can say that the Commission's findings are incorporated in the rule, because they simply are not.
Mr. SCHAFFER. Do you think it's appropriate that those secondary standards for visibility should be as stringent as the primary standards that are intended to protect human health?
Mr. PEARSON. Oh, not at all. And, in fact, when the Clean Air Act was first passed by Congress many years ago, the primary standards of the health standards were given much more significance because they are based on protecting human health, whereas secondary standards, those protecting human welfare, must have a lot more flexibility and ability of parties to meet them in an economical and feasible way. So, no, they're not intended to be at all equivalent, and I agree with that.
Mr. SCHAFFER. I'd like you to discuss, if you would, Secretary Babbitt's assessment that the costs of prescribed fire versus the costs of mechanical removallet me find this. He said that prescribed fire is by far the least expensive method of treating hazardous fuels. He said that the average national costs run about $20 to $30 per acre for fire, while mechanical fuel reduction or multiple treatments can cost $500 to $1,500 per acre.
Can you comment on that from your scientific perspective and background?
Mr. PEARSON. Well, I don't really have any background in the cost of burning a forest versus going in and doing mechanical removal. Let me just say that if one chooses to burn the forest and pollutes the environment as a result, then someone else, presumably private industry, has to then reduce their emissions at a huge cost to make up for this added smoke from the forest. So I think one needs to look at those costs as well.
Mr. SCHAFFER. And one last question, just from an air quality standpoint. Are the EPA's new standards and proposed rules reasonable?
Page 80 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. PEARSON. It depends on who you ask. I think in some regards they are and in other regards they are not, in my personal opinion, and
Mr. SCHAFFER. That's what I'm after.
Mr. PEARSON. [continuing] we could get into a discussion as to which is which.
Mr. SCHAFFER. From your perspective.
Mr. PEARSON. Well, in terms of the PM2.5 standards, I think they're probably needed to protect human health but not at the levels set by EPA, they are too stringent. In terms of regional visibility, that is a goal that Congress set to improve regional haze, primarily in the West. And while that is a nice thing to do and we all strive to do that, and we're working very hard in that regard, let's do it in balance with other objectiveseconomic objectives, removing fuel from the forest, and so forth.
So we need a balanced program, and that is indeed why the Commission, the Grand Canyon Visibility Transport Commission, was set up by the Congress to look at these various aspects and weigh them into a balanced program, which we did. EPA now chooses to ignore our recommendations.
Mr. SCHAFFER. Thank you, Madam Chairman.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Thank you, Mr. Schaffer. That's very interesting.
And I'd like to ask Mr. Dennison, do you agree with Secretary Babbitt's assessment of the cost of prescribed fire versus the cost of mechanical treatment in the forest?
Mr. DENNISON. Thank you for asking that. I do have some background in that, having done some of that sort of removal after I retired. I don't know where those figures might have come from. The $20 to $30 per acre had to have been on a national average, and I think he mentioned a national average. That would include, then, a lot of acres where you didn't really have to do very much; you torched it and you let it burn, across grasslands and areas like Florida, possibly, but certainly not in California. So, I don't know where they could do that in California for that.
Page 81 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC On the other end they noted, I believe, that it was $500 to $1,500 an acre for mechanical removal. I know that in California, under service contracts that the Forest Service have had, they've had as high as $275 per acre. Currently, those service contractsand by service contracts I'm talking about the removing of the biomass without any other material, just trying to get that fire load downthose service contracts, the last I checked, were around $100 to $125 per acre, so, not near that figure.
In addition, though, Madam Chair, I think it's important to note that if we have contracts that are strictly contracts to do the end product job, what we call merchantable product sales, where you remove the small trees and you remove the biomass together, those are net income to the Federal Government. And so that gives them some extra money, then, to use on prescribed burns if they wish to later on. So I would question those figures, at least based on where I'm from.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Thank you, Mr. Dennison. I just introduced a bill to that effect, the Stewardship Contract
Mr. DENNISON. That is very much needed. I'm aware of that. We tried it once about 20 years ago, and we couldn't get enough cooperation from anybody, but I look forward to that being in effect.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Good, good.
Mr. Peterson, I want to ask you, could youwhat do you see as the biggest threat to the continued use of prescribed fire down there in Florida, or any place?
Mr. EARL PETERSON. Madam Chairman, we have a unique situation in Florida, as I mentioned. I think the biggest threat would be, of course, the concern for public health and the public perception of people who are not familiar with the history of prescribed fire, who might have moved into the area from outside of the area; so, I think those would be the biggest threats.
Page 82 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Prescribed fire, or controlled fire, as it used to be called, has a long history in Florida, generally accepted as a part of the landscape, as a part of the strategies there. But these two issues will impact its future.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. I see. Could you tell me why your office and the State in general felt it was necessary to develop and pass the Prescribed Fire Act in Florida?
Mr. EARL PETERSON. Yes. It was thought necessary because, No. 1, prescribed fire is very central, as I said earlier, to Floridaboth to the ecology, the ecosystem. Many of our species are not only fire tolerant, they're fire dependent.
And then, of course, with the massive amount of people coming in who are not familiar with all of that, it was just thought it needed to be done because prescribed fire needs to go forward as a part of the management tool in Florida, and we needed to protect its proper use from civil liability, if done properly.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Thank you.
Mr. Dennison, you noted there are data which show the amounts of fuel which should be removed prior to the use of prescribed fire. Could you give us an example of that?
Mr. DENNISON. Yes, as a matter of fact, one of the people who provided dataand it was also in Mr. Babbitt's testimony, his written testimony, at leastresearcher Wallace Covington. He referred to that particular person, who does studies at North Arizona University, conducting studies there in order to determine means of restoring ponderosa pine forests through prescriptive fires. He reported in a recent study that in order to put a forest stand of trees back into a normality where they could use prescriptive fires, that he removed 5,500 board feet per acre, and as much as 5,800 tons per acre of unmerchantable slash and duff.
That unmerchantable slash and duff is something that in California we utilize for chips and co-generation in developing energy. So, those are the types of materials that we think ought to be removed. Now those are in certain stands. They wouldn't be the same volume everywhere, but that was an example.
Page 83 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In addition, in northern California, there's Wheelabrator Shasta Energy Company, who does have co-generation plants who do utilize those unmerchantable materials and do convert it to electricity. Their forester, Steve Jolly, has done studies and finds that they remove about 30 to 35 tons per acre prior to prescriptive burning. Putting that into something maybe we can grasp a little bit better, the large vans that the chips are in, that's aboutoh, probably one to one-and-a-half truckloads per acre of material, a lot of material that has to be removed.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. How big is that co-generation facility down there in Shasta Power?
Mr. DENNISON. I think it's a 5-megawatt, and we have five of them in California and are ready to utilize some of those materials if we have them available to us. In addition, we have ethanol plants that now are looking to come into our area, as well, that can utilize some of this same material that can be removed prior to prescriptive burning.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. The pine needles and that type of thing?
Mr. DENNISON. Well, that gets in there inadvertently. They can take anything. Of course, what they do is they chip the material in the woods, blow it into a van, haul it in, then, into the facility, and then burn it at that plant.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. I wanted to ask Mr. Mutch, can the agencies significantly expand prescribed fire programs and still safeguard air quality, in your opinion?
Mr. MUTCH. It seems like a conflicting dilemma, the choice of the words you used, but my answer to that question based on reality is, yes, we can. And I base that on quite a few different examples of research that are going on around the West today.
For example, the Westar Group, which is a combination of 14 directors of the western States' air quality bureaus, are on record as saying that a large increase in prescribed fire can mitigate against future wildfire smoke. The same thing applies as my point three on the board here: pay now in a more balanced program, or pay a dear price later in wildfire smoke emissions.
Page 84 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC For example, the wildfire called the Silver Fire in southwest Oregon in 1987, burned over a period of 58 days. Research has shown that it released 53 million pounds of respirable particulatein other words, particulate matter less than 10 micronsinto the atmosphere over a 58-day period.
The wildfire smoke, in my view, is the bad smoke. That doesn't mean that prescribed fire smoke is good smoke, but it is better smoke because we can time the period in which it is emitted; we can burn under certain wind directions and speeds to avoid smoke-sensitive areas. We operate under smoke management plans in our burning programs, and all of this prescribed burning, as you know, is done in concert with smoke management plans in the States to apply best-available control measures to minimize the amount of smoke and emissions into the air from prescribed burning.
Another study I will cite, Madam Chairman, is some work that's ongoing in Oregon between the Forest Service, the Oregon Department of Forestry, and DEQ in Oregon, that's showing, with data, that probably a great increase in prescribed fire over a period of years will ultimately reduce the total emissions from wildfires and prescribed fires in the future.
When you look at what's happening in the Blue Mountains of eastern Oregon and the Boise National Forest, we're seeing one wildland smoke episode after another from wildfires covering multi-State areas under conditions that are totally random and beyond our control.
Let me just conclude by saying I might take a different stance than what we heard from the EPA today under this premise that the wildfire smoke is the bad smoke. We might say that wildfire smoke should not fall under a natural events exemption, which we heard about. The wildfire smoke is not stringently regulated like prescribed fire smoke.
I would say that Federal agencies should be penalized for the wildfire smoke they put into the atmosphere, because that's the bad smoke, and there should be some leniency addressed to the prescribed fire question so that we can ultimately reduce total emissions by a more rounded program of prescribed fire.
Page 85 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mrs. CHENOWETH. That's very interesting. Is there a logical way that one can tell whether a fire is caused by man or by an act of nature in time to impact other air emittents? I mean, sometimes, doesn't it take days and weeks to determine how a fire started, whether it was caused by man?
Mr. MUTCH. Take days and weeks in terms of fire cause?
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Yes.
Mr. MUTCH. We know pretty well from fire reporting where the fire starts and what's gone on in that area in terms of human activity and lightning storms. We know very carefullyyou know, 95 percent or better, probablywhether fire is caused by lightning or by people.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Very interesting, gentlemen. Your testimony has been very instructive, and I thank you so much for your patience today. We are putting together a very, very important and interesting record, and I thank you for your personal contribution, the contributions of your associations and companies that they have made by having you be willing to come to Washington and participate in this hearing.
Mr. Schaffer, do you have anything you would like to add?
Mr. SCHAFFER. Yes. You know, it's interesting. I don't represent Idaho, but I had a chance to fly over the Boise National Forest with the Forest Health Subcommittee, and it was remarkable how often some of the wildfires there stopped in this remarkable straight line. And it was not as a result of previous burning as much as it was a result of sound forest management and thinning, and so on.
So this concept you mention of good smoke versus bad smokeyou know, it's abundantly clear to me that in many areas of the country it's possible to prevent forest fires with no smoke by just applying the sound practices that forestry has taught us, and realizing that the taxpayers throughout the country have billions of dollars worth of resources that can be utilized and harvested in a responsible way to maintain the integrity of the environment and improve critical habitats and prevent erosion in many cases, as we saw in the Boise National Forest, and so on.
Page 86 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I understand the necessity of controlled burns in some cases, but this notion that we hear today from some that controlled burning is always preferable to sound forest practices is a silly notion, I think, and, unfortunately, one that has seeped into the Department of the Interior and Department of Agriculture and is being excused in many ways by the EPA in a way to make the administration look more responsible on paper than they actually are in reality.
That's my comment. Thank you, Madam Chairman.
Mr. MUTCH. May I respond to that, briefly?
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Yes.
Mr. MUTCH. I would certainly say that you're exactly right, and I began my testimony by saying that the combination of mechanical, pre-commercial thinning, harvests, and all of those other tools must be done in concert with prescribed fire when necessary.
And I also would have to add to your comments that many of the vistas and landscapes that the public of this fine country enjoy are based on an evolution of plants and animals with periodic fire, and many of the functions of ecosystems are very carefully associated with the periodic occurrence of fire in these ecosystems, whether it's the germination of plants or the control of brown spot disease in longleaf pine, fire, for evolutionary periods of time, has interacted with these plants and animals.
So, you're exactly right. It's a program that's needed of balance and thought and judgment and wisdom. And we need mechanical thinning; we need harvests; we need the use of that material for economic benefit to the people of this country, at the same time that we afford those people some of the vistas that they enjoy in our wildlands that are there partly because of fire, not because we kept fire out.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Thank you very much andyes, Mr. Peterson?
Page 87 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. EARL PETERSON. Madam Chairman, I would be remiss if I didn't say that I hope as we proceed through this process, which is very important because of all of the issues we heard here today, that we're not talking about just Federal land management issues. There's an enormous private sector out there who has some of the same concerns, some of the same needs.
There are other public land management agencies that are State and local who have these issues, and then everything from the fuels to the history to the strategies are different, so a one-size-fits-all, or a Federal blanket, shall we say, should not be one that we take for granted here. There are a lot of variables in this mix.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. I agree with you, and I thank you for that contribution.
I also want to say that the visionaries in this country, people like the individuals who built co-generation facilities when PURPA first came into beingthe vision of being able to use the fuel load is a very good one and especially in this day when we're facing deregulation and throwing the production of energy out onto the free market system, which I like, so long as we have an even start. I think those visionaries have got to be commended.
And it's my personal concern to see to it that those co-generation facilities always have the fuel available to them, and I just wish we had more of those facilities, because they can produce power from a renewable resource that helps clean up our forests and gives us the ability to have the right kind of prescribed fire conditions. So my hat is off to them.
I appreciate all of your testimony. As I said, it's very instructive. I have more questions for you, but I have been instructed thatyour bacon is saved at this minute, because not only do we have a vote, but this room needs to be used by other people.
And so, we will be submitting our additional questions in writing. The record will remain open for 3 weeks, and if there are no other questions or comments this hearing is adjourned.
Page 88 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. MUTCH. Thank you for inviting me.
[Whereupon, at 3:38 p.m., the Committee adjourned subject to the call of the Chair.]
[Additional material submitted for the record follows.]
STATEMENT OF HON. DAN GLICKMAN, SECRETARY, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee:
I am pleased to appear today before this Committee to discuss the Administration's fire management policy with Secretary Babbitt and Administrator Browner. I want to highlight three issues in my testimony today and submit with Secretary Babbitt and Administrator Browner some further technical background for the record. First, I want to talk about how our resource conditions have changed because of past fire suppression policies. Then I want to discuss how we have changed our policies to address emerging problems, including the Forest Service's Fire 21 Agenda. And finally, I want to highlight some accomplishments of the Department of Agriculture in meeting changing demands.
The Federal Government has a long-standing tradition and record of fire management. 100 years ago, the creation of our National Forests was inspired by the need to protect forest resources from slash and burn logging that was decimating productive lands and threatening rural communities in the upper Midwest and far west. In 1911, after the Forest Service had begun serious fire suppression on Federal lands, the Weeks Act directed the Secretary of Agriculture to work cooperatively with the States to fight fires across ownerships. Today the Forest Service, in partnership with several Federal agencies, operates the most advanced, innovative, and effective fire fighting organization in the world.
Changing resource conditions
Page 89 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
For 50 years we have had the technology to fight fires with incredible effectiveness. Our national policy, championed by Smokey Bear in one of our most successful public education programs, was to quickly and effectively put out fires. It is ironic, but we are now paying the price for our success.
Fire is a natural part of any terrestrial ecosystem in the country. In some areas such as southern California, wildfire came through on an average of every 10 years. In the ponderosa pine forests of the intermountain west, fires burned in 30 year cycles. In the east and the Pacific Northwest, some forests burned once in 100 years. In every case, fire was a regular part of the ecological process. While we have known that fire was a natural occurrence in wildlands, we recently began to understand that it is necessary.
Today, the legacy of seven decades of fire suppression is a changed landscape. Forests where young seedlings were regularly thinned out by periodic fire are now thick with small diameter trees that outstrip the sites' moisture supplies and soil nutrients. These dog-hair thickets are especially subject to drought, disease. and ultimately intense wildfires that wipe out nearly the entire stand. Other forests where fire resistant trees used to be the dominant species are not crowded and sometimes replaced by trees not native to the area. The result is changed habitat undesirable species mixes, and increased susceptibility to fire. Even rangelands show the evidence of fire suppression with exotic plants, over abundance of sagebrush, and the encroachment of shrubs and unpalatable plants. In all cases there is simply an incredible accumulation of fuel in the form of needles and organic material on the forest floor, woody shrubs, overstocked stands of small diameter trees, and deadfall trees lying on the ground that exceed the levels necessary for soil formation native habitat, and forage.
These conditions have led to a serious change in wildland fire activity. Since the 1920's wildfire has typically claimed 400,000 to 500,000 acres of national forests each year. From 1920 to 1987a period of nearly 70 yearsfire never burned more than one million acres per year. However, in the past 10 years, we have had four years during which more than one million acres have burned.
Page 90 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC These unnatural, fire-prone, forest conditions exist on 39 million acres (20 percent) of our national forest system. This fact, combined with the tragic loss of 34 skilled firefighters in 1994, is why Secretary Babbitt and I have taken such an aggressive role in changing fire policy in the Administration. Contrary to some claims of critics, our changed policy is not, I repeat, not to simply put a match to the forests. Our policy changes involve mechanical forest treatment, budget structure changes, new planning priorities, personnel training, new research, carefully planned prescribed burns that continue to include air quality considerations, and dozens of other initiatives to meet this challenge.
To meet the changing needs for the 21st Century, the Forest Service has integrated the concepts of the Federal Fire Policy Review into a program we call Fire 21, which realigns and emphasizes our priorities. The four commitments of the Fire 21 Agenda are: 1) Putting firefighter safety and public safety as the highest goal; 2) Supporting the role of fire in restoring and sustaining healthy ecosystems; 3) Supporting the integration of fire management into land management planning; and 4) Improving fire and aviation accountability within the Forest Service.
One of the most important steps necessary to returning fire to the landscape after 70 years of fire suppression includes removing small diameter trees which can be tightly packed, susceptible to fire, and serve as fuel ladders that allow low intensity ground fires to burn up into the treetops. Old growth trees that have survived dozens of fires over several centuries are threatened by these intensely hot crown fires. At lease half of the 39 million acres that are potentially subject to damaging wildfire need some kind of mechanical fuels treatment before fire is reintroduced. The Senate Interior Appropriations Report for fiscal year 1998 includes $50 million for this type of fuels management, an increase from $29 million in 1997.
Another important step is providing the resources to implement prescribed burns in the very narrow windows of time when weather, moisture levels, treatment objectives, air quality, and other factors converge to allow a carefully controlled burn across a discreet area. In 1996, the Forest Service treated 532,000 acres. In 1997, we have burned nearly one million acres. By 2005 we hope to treat 3.5 million acres annually, so that by 2015 we will have addressed nearly all of the 39 million acres that need fuel management and fire reintroduction. The fiscal year 1998 Senate Interior Appropriations Report moves hazardous fuels management funding out of the fire preparedness function into a fire management operations account to ensure that it is available to supervisors who are managing fire through prescribed burns and fuels treatment. This will increase our ability to restore ecosystems with fire management techniques.
Page 91 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC There is another changing condition which has nothing to do with out past fire management policies, but has a very significant impact on future fire policiesthe growing wildland/urban interface. As more people recognize the beauty and value of public land, more people are locating homes in and around it. Many of these people choose to live in wooded environments with trees that grow right beside their houses. This has become a very significant challenge for the Forest Service; how to balance the risk of suppressing wildlife with the risk of reintroducing and managing fire. We do not have all the answers to these questions, but we are working very closely with our partners, especially the state foresters, to develop appropriate balance between federal responsibilities and private responsibilities for total fire management across mixed ownerships. We have developed an education program with local firefighters using radio announcements and other venues to teach homeowners the importance of managing fuels such as shrubs and trees next to their homes.
Through Fire 21, the Forest Service is changing the fundamental skills and training of federal fire fighters. Instead of focusing exclusively on fire suppression, the new fire management workforce will have training that allows them to serve as a resource to forest supervisors who need to reintroduce fire to the ecosystem. Comprehensive fire management will include fuels evaluations, collaboration across ownerships, land management planning, prescribed fire implementation, and fire and vegetation monitoring. Our people will be trained and equipped to fight fires as effectively as ever, but their skills will reflect the changing demands of a comprehensive fire management program.
We are also making progress in addressing one of the most controversial aspects of an aggressive program of prescribed burningsmoke management. Unlike some, we do not see air quality standards as an obstacle to the use of prescribed fire. Rather, these regulations recognize the importance of protecting air quality in carrying out management activities. We are working with the Environmental Protection Agency and State air quality regulatory agencies to develop practical policies to mitigate and manage visibility and health impairment from smoke emissions. 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 fires but also from wildfires and that a strong prescribed fire program can have much less impact on air quality in the long run.
Page 92 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Through Fire 21, the Forest Service is also changing the fundamental skills and training of federal firefighters. Instead of focusing exclusively on fire suppression, the new fire management workforce will have training that allows them to serve as a resource to forest supervisors who need to reintroduce fire to the ecosystem. A total fire management program will include fuel evaluation and treatment, collaboration across ownerships, land management planning, prescribed fire implementation, and fire and vegetation monitoring. Our people will be trained and equipped to fight fires as effectively as ever but their skills will reflect the changing demands of a comprehensive fire management program.
Finally, let me explain a few of our accomplishments in the overall fire management area.
The outstanding track record of fire suppression will continue. The federal fire fighting agencies have consistently suppressed 98 percent of all wildfires during initial attack. The remaining 2 percent of the fires account for most of the loss of life and total acreage burned. However, even as we shift to broaden our management objective, we intend to maintain our capability to stop most fires before they threaten people or property.
Our cooperation with the states will also continue. Through the USDA cooperative fire program, we have loaned state and local governments more than $800 million dollars in surplus federal property for use in fire suppression during our long-standing partnership. With the support of Congress, USDA provides approximately $17 million in cost-share grants to strengthen the state programs and an additional $2 million, through the states, to help train and equip volunteer firefighters in rural towns across the United States.
The Forest Service is a world leader in fire behavior and fire management research. We have extensive expertise and research underway on the effects of fire on vegetation and wildlife, smoke management, impacts of harvesting on fire risks, and opportunities to create markets for small diameter treesespecially in California and the Southwest. While there is almost always a market for the mature large diameter trees, we need to make sure there is a capacity, and hopefully market demand, to facilitate the removal of smaller diameter trees. We cannot afford to sell off traditional forest products and leave behind trees that have traditionally been ''non-merchantable'' because this will not address our fire management needs and will leave the forest in worse condition.
Page 93 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Finally, we have working and will continue to work with the Environmental Protection Agency to address the complex questions of airshed management in fire dependent ecosystems. We are on a work group with the Department of Interior and state land managers to develop recommendations for an EPA policy on wildland fire emissions. The Forest Service is committed to incorporating public health and environmental quality considerations into its fire management plans. Air quality criteria will continue to be incorporated in fire prescription and smoke management plans. USDA's partnership with EPA is a strong oneacross many program areasand we look forward to its further growth.
I am very excited about the new directions in fire management. We have recognize the trend of ecological changes and dramatically changed direction. Our changes are keeping firefighters safer, restoring the environment, enhancing wildlife habitat, protecting streams and forests from intense and damaging fires, and managing air quality. The Forest Service and its federal partners continue to be leaders in developing a total fire management strategy that protects both people and the environment.
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