SPEAKERS CONTENTS INSERTS
Page 1 TOP OF DOC45570 CC
HEARING ON H.R. 2458, THE COMMUNITY PROTECTION AND HAZARDOUS FUELS REDUCTION ACT OF 1997
SUBCOMMITTEE ON FOREST AND FOREST HEALTH
COMMITTEE ON RESOURCES
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
ONE HUNDRED FIFTH CONGRESS
SEPTEMBER 23, 1997, WASHINGTON, DC
Serial No. 10562
Page 2 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
Printed for the use of the Committee on Resources
COMMITTEE ON RESOURCES
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
Page 3 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCROBERT F. SMITH, Oregon
CHRIS CANNON, Utah
KEVIN BRADY, Texas
JOHN PETERSON, Pennsylvania
RICK 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
Page 4 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCPATRICK J. KENNEDY, Rhode Island
ADAM SMITH, Washington
WILLIAM D. DELAHUNT, Massachusetts
CHRIS JOHN, Louisiana
DONNA 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
Subcommittee on Forest and Forest Health
HELEN CHENOWETH, Idaho, Chairman
JAMES V. HANSEN, Utah
JOHN T. DOOLITTLE, California
GEORGE P. RADANOVICH, California
JOHN PETERSON, Pennsylvania
RICK HILL, Montana
BOB SCHAFFER, Colorado
MAURICE D. HINCHEY, New York
BRUCE F. VENTO, Minnesota
Page 5 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCDALE E. KILDEE, Michigan
ENI F.H. FALEOMAVAEGA, Am. Samoa
BILL SIMMONS, Staff Director
ANNE HEISSENBUTTEL, Legislative Staff
LIZ BIRNBAUM, Democratic Counsel
C O N T E N T S
Hearing held September 23, 1997
Statements of witnesses:
Albrecht, Michael H., President, Sierra Resource Management, Inc.
Goicoechea, Pete, Chairman, Board of Eureka County Commissioners, Eureka, Nevada
Prepared statement of
Holmer, Steve, Campaign Coordinator, Western Ancient Forest Campaign
Prepared statement of
Hubbard, James, Director/State Forester, Colorado State Forest Service, Colorado State University
Prepared statement of
Joslin, Robert, Deputy Chief, National Forest Systems, United States Forest Service
Wiant, Jr., Harry V., President, Society of American Foresters
Prepared statement of
Page 6 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCAdditional material supplied:
Society of American Foresters, prepared statement of-
Belsky A. Joy, and Dana M. Blumenthal, Effects of Livestock Grazing and Stand Dynamics and Soils in Upland Forests of the Interior West
Quotes from scientists and others
Excerpts from the SNEP Final Report to Congress, etc.
HEARING ON H.R. 2458, THE COMMUNITY PROTECTION AND HAZARDOUS FUELS REDUCTION ACT OF 1997
TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 23, 1997
House of Representatives, Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health, Committee on Resources, Washington, DC.
The Subcommittee met, pursuant to notice, at 2:05 p.m. in room 1334, Longworth House Office Building, Hon. Helen Chenoweth (chairman of the Subcommittee) presiding.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. The Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health will come to order.
The Subcommittee is meeting today to hear testimony on H.R. 2458, the Community Protection and Hazardous Fuels Reduction Act of 1997.
Under rule 4(g) of the Committee rules, any oral opening statements in hearings are limited to the Chairman and the Ranking Minority Member. This will allow us to hear from our witnesses sooner and help members to keep to their schedules. Therefore, if other members have statements, they can be included in the hearing record under unanimous consent.
[The statements referred to follows:]
Mrs. CHENOWETH. I would like to welcome our witnesses and the members of this Committee today on H.R. 2458, the Community Protection and Hazardous Fuels Reduction Act of 1997.
Page 7 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Last year, wildfires burned over 6 million acres and cost nearly $1 billion to fight. These intense fires are now frequently occurring in America's backyards. In the early part of this century, a clear delineation existed between the urban center and what was considered rural America, but this no longer exists.
Over time, cities have grown into suburbs and suburbs have blended into what was once considered rural, and this complex landscape has come to be known as the wildland/urban interface. Forests and grasslands are intermixed with housing, businesses, farms and other developments, posing new challenges for fire management and fire suppression.
The intensity of many of the wildfires witnessed in recent years are of a magnitude seldom seen before and they are the result of unnaturally high fuel loads, caused from years of aggressive suppression, forest disease, and grossly overstocked stands also contribute to this. This is an unhealthy, dangerous condition that must be properly dealt with and dealt with now.
Last spring, the Subcommittee traveled to several forests in the West. The Forest Service provided us with an excellent tour which gave us an idea of what can happen if we do not take action. In the Boise National Forest alone, the Forest Service showed us an area larger than Los Angeles County that had been burned from catastrophic fires over the past 5 years.
During this trip and other trips that I have had a chance to take this year, the Forest Service employees working on the ground have asked for the authority contained in this bill to help deal with the fire danger and forest health problems that plague our national forests.
There is no doubt that something must be done. The question is not if our forests will burn from catastrophic fires, but when. These intense fires not only threaten the destruction of communities, putting human life and property at risk, they also damage water supplies, destroy fish and wildlife habitat and damage ambient air quality. The unnatural temperatures of these fires also damage soil to the degree that it substantially reduces the ability of the land to support future stands of trees and greatly increases the potential for massive soil erosion.
Page 8 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Regarding the importance of protecting our forests, President Teddy Roosevelt, one of the greatest conservationists of all time, said this, quote, ''If there is any one duty which more than any other we owe to our children and our children's children to perform at once, it is to save the forests of this land, for they constitute the first and most important element in the conservation of the natural resources of this country.''
Quoting from a Forest Service brochure on forest health, the agency states, and I must commend the Des Chutes National Forest for their very excellent brochure, and I am very pleased to quote from this. It is a very, very outstanding brochure.
''The Forest Service has identified the factors that are weakening the forests and there are a number of acres affected and it will take time, effort, resources and cooperation to restore the balance. The Forest Service has a vision, a vision of a healthy, balanced, self-sustained forest.'' And I agree with this vision, and for this purpose, I introduced the Community Protection and Hazardous Fuels Reduction Act of 1997.
This bill is the result of listening to the on-the-ground experts, those men and women who work every day in the Forest Service. It provides the Forest Service with a new tool that will allow it to help protect our forests, fish and wildlife habitat, protect our air quality and water quality, as well as human life and our property.
I look forward to working with the Forest Service and interested members as we move this bill forward; and in light of last year's severe fire season and the threat that remains in our forests, now is the time to properly deal with the unnaturally high fuel loads that lead to loss of human life and property, as well as most of the environmental damage and taxpayer expenditures that result.
Since the Ranking Minority Member is not here right now, I will recognize him when he does come in for his statement, but I would like to recognize my colleague from Montana, Mr. Rick Hill.
Page 9 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. HILL. Thank you, Madam Chairman.
Madam Chairman, first of all, thank you for this hearing and thank you for this bill. This is an important issue for Montana. In western and central Montana we have many communities that would certainly fall within the definition of communities where there is urban and forest interface.
Knowing full well that recent reports indicate that the fuel buildups in western Montana are at excessive levels, and also in light of the fact Madam Chairman, that we are entering an El Nino season, which traditionally has created very dry and warm conditions in much of Montana, I think this is a very important issue facing Montanans.
The threat is very real, and this deserves action; and Madam Chairman, your bill would seek to reverse the trends of the ever-increasing fuel loads in these national forests while giving our agencies and local communities the tools to properly manage the forests not only for the benefit of wildlife, but also for the benefit of our citizens. I think, most importantly, it establishes that protection of our citizens and our communities are public interest priorities in resource management.
So I thank you very much, Madam Chairman.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Thank you, Mr. Hill. And now I will introduce our first panel of one witness.
Mr. Robert Joslin, Deputy Chief, National Forest System, Washington, DC.
Mr. Joslin, I am very pleased to have you join us today. Please proceed.
STATEMENT OF ROBERT JOSLIN, DEPUTY CHIEF, NATIONAL FOREST SYSTEMS, UNITED STATES FOREST SERVICE
Mr. JOSLIN. Thank you, Madam Chairman and members of the Subcommittee. We thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today to discuss H.R. 2458, the Community Protection and Hazardous Fuel Reduction Act of 1997. I would like to enter the written statement into the record and provide summarized testimony.
Page 10 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC As you mentioned, I'm Bob Joslin, the Deputy Chief of the National Forest System. I also have with me Tom Patten, our fuels management specialist here in the Washington office.
I would like to preface my remarks by saying, we have not had sufficient time to fully analyze this bill or to go over it with your staff to clarify our interpretation, and we would certainly like to do so. The Bureau of Land Management is in the same situation, and today's remarks should not be interpreted as a representation of their official position.
As we interpret it, H.R. 2458 would expand contracting authorities of the Secretaries of Interior and Agriculture to allow them to require treatment of hazardous fuel buildup or improvements to noncommodity resources as conditions in contracts for the sale of forest products within wildland/urban interface area. The bill would also establish authorities for forest management project credits to be used by the purchasers to offset against their payments.
While the administration certainly agrees with the stated purpose of H.R. 2458, to safeguard communities, lives and properties by reducing the threat of wildfires in the wildland/urban interface, we cannot support the bill as introduced, but would certainly be willing to work with you to address these issues.
While H.R. 2458 focuses on forest health in the wildland/urban interface, this problem requires a broader view and extends well beyond the urban interface area. We would like to see legislation that provides adequate authorities to deal with the urban interface and forest health issues.
Congress has certainly demonstrated their interest in improving the health and fire defensibility of the wildland/urban interface through a number of legislative proposals and restructuring of the Forest Service fire management budget to add fuel reduction work to the fire suppression program. There are several administrative efforts under way to identify the management needs and authorities that fully address the protection of wildland/urban interface lands.
Page 11 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC We are currently collecting information necessary to assess risk and treatment needs as part of our efforts to develop balanced approaches at the landscape scale and developing a long-term management strategy based on the data collected. We are also currently working in close partnership with local communities around the country to assess and reduce the risk of wildfire losses. I will share one of these efforts with you today.
The Pike and San Isabel National Forest and Canon City District of the BLM in Colorado are working through the State forester, who is with us today, with a number of partners and communities along the front range of the Rocky Mountains to identify opportunities in response to wildland/urban interface issues. Their broad coalition of groups and governments called the Pikes Peak Wildfire Prevention Partners is working on a number of efforts together. They include revamping a suppression training facility to improve the efficiency of wildfire suppression and to serve as a demonstration area for fire-safe building materials; completion of fire protection assessments in the three-county area that identify priorities for treatmentthe U.S. Air Force Academy provided the technical expertise and assistance to map the assessment areaestablishment of a slash/mulch project where homeowners can bring woody debris from private property fuels treatment for disposal. The material is mulched onsite and then made available to the public for use in landscaping at no cost. The Forest Service is carrying out this effort and similar ones under authority of the Cooperative Forestry Assistance Act.
Both Secretaries have a number of authorities available to do restoration and forest health activities similar to those identified in the bill. We are currently examining administrative options for new ways of accomplishing the ecosystem management through the timber sale program, including the potential for stewardship contracting. This effort will provide valuable information about whether there is a need for additional legal authorities.
While the authorities proposed in H.R. 2458 would allow additional improvement activities outside sale area boundaries, using timber sale contracts, and increases the opportunities to treat fuels not generated by harvest activities, there are substantive and technical concerns related to H.R. 2458 that merit more analysis and discussion. The three significant most significant issues are:
Page 12 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Section 101(b) appears to exempt the identification of wildland/urban interface acres from interdisciplinary and environmental analysis and documentation. The administration believes that this exemption from the normal application of NEPA is unnecessary.
Section 102(b) establishes a new system of forest management project credits and permits their transfer to purchase future timber sales. This provision could have potentially significant pay-as-you-go implications.
Section 201(a) authorizes and encourages the Secretaries to enter into contracts for grazing when the local county commission or other unit of local government certifies that there is a danger of fire in the wildland/urban interface area. Existing authorities in the use of a contract rather than a permit generates some concerns.
Definitions in section 3 that would be critical to the operation of the bill need to be clarified and refined. Wildland/urban interface and hazardous fuel buildup definitions need some work. The addition of a forest management project does not appear to include fuel reduction.
Finally, the timeframe for development of regulations implementing the bill in section 301 is too short and appears to conflict with section 102(g) of the bill.
The Forest Service has received about 50 project proposals for the treatment of fuels and in urban interface areas across the countries. These proposals may provide the best information to date to look at in order to identify the array of possible authorities we might want to explore.
Madam Chairman, while we agree that protection of communities, lives and property in wildland/urban interface areas is a national priority and agree we need to continue our efforts to reduce threats of high-intensity wildfires to both human life and property, we cannot support the bill as introduced. USDA funding proposals for fiscal 1998 would provide sufficient appropriation to address areas of immediate concern and to develop the necessary science and procedures to assess the long-term situation. Once information from that work is available, we can develop long-term strategies and implementation proposals on the priority areas. Once we have that information, we will know more about the need for additional authorities and would like to work with the Committee.
Page 13 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC This concludes my statement. I would be happy to answer any questions you or other members of the Subcommittee may have.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Joslin may be found at end of hearing.]
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Thank you, Mr. Joslin.
The Chair recognizes Mr. Hill.
Mr. HILL. Thank you, Madam Chairman.
Mr. Joslin, do you believe it ought to be a priority in terms of forest management to reduce the threat to our communities from fire?
Mr. JOSLIN. Yes, I do.
Mr. HILL. Is it your opinion that this bill would give you more tools to accomplish that, or would it give you fewer tools to accomplish that?
Mr. JOSLIN. I think with some work on this bill that it would certainly help us and provide tools to help us.
Mr. HILL. Let me ask you a specific question for Montana.
Do you have any programs, pilot programs, efforts in Montana right now, to identify and reduce life-threatening fire hazards from fuel buildup in Montana, anything going on in Montana that is specific?
Mr. JOSLIN. Yes, sir, there are. We had gone out with a letter to all of our units across the national forest system and asked them to come up with some potential ideas for dealing with this particular effort. In regard to that, in a pilot sense, we received over 50 responses. Some of those are from Montana. Bitterroot National Forest, region one, has one; the Lolo; the Flathead; and another one from the Lolo. And these properties are all across the board.
What we are doing now that we have all of these in, we have a group together that are evaluating each one of these projects. Some of the projects that are proposed will certainly require help from Congress in dealing with some of the laws that we would need changed, et cetera, to make them feasible to carry out. But we believe that with a pilot program like this, which are done in partnerships that vary from tribal governments, State forest industry groups to local organizations, that we can get a good idea by trying these out of what works and what does not work.
Page 14 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. HILL. Have you examined the cost of being proactive in terms of reducing fire hazard by reducing fuels as contrasted to what it costs to fight fires? Do you have any studies on that to indicate which is more cost-effective?
Mr. JOSLIN. We have looked at that, and I think certainly over the long term, pay-me-now is certainly better than pay-me-later. And I think if we can get after the fuel reduction and those kinds of things over the long term, that you will find that that will pay off.
Mr. HILL. The Chief, I think, has identified about 40 million acres of land that are in need of treatment to reduce fire fuels. What criteria do you use to measure the fuel loading and how do you determine if an area has too much fuel?
Mr. JOSLIN. I would probably want to refer that to the expert, but the Chief identified the fact that we consider that we have about 40 million acres of the national forest system at high risk, and those are based on a broad assessment of what the fuel loads are out there, the amount of fuel both on the ground and the density of stands, how much is standing, and all of those things in combination.
I think that as you go from that broad scale down into the local situations more information would be taken to determine what that fuel loading is, what you need to do, whether you need to combine mechanical with fire or whether you can go in and use fire, for example, by itself, or what the other actions might be that you might need to take to reduce that to an acceptable level.
Mr. HILL. This bill gives considerable flexibilities to the local foresters to make those kinds of decisions. Do you agree that is where those decisions ought to be made?
Mr. JOSLIN. Yes, I do.
Mr. HILL. And this bill provides for some exception from the NEPA process with regard to identifying those interface areas where there could be communities at risk. Do you take exception to that provision?
Page 15 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. JOSLIN. What I think should be done there, as far as identifying areas, there is no need for legislation on changing the NEPA requirement there, because there would be none. But I think when you get down to those specific areas, that NEPA and that process should be used to consider all of the public's needs and everything else to come to a decision on exactly what you're going to do there.
Mr. HILL. So let me make sure I understand what you are saying. What you are saying is, for whatever the management solution would be, obviously you should follow the NEPA processdo an environmental assessment, do an environmental impact statement. But just for designating areas, saying this is a community where there is interface between urban and forest areas, it would be duplicative, would it not, to be required to go through the NEPA process just to obtain that designation?
Mr. JOSLIN. The process we use now, we designate areas like that without going through the NEPA process.
Mr. HILL. So there is nothing unusual about that specific aspect of this bill?
Mr. JOSLIN. No. The only concern there is, when you get down to talking about the actions that you might propose to take that, those need to go through the NEPA process in our opinion.
Mr. HILL. I would agree with that.
Thank you, Madam Chairman.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Thank you, Mr. Hill.
Mr. Joslin, I am somewhat surprised at the administration's position on this bill, especially since the idea for the bill had come from Forest Service personnel not only working on on the ground but in regional administration. And a similar bill was introduced by my predecessor, Mr. LaRocco, and came out of the administration, and he did not introduce it in Committee or it did not proceed very far. It was a very good concept and it probably should have.
Page 16 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I find it a bit disconcerting that the White House is now opposing the bill. But I listened very carefully to your testimony, and I would like to know, how would you define wildland/urban interface areas?
Mr. JOSLIN. Madam Chairman, there are a lot of different definitions for that. The one that currently is in use by us is the zone where structures and other human development meet or intermingle with undeveloped wildland.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. That is right. That is good.
Approximately how many acres does the Federal Government manage in what you would consider wildland/urban interface areas?
Mr. JOSLIN. I will have to get that figure for you, Madam Chairman.
[The information referred to may be found at end of hearing.]
Mrs. CHENOWETH. If you do not like this bill, then how does the Forest Service plan to systematically reduce fuel buildups on these lands within a 15- to 20-year cycle to protect private property and lives?
I ask this in view of the fact of your most recent letter to me with regard to the ice and standing limbs in the Panhandle National Forest. The Cooperative Forestry Assistance Act was not employed there by your agency. It has not helped us. And the danger there continues to grow with every day that we are not able to get those damaged trees off the forest floor.
Mr. JOSLIN. Madam Chairman, I just want to reiterate that we support what you are after in your proposal here and that we would like to work with you on certain specific elements in the bill, because we think that taking these kinds of actions are what it is going to take out there to save property, lives and all those kinds of thingscertainly agree with you on that.
Page 17 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mrs. CHENOWETH. Thank you very much.
Tell me, Mr. Joslin, to help me, how would you define hazardous fuels buildup?
Mr. JOSLIN. Well, there is about 150 different ways, and I am not sure which is the correct one, but I think that we need to work with you and your staff on one that would be acceptable to all of these partners thatyou will be talking to some more of them later on.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Tell me how would you define forest management projects.
Mr. JOSLIN. Forest management projects, to me, are any of the projects that take place out either in a national forest, or in any other forest as far as that is concerned, any kind of activity that would be used to enhance the resource for the future.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Well, what management prescriptions would you include as an appropriate forest management project?
Mr. JOSLIN. Well, in connection with this particular bill that we are discussing here today, and we talked earlier about the 40 million acres that we have identified as high risk, we have looked at that, and about 25 million acres of that would probably have to be treated with some kind of combination of mechanical and fire; the remainder, you could probably deal with that strictly with fire. And thatyou have to remember, that is a pretty gross overall assessment.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. You state in your testimony that, quote, the administration has not had sufficient time to fully analyze this bill; and you stated further that the Forest Service has not had an opportunity to go over the bill.
Who has looked at the bill for the administration? It has been there for a couple of weeks.
Page 18 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. JOSLIN. We have looked at this bill quite a bit, in depth in the last couple of days, in fact, right up to the time before coming over here; and we still have some of these questions that we would like to work with you and your staff on to clarify.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Well, Mr. Joslin, I appreciate your being here, and I appreciate your obvious willingness to work with us on the bill. The bill certainly is not cast in stone and we remain very open and willing to work with the administration. I, however, am not particularly inclined right now to see the landscape concept of management employed all at once across the national forest. I would like to see it tried out in an area that has the most critical concern for the potential damage to private property and human life. So that, indeed, is why we confined this new concept to its workability based on the needs of the urban and rural interface.
Mr. JOSLIN. Madam Chairman, I would like to also indicate to you that the pilot program that I mentioned, there is one proposal on the Clearwater National Forest in your home State of Idaho, and we really think that this is an opportunity to try a lot of different efforts and use this information to work with you and other Members of Congress on some things that we need to make these feasible and go ahead and work them.
Also, I would like to thank you for taking the time to take a look at the Boise National Forest and the moonscape that has occurred because of the wild, severe, intense fires that we have had out there since the mid-1980's.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. It is very impressive, what we see out there, and I have extended, and so has Senator Craig, invitations to the Secretary and to the Chief to come out; and we would also love to have you join them for the same type of tour that our leadership team took, and I think that when we all see the same thing, we are far better able to work in our separate capacities to, together, find solutions to the problems that we see.
So, Mr. Joslin, I really appreciate your being here, and I wonder, if time permits, if you would mind staying. We have another panel that I will be calling.
Page 19 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. JOSLIN. Thank you, Madam Chairman.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Right now the Chair will recognize the second panel and excuse Mr. Joslin.
We welcome Mr. Harry Wiant, President of the Society of American Foresters, and Pete Goicoechea, County Commissioner from Eureka, Nevada; Jim Hubbard, Director, Colorado State Foresters, Colorado State Forest Service, Colorado State University; Michael Albrecht, President, Sierra Resource Management, Sonora, California; and Steve Holmer, Western Ancient Forest Campaign.
Gentlemen, if you will all take your place at the table. I wonder if you might stand and take an oath, please.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Mr. Bob Schaffer from Colorado will be here soon. He is still on an airplane, as we speak, but he should be in soon; and Mr. John Doolittle wanted also to be back; and Mr. Jim Gibbons from Nevada also wanted to come in. It is a very busy time as we are nearing the end of the year, and so I know where their concerns are; and they personally indicated those to me and they will try to join us.
To begin with, I would like to recognize Steve Holmer from the Western Ancient Forest Campaign. Steve.
STATEMENT OF STEVE HOLMER, CAMPAIGN COORDINATOR, WESTERN ANCIENT FOREST CAMPAIGN
Mr. HOLMER. Thank you for this opportunity to testify.
Western Ancient Forest Campaign represents organizations and individuals nationwide who are dedicated to protecting forests and aquatic ecosystems on the national forests.
Our organization strongly opposes H.R. 2458 and urges the members of this Committee and the House of Representatives to oppose the bill and its objectional elements in any form.
Page 20 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC While the environmental community supports protecting lives and properties in the wildland/urban interface threatened by fire, there is no scientific evidence increasing logging will accomplish that goal and, in fact, significant evidence suggests the opposite. This bill, if enacted, will allow for increased logging that will increase fire risk and threaten other important values such as public safety, clean water supplies, fish and wildlife habitat, recreational opportunity and fiscal responsibility.
There is no conclusive scientific data that indicates forests can be successfully fireproofed by thinning. The Sierra Nevada Ecosystem Project reported to Congress that logging increases fire hazard by increasing surface dead fuels and changing microclimate. Given the lack of confirming scientific data, limited pilot projects already under way by the Forest Service should be intensively monitored and researched to see if the strategy works and under what conditions before it is employed on a broader basis.
Our organization disagrees with some of the fundamental assumptions found in the bill's findings section. For example, the bill states the forests are experiencing significant disease epidemics and insect infestation. The U.S. Forest Service testified June 19 before the House Agriculture Committee that there is no forest health crisis on the national forests. Disease and insects, like wildfire, are natural parts of a functioning ecosystem.
The bill claims inconsistent management and natural effects for the buildup of fuels, but there is substantial scientific evidence that fire suppression, on which the government spends nearly a billion dollars a year, the selective logging of larger, more fire-tolerant trees and cattle grazing, which is also subsidized by taxpayers, are the primary causes of overly dense forest conditions. Nothing in this bill addresses these fundamental causes, and in fact, the bill's promotion of cattle grazing could make the overstocking and fuels problem worse in some regions.
The NEPA exclusion clause will prevent meaningful public participation in designating lands for management activities that may be very near communities. For example, landslides and flooding, which have killed people and destroyed properties, have been linked to road building and clear-cutting. Under this bill, there would be no protection or even the opportunity to comment for communities or property owners who could be put at risk by future logging and road building projects in the designated areas that have steep or unstable slopes. Similarly, recreation interests would not be allowed to comment on project designations that could adversely affect hunting, fishing or hiking near their communities.
Page 21 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC WAFC strongly opposes the provision for ''Forest Management Credits'' found in section 101(b). The Clinton Administration has proposed an end to the purchaser credit system because it subsidizes logging road construction, and the House voted to cut this program in half. Forest Management Credits would create a new subsidy that could lead to even less money being returned to the Treasury from a timber program that is already losing hundreds of millions of dollars every year. It could also detract from the KV fund, which is supposed to pay for reforestation of areas that have already been logged.
The ''Cost Considerations'' provision of 101(f) would also allow the Forest Service to ignore economic considerations when conducting timber sales under this bill, and specifically states that ''No sale shall be precluded because the costs of the sale may exceed the revenues derived from the sale.'' This section would also obfuscate the extent of money-losing timber sales by allowing the Forest Service to exclude these sales from any calculations concerning the revenue of the timber sale program. In other words, the agency would be granted a blank check, and they would not even have to worry about how much money is actually being lost to the taxpayer.
A better approach for funding necessary projects is to appropriate the money in the annual Interior appropriations process. If the threat to public safety warrants, it is our belief Congress should provide adequate funding, not to promote the giveaway of the public assets as this bill does.
We also strongly oppose section 201 concerning removal of grasses and forbs because there is significant evidence that grazing is harmful to forests and streams, and it contributes to overstocking conditions in some forests. I would like to submit for the record a scientific report entitled ''Effects of Livestock Grazing on Stand Dynamics and Soils in Upland Forests of the Interior West'' by A. Joy Belsky and Dana Blumenthal.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Without objection, so ordered.
Page 22 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. HOLMER. It comes to the conclusion that grazing is, in fact, a major contributor to overstocking and changes in tree species composition in our forests. Similar studies conducted by the Forest Service have come to similar conclusions for Southwest forests.
In conclusion, the agency has adequate existing authority to carry out necessary activities in the interface zone to protect lives and property. This bill calls for uncontrolled logging that may increase fire risk and threaten other important values such as public safety, clean water supplies, fish and wildlife habitat and recreational opportunity.
Western Ancient Forest Campaign will actively oppose H.R. 2458 and urge the members of this Committee to vote against its passage.
Thank you for this opportunity to testify.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Thank you, Mr. Holmer. I appreciate your testimony.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Holmer may be found at end of hearing.]
Mrs. CHENOWETH. For the next witness, I would like to call on Mr. Doolittle to introduce him.
Mr. DOOLITTLE. Thank you, Madam Chairman. I appreciate your holding this hearing and apologize for arriving late.
I would like to introduce Michael Albrecht, President of Sierra Resource Management, a constituent of mine; and this is a firm that specializes in forest thinning in our heavily overgrown forest in the central Sierras.
As you know, Madam Chairman, from the field hearing that was held recently in Sonora, we have had some excellent testimony from Mr. Albrecht and an excellent demonstration, where you and I became personally involved in his expensive equipment and survived; and he survived without, as far as I can tell, injury to the equipment.
Page 23 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mrs. CHENOWETH. I think he was more at risk than we were.
Mr. DOOLITTLE. Oh, definitely, and the bystanders, if I might say. Anyway, I am pleased to welcome him today, back here in Washington, to testify.
STATEMENT OF MICHAEL H. ALBRECHT, PRESIDENT, SIERRA RESOURCE MANAGEMENT, INC.
Mr. ALBRECHT. Thank you, Madam Chairman and Committee members. Greetings from Sonora, California. It truly is a pleasure to be here today discussing such a positive piece of forest health legislation.
H.R. 2458, the Community Protection and Hazardous Fuels Reduction Act of 1997, is a welcome sign that Congress is ready to give professional foresters the tools we need to protect our forests, our firefighters and our homes.
Before I continue, let me give you a quick snapshot of who I am and what I represent. Who I am is Mike Albrecht, the registered professional forester in both California and North Carolina. I am co-owner of a small timber harvesting and timber management business. Our company, Sierra Resource Management, employs approximately 50 people dedicated to sound forest management. We specialize in forest thinning.
What I represent is the future, and the future of forestry in our great Nation is exciting. The potential we have to do trend-setting, positive and profitable work in our forests keeps me optimistic about the future.
As in all endeavors, our future has been shaped by our past. I am not here today to apologize for past forest management practices, because an apology is not appropriate, but I would strongly acknowledge that the forest practices 50 and 100 years ago were abusive. Foresters, environmental groups and the general public recognize this fact. The good news is that although often contentious, the forest resource dialog of the past 50 years has resulted in advanced forest management practices and environmental protection that today is second to none. It is my strongest professional opinion that regardless of political affiliation and regardless of who signs our paychecks, we should all be able to agree that American forestry is the world's standard.
Page 24 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Nevertheless, all is not well in the woods. Your field hearings held last week in Sonora produced plenty of frank discussion. We all heard prominent U.S. Forest Service managers and scientists being critical of the state of our forests. They were bewildered by the maze of regulations they confront. But the most disturbing and disheartening revelation, they confided, is that the sense of purpose of the national forest is gone.
Our local media summed the whole situation up with the headline, U.S. Forest Policy Broken. I found in private business that you can always fix machines, you can build bridges and buildings, but repairing a broken spirit and defeated attitude is very difficult. After hearing the Forest Service testimony, I know we have a difficult task ahead, but I also know we can do it.
Today, I bring you no new statistics about wood supply and demand, catastrophic fire, job loss or firefighters killed. You have heard all of them by now. Instead, let us take some action.
No. 1, pass H.R. 2458, give us this proactive mandate to thin the forests around our communities. I applaud the emphasis of this bill that assigns priority to reducing fire risk. The management credit idea is innovative. H.R. 2458 dovetails perfectly with the California Board of Forestry's recent emphasis on community fuel break areas. The timing of this bill could not be better.
No. 2, support Congressman Doolittle's effort to fund a watershed level demonstration project on the Stanislaus National Forest. This represents an equally innovative approach to protecting and enhancing our forest resources.
No. 3, continue to seek out and support local projects and initiatives like the Quincy Library Group's proposal to promote forest health, local economy and consensus building.
These are the efforts to support. The result of your support will be healthier forests and safer communities. The result of your support will be vibrant wildlife habitat. But most importantly your support will renew the optimism and spirit within the people whom we charge with managing our forests.
Page 25 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Madam Chairman, I believe that under your leadership we are beginning to turn the corner toward better forest policy. Keep up the good work, continue to give up your weekends to hold field hearings; it will be worth it.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Thank you, Mr. Albrecht. It was very enjoyable to be out there in California.
Mr. ALBRECHT. Those seats are still open for both of you on that equipment.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. You are very brave. Thank you.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Albrecht may be found at end of hearing.]
Mrs. CHENOWETH. The Chair now recognizes Mr. Hubbard, Colorado State Forester.
STATEMENT OF JAMES HUBBARD, DIRECTOR/STATE FORESTER, COLORADO STATE FOREST SERVICE, COLORADO STATE UNIVERSITY
Mr. HUBBARD. Thank you, Madam Chairman, members of the Committee.
Wildland/urban interface and the fire threat that goes with it is the State Forester's No. 1 priority. It has to be. We are talking about public safety and firefighter safety. So it is not just a choice of management options, it has to be our priority. Nothing else carries that kind of burden with it.
I appreciate your efforts to authorize tools for us to address this issue. Private land needs our adjacent Federal owners to be responsive, to be good neighbors, if you will. Today I would like to address the wildland/urban interface hazard and the wildland/urban interface mitigation.
Page 26 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The hazard first, and I break that into two components, the forest conditions and homes in the woods, which, if you will, is my simple definition of interface.
National forests, in the West in particular, are at an age where they are ready to regenerate. They have more trees per acre than normally occurs. As the result of age and the number of trees competing for limited nutrients, they have lower fuel moistures, so when they burn, they burn hotter; and we have more of them than ever. So we are facing that kind of a firefighting situation.
Fuel buildup: That makes it more difficult to suppress these kinds of fires, makes it more costly to suppress these kinds of fires, puts more at risk when they burn hotter. It does more permanent damage. And we are also experiencing a frequency of fire that is not what we have faced in the past. Nineteen ninety four to 1996 were well above the 10-year average by 30,000, 40,000 fires and by 2.4 million acres. That is a lot.
The homes in the woods are the result of development that usually comes from local decisionmaking, local decisionmaking that we are not likely to interrupt. So it gives us a protection situation that we have to deal with. Little choice. We cannot ignore it. And it makes it a priority because of the values and the people that are at risk.
Mitigation, I break into identifying and assessing the hazard and land management practices that deal with the situation.
Fire suppression policies and local planning assistance, in identification, I have included in a copy of my testimony the Colorado red zone map. That is a joint assessment of all of the land management agencies in development in the front range, and it identifies 3 million acres of front range that is susceptible to interface fire and loss. It helps to set priorities that identify where we have to work first, where the forest conditions and the disturbance regime and the housing density dictate we do something that we have not normally done.
Page 27 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In land management practices, the something that we do is reduce fuels; the fuel buildup that now allows for hotter fires to carry further and burn more and be more difficult and costly to suppress, that regime has to be altered. It has been altered by preventingby the suppression activities that have prevented fire from running its normal course in those areas, and now we are dealing with how to adjust that situation because we have people in the way.
We are faced with small diameter trees and limited markets, small diameter material and limited markets and what to do with that. That says if we do not find an innovative way, we are not likely to find a commercial method of reducing this hazard. The contracting mechanism you proposed to reduce hazard offers opportunity.
The fire suppression has been aggressive in the past 50 years, 100 years, and that has produced some modifications we now have to deal with; but we have little choice but to take aggressive suppression action in the interface.
In land management planning, most States have State mitigation plans. Many counties have county mitigation plans. So they are starting to face this situation. It is driven a lot by suppression costs that they cannot afford, and ruled by public protection as well. But the development permitting process still is their decision. We can only advise as to what mitigation might help that situation.
States are paying major attention to interface. I mentioned it is our priority. The Federal lands, especially the intermingled lands, are key components to dealing with this problem.
In 1996 there was a fire west of Denver, Buffalo Creek fire. I will run through that quickly. It was 10,000 acres in one afternoon. It destroyed homes, but also left significant natural resource damage after it was over, it left some permanent damage. The regeneration does not occur, because it burned too hot. The air and water quality suffered. There was flooding following that fire. It put water into a Denver water reservoir, and put more sediment into that reservoir than the previous 13 years of the operation of that reservoir, in one rain storm event; and the citizens were outraged that we have not done anything about that.
Page 28 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC That kind of burning will continue. So it is a situation we have to address in some way. We have to do what we can. We have to do the best we can to redeem our land stewardship responsibilities. So I thank you for your efforts in proposing methods to do this.
We need Federal land managers full participation to achieve public safety and land stewardship in the interface, responsibilities of public ownership all become factors, and the State Foresters welcome the opportunity to work with you on the bill.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Thank you, Mr. Hubbard.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Hubbard may be found at end of hearing.]
Mrs. CHENOWETH. The Chair now recognizes the gentleman from Nevada, Mr. Gibbons, to introduce our next witness.
Mr. GIBBONS. Thank you, Madam Chairman, and I do have the distinct pleasure to introduce somebody from the Second District of Nevada to testify on this issue. But before I do and with your approval, I would like to say it is an honor for me to be here today before your Subcommittee on Forest and Forest Health to talk about H.R. 2458, because that bill is of the utmost importance in protecting our Nation's forests, private property and human life.
Last year in Nevada we had the worst wildfire forest fire season that we have ever had in the history of our State. The passage of this legislation is needed in order to help Nevada communities reduce the accumulation of wildland fuels on public lands which lead to the wildfire destructions of these very communities.
Currently, the unnatural accumulation of dead and dying trees, large banks of sagebrush, prolonged drought in the West and the proximity of homes to wildland fuels have created a very dangerous situation in Nevada. This bill improves environmental health and water quality by allowing the use of revenue generated from the authorized sales of timber to be used for projects to achieve these needed objectives.
Page 29 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC H.R. 2458 is important to the State of Nevada, and perhaps one of the most important and qualified persons to speak on it, and on Nevada's behalf, is here today, and it is Mr. Goicoechea. He is a local, self-employed rancher since 1970. He has been the Chairman of the Eureka County commissioners for the past 10 years, and since 1994 he has been the Chairman of the Humboldt River Basin Authority. He is also an active member of the Diamond Complex Working Group, which is a local consensus group developing resource management recommendations for wild horse and grazing issues. By developing working agreements between the BLM, the county and constituents, he has and currently does play a leading role in representing the people of Eureka County.
Further exemplifying his background and knowledge as it relates to this legislation, he is currently serving as Chair of the Nevada World Health since 1988, as well as serving as Chair of the Central Nevada Development Authority. A current member of the Eureka Recreation Board and Community Development Block Grant Committee, this honorable gentleman from Nevada has long demonstrated his devotion and dedication to both the people of Eureka County and to the entire State as well. His insight on this issue will certainly be beneficial to this Committee.
Therefore, it is my distinct honor to introduce to you, Madam Chairman of this body, this gentleman from Eureka County, Nevada, Mr. Pete Goicoechea.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Thank you, Mr. Gibbons.
The Chair recognizes Mr. Goicoechea
STATEMENT OF PETE GOICOECHEA, CHAIRMAN, BOARD OF EUREKA COUNTY COMMISSIONERS, EUREKA, NEVADA
Mr. GOICOECHEA. Thank you, Madam Chairman and thanks, Jim. I feel a little bit like a sheep-man at a cattleman's convention, coming from a county that does not have any commercial timber, but I am here to testify in support of the concepts embodied in the Community Protection and Hazardous Fuels Reduction Act of 1997.
Page 30 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC This bill does address the severe risk to human life, public and private properties, as well as our livestock and wildlife in Nevada. The costs associated with wildfire in Nevada in terms of taxpayer resources, property loss and resource degradation are staggering. In my testimony, there is a table that shows that presuppression costs alone, in Nevada, incurred by the Bureau of Land Management ranged between $3 and $5.5 million between 1990 and 1993.
The BLM was spending close to $145 an acre in presuppression, and the suppression costs are believed to add another $130 to $145 an acre. Presuppression is a concern to us because we think it does not address the actual fuel reduction and the problems. When you put this with the additional $8 million that was spent in wildland fire activities in suppression cost in Nevada alone, it is astronomical.
Despite incurring high costs of fire management, the rehabilitation in Nevada is surprisingly low. In 1985, we burned over a million acres of Nevada's grasslands and forests. We only rehabbed 55,000 acres. A large percentage of those nonrehabbed acres became infested with introduced annuals, cheatgrass predominantly. As the frequency of fire increases, the landscape will ultimately be dominated by cheatgrass and these other annuals, and that, in itself, will continue and we feel it will build a time bomb in central Nevada.
Recognizing the Federal fiscal constraints, we need to look at some realistic alternatives. Such alternatives might include additional enhanced roles for local and State governments. We need to look at forage banks. We would like to look at greenstripping. We have a lot of people living out there in the brush, and the only way, given our small infrastructure, limited fire departments, that we can really control those would be to seed these greenstrips into fire retardantback to the native grasses and forbs, which burn slower, and we feel we have a better job of controlling.
Prior to the settlement of the West, fires in these sagebrush communities was an important factor. Dr. Burkhardt of the University of Nevada said the PinyonJuniper stands in Nevada appeared to have burned in a 30-year cycle. Our modern fire suppression efforts, in conjunction with grazing and without rehabilitation, have turned that into a monoculture of cheatgrass in central Nevada, whereas the possible seeding programs should be the native grasses and forbs which are more resilient to fire. They will reduce that catastrophic fire ofwhich Congressman Gibbons talked about last year that we had. And we were very fortunate to get off without significant loss of life.
Page 31 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Within Eureka County we have extensive stands of pinyon-juniper. These noncommercial forests pose a significant wildfire hazard, and these fires are very costly to suppress, given their location. The dense stands of pinyon-juniper seldom support any type of understory and forage for wildlife and livestock and use a tremendous amount of water.
In western Oregon, of course, they are a little bigger juniper than we have in Nevada, but they use approximately 16 inches of water a year. When we start talking an acre-foot of water, it is a lot of water. Controlled burns might be an alternative, and in Nevada today the Bureau is talking about the light burn policy, but it seems like a tremendous waste of resource. Perhaps we should be exploiting methods to use this renewable resource, products that are going to require a new and realistic alternative.
We feel that the wood chip industry in rural Nevada, as we look at the pinyon-junipers, we have some estimates that they will yield between 12 and 15 ton of biomass per acre out of these pinyon-juniper stands. We see new products on the market. One of them we have in Eureka is called trex. It is made of wheat native beach straw. It is not structurally sound, but it can be used for siding and roofing and some subflooring. We think there is some real room for those.
We would promote the harvesting of areas in a mosaic pattern that fits with the contour and the topography of the land. We would also like to see these seeded down on the urban interface. We think we need toas we do the EAs and EISs on these contours or green zones or greenstrips or free zones, we think they should include in the environmental assessmentwe feel that we should have the capability of moving in there with machinery and bulldozers and graders that would in fact not require the wait-and-see, as we see in Nevada.
Usually the fire has gone by, the houses are burnt, the cows are burnt, and the rangelands are gone before anyone wants to make that call that, yes, it is time we moved equipment in. So if the greenstrips were, in fact, cleared to the point, and they should be treated as farmland if they could be harvested for the seed, then in the event of the threat of a fire in an urban interface area, we could move in with the mechanized equipment and establish the fire break.
Page 32 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC We have witnessed a lot of change in Nevada. The fire policieswhen I was growing up in Nevada in the 1950's and 1960's, fire suppression constituted a firebox that was given to different ranchers. One of these was designated the fire warden. There was not a lot of manpower in the Federal agencies then. In the event of a fire, the ranchers and miners came together, foughtI would not say truly fought, they more herded and shaped the fire until it burned out. At that point, if it truly became out of control, miners entered into it and they did, in fact, put a fire break around that.
Today we see retardant bombers, helicopter attack teams, hundreds of professional firefighters coming on the scene, some of them arriving days after the fire is out.
We have also seen a significant change in Nevada as far as livestock numbers and the reduction of livestock. In Eureka County alone over the last 15 years we have seen a 70 percent reduction in the number of cattle in the county, from 41,000 to 13,000 in 1997.
We appreciate your efforts on this bill, Madam Chairman. We think that we can reduce the fuels through livestock grazing. I will not speak on commercial timber harvest because again, like I said, we do not have any. We believe with this bill you are helping to address the many issues and concerns I have expressed, and I also wish to thank you for giving me an opportunity to testify on this issue. It is very important to Nevada and my constituents in Eureka County.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. You are very welcome, Mr. Goicoechea, and I am very pleased you could come and join us today.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Goicoechea may be found at end of hearing.]
Mrs. CHENOWETH. The Chair recognizes with great anticipation Mr. Harry Wiant, President of the Society of American Foresters. Mr. Wiant.
STATEMENT OF HARRY V. WIANT, JR., PRESIDENT, SOCIETY OF AMERICAN FORESTERS
Page 33 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. WIANT. Madam Chairman, it is a real honor to be here representing the Society of American Foresters, which many people here know is the society that is the largest forestry organization in the world, 18,000 members. And also I would like to say that it is foresters that represent the most successful conservationists in history, and I say that rather modestly, of course.
We are a diverse organization. We cover all facets of forest management, and we have worked on the forest health issue long and hard. I would like to submit our report, ''Forest Health and Productivity: A Perspective of the Forestry Profession,'' for the record.
When it comes to forest health, we believe your bill addresses in a very farsighted and innovative way most of the issues that we face. We truly support the intent of the bill. The bill identifies a significant problem, provides land managers the opportunity to address the problem, and allows for a mechanism to pay for the projects that would be necessary.
However, we think there are some areas of the bill that could be strengthened. We think that perhaps we need a more solid definition of the wildland/urban interface; several have mentioned that here today. And also on hazardous fuels, as to what is hazardous and what would that involve?
The bill requires the local Forest Service or BLM managers to determine the areas in need of fuel reduction. We support that because local managers know best what should be done. In fact, the more decisionmaking that can be done locally on the ground, the better off our forests would be. However, it does not encourage, perhaps as much as it should, to get the views of the community members, other natural resource professionals, and State and local government officials, to identify areas in need of treatment.
The use of the credit system may cause problems. Some will try to relate it to road building and so forth, which of course is necessary also, but we know that will be attacked. And as you know one thing we do not need is more controversy on managing our forests in this country.
Page 34 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC But a credit system is warranted. It is used in the private sector. But we think it also should be supplemented by appropriated funds in certain situations where there will not be the opportunity to have credit to do things that need to be done. For example, you could think of some of the forests in Southern California where they would not have enough timber to offset the cost of things that need to be done. There needs to be a specific credit allocation process developed.
For example, you need to have it so the counties get their 25 percent payments, thus there should be some limits drawn around how the credit system works; and of course, that could be developed.
The credit system might work against small operators. Small operators do not have the fiscal resources to perform the forest management work and then wait for their payments. There might be a problem there that perhaps could be addressed in some way. Some of these small operators that may not be interested in commercial production may actually specialize in fuel reduction and do a good job of it. They could be some of our best resources for that.
The management options presented in the grazing portion of the bill seem to be a bit too prescriptive. As it stands, the bill would not allow the managers to use prescribed burns, biological control or selective herbicides as management tools.
In conclusion, we support the intent of H.R. 2458. It certainly is a terrific problem that we have in this country. I was just last Friday on the Coconino National Forest, and they showed us the biggest fire they had had since the forest had been established, over 16,000 acres; and they said they only got it stopped where they had thinning done; they could finally stop it because it was not moving through the crown as rapidly. The opportunity to do that is obviously there and needs to be done.
I want to conclude by saying that the management of nature, such as we are talking about here, is not just an option, but it is a necessity for human survival. It is a fact that is easily forgotten in our urbanized and, unfortunately, propagandized population.
Page 35 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Thank you.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Wiant may be found at end of hearing.]
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Thank you, Mr. Wiant. I want to thank you very much for that very constructive testimony; and I want to thank all the members of this panel for their constructive testimony. It was very, very well received, and I look forward to working with each and every one of you as we try to move this bill to a better position and a stronger bill.
With that, the Chair recognizes Mr. Gibbons from Nevada for questioning.
Mr. GIBBONS. Madam Chairman, I have no questions of these witnesses at this time. Thank you.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. The Chair recognizes Mr. Vento. And Mr. Vento, if you have an opening statement or anything you would like to add to the record
Mr. VENTO. I will submit an opening statement, Madam Chair. I have a lot of questions about this bill and regret that I was held up on the floor with another matter.
In any case, I missed the Forest Service witnesses. I am a little confused because I think that the suggestion that we are spending a billion dollarsand apparently, that is not being spent correctly. As far as I understand this legislation, it does not propose to change any of the policies on how the billion dollars is spent, at least not on the surface. It superimposes some new direction with regards to forestry practices vis-a-vis rural or urban forest interface and grazing types of policies.
In fact, as I listened to one of the witnesses, Mr. Gibbons' witness, speak about the problems with grazing, I thought that was pretty much the conventional wisdom, that overgrazing had given rise to pinyon-juniper types of stands, and that cheatgrass and sagebrush are a by-product of improper grazing policies.
Page 36 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Of course, if it is on land, that is the case, then you have to do something about it, because it does burn so hot that it will damage the surface soils. And the overgrazing actually causes the forbs to be cut so low that they do not regenerate or compete with these types of species, because the cows are the cheapest likely to graze in these areas.
So I am a little perplexed that by contracting, a unique idea, it is going to somehow solve the problem. I thought maybe resting the cows or taking the cows off it, or changing it and keeping the cows off might be part of the answer to that.
The other issue, I think there are questions that need to be answered, and I will turn it over to the panel in a minute to respond; but the other issue, of course, if it is an urban/forest interface, the first thing that should happen with local communities, counties and others is to try to reduce the number of those interfaces in terms of how we allocate and plan where human habitation takes place.
In fact, the Forest Service, as you know, itself was guilty of some of the problems with regards to promoting these types of leases or inholdings in years past. But by and large, I think it is a major concern. Of course, many persons that have these types of homes or ranches frequently want to have the forest very close to them. It is sort of an aesthetic question.
So I think we are talking about broader questions here. I understand that, but I think one of the first concerns you will run into in terms of trying to reduce that is folks that want to have trees around the house. I know I am proud of my three or four oak trees in my backyard. I think most folks want some trees close, except when they fall on the house, then we are not so happy about it.
I think they have raised a lot of questions. I think it is innovative, trying to build these credits and trading them and so forth; but I am interested in why we cannot take the existing dollars that are in the program and use those to better manage. I think we are pretty much on the right track in terms of forest health, in terms of thinning and in terms of selective tree removal, in terms of replanting, in terms of watershed restoration and some of the other issues more broadly.
Page 37 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC And I assume the Forest Service's testimonyfrom what I have read, I think they are doing some of this already. But there is a supposition or assumption here, I think, in this legislation that this is going to be much more aggressively pursued.
As an example, Mr. Wiant, are there any States that have actually tried these two policies, this issue of pursuing, for instance, on State lands this type of policy with regards tothat is envisioned in this legislation with regards to grazing?
Mr. WIANT. Well, for your information, I would route that question to Jim Hubbard, since he is a forester.
Mr. VENTO. OK, let us go to him.
Mr. HUBBARD. I am not aware of anything in relation to grazing. But in relation to
Mr. VENTO. I think it is important. Because if we are to model this, and there is not a single State actually pursuing this type of policy, then I think that is an important problem.
Mr. Hubbard, with regard to the other, forest interface?
Mr. HUBBARD. Yes. In regard to dealing with the forest situation, yes, there are other examples of the same type of approach that is proposed here in the contracting mechanism, and it is new.
The interface situation, though
Mr. VENTO. That is with the credits and everything, so that has a lot of different aspects. I did not think you were testifying to that.
But do you think the legislation ought to at leastyou are dealing with an interface issue between housing and other habitation and foreststhat you ought to deal with some sort of a land use plan or some agreement between the counties and other authorities to try to reduce this incident? Would that not be one of the highest priority issues?
Page 38 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. HUBBARD. I do not think we are in a position in Federal or State government to require it, but I think that should be a criterion for selecting our projects.
Mr. VENTO. I think that is right, Madam Chairman. I know I am going over a little bit, but I have to leave, and I apologize, but the issue is a rather confounding problem. Because the truth is, with the type of urban sprawl or community sprawl that we have, everybody wants to spread out.
In fact, we spend a lot of our Forest Service firefighting and BLM firefighting money in these areas, trying to protect this, and I am not suggesting that is inappropriate, but we sure ought to try to reduce that. That should be clear in terms of if we are going to take over.
I have a lot of misgivings about us getting involved in terms of the science of this. I think a lot of it gets to be a lot more political science than forestry science, but I will leave it at that.
I will submit a statement, and thank you, Madam Chair, for giving me an extra minute.
[The information referred to may be found at end of hearing.]
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Thank you, Mr. Vento.
The Chair just cannot resist responding to you. We are trying to prevent the $1 billion from having to be spent on fighting fire that would normally destroy private property, like we just recently saw.
And as far as grazing is concerned, because of the overgrazing in our Western States, there is a new kind of grass called cheatgrass that has begun to come in and it creates very, very hot fuel. You can graze that cheatgrass in the early spring, but if it is not grazed down in the early spring, well, then it becomes a real, real dangerous problem.
Page 39 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC So, yes, you are right, this cheatgrass situation is caused from overgrazing, and that happened
Mr. VENTO. Not very nutritious either.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. It sure is not in June or July, but in March, April and May it can be quite acceptable.
So we are trying, Mr. Vento, to initiate the new stewardship landscaping concept in Forest Service management on a smaller scale, and one that would impact private property very positively. So rather than biting off the whole kahuna all at once, that is what we are trying to do; and I appreciate your comments.
Mr. Albrecht, I understand that in California there is a pilot project going on with the State with this concept; is there not?
Mr. ALBRECHT. Yes, there is, Madam Chairman. I would like to address, if I could, Congressman Vento's comments, if I may do so.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Please do.
Mr. ALBRECHT. In talking about the urban/wildland interface and how agencies and government work there, the urban component is regulated. You are correct in that counties and the State often have a lot of say over the urban component and what is done around homes. The wildland component is still governed by the U.S. Forest Service; they are the ones that really need the tool, and they are the ones that really have the complex fuel problem on a wide scale.
So this bill would give them and us as foresters a very important tool to manage that Forest Service landscape that would then work very well with what the county and State agencies are trying to do. They can only do what they are allowed to do, which is right around their homes or private property. So they work together very well.
Mr. HOLMER. If I may, I want to comment on that. On our staff we have a Ph.D. forest ecologist named Tim Ingalesbee, and he traveled to Quincy, California, and one of the things that he noted is that all around the community of Quincy it is private lands that arethe forest lands that are immediately about the community and the public lands are actually a fairly significant distance from the actual city itself.
Page 40 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC And I think that is the case in many communities. And so to really look at this, you do have to look at the private lands, and I think you also have to look at the Forest Service's national wildlands policy, which I believe they promulgated several years ago, which said that the Federal Government does not have an obligation to protect every single property, particularly if it is indefensible, if it is an indefensible area, or if it is made out of inappropriate materials.
So, clearly, there does need to be some responsibility by private landowners and also by property owners that they are not putting an undue burden on the public.
Mr. VENTO. Madam Chair, if I can, I know I am trespassing on my colleague's time, but I appreciate your tolerance. I have no doubt there are instances in California and others where there are good examples of where it is needed. I think if we are going to set down a policy nationwide with regard to this, we need to have at least the expectation that we are not going to be counterproductive in terms of the areas that it does not do us much good to deal with it if there is simply no response.
I am aware and I supportI think most of us support State and local government doing the determination and zoning, but if we are going to come to the table, we at least want someone there so we can work with them; otherwise, this policy would not work. We would still be spending a billion dollars and would not accomplish what you are trying to do.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Mr. Albrecht, did you have a response?
Mr. ALBRECHT. Thank you. In response to my colleague here, and again to Congressman Vento and some of his comments, where we need to prevent these fires is well before they get into the urban part of the interface. Once they are in the urban interface, we lose. Then we are losing homes. The wildland portion of this component is where we need to really put our effort. That is where the fires get hot and they move quickly.
Page 41 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I think, at least in the private sector and in working with the Forest Service in California, there is total agreement that this type of effort is going to do nothing but improve our situation. And the Chairman is right that it was a billion dollars spent in firefighting, and I think it was in 1994 actually that we spent a billion dollars fighting fire nationally. If we could take a fraction of that money and, in a proactive manner, prevent some fireyou talk about reinventing government; that is just exactly, I think, what everybody has in mind.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Thank you, Mr. Albrecht.
Mr. Vento, I always appreciate your leadership.
Mr. VENTO. I would suggest, Madam Chairman, a lot of the money spent fighting fires is not really well spent in the sense that I think if you have a dry year, you end up spending a lot of money putting out fires you are not going to put out. That is another problem in terms of that.
So changing it to look at land-use patterns and some of the other issues, prescribed burns, probably would be a marked improvement. But we have to get over the idea that we can control, in some of these dry years, these fires in these areas, because we probably cannot. Cutting down the forest, of course, would eliminate the problem, but that is hardly the solution from my standpoint.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. And we do not propose that right now.
The Chair is very pleased to have Mr. Bob Schaffer from Colorado join us.
Mr. SCHAFFER. Thank you, Madam Chairman, and I particularly appreciate the attendance of Mr. Hubbard, who is from my hometown, back in Fort Collins and, of course, familiar with their work back in the State.
I had a chance to read your statement and have a couple of questions for you as well. But before that, I want to point out that Mr. Hubbard mentioned Colorado's front range is kind of a good case study for this particular bill and an illustration of the need for it, and I could not agree more. From a political standpoint, it is the kind of placeif you are not familiar with Colorado, the front range is where the prairie ends and the mountains start and everybody wants to live there. It is just a strip from north to south which contains probably at least two-thirds of the State's population in that area.
Page 42 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Every time there is a forest fire of some sort that results in some house burning down or loss of life, as has been the case in Colorado, everybody wants to know how in the world that ever happened and how could we allow conditions to get to that stage. Then, when we talk about preventing that from occurring again, whether it is at the county or State or Federal level, well, then another element of our population decides that that is in fact a tragedy, so it is a constant battle that goes on.
And I think it is a good illustration of how this bill can have particular relevance in allowing those who are capable and competent in employing scientific principles and a certain amount of history, where management is concerned, to prevent loss of life and properties and, at the same time, enhance the environmental attributes that our State has to offer.
Mr. Hubbard, if you would comment a little on the importance of forest roads in fighting fires, particularly on the front range.
Mr. HUBBARD. OK. If we do not have access on the ground, then our costs go up tremendously and our losses increase. Sometimes that is acceptable in the right situations, the acres burned, but in most cases, and in particular on the front range, that is not the case.
Where we have interface along the front range in Colorado, access is not that much of a problem. Sometimes the kind of access prevents some of the equipment from getting in, so we have to take alternative measures. Building new roads to treat interface in the front range of Colorado would not be necessary.
Mr. SCHAFFER. I want you to comment, if you would, just about the differences in fire prevention that you see in Colorado between the State Forest Service and the U.S. Forest Service.
Mr. HUBBARD. I see no differences, and I say that because all the agencies have worked together on that. So we are into an interagency mode, and while there is some difference in terms of initial attack, in Colorado we put that burden on the counties; and the counties, through fire protection districts and volunteer fire departments, provide for that initial attack, and that deals with 90 percent of our problem. When we get into larger fire situations, it is everybody working together on an interagency basis.
Page 43 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. SCHAFFER. This urban/rural interface is the largest concern for most foresters who focus on that particular aspect of fire control and so on. Just in terms of the costs associated with fires in that particular setting and contrasted with wildfires that you may see throughout less populated areas of the country, could you comment just about the cost differences and why a taxpayer ought to be concerned about fire suppression and fire prevention in the interface areas?
Mr. HUBBARD. A lot of people that move to the interface do not understand what they are getting into in terms of protection and that it is more limited than they might have experienced in an urban setting. But when the fire starts, they do not want to debate that matter; they want the fire put out.
Any interface fire costs much more than a wildland fire. You are bringing all your resources that you can bring to bear on suppressing that incident and that usually involves expensive air shows that deal with the interface. In the wildland, we have learned to modify our suppression tactics. All fire is not bad fire, so a modified suppression approach in some situations makes sense for the resource and certainly makes sense for the cost.
In the interface, that is not the case. You throw everything you have at it and it costs a lot of money.
Mr. SCHAFFER. In the time I have left to get a question off to you, you mentioned in your testimony, again, the use of small contractors for removal and thinning and so on; and the marketing and the economics of that are challenging at times, particularly in our area up in Larimer County and down in Las Animas County, as well, that I represent. What kind of incentives do we need to build in to make it a marketable proposition for small contractors to be involved in thinning?
Mr. HUBBARD. As you are well aware, our markets are very limited, and the acceptance of logging on the front range of Colorado is questionable at best, so we have to go about it carefully. We have to make sure we have local acceptance. What that causes for contractors is problems with a sure supply and how much investment they can afford to make.
Page 44 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC So we are dealing with small contractors that are more than willing to modify their actions to address this issue. But they need some mechanism that does not exist now; and a modified contracting approach, as proposed in this bill, holds some promise.
Mr. SCHAFFER. Thank you, Madam Chairman.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Mr. Schaffer, we will return for another round of questioning, if you have further questions.
The Chair now recognizes the gentleman from Michigan, Mr. Kildee.
Mr. KILDEE. I will yield to your side. I have no questions at this time, Madam Chair. Thank you very much.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Thank you. Harry Wiant, I have a couple of questions for you. In your testimony, you expressed concern for a system that allows for the costs of forest management projects to be offset against stumpage payments.
At a time when appropriated funds are tight, what other means would you recommend to fund some of these forest health projects?
Mr. WIANT. I wonder sometimes if it might not be better if we charged the users what it really costs. We hear about below-cost timber sales, mostly propaganda, but certainly nobody can challenge the fact we have below-cost recreation, below-cost wildlife management, below-cost practically everything else on the forest. So if there would be some way we could let people pay what it is costing to provide the service that they are enjoying, that would help.
Other than that, I don't know. I think you have come up with an innovative approach, and it would be hard to come up with another right now.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. In your testimony, you state forest health should be determined at the local level, and I agree, and that is the intention of this bill, to give local foresters more flexibility in managing local forests.
Page 45 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC What else do you think we should do to move decisionmaking closer to the ground that maybe is not covered in this bill or existing law?
Mr. WIANT. I have traveled over the U.S. in the last couple of years in my office with the Society of American Foresters, and talked to an awful lot of foresters that work with the Forest Service; and there are many very capable, well-driven individuals frustrated with the fact that they just cannot do anythingthey cannot manage the forest, they cannot do what needs to be done. Somehow we have to move from the hierarchical system down to the ground level and let people there make the decisions that need to be made.
I worked for the Forest Service years ago, and it operated that way; and we had our forests in much healthier and better condition under that system than what we have today.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Mike Albrecht, I have a couple of questions here I have noted. When dealing with the timber sale contract, is it reasonable to require the purchaser to conduct forest management projects in the sale area to remove fuels, improve forest health and/or achieve other forest objectives?
Mr. ALBRECHT. Well, I would say absolutely yes, Madam Chairman. One thing about us private contractors is, once we are out there, we like to work, and the more work you give us, the more we will do.
There is some real economy to your proposal, in that if we have people and equipment out in the forest anyway, the more tasks that can be bundled in one contract, certainly we are eager to do the work and certainly it will save the taxpayers money. I guess I cannot strongly enough support that concept. And the talk and talk and talk over the last 10 or 15 years that I have been involved, about trying this versus actually doing it, it is very frustrating. I am hoping your bill will move us into action.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. In your opinion, are provisions that allow for the cost of forest management projects to be offset against stumpage payments a practical and reasonable contractual mechanism?
Page 46 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. ALBRECHT. Yes. You can pay for work several ways. The idea of using goods, the timber, for the Service's management activities is an excellent idea in that, No. 1, what I like about it, it is credit-earned. You have to do the work first to earn a credit. That is a good concept. Private industry does that all the time. Do the work, then get the credit; do not give the credit up front and assume the work will get done. I like that part of it.
I do not know where the money is going to come from otherwise. We cannot seem to get enough proposed money for all sorts of activities, so let us use the dollars out there on the stump. Yes, that is great.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. In following up on one of the comments and questions made by my colleague from Colorado, I want to ask you a similar question. Can materials that are removed in thinning or other activities be utilized as commercial products? Are there examples of that around Sonora?
Mr. ALBRECHT. Absolutely, yes. There are commercial thinning products, which would be small logs, that go to our small log mill, and those are converted to lumber.
There is another important piece of this puzzle, and that would be the biomass industry, where we are taking nonmerchantable products and chipping them to make cogeneration power. As you are awareand that is probably out of the purview of this billthat whole industry could use some help. We need that market in place to make this whole thinning work, which would be the chipping, biomass industry.
But, in general, yes, there are markets out there for the small product. There is a pulp market for paper. We need to strengthen that biomass market if we can, and then we have a real good approach to this.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Mr. Albrecht, I do not believe that that concept is out of the purview of this bill, not at all. As we have been working on this bill, we have thought about those industries that would benefit from products that are having to be chipped up and otherwise hauled out of the forest, the value added, multiple use staging of our wood products instead of just sheer stumpage that would be made into 2x4s or lumber.
Page 47 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. ALBRECHT. Right.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. So I thank you for your comments, and the Chair recognizes once again Mr. Gibbons from Nevada.
Mr. GIBBONS. Thank you very much, Madam Chairman. I appreciate the opportunity to respond to my colleague, Mr. Vento. Unfortunately, he is not here at this point in time.
I do not believe it was the testimony of Mr. Goicoechea that it was overgrazing that caused much of the cheatgrass, and I was wondering, Pete, if you wanted to respond to the grazing issues that were raised, especially with relation to the pinyon forest in Nevada and the grazing issues there.
And if you would like to respond, I would sure appreciate your comments.
Mr. GOICOECHEA. Yes, I appreciate that, Congressman Gibbons. I wish Congressman Vento was here so I could respond in fact to him.
We agree that we do have some sins and some overgrazing in the past we have to atone for, but grazing is not what causes the encroachment of pinyon-juniper. Pinyon-juniper is predominantly on rocky hillsides with very little soil base under them.
What we see in central Nevada is that generally fire is what causes the spread of pinyon-juniper. And the point is, if we take the native grasses and the forbs and we get the grazing annuals in, they are genetically designed to survive fire. Cheatgrass is in place any time you have a fire and you do not replace it. We would like to see us get back to the native brushes and forbs and grasses. They tend to burn a lot cooler than the cheatgrass fires we have.
The cheatgrass fires, we are all well aware of, and I know the chairman is aware of the Kuna fire 2 years ago, these cheatgrass fires, they might not seem like a lot of fuel, but they burn fast and hot and they kill people.
Page 48 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC No, grazing practices of 100 years ago, we have to live and pay for those, that is true, but let us focus on recovering and rehabbing those and not continue to build on them with wildfire. And the fact is, we are not rehabbing these. Let us stop the spread.
Mr. GIBBONS. Mr. Goicoechea, can you give us a direct example of how operations under this bill will directly help Nevada in its problems with wildland fires?
Mr. GOICOECHEA. Well, I think the fiscal issue, Congressman Gibbons, is going to be the real driver in it. Again, as Mike Albrecht testified, we need a lot of research, especially into the biomass industry. We feel that there are significant resources in Nevada and in all the intermountain West.
When we talk about pinyon-juniper stands, we would like to see an alternative to just controlled burning, and we would like to see both revenues generated from those pinyon-juniper stands. And also, on the grazing side, we have a lot of Forest Service allotments in Nevada and through the intermountain West that are inactive. They are standing grasslands; in some cases, they are just strictly, predominantly cheatgrass grasslands. They are waiting to explode.
I think there are revenues that can be generated both from contract grazing, like this bill addressed in the contract grazing portions; and I think you need to address the old preference statements. All of the intermountain West was adjudicated from grazing. Be sure, as you contract to graze these allotments in the intermountain West, that they address the property rights and the water rights of those adjacent base properties.
We are very concerned about the discretion of either Secretary doing contract grazing. We think that could jeopardize local economies if we see cattle transported out of the county and out of the State into an area. A year ago we had a permittee from White Pine County, approximately 200 miles away, move into a forest allotment on the Toiyabe's. It sounded like a good deal to him and to the Forest Service also, but when he got there, he did not have any water. He had to haul water into the allotment.
Page 49 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC He was also denied access because of private property. He was denied some access to the forest. It did not work well for him and it was a problem.
I think grazing is a tool. It removes foliage. It does not go up in smoke. It goes through livestock for food production. We also feel that at any point that we can reduce that fire hazard, it reduces the loads on the local government.
We have to fight those fires, as Mr. Hubbard said. The first line of defense is the county and these small volunteer fire departments. We do not have the manpower and the equipment to truly wage an assault on the wildland fires, especially with the understorage of fuel we are putting out there today.
Mr. GIBBONS. Mr. Wiant, quickly, in the time I have remaining, what would you suggest to this Committee as to your definition of the wildland/urban interface? What would be an adequate stance or defined definition you would suggest for us?
Mr. WIANT. We have a forest terminology committee hard at work whichwe hope the publication will come out before long and it will address that.
Some of the things said here obviously make sense. You cannot call a cabin in the middle of 100 acres an interface. But where do you draw the line? I think that is going to take consideration by various interest groups to come up with a reasonable and a usable definition. I do not have one for you.
Mr. GIBBONS. Thank you, Madam Chairman.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Thank you, Mr. Gibbons.
Mr. Goicoechea, I wanted to just ask you, indeed, is the range not in better condition now than it was even 30 years ago?
Mr. GOICOECHEA. In our area, yes. Madam Chairman, I think the range is improving, and it is dramatically improving. And, in fact, I think we are taking the reduction in the number of livestock in our county and most areas of Nevada; I think we are very rapidly approaching the point that we are, the forest and the understory there, we are in a dangerous condition. It is a threat. And I am generally concerned about the health and welfare of the residents of northern Eureka County and those vast grasslands. We do not have livestock to graze it.
Page 50 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Yes, the range is improving. I know today it is better than it was 10 years ago. I cannot speak if we go back 40 or 50 years ago, but I genuinely believe it is improving.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Mr. Goicoechea, the cheatgrass is a replacement of the fire, but what is the native species usually in our high desert areas?
Mr. GOICOECHEA. It was predominantly bunchgrass. And, again, the nature of bunchgrass is, it grows tall and it always is a little green at the crown. When fire runs across it, it runs around a little cooler and it tends to have enough green there to hold it off.
And then, of course, when you get into the higher uplands, your bitter brush, and it burns very hot; and then, of course, the sage itself. But we prefer the sage to the rabbit brush and cheatgrass infestations we are seeing coming into these fires now.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Very interesting. Thank you.
And the Chair recognizes Mr. Schaffer again.
Mr. SCHAFFER. Thank you, Madam Chairman. I have a number of questions.
Commissioner Goicoechea, the opponents claim this legislation would somehow impair the ability of local communities to participate in fire management plans and forestry issues. You, as a county commissioner representing local government, are here supporting the bill; and I would like you just to describe for the Committee your take on that issue of local involvement.
Mr. GOICOECHEA. I think just to the contrary. I think the only way the bill will work, once implemented, will be with the involvement of State and local governments. We have to be involved. It is the only way the bill can truly work.
Local government has to have some input, and I would hope thatand again I think we are seeing that with all the Federal agencies, a more cooperative approach to local government, with the Federal agencies working hand-in-hand, and especially in something that is as life-threatening as wildfire.
Page 51 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. SCHAFFER. For the purpose of clarity, is it your position that this bill enhances or constrains local participation?
Mr. GOICOECHEA. I think it will enhance. It might not look like it from the outside looking in, but I think it is the only way it will truly work and become effective.
Mr. SCHAFFER. Thank you.
I would like to ask Mr. Holmer, in your testimony you mention your belief that the management credit program established in this bill will lead to further revenue losses from the timber sale program. I guess it is the further timber sale losses that I would like to inquire about.
When do you believe that the timber sale program has lost money?
Mr. HOLMER. According to the White House Council of Economic Advisers in 1995, the timber sale program lost $234 million. The Government Accounting Office did an audit that showed from 1992 to 1994 $995 million were lost. And we are anxiously awaiting the 1996 numbers to be released by the Forest Service.
We understand that it may for the first time show, according to their own numbers, there was a loss. It is my understanding only one national forest in the country actually makes money now, which is the Allegheny National Forest in Pennsylvania.
Mr. SCHAFFER. I will jump to Mr. Wiant quickly to comment on that particular aspect of the cost associated with the timber sale program from your perspective.
Mr. WIANT. Well, it is ironic to me that the same people that seem to object to the cost of timber sales, because of appeals and legal actions, keep increasing and increasing the cost, so it is very hard to ever harvest timber.
I mentioned that fire out in Arizona. Now they would like us to salvage some of the material but they cannot get through all the red tape to even do that. So the cost, a lot of artificial costs are tacked on.
Page 52 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC But I do not believe that timber sales ever has had a loss, and if it has a loss now, it is pretty sad because it has had many, many years where the Forest Service returnedused to be they said they returned more to the Treasury than they spent. I think that was probably true in the 1950's; I do not know if that is true today, but I am sure they are not operating at a loss as far as the timber itself.
Mr. SCHAFFER. The purchaser credits that have been severely limited, or cut, during this Congress, it is the view of many that that will have an detrimental effect on our ability to manage forests, particularly in areas where the value of the timber may be getting so close to market value that having private contracts to manage those forests may not occur any more.
Secondly, in just remote areas that are difficult to reach, with the reduction in the purchaser road credit program, can you tell us a little bit about what you think the future holds for private contracts that are used in a way to assist the Forest Service in managing our forests?
Mr. WIANT. Testifying here on a previous occasion, I indicated I feel that a good road system is probably one of the most important tools we have for managing our forests and protecting the health of our forests and of our citizens. So we have to have a good road system.
It is distressing to me to see, as I did in this forest I was in the other day, where they were saying the Forest Service was planning to retire 50 percent of their roads. Seems strange to me when we need good roads. The recreationers certainly use them a lot. The only people it will be available to are the backpackers that may get back in those areasand I do that myself, and I like that, but that is a very small percentage of our population. We have to have them accessible to people that are on the trail for days.
Mr. HOLMER. If I may comment on that, I would like to read a quote from a recent scientific report which states, ''Intensive timber management contributes to additional fire hazards due to greater road access and associated increases in human-caused fires, operation of logging equipment, slash buildup following logging, and the associated decrease in moisture content of forest understories.'' This was from DellaSala, Olson and Crane, 1995 Ecosystem Management in Western Interior Forests.
Page 53 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC And here is another quote. ''It is after logging that the damage from fires is greatest, on account of the inflammable and unburned slash.'' T. S. Woolsey, 1911, U.S. Forest Service.
In our view, intense management and road building actually exacerbate these problems and will not solve them.
Mr. SCHAFFER. Scientific reports. Which report is that you mentioned?
Mr. HOLMER. It is entitled Ecosystem Management in Western Interior Forests by DellaSala, Olson and Crane, and I will be happy to make that available to you.
Mr. SCHAFFER. I would request that report be submitted for the record. I am somewhat familiar with it and realize there are additional comments you will find in that report that actually expound on forest management.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Without objection, so ordered.
Mr. SCHAFFER. I guess my time has expired. Thank you, Madam Chairman.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Thank you, Mr. Schaffer.
Do you have any more questions that you would like to ask? Or do you, Mr. Gibbons?
Mr. GIBBONS. No.
Mr. SCHAFFER. Yes, I do.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. All right, Mr. Schaffer.
Mr. SCHAFFER. I wish to go back to the issue on BLM and the Forest Service with respect to reducing grasses around communities.
I would like to find out a little more from the Commissioner about the interactions that have taken place in your specific example, the communications and responses that your county has received with the Forest Service or BLM on grass management issues.
Page 54 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. GOICOECHEA. In his introduction, Congressman Gibbons talked about the Diamond Working Group Complex, and this is a highly touted group; and the issue when we came together was wild horse management, which we could spend another afternoon on, no doubt, but with that there was a tour with approximately 11 permittees of 3 grazing districts and the Commission for the preservation of wild horses. Again, it was a horse-driven issue rather than a resource issue. But given the number of horses on the mountain, there was significant resource damage in that area.
We went on a tour, and it took about 11 months to put the program together. Permittees actually took a reduction in preference AUMs whichthe active AUMs they would have on hand and in exchange for the horse groups agreeing to establishing an AML number. That AML was approximately 230 head. The census count on the mountain was over 1,500. So the permittees took a reduction.
The horses were reduced, and we are at, we hope, a happy medium. And now we will start working our way back up, both the horse numbers and the cattle numbers. There will probably be a period, I would assume, in some of those areas, of a couple of years' rest, because the resource damage was that bad.
No, we do, especially from the BLM perspective in Nevada, we are seeing more cooperation from the Federal agencies on the ground level. And I think that is the point I was trying to make in addressing Chairman Chenoweth's comments, too, that I think for any of this to work, it has to come from the bottom up. The people closest to it are the ones that truly understand.
I know the comment was made by Mr. Wiant here that one cabin out in the forest is not truly urban interface, but I guess it depends on who owns that cabin whether it becomes urban interface, if you are a politician. Speaking for myself, as well as you, we can get leaned on.
Page 55 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. SCHAFFER. Mr. Hubbard, I wish to inquire aboutwith respect to catastrophic wildfires in Colorado, or anywhere else throughout the country for that matter, on Federal lands, how do you propose the Forest Service measure, assess and prioritize projects?
Mr. HUBBARD. I think that varies by location, but in Colorado, I propose we do what has already been put in place, and that is to use the different land management agencies. And it takes all of them getting together and deciding because of forest condition, because of housing density; and it is that group's definition of interface whether it is 20 homes per acre or 60 homes per acre. And it depends on the conditions, the access, the slope.
So they make those local decisions as to what they think are reasonable. They involve public participation in the process. They involve local government in the process. I think that is the only way that you come to a reasonable definition of what you consider to be your priorities that you want to then work on, and everybody is committed to that assessment.
Mr. SCHAFFER. Madam Chairman, thank you.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Thank you, Mr. Schaffer. Again, I want to thank the witnesses for their very valuable testimony. I have certainly learned a lot.
My major concern is that we respond to what we have heard in testimony and in comments from our Forest Service people; that we respond to an outcry across America to protect private property, homes and humans. We talk about the $1 billion cost to fight fire in just 1 year, but how do you put a price tag on a life?
And because we had an agency that did not feel they had the authority to plow a fire break around a little town called Kuna, Idaho, we nearly lost that town, and we lost lives in that fire; and because we did not have an agency that felt that they could graze down some of the Boise foothills and protect the homes that are adjacent and encroaching up into those foothills. The answer is not always just to stop humans from building, but rather, how are the public land managers going to protect human lives?
Page 56 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC As we move through progress, another question I have as Chairman is, I have listened carefully to Forest Service managers across the country; and from the time that I came to Congress in 1994 until today, I have heard many of our members in the Forest Service open up. And I not only have listened to them, but I have sensed their feeling of despair in wanting to make this work and the sense of despair they feel, as we all do when we see headlines that the Forest Service is broken.
I do not think it is too late. I think if we do work together, we can reason with one another and we can build a better future for the wildland/urban interfaces, for the Forest Service and for the taxpayers in general. That is my vision. I am sure I share it with every one of you who testified.
Some of us have different thoughts on that, but as long as we keep talking and working in the process, I believe our thoughts will come together based on good solid facts. So I look forward to working with each and every one of you as we perfect this bill, and I very much value and appreciate every one of your comments.
I do want to let you know that the record will remain open for 3 weeks for any one of you who wishes to supplement your testimony; and with that, this hearing is adjourned.
[Whereupon, at 4 p.m., the Subcommittee was adjourned.]
[Additional material submitted for the record follows.]
INSERT OFFSET FOLIOS 1 TO 67 HERE