SPEAKERS CONTENTS INSERTS
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OVERSIGHT HEARING ON THE GENERAL ACCOUNTING OFFICE STUDY ON FOREST HEALTH
SUBCOMMITTEE ON FOREST AND FOREST HEALTH
COMMITTEE ON RESOURCES
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
ONE HUNDRED FIFTH CONGRESS
SEPTEMBER 28, 1998, WASHINGTON, DC
Serial No. 105108
Page 2 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCPrinted for the use of the Committee on Resources
Available via the World Wide Web: http://www.access.gpo.gov/congress/house
Committee address: http://www.house.gov/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
Page 3 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCWILLIAM M. (MAC) THORNBERRY, Texas
JOHN SHADEGG, Arizona
JOHN E. ENSIGN, Nevada
ROBERT 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
Page 4 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCMAURICE D. HINCHEY, New York
ROBERT A. UNDERWOOD, Guam
SAM FARR, California
PATRICK J. KENNEDY, Rhode Island
ADAM SMITH, Washington
WILLIAM D. DELAHUNT, Massachusetts
CHRIS JOHN, Louisiana
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
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MAURICE D. HINCHEY, New York
BRUCE F. VENTO, Minnesota
DALE E. KILDEE, Michigan
ENI F.H. FALEOMAVAEGA, Am. Samoa
DOUG CRANDALL, Staff Director
ANNE HEISSENBUTTEL, Legislative Staff
JEFF PETRICH, Minority Chief Counsel
C O N T E N T S
Hearing held September 28, 1998
Statements of Members:
Chenoweth, Hon. Helen, a Representative in Congress from the State of Idaho
Prepared statement of
Hansen, Hon. James V., a Representative in Congress from the State of Utah
Herger, Hon. Wally, a Representative in Congress from the State of California, prepared statement of
Statements of witnesses:
Page 6 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCHill, Barry, Associate Director, Energy, Resources and Science Issues, General Accounting Office, Washington, DC; accompanied by Chester Joy, Senior Evaluator, Energy, Resources and Science Issues, General Accounting Office, Washington, DC; Ryan Coles, and Ross Campbell
Disturbance-Based Ecosystem Approach to Maintaining and Restoring Freshwater Habitats of Salmon
Marcellus, Earl, Chelan County Commissioner, Wenatchee, Washington
Prepared statement of
McDougle, Janice, Associate Deputy Chief for State and Private Forestry, Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Washington, DC; accompanied by Harry Croft, Acting Director, Fire and Aviation Management, Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Washington, DC
Prepared statement of
Ross, Gordon, Coos County Commissioner, Coquille, Oregon
Prepared statement of
Sampson, Neil, President, The Sampson Group, Inc., Alexandria, Virginia
Prepared statement of
Additional material supplied:
Differences in East and West Forests
OVERSIGHT HEARING ON THE GENERAL ACCOUNTING OFFICE STUDY ON FOREST HEALTH
MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 28, 1998
House of Representatives,
Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health,
Committee on Resources,
Page 7 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The Subcommittee met, pursuant to notice, at 2:07 p.m., in room 1324, Longworth House Office Building, Hon. Helen Chenoweth (chairman of the Subcommittee) presiding.
STATEMENT OF HON. HELEN CHENOWETH, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF IDAHO
Mrs. CHENOWETH. The Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health will come to order. The Subcommittee is meeting today to hear testimony on GAO's study on the forests' health.
Under rule 4(g) of the Committee rules, any oral opening statements at hearings are limited to the chairman and the Ranking Minority Member. This will allow us to hear from our witnesses sooner and help members keep to their schedules. Therefore, if other members have statements, they can be included in the hearing record under unanimous consent.
The Subcommittee has held countless oversight hearings and briefings on the subject of the health of our national forests, and during this time we have learned that forest health conditions vary greatly across the country. On some national forests we find dynamic and healthy systems that are highly resistant to insect and disease epidemics. Those forests are found mostly in the East and the Northeast.
On other forests we find conditions that the scientists tell us are far outside of their historic range of variability. Mostly, we find those conditions in the West where, for example, stand densities are much higher then they ever have been. In these areas we have too many trees and shrubs fighting for limited nutrients and moisture. These weakened forests are easy targets for insects and disease and then, ultimately, for unnaturally large hot fires. These conditions are mirrored in the national timber growth statistics.
According to the Forest Service, the total annual tree growth of the national forests is about 23 billion board feet. If you subtract the annual harvest of 3 billion board feet and the annual mortality of 6 billion board feet, you find that the net growth rate in our national forests is an astounding 14 billion board feet each year. That's an addition every single year of 14 billion board feet.
Page 8 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In some areas this represents a great success in reforestation, while in other areas it represents overcrowded forests that are simply waiting to be burned. These numbers also show that we are currently harvesting less than 13 percent of the total growthjust the growthand only half of what is dying. We're only harvesting half of the mortality rate. This is what's causing such a heavy fuel load on our forest floors, and these numbers are notand this philosophy is notsustainable.
Too much growth can have as serious the consequences as too little growth and is, in fact, the reason why the total number and size of fires has dramatically increased in the last few years and will certainly continue to increase if aggressive management measures aren't taken.
This is the purpose of today's hearing, to hear the preliminary findings from the GAO's long-term analysis on forest health conditions on national forests and to hear from the Forest Service on their programs and proposals for addressing serious forest health problems.
[The prepared statement of Mrs. Chenoweth follows:]
STATEMENT OF HON. HELEN CHENOWETH, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF IDAHO
This Subcommittee has held countless oversight hearings and briefings on the subject of the health of our national forests. During this time we have learned that forest health conditions vary greatly across the country. On some national forests we find dynamic and healthy systems that are highly resistant to insect and disease epidemics. On other forests, we find conditions that the scientists tell us are far outside of their historic ranges of variability, where, for example, stand densities are much higher than they ever have been. In these areas we have too many trees and shrubs fighting for limited nutrients and moisture. These weakened forests are easy targets for insects and disease, and then ultimately for unnaturally large hot fires. These conditions are mirrored in the national timber growth statistics:
According to the Forest Service, the total annual tree growth on the national forests is about 23 billion board feet. If you subtract the annual harvest of 3 bbf and the annual mortality of 6 bbf, you find that the net growth on our national forests is an astounding 14 bbf each year. In some areas this represents a great success in reforestation, while in other areas it represents overcrowded forests that are waiting to burn. These numbers also show that we are currently harvesting less than 13 percent of total growth and only half of what is dying. These numbers are not sustainabletoo much growth can have as serious the consequences as too little, and is, in fact, the reason why the total number and size of fires has dramatically increased +n the last few yearsand will certainly continue to increase if aggressive management measures aren't taken.
Page 9 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC This is the purpose of today's hearing: to hear the preliminary findings from the GAO's long-term analysis on forest health conditions on national forests, and to hear from the Forest Service on their programs and proposals for addressing serious forest health problems.
GAO STUDY ON FOREST HEALTH
SEPTEMBER 28, 1998
The House Resources Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health will hold an oversight hearing on forest health conditions on national forests and the Forest Service's programs and plans for dealing with forest health problems. Particularly, the hearing will focus on the preliminary findings of a longterm and ongoing General Accounting Office (GAO) study assessing forest health conditions on national forests.
BACKGROUND AND ANALYSIS:
The Forests and Forest Health Subcommittee has held numerous oversight hearings concerning the health conditions of Federal forests. The findings of these hearings have overwhelmingly shown that forest health problems persist on many national forests, and Forest Service management activities to deal with these problems are woefully insufficient. In order to determine the validity of these findings, the Subcommittee requested that the GAO analyze forest health problems on national forests in the Inland West and the Forest Service units' responses to them. The specific objectives of the assignment were to answer the following questions:
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(1)What is known about the extent and seriousness of national forest health conditions in the Interior West?
(2)How have different national forests responded to these conditions?
(3)What factors influence forests' responses and how?
(4)What options might improve effectiveness and efficiency of responses?
The GAO initiated this study in December of 1997. Although a final report will not be ready until early in 1999, the GAO has generated some preliminary findings and will present them at the hearing.
A recent publication from the American Forests' Forest Policy Center, titled: Forest Health in the United States, addresses these same concerns. Authors Neil Sampson and Lester DeCoster give an overview of forest health conditions and concerns in a diverse range of forest types and regions across the country. This important publication is the most up-to-date and thorough examination of this subject available. Neil Sampson will be presenting information from this publication at the hearing.
A witness list is attached
Doug Crandall, 225-0691
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Now, since we don't have the Ranking Minority Member here, I would like to recognize our Ranking Majority Member, Mr. Jim Hansen, for any comments that he has. He has carried this fight, even when he was in the Minority, with great success, and it's my privilege to have him on the Committee.
Page 11 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. Hansen.
STATEMENT OF HON. JAMES V. HANSEN, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF UTAH
Mr. HANSEN. Well, thank you, Madam Chairman. I've read the GAO report briefly, I have to admit, and I'm somewhat confused about it. In one case we talk about the idea that we have to have fires and that fires in the past have been the things that have mitigated the problems. Having been on this Committee for 18 years and spent a lot of time with forest supervisors, I'm not quite sure if I understand what we're saying herecontrolled fires.
We have clean water problems, clean air problems that are staring us in the face. We have fuel loads that are totally unbelievable in the West now because we're not doing much in the way of thinning. Our fires that are controlled are somewhat regulated. The insects that we have in many of the forests are rampant, and every time a forest supervisor tries to do something about it he gets a lawsuit from one of these environmental groups, and now we've killed out, basically, the Dixie Forest in Utahit's almost dead, as we can't seem to get a handle on that. Every time they get one adjudicated another one hits them between the eyes.
I'll be interested in listening to the GAO, as I've listened to them many times on reports in various areas, because it seems to me they outlined every problem. I'm not sure I saw any solutions, and I guess maybe that's not your position, but I'm very concerned that no one has yet come up with some good problems. I've heard the gentlelady from Idaho, the chairman of the Committee, talk about some fairly decent solutions, and I'm speaking to generalities because I don't know what else to do.
You go into Yellowstone; half the people up there say this is horrible that the Park Service allowed this to go on. It cost one lady her job out of Denver. Other people say, ''Hey, it was the best thing that ever happened. Now new growth can come about.'' I wish the real experts on this thing would stand up. The only thing that I've seen when I chaired this Committee was going into areas that were privately owned, like Weyerhaeuser, and noticing how healthy their forests were, that they had beautiful forests, a lot of game in them. They didn't have any of the fuel load or dead fall and all of these things that others have.
Page 12 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC And with those many sweeping generalities, Madam Chairman, I look forward to hearing the testimony from the GAO and others.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Thank you, Mr. Hansen. Mr. Peterson, do you have any comments?
Mr. PETERSON. No, Madam Chairman.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Herger follows:]
STATEMENT OF HON. WALLY HERGER, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA
Madam Chairman, Members of the Subcommittee, I appreciate this opportunity to testify today regarding the current, unhealthy state of our National Forests. This issue is critically important to the district I represent in Northern California. California's Second Congressional District is home to all or parts of 11 national forests. The quality of maintenance and management on these forests has a direct impact on the quality of life of the people who live and work in my district and on the safety and protection of private lands surrounding these forests. When a fire, infestation, or disease starts on public lands it can easily get out of hand and spread onto private lands. Maintaining healthy national forests, therefore, is not only good environmental policy, but it is a good neighbor policy. Unfortunately, as things now stand, the U.S. Forest Service is not being a good neighbor.
The Forest Service estimates that more than 40 million acres of our national forests are currently under a severe threat of destruction by catastrophic wildfire.
The danger of this threat is particularly strong in forests in the Western United States. Unlike other forests in other parts of the country, forests in the West suffer from unusually high incidents of fire. During hot summer months these forests receive very little rainfall. Historically, Western forests were filled with stands of large trees. The forest floors were less dense and were naturally and regularly thinned by lightening and native caused fires that would clean out dense underbrush leaving the big trees to grow bigger. However, because of decades of well-meaning but aggressive fire suppression practices, these forests have grown out of hand, creating an almost overwhelming threat of catastrophic fire.
Page 13 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC According to U.S. Forest Service estimates, our national forests are 82 percent denser than they were in 1928. Thick undergrowth, combined with increasingly taller layers of intermediate trees has turned western forests into deadly fire time bombs. Now when a fire starts, it quickly climbs up the dense tree growth like a ladder until it tops out at the uppermost, or crown, level of the forest and races out of control as a catastrophic fire. Because of their high speed and intense heat, ''crown fires'' are nothing like the healthy fires of the past, but these fires have the capacity of leaving an almost sterile environment in their wake with almost no vegetation, wildlife, or habitat left behind.
These dangerous conditions, however, are not irreversible. The forest service can proactively improve forest health. Regrettably, proactive policies are not being implemented. Because of mandates from the Forest Service's Washington offices and directives from the Clinton/Gore Administration, the forest service suffers from a virtual paralysis. Evidence of this paralysis can be found in the way the forest service increasingly uses its trust funds to pay for administration instead of funding on-the-ground forest health projects and in the way the agency advocates management by moratorium rather than managing by sound scientific evidence.
Madam Chairman, this agency must move away from its current extreme environmental agenda that has set up our national forests for destruction. We must require the Service to implement more proactive, on-the-ground programs, like the Quincy Library Group proposal, that would restore forest health while providing economic stability for local communities.
I therefore encourage the GAO, the Forest Service and this Committee to examine the latest science and find ways to implement programs that will return our forests to a healthier, more fire resilient condition.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Well, with that, I'd like to introduce the first panel. Our sole panelist for the first panel is Mr. Barry Hill, Associate Director, Energy, Resources and Science Issues with the GAO. And, Mr. Hill, I wonder if you might introduce the party who is accompanying you at the table.
Page 14 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. HILL. Yes, Madam Chairman. With me today is Chet Joy, who led the work on this project.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Thank you, Mr. Hill. Mr. Joy, we welcome you.
And as explained in our first hearing, it is the intention of the chairman to place all outside witnesses under the oath. This is a formality of the Committee that is meant to assure open and honest discussion and should not affect the testimony given by witnesses. I believe all of the witnesses were informed of this procedure before appearing here today and that they have been supplied with a copy of the Committee rules.
So, with that, would you pleaseboth of youplease stand and raise your hand to the square?
Thank you. Under the Committee rules, witnesses must limit their oral statements to 5 minutes. However, I will waive the rules and allow Mr. Hill 10 minutes, because we have been waiting for this preliminary report for a very, very long time. His entire statement, of course, will appear in the record.
The chairman now recognizes Mr. Hill to testify.
STATEMENT OF BARRY HILL, ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR, ENERGY, RESOURCES AND SCIENCE ISSUES, GENERAL ACCOUNTING OFFICE, WASHINGTON, DC; ACCOMPANIED BY CHESTER JOY, SENIOR EVALUATOR, ENERGY, RESOURCES AND SCIENCE ISSUES, GENERAL ACCOUNTING OFFICE, WASHINGTON, DC; RYAN COLES
Mr. HILL. Thank you, Madam Chairman. May I also say, with us today is Ryan Coles, here on my left, who also worked on this project and who, along with Ross Campbell, on our right, will be helping out with the charts that we brought today.
We're pleased to be here today to discuss our preliminary observations on the health of the national forests located in the interior West. If I may, I'd like to briefly summarize my prepared statement and submit the formal statement for the record.
Page 15 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mrs. CHENOWETH. Without objection, so ordered.
Mr. HILL. And before I begin I'd like to kind of begin my statement with a brief video clip provided to us courtesy of The Learning Channel, and I think you'll find very interesting.
Madam Chairman, this video clip illustrates what we believe is the most serious forest health-related problem on national forests of the interior West: catastrophic wildfires and the dangers they present when population and catastrophic wildfire exist together. This afternoon we'll discuss what the problem is, why it exists, and what is being done about it. Let me start by discussing what the problem is.
The Forest Service estimated in 1995 that about 39 million acres, or about a third of these forests, are at high risk of catastrophic wildfires. Experts have estimated that the window of opportunity to take action before widespread damage occurs is only about 10 to 25 years. On the basis of the best available information, efforts to resolve this problem by the year 2015, which is the mid-point of that window, may cost as much as $12 billion or about $725 million per year. However, the Forest Service's current plans to do so may leave as many as 10 million acres still at high risk at that time.
The interior West region we are talking about is the dry inland portion of the Western United States shown on the map to my left. For those of you who may not be able to clearly see these exhibits, they're also included as appendixes to our formal statement.
There are many reasons why national forests in this region are in their current state. Historically, the region's lower elevation forests were subject to frequent low-intensity fires, though occasions of these frequent fire forests, which are generally dominated by ponderosa pine, are depicted in our next exhibit to my right. Frequent fire generally kept the trees in these forests few in number and their undergrowth sparse, as shown in our next exhibit on the left here, which is a 1909 photograph of a Ponderosa pine stand in the Bitterroot National Forest in Idaho.
Page 16 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Many past human activities, including some prior to Forest Service management, eliminated these frequent fires. As a result, tree stands have become much more dense, as shown in our next exhibit, which is a photograph taken from the identical spot in 1989, 80 years later. The most significant contributor to this increase in tree stand density has been the agency's decades-old policy of suppressing wildfires.
Our next exhibit on the left shows the change since 1910 in the number of acres burned annually by wildfires in national forests, over 90 percent of which occurred in the interior West. You'll notice that for about 75 years, fire suppression was very successful.
However, in about 1984 this turned around, and since then the number of acres burned annually has been increasing. The reason for this is because the increased stand density caused changes in the species mix of trees and some increases in insect and disease infestations, resulting in high accumulations of fuels for fires. Because of these accumulated fuels, fires are now much more likely to become large, intense, and catastrophic wildfires. The increase in the number of large fires since 1984 and in the number of acres that they burn, which has more than quadrupled, is shown in our next exhibit, to my right.
Since 1990, 91 percent of these large fires and 96 percent of the acres burned were in the interior West. A 1998 estimate of the locations of forests in the interior West that are at medium and high risk of such catastrophic wildfires is shown in the exhibit to my left. Such fires are catastrophic because they can seriously compromise the agency's ability to sustain wildlife and fish, clean water, timber, and recreational opportunities, often for many decades or even for centuries.
Especially troubling are the hazards that these large fires pose to human health, safety, and property, especially along the boundaries of forests where population has grown rapidly in recent years.
Our next exhibit shows the recent population growth in this so-called wildland urban interface. Areas shown in blue are counties where the population grew at a faster rate than average. You'll notice that these areas are often concentrated around the national forests, which are shown in green.
Page 17 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In addition, as shown in our next two exhibits, the cost to both prepare for and to fight these increasing numbers of catastrophic wildfires are also increasing rapidly, largely because of the higher costs in interface areas. As these exhibits show, the average cost for fighting fire grew from $134 million in 1986 to $335 million in 1994, or by about 150 percent. Ninety-five percent of these costs were incurred in the interior West. Moreover, the costs associated with preparedness increased from $189 million in 1992 to $326 million in 1997.
It should be clear, Madam Chairman, that there is a very serious forest health problem in the forests of the interior West. The Forest Service has taken several steps to address the situation. Recently, it initiated a forest health monitoring program. It has also refocused its fire management program to increase the number of acres on which it undertakes fuels reduction activities and has restructured its budget to better ensure that funds are available to carry out this important work.
The Congress has supported the agency in this task by increasing funds for fuels reduction and authorizing a multi-year inter-agency program to better assess problems and solutions. However, it appears to us that the Forest Service does not yet have a cohesive strategy for overcoming the barriers to improving forest health by reducing accumulated fuels, partly because of a lack of data and partly because its current efforts are largely devoted to maintaining conditions on forests currently at low risk of fire.
In addition, methods for reducing fuels can adversely affect agency achievement of its other stewardship objectives, such as protecting watersheds and wildlife. Controlled fires can be used, but there is concern that such fires might get out of control and about the effects on air quality of the smoke from these fires. Therefore, mechanical methods, including timber harvesting, will often be necessary to remove accumulated fuels.
But this is also problematic, because the Forest Service's incentives tend to focus efforts on areas that may not present the greatest fire hazard. Also, timber sale and other contracting procedures are not designed for removing vast quantities of materials with little or no commercial value.
Page 18 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In conclusion, Madam Chairman, the increasing number of uncontrollable and often catastrophic wildfires and the growing risk to human health, safety, and property, as well as to resources in the interior West, present difficult policy decisions for the Forest Service and the Congress:
Does the agency request and does the Congress appropriate the hundreds of millions of dollars annually that may be required to fund an aggressive fuels reduction program? What priorities should be established? How can the need to reinforce fire into these frequent fire forests best be reconciled with air quality standards and other agency stewardship objectives? What changes in incentives and statutorily defined contracting procedures will facilitate the mechanical removal of low-value materials?
These decisions should be based on sound strategy. That strategy in turn depends on data being gathered under the Forest Service's and the Department of Interior's joint fire science program to be conducted over the next decade and subsequently integrated into individual forest plans and projects.
However, many experts argue that the agency and Congress are in a race against time, and that the tinder box that is now the interior West simply cannot wait that long. Taking aggressive, strategic actions now would likely cost less than just allowing nature to take its inevitable course.
Madam Chairman, this concludes my prepared statement. I'd be pleased to answer any questions that you or other members may have.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Hill may be found at end of hearing.]
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Thank you, Mr. Hill. That was very good testimony, and I appreciate it.
Page 19 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC At this time the Chair will recognize Mr. Hansen for any questions he might have.
Mr. HANSEN. Mr. Hill, I think you did a very fine job in explaining the problem that we have here. I really don't know if you're the one to ask about solutions. You've done it very well; you've explained it. I wonder about harvesting of timber. I think Congress has created so many laws that it becomes very difficult for people to move.
For example, the Clean Air Act; we could do more controlled burning, but we worry about that. The Endangered Species Act; people are of the opinion that if we go in and take out some forests, we'll disrupt some species at some place. The Clean Water Act; we also find that problem. We find that like our country just above usCanada, as you know, for a short time they outlawed grazing, and then they found out that all those grasses were not taken down by a certain amount of slaughter animals and actually paid people in Montana and the Dakotas to take their sheep and cattle up there to keep their grasses down.
As I mentioned earlier, the spruce beetle creates a devastating thing. Years ago the Forest Service testified that it was $8.40 a treeI imagined that's changed since thento spray them, but they would have to do a tree twice a week for 3 or 4 months, which became impossible. So the Forest supervisor said, well what they ought to do is go in and harvest that heavily infested area and then the strong trees on the periphery would make it.
So I, with all those obstructions staring us in the face and the tools that are used being somewhat hampered, I guess it comes down to the idea that we just say, ''What do you say if we just let Mother Nature do it? Let her rip.'' And I think that's what the environmental communities are basically saying is, just let Mother Nature do it, and we'll just take whatever happens. Am I reading this wrong?
Mr. HILL. No. I think that you very adequately characterize the heart of the issue. There's a very, very serious problem, particularly in the interior West in terms of the conditions of the forests. I'm not sure allowing Mother Nature to take its course is a good solution to this problem. The fact is, the forests that are in the interior West are no longer natural forests. They have been shaped, they have been made into the condition they have been made into by human activity over the years.
Page 20 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC If they were natural, you could say let nature take its course, but the current condition they are in, if you allow so-called nature to take its course and to have these fires burn, they will be catastrophic fires, and they will have serious and significant adverse impacts to the forests, to the wildlife, to the human habitat and housing and residents that live around the forests. It'sI guess the analogy is it's kind of like we've pushed a boulder down a hillside and it's picking up speed toward a village below. Do we say, let gravity take its course? That's certainly a choice, but I'm not sure it's a good choice right now, not one that's acceptable in terms of the consequences that you'd pay.
Mr. HANSEN. You know, Mr. Hill, the longer I listen to these debates, of which I've listened to hundreds of hours of them, it seems to come down to two schools of thought. One is the let Mother Nature do it thought: let's just take whatever happens. And the other one comes down to the management thought. Let's say man has a stewardship to take care of the ground, which a lot of people believe, and I subscribe to that theory. But you get down to it, and the trouble with the let nature take its course thing is it is detrimental to everything.
For example, years ago we had some Forest Service people in here, and then we had a lot of land grant college professors here. And one person brought up the statement, and he said, ''Look at the north slope of the Uinta mountains. It's just a beautiful green carpet. Leave it alone. Don't go in and manage it.'' The fellow from Utah State University, who was the expert on it, he said, ''However, we have an infestation of pine beetle, and if we don't go in and spray or cut those out,'' he said, ''it will have a devastating effect.''
The chairman of the committee then asked the question, ''What would be the devastating effect?'' He said, ''That beautiful green carpet that you fly over will soon be dead. I have a series of pictures of the Dixie, for example, when it was green, then red, then grey, then dead because we didn't do anything.'' And he said, ''I will guarantee everybody in this room''and this place was packed''that that will be a dead forest in a relatively short time.''
Page 21 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC He went on to say, ''I further guarantee that there will be a fire.'' He said, ''There is no way on God's earth''direct quote''that you can't prevent a fire, whether it's a careless cigarette, it's a lightening strike, or by other meansa campfire.'' He said, ''I will further guarantee there will then be a flood.'' And he said, ''to bring back that beautiful green carpet that we've elected not to managewe let Mother Nature do it; we're not going to do itthat it will take 50 to 60 or 70 years, if we're lucky, to bring it back in that green carpet that this gentleman, who wanted to let Mother Nature do it, was subscribing to that theory.
So, this quandary never ends. Which way do we want to do it? And I think the Committeeand, of course, I can't speak for other members, but I think we've come down on the idea that we can adequately manage the public lands of America, but we have all of these conflicting things coming at us, like the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Air Act, and it just, in effect, ties the hands of our Forest supervisors and our BLM managers to the point they're almost throwing up their hands in despair and say, ''Well, what do I do?''
You take Hugh Thompsonbeen in this business for years and years. He's the Forest supervisor of the Dixie, 67 years old, or so, should retire. They keep asking to keep him on, and he says, ''I wish we would have some scientists around here instead of people that have the burning in their bosom without any scientific knowledge.''
And then it really disturbs me when the Forest Service kind of quietly says to our Forest supervisors in the West, ''Well, let the environmental community win a few.'' And if I could put them under oathI think I someday will do thatand get the exact quotes and who it came from, because that is the way this administration likes to look at it. Excuse the last part, Madam Chairman, but that part irritates the heck out of me, because I don't care what the administration is. We should do what is right for theall of us who are in America, and take care of it.
Page 22 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I didn't mean to throw all of those things up at you, Mr. Hill. I appreciate your very interesting report, and I think you've outlined it very well. I just wish I knew the answer to all these things. I'll turn to wiser heads than me for that, I'm sure.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Thank you, Mr. Hansen. The Chair now recognizes Mr. Peterson, the gentleman from Pennsylvania.
Mr. PETERSON. Thank you. I'd like to thank the gentleman, Mr. Hill, for his precise comments. You talked about 39 million acres, you talked about low-volume a lot of the wood isI mean low-value wood. What is the potential market for that? Can it be used for pulp, for paper mills? Can it beis there any potential market for low-value wood? I'm from the East, where that's what we do with it.
Mr. JOY. Yes, Mr. Peterson, there are in fact some uses for some of it, but there is a large amount of it in the interior West that, A, is of extremely low value, and B, is very far from markets. There are a lot of transportation costs that you don't have in the State of Pennsylvania that they have to deal with.
There are also other uses for it, aside from pulp, like biomass burning and things like that, and ethanol. However, that's at the edge of the market right now. That's going up and down, so there's nothing reliable for much of this material. I think it's fair to say, there's not any consistent or secure market for any long period of time that anybody wants to make a long-term investment in.
Mr. PETERSON. But wouldnow I've watched in the West and the East, where we have oriented strand board plants now; we have fiber board plants of different kinds, which is a huge growing market, and that's basically sawdust and chips depending on which board they're making.
Mr. JOY. The best way, Congressman Peterson, I can answer it is, on September 30 of last year, I believe it was, Secretary of Interior Babbitt was here speaking on this subject and about a lot of their concerns about it, and he pointed to a Mescalero Indian reservation that was producing a whole bunch of materials for a biomass ulilization plant in Arizona. That plant in Arizona is closedStone Container. So, it's an up and down thing, so that's it's difficult to have a long, consistent
Page 23 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. PETERSON. Well, I guess what I was going to get to is if you're going to have someone invest in that part of the country to utilize the low-value woodand there are ways to do thatyou'd have to guarantee them a continual supply ongoingly, and with the lawsuits we face and the preservationists who want it to lay there for the insects, I mean, how do we prepare, how do we get a marketplace that would make it feasible to remove this low quality, dying
Mr. JOY. That was not something that we looked at in this phase. First of all, these are just preliminary observations without any conclusions or recommendations. It's an issue which we raise as a problem at this point, but we haven't thoroughly analyzed it yet.
Mr. PETERSON. Yes, I understand. I know you weren't
Mr. JOY. I don't know if it would necessarily
Mr. PETERSON. But would it make some sense from your
Mr. HILL. Mr. Peterson, you know, I believe a lot of this is dependent upon the specific location, the geographical area of where this timber would be. So it's hard to give any generalities. Certainly, I think the Forest Service and the other land management agencies need to explore doing more of this, and they need to provide more incentives, if necessary, for commercial companies to come in and do this type of work. Even if it's not economically feasible, it might be a good investment in some areas to do something like this.
Mr. PETERSON. But if you're looking for ways to dispose of it to prevent fires, it would seem like you would have to develop a market, and could that be part of your recommendation, that there be some effort at the Forest Service level to develop a market for low-quality wood products and where they would guarantee a certain supply out of a region so thatyou know, these are huge investments. These plants
Page 24 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. HILL. Right.
Mr. PETERSON [continuing]. Even the small ones are $100 million, so you're talking about a large investment, but they do consume a lot of low quality wood product that has no value otherwise.
Mr. HILL. That's something the Forest Service should be considering as it develops whatever strategies it's developing to deal with the problem, certainly.
Mr. PETERSON. You certainly can't cut it and haul it for any great distance. I mean, it just isn't feasible, the cost of hauling, I'm sure, in that area. OK, I was
Mr. HILL. You know, the analogy here would almost be like when this country started to first recycle materials. It wasn't always economically feasible, and we basically developed market over the years so that now we do have a much better recycling program than we did 10 or 15 years ago. Maybe a similar effort would be warranted here. Maybe it's not economically feasible right now, but something that we need to explore just in terms of helping the situation and resolving the problem in the future.
Mr. PETERSON. Thank you.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Thank you, Mr. Peterson. Mr. Hill, I do want to say that for the record, the two associates that you brought with you
Mr. HILL. Yes.
Mrs. CHENOWETH [continuing]. that helped with the posters, I wonder if before you leave you could give their full names to the court reporter before you leave.
Mr. HILL. OK.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. And the spelling and so forth, because I don't think she caught it.
Page 25 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. HILL. Sure.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. You mentioned in your testimony, and of course you showed us on the poster, that there were some areas that were absolutely red catastrophic, some others that were not so badother forest areas in the inland Westthat were depicted in orange. In your studies, have you found out why the Forest Service has not just gotten in to the red areas and gotten something done? Have theyI mean, that's a sizable chunk there. Why aren't
Mr. JOY. Madam Chairman, I think
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Why aren't they prioritizing their work and focusing on those catastrophic areas?
Mr. HILL. That's a good question, and I may say that the Forest Service has been basically ramping up their program recently. A lot of their effort has been directed to the southeast area of the country, which doesn't have a problem, largely because that's where their attention has been for many years now. Their planning in the next few years
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Let me ask you before you proceed, and I don't mean to interrupt you
Mr. HILL. Sure.
Mrs. CHENOWETH [continuing]. But isn't the Southeast mostly private forest though? I mean, there aren't huge blocks of national forest in the Southeast.
Mr. JOY. Madam Chairman, that's correct. The majority of the Forest Service's holdings are, in fact, in the dry interior West here compared to there. However, this discussion was held about 60 or 70 years ago in probably a room like this over the issue of the Southeast, and the Southeast began a program many years ago that has maintained those forests, which are also short interval fire ones, but has maintained them in much safer fuel conditions. If the Forest Service discontinues that program, they will be faced with a similar problem.
Page 26 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The Forest Service is just now approaching this issue here, and in terms of going to the worst spots, central to what one of the big difficulties is, this is not prepared by the Forest Service. This is prepared by an outside analysis firm, an analytic, professional group. The Forest Service has a series of different maps in the forests we visited. Some of them have done this kind of analysis, others have not. So not all of them can say right now where their problems are or code their forests yet.
The Forest Service has a program, this Joint Fire Science Program, whose initial studies the resultssome of the results in conjunction with this, will be out this December. It is our understanding they're going to have some sort of a fuel loading mapping at that time, but they don't have it yet.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Thank you, Mr. Joy. Mr. Hill.
Mr. HILL. Yes. What I was going to say is I think the Forest Service realizes the severity of the problem now. Hopefully, it's not too little, too late. And they havethey are proposing to increase the amount of acres that they will be reducing the fuelsthe accumulated fuelsfrom about a half-a-million a year up to 3 million acres a year by the year 2000, and then they plan to sustain that level of removal over the next 15 to 20 years. Most of that increase will occur in the interior West. That's where they are going to be focusing the greatest amount of increase in the removal of those accumulated fuels.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Well, Mr. Hill, even given the figures you just now gave me, your testimony reflects the fact that there may still be 10 million acres left at high risk. How did you come up with those figures, and is that true?
Mr. HILL. Well, based on our rough estimatesand I do say rough estimates because there is not a lot of precise data on thisbut based on the estimates that are available from the Forest Service and from other experts we've talked to, the estimate is that there are 39 million acres that need the accumulated fuel needs to be removed and dealt with. Most of that's in the interior West. If you look at their numbers, if they're going to increase 3 million acres removal by the year 2000, 1 million of which will continue to be outside that interior West area, so with 2 million being devoted to the interior West over a 15 to 16-year period, you can see that's about 10 million acres short of dealing with the entire situation.
Page 27 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC And may I say, the problem is even more complex because, quite frankly, they don't really have a good feel right now for where those high risk areas are and where the removals need to be done, and they're trying to get that data, but it's going to take them a while to get it. And certainly as they're continuing to study that and to get the data, the problem actually gets worse because more accumulated fuel is piling up all the time.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. And this will cost about $12 billion?
Mr. HILL. Based on our estimate, we're talking an investment of $12 billion to remove this fuel.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. What was our budget?
[Confers with staff.]
Mr. HILL. And that's based on an average cost of removal of $320 an acre times, basically, the 39 million acres.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. I see.
Mr. JOY. Madam Chairman, if I could just expand to one thing, a point on that, and that is that it may be that the Forest Service doesn't have to do all the 39 million or whatever the acreage might be, if they can develop some strategic method for prioritizing it so that they can still protect the towns, et cetera.
The difficulty is, though, until you do have such a strategy, there's really no grounds for just ruling out and ignoring one acre or another. But it is possible they could do less than all of it, but they'll have to be strategic about it, and that's the plan that's not there quite yet.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. And thank you, Mr. Joy, and I really don'tI'm not real optimistic when we have a roadless moratorium in place, where it's very difficult to get to the areas that need to be taken care of.
I see my time is up, and, as you know, I have a lot more questions to ask you, and I want to thank you very, very much for your very valuable testimony.
Page 28 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC And Mr. Hill, I understand that through the winter you'll be continuing to work on this, on my question of about 2 years ago, how we prioritize the forests with regards to which is the worst and which is the best in listing how our forest conditions are in terms of forest health today. So I understand that you'll be giving us a final report late winter. Is that correct?
Mr. HILL. That's correct. We're hoping to get it done by late winter, and we're hoping that the work we're going to be doing now is really going to be focusing more on what are the solutions. I mean, we've got a good feel, I think, for what the problem is now and the complexity of it. Now we need to flush out a little bit more just what are some feasible solutions for dealing with this.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Well, I want to thank you very much for your valuable testimony. We will be presenting more questions to you in writing, and as you know, the record remains open for a certain period of time, and we'll look forward to receiving those answers. I also want to thank you very much for the visuals that you had. Let me commend you on that video, too. That was gripping.
So, with that I will dismiss this panel
Mr. HILL. Thank you, Madam Chairman.
Mrs. CHENOWETH [continuing]. And we'll recognize the second panel. Our second panel consists of Mr. Neil Sampson. He's president of the Sampson Group, Inc. in Alexandria, Virginia; Mr. Gordon Ross of Coos County in Coos Bay. He's County Commissioner in Coquille, Oregon, and Earl Marcellus, Chelan county commissioner of Wenatchee, Washington. And I also would like to recognize Congressman Doc Hastings, who will be joining our panel. Congressman Hastings, we'll go out of order and ask you to introduce Commissioner Marcellus.
Mr. HASTINGS. Well, Madam Chairman, thank you very much for giving me this opportunity. I wanted to take some time and come over and introduce to you one of my constituents, Commissioner Earl Marcellus, from Chelan County in Wenatchee. Earl representshe is a commissioner in a county that I think in excess of 75 percent of the land is owned by the Federal Government, and a big part of that, obviously, is the Forest Service, so that alone, I think, should qualify him as far as his remarks are concerned as knowing the subject.
Page 29 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Prior to his getting into public service, he was a forester by trade, and so he has an understanding from the standpoint of working in the forest and with the forest lands as having some knowledge on this. So, I just wanted to take some time here today, and thank you for allowing me to introduce my colleague, Earl Marcellus. He represents the area in Chelan County. And by the way, we divide our counties into districts, and his district is the most heavily forested of the districts in Chelan County, and I think he represents his constituents very, very well, and I'm pleased to be here to introduce you to him.
Mr. MARCELLUS. Thank you, if I may, Madam Chair, on that warm welcome here in Washington, DC. I appreciate it. I'm honored to have you introduce me, DoctorDoc.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Thank you, Congressman, and panel, with that, I'd like to recognize Commissioner Marcellus for his testimony.
Well, wait a minute. Before we do that, we need to administer the oath, and I wonder if you might stand and raise your hand to the square.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Mr. Marcellus.
STATEMENT OF EARL MARCELLUS, CHELAN COUNTY COMMISSIONER, WENATCHEE, WASHINGTON
Mr. MARCELLUS. Thank you. I am Chelan County Commissioner, Earl Marcellus, and on behalf of our three-member board, I want to thank you for this opportunity to discuss our forest health problems and suggest solutions.
First, a few facts about Chelan County. The eastern border follows the Columbia River where the arid environment creates rangeland conditions. The western border extends to the crest of the Cascade Mountain range, where forest type ranges from Douglas fir to late successional hemlock/cedar species.
Page 30 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Our population is approximately 63,000, and the ownership of our land base is onlyless than 12 percent is privately owned, and more than 88 percent controlled by government entities, primarily the U.S. Forest Service.
With due respect to the Congressmen who will hear and read my testimony, I would like to make a tongue-in-cheek, but pointed statement. It appears that the perception of many from the Potomac is that the U.S. Forest Service and BLM are doing an excellent scientifically based job of managing our national forests in the Western States. That perception, however, is just as incorrect as the perception of those in the western States who believe that Washington, DC is the workfree drug place of America.
The fact of the matter is, a crisis was brewing in the early 1990's because the health of our forests was in decline, and no active legitimate effort by the U.S. Forest Service was being made to harvest the timber that was dead and dying from insects, disease, and drought. Then, in late July 1994, that brewing crisis blew up into an absolute disaster when a lightning storm moved through our county.
Seventy million dollars later, the fires were suppressed, but only after the loss of 200,000 acres of valuable watershed, wildlife habitat, and approximately 1 billion board feet of timber. To date, rehabilitation costs have surpassed $20 million, yet less than 10 percent of the burned timber was ever salvaged on Federal lands, resulting in the needless loss of revenue and resource utilization.
These losses do not take into account the tremendous personal and financial hardships experienced by the citizens and businesses throughout our county because of highway closures, and the smoke-filled air keeping the tourists from visiting, as well as the loss of homes and other properties by our citizens.
The tragic fact is the following two avoidable contributors led to much of these devastating losses. One, the U.S. Forest Service obviously had a let-it-burn policy, at least for the first 3 days during which time the initial manageable fires turned into dangerous project fires with no budget constraints. Two, the U.S. Forest Service has abandoned the proven scientifically based traditional forest management practices that in the past have controlled forest health problems through early treatment of insects, diseases, and overstocking.
Page 31 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC When the Forest Service supervisors and district managers are challenged about their management practices, they avoid discussing the merits of the issue and simply state they are following the laws established by Congress. I appeal to you to review the current laws and policies which are having a devastating effect on the health of our forests, as well as our communities, and then establish laws and allow only regulatory policy that is based on sound, verifiable, peer-reviewed scientific data. Congress must weigh lightly and guardedly the environmental rhetoric and computer modeling, which too often simply reflects the bias of a bureaucrat at the keyboard.
Specifically, Congress should consider at a minimum the following points. One, grant the U.S. Forest Service the authority to begin prompt removal of dead or dying trees of all species and all sizes, not just the small trees. Two, require the Forest Service and BLM to designate forest health emergency in high-risk areas and apply necessary remedial management activities. Three, provide for expedited processes for complying with environmental activities, laws, and regulations. Four, limit judicial review and prohibit frivolous appeals, and, five, require pro-active management activities aimed at enhancing forest health to be included in the planning process of the U.S. Forest Service.
In closing, I would say I am aware that those in Congress who agree with my assessment of the Forest Health problems and their solutions will meet with opposition from fellow Congressmen and the current administration. However, the signers of the Declaration of Independence faced much greater opposition when they mutually pledged to each other their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor. I sincerely believe we must look backward if we are going to move forward in salvaging not only our forests, but our beloved republic.
Thank you very much.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Marcellus may be found at end of hearing.]
Page 32 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mrs. CHENOWETH. Thank you very much, Commissioner. That was outstanding.
And I'm very pleased now to recognize Commissioner Gordon Ross, from Coos County in Oregon. I think Coos County, and Coos Bay, especially, vies for one of the most beautiful places in the world. With that, Commissioner Ross.
STATEMENT OF GORDON ROSS, COOS COUNTY COMMISSIONER, COQUILLE, OREGON Mr. ROSS. Thank you, Chairman Chenoweth, members of the panel. And thank you for those kind words about Coos County; we like to say a lot of nice things about it.
The area that I want to be speaking to you about today is the area that Mr. Hill did not speak about, and that is the Douglas fir region. It was the white area up in the Pacific Northwest that wasn't included in his talk, but it was formed by catastrophic events, catastrophic fire.
Douglas fir trees will not grow in the open; they're not shade tolerant. And so every acre of the Pacific Northwest has a catastrophic fire history, and because the people who formed the FEMAT reportdidn't know as much about that history as others, we shaped a Northwest forest plan that will re-enact those historical events if we don't do something to change it.
Fortunately, I bring to you an answer for our problem, and I've put it into your packet, and I would like to submit it into the record now, along with my written testimony, the ''Disturbance-Based Ecosystem Approach to Maintaining and Restoring Freshwater Habitats of Salmon.'' This has been developed with Oregon State University, the U.S. Forest Service, Gordon Reeves from the Forest Service being the lead scientist on this, and I've, along with that, made a pictorial for you of pictures of these disturbances, both the fires, and the results of those fires in history, and the floods and landslides which play a part in the rejuvenating of our streams.
Page 33 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Coos County has done more timber harvesting than any county in Oregon, perpetually since 1855 when the first two mills were established on Coos Bay. San Francisco was the market, and Coos Bay Douglas fir built San Francisco and rebuilt it after the fire and earthquake of 1906.
Today, we continue to harvest more timber than any other county in Oregon, and at the same time we have more Coho salmon in our streams in Coos County than any county in Oregon. As a matter of fact, we have more Coho salmon in our streams in Coos County than all the other 35 counties put together.
Now this was kind of an anomaly to me until the development of this research on disturbance-based ecosystems, because this explains why the landslides and why the storm events following the fire or following the logging, if you may, will rejuvenate these streams with spawning gravel and large woody debris. And I would really like for you to look through the pictorial here because it gives you an opportunity to see what history has done.
On part one you'll see a fire map of just Coos County, but the entire Douglas fir region has a fire history. The next page is a forester's explanation of that. And then you'll see, on page 3, a forest where a fire has not touched it for 350 years, its very few Douglas fir trees standing; it will eventually be a shade-tolerant species.
If you turn the page, on the next two pages you'll see picturestwo pageswill be pictures of the countryside of 1868 that burned 300,000 acres. These are the kinds of fires that formed the Douglas fir region. On an unnumbered page, after page 5, a picture of two stands of Douglas fir timber. The stand in the background grew after the fire of 1868. It was planted by God. The foreground was planted by man, and there isn't a penny's worth of difference between either one of them, and environmentalists can get just as lost in either one, and we'd have to send the cops out to find them.
Page 34 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Page 6 shows the growth in 1930, the cruise of marketable timber in Coos County. You'll notice that almost 92 percent was Douglas fir, 2 percent Port Orford cedar, 2.9 spruce, 2.1 hemlock, and so forth. This shows that initially, at the time of settlement, these timbered areas were predominately Douglas fir.
Now we go into part 2, and on page 7 you'll notice a slide of a whole mountainside coming down. Page 7-A are excerpts out of the newspapers back in February of 1890, which is the last time we had slides that where everything that could slide did slide.
Then later we hadin 1995 this piece of information was published and has been out for peer review, and I'm speaking again of the research material. And in 1996 God gave us a divine demonstration back there17 inches of rainand so pages 10, 11, and 12 show salmon spawning in gravel held in check by debris slides of that timethese pictures on December 10, just 3 weeks afterwards. And gravel that had never been there in my lifetimeit had been bedrock since the days of the logging splash damsand so we understand the rejuvenation then, the process of this.
What this gives us is an opportunity now, with the new information under and within the confines of the Northwest Forest Plan, to start doing active management again in these riparian areas of the intermittent streams, and, again, add to the ability of the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management to get the red ink out of their budget and also do something for streams and for forest management that is positive.
I'm sorry that I've run out of time, Madame Chair.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Ross may be found at end of hearing.]
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Well, it was very, very interesting testimony, and thank you very much for these very interesting reports. I will study them in-depth.
With that, the Chair is pleased to recognize Mr. Neil Sampson.
Page 35 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCSTATEMENT OF NEIL SAMPSON, PRESIDENT, THE SAMPSON GROUP, INC., ALEXANDRIA, VIRGINIA
Mr. SAMPSON. Thank you, Madam Chairman. I come before the Committee today with mixed feelings. In 1992 I testified as follows: ''It's time to get beyond business as usual on many of the forests in the Inland West because the risks of major environmental economic and social disaster are growing, and the actions taken so far are not even beginning to keep up with the worsening situation.''
You know, that statement stands today. I don't know whether to feel decent because we had it right then or to feel bad because we haven't done a whole lot with that information. The study that was reviewed today by GAO doesn't add a lot to what we knew in 1992. It puts detail on; I hope it adds credibility. And I hope it gets some action, because since the day I gave that statement we've burned about 12 million acres in the inland West, and spent about $2 billion. On the Boise National Forest where I was doing most of the work to research this situation, we've burned about 300,000 acres, about 25 percent of the Ponderosa pine forest. We've burned it at heats that suggest that those soils are damaged to the extent that the chances of that forest coming back are fairly slim in a lot of places. So it doesn't give us any great pleasure to come here 6 years later and say we're still not getting at it.
On another aspect, in line with the questions that were being asked earlier by Mr. Peterson, I gave copies of ''Forest Health in the United States'' to the Committee members. And I wanted to call your attention to the fact that we wrote that booklet about forest health in general across the United States.
We identified six factors that we think are changing the underlying structural dynamics and ecological processes in America's forests. They include this dramatically altered fire regime in many places that we've talked about, landscape-level structural simplification, often brought about by efforts to preserve existing forest conditions; forest fragmentation, which is often brought about by the fact that there's more of us dividing up the area among ourselves; introduction of exotic species that crowd out natives; changes in atmospheric, water, and soil chemistry that affect the growth and competition of forest species, and unusually high animal populations, which while they be native, like deer or elk, are really changing the biological dynamics in these systems.
Page 36 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Now I don't have time to discuss those today, and it's not the primary point of the hearing, but I wanted to leave you with a couple of points. First of all, these changes are affecting forests in all parts of America today, and the long-term effects are not known. What we know is that the forests of tomorrow are going to reflect the effect of these pressures, whether they're good or bad.
The other thing is the changes are not happening in isolation. The gentleman from Pennsylvania asked the question about the forests in his area. They are seeing fragmentation, chemical alteration, exotics, and animal irruptings, all happening at the same time. They're not happening one at a time; they're all happening together. Some of the most unnatural forests in America are growing in the State of Pennsylvania today, and that's not cause for comfort.
The other thing is that, as far as we can tell, most of these changes, and the ecological effects, are probably unprecedented. We don't have any sense that this kind of thing has happened before. The forests of today are not a replica of history, and the ones of tomorrow are not going to follow that pattern either.
There's a policy message in here that I'd like to leave with the Congress. First of all, ignorance about this isn't comforting. We don't know a lot about how this is happening, and the only way we're going to learn is a vastly increased level of forest ecological research, both public and private, to understand the current dynamics and the potential changes that are affecting these forests.
And the second message is the one you discussed earlier: it is my position that increased management, not just watching and waiting, offers the best opportunity to help these forests cope with these kinds of stresses. We caused the stresses. With 270 million Americans, we continue to cause them today, and it's irresponsible to sit back and watch what happens accidentally from those kinds of things, in my judgment.
Page 37 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I'd like to turn now to those fire-dependent forests of the Inland West that we've talked about so many times. We can return those to fire-tolerant conditions, but it's not easy and in many places it's not cheap. I'm going to talk today, as most people do, about the Ponderosa pine forests. We're going to skip over 45 million acres of Pinyon-Juniper forests, Mr. Hansen, which is one of the biggest problems in your State and others in the Southwest, because the lack of markets there are almost absolute in terms of that particular product.
But in the Ponderosa pine forests, people have been demonstrating that there are effective ecological restoration approaches that are positive and that can be done. The problem is, these are not traditional timber harvests and they shouldn't be confused with them. They're very different. As a result of doing it differently a lot of valuable trees are left in the woods because you're trying to restore the structures that the forests need, and a lot of not very valuable stuff is taken out. And as a result, the economics of this operation are often really limited.
But Congress can address some of those problems. Let me give you some ideas. The reason these projections are not economic is the three reasons that I've identified. The first is the material has very little market value. It's either too small or crooked or defective to be used in today's industry. Much of it should be viewed as a challenge of safe disposalhow to get it out of there at the least possible cost. One of the ways to do that is to encourage and support the establishment of biomass-based energy production. We've talked about that before, and there's plenty of record to support the idea.
The second reason the costs are high is because getting small material out of the woods is expensive. It's a lot more expensive than getting big material out of the woods, and there's not much Congress can do about that. It's always going to be costlier to handle small material, but obviously if we want the Forest Service to deal with it, we can change our attitude about below-cost operations because that's what's going to have to happen.
Page 38 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC But the third thing is that the costs are driven needlessly high by policies that have been designed for big timberbig log timber harvests. These policies were designed to harvest the timber in Mr. Ross's district, and they are well-fitted to there. But the Forest Service needs to change its policies and practices, to get away from cruising and stumpage sales and log-scaling and other administrative practices designed for big log? They need to go to more use of outside contractors, use weight measurements instead of scaling, adopt end-results performance measures, and carry out multi-year planning to assure people of a long enough supply of material that they can actually invest in treatment facilities.
I see the time is up. I'm going to close by saying that we need to also evaluate the costs of not treating these places. It was testified that treatment cost could be $350 average. I think that's awfully high. We're seeing treatment in prescribed fire in the range of $10 to $12 an acre, and treatment by mechanical thinning that's ranging from $165 an acre profit to $165 an acre loss, depending on the different situations involved.
But even if we lost $250 an acre, the costs of the wildfires that we're seeing now run in the $1,500 to $2,000 range, and in places like Buffalo Creek, Colorado, which I've discussed in my written testimony, they're going to be digging mud out of those water reservoirs for we don't know how many years. It's costing them somewhere between half-a-million to $1 million a year. That's the rate the water users of Denver are paying for that fire. So, let's talk about the costs of not doing something, as well as the costs of doing things when we think about the economics of this.
I thank you for your time and would be happy to answer any questions.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Sampson may be found at end of hearing.]
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Thank you very much, Mr. Sampson, for your valuable testimony.
Page 39 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The Chair recognizes Mr. Hansen for his questioning.
Mr. HANSEN. Madam Chairman, I really don't have any questions for this group. I think it was very interesting to listen to, and I was glancing through their statements as we went through here. Frankly, I'd say I agree with many of these things; I just don't know how you implement them. The four points that the one gentleman brought up were excellent. How to do these things is always the problem. It's how to get it done, you know, and that becomes some very heavy legislative roadblocks.
I would like to come back for the last testimony. I have to be on the floor in 6 minutes, so I'll try and get right back, but thank you for the time, and I thank the gentlemen for their testimony.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Thank you, Mr. Hansen. The Chair recognizes the gentleman from Washington, Mr. Hastings.
Mr. HASTINGS. I just have two questions I want to followup with to Earl Marcellus. You made five points as to what your suggestions would be. I want to specifically talk about points three and four. Point three, ''provide for expedited process for complying with environmental activities, laws, and regulations,'' and four, ''limit judicial review and prohibit frivolous appeals.''
I made the assumption that you came to both of these conclusions and suggestions both from being in the private sector and probably, more recently, in the public sector as commissioner. If I'm right on that, let me know, but give me an idea in either case of how you arrived at that and maybe some real-life examples that lead you to these conclusions.
Mr. MARCELLUS. Well, let me just use, maybe, an analogous example. We've got hundreds of miles of hiking trails in our county into the beautiful Cascade Mountains, and last year the Forest Service was totally unable to open these trails in the wilderness area portions with hand equipment. They spent tens of thousands of dollars doing an environmental assessment as to whether they should allow chainsaws to go in and open these trails, and in the private sector and in the good old days with the Forest Service, we would have moved in and just gotten the job done.
Page 40 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC There's just simply too many regulatory hoops for the Forest Service to jump through to get the job done. And like I said in my testimony, they tend to give ''We the people'' the answer, ''Well, it's Congress' fault. We're just simply following the laws established by Congress and by the regulatory agencies that you have oversight.''
Mr. HASTINGS. Let me just followup then. After the burn in 1994, only about 10 percentor maybe it was a little big higherof that was salvageable, or was salvaged, I should say. What do youI mean, are the reasons for that which you describe here by examples in three and four?
Mr. MARCELLUS. Well, let me use that question to state a quote. It goes as follows: ''He has erected a multitude of new offices and sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.'' Does that not sound like the regulatory bureaucracy that we have today? That quote comes directly out of the Declaration of Independence, and it just seems that we have come full circle in allowing what I like to refer to as a fourth branch of government to evolve in this countrythe regulatory agenciesand the Forest Service's hands are bound.
And I have to be very frank and honest with you today. It appears to me and many others that many of those who have the green agenda have gone to work for the Forest Service, and a lot of the good timber people and the people who really know how to fight fires have become so frustrated that they have voluntarily retired or taken early retirement. It's really most unfortunate.
Mr. HASTINGS. Well, the last thing I would say is, to briefly corroborate what you're saying, I had a town hall meeting upnot in your county, but in Okanogan County right above that, and I heard essentially the same thing from retired members of the Forest Service that led to the same conclusions that you came to. I think that thatI think, Madam Chairman, that is happening.
Page 41 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Thank you very much for allowing me to sit here.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Thank you, Mr. Hastings. Mr. Ross, did I understand you to say in your testimonyI either read it or I heard you saythat your county manages some forest lands?
Mr. ROSS. Yes, our county manages 15,000 acres of forest land, and we do it and we return a profit to the taxpayer. In fact, 93 percent of our timber sale value is returned to the taxpayer in the form of county services. We operate our forest on 7 percent. Only the Federal Government can be given timberland and lose money managing it.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Can you explain again what the opportunities are to apply the new research that you were talking about? First, I'd like for you to tell us in more detail how landslides can really help the fisheries, and then I'd like you to address how this new research, in light of the Northwest Forest Plan and the President's record of decision, how this applies.
Mr. ROSS. Thank you, Madam Chair. This research has describedor, it has been research looking at the evolution of our streams, and the streams that within the last four or five decades have had major catastrophic events, major landslides, have adequate spawning gravel and large, woody debris to hold that gravel in place. The ones where it's been hundreds of years are the ones that maybe look the most pleasant to the eye, but are actually the most barren of fish and fish habitat.
Now the opportunity lies within the Northwest Forest Plan's intermittent stream buffers, those buffers that Jerry Franklin said the lizard people put in, that got doubled in size when they got to Washington and then enacted into almost stone when the record of decision was handed down by Judge Dwyer.
However, even in the record of decision, it shows that those were interim buffers until the watershed analysis could be done. Those are the buffers that when we got right out on the landscape, we found they overlapped. It just took away from the matrix areas where the active forestry was to be practiced and buffered it from anything happening.
Page 42 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC So the opportunity now, since the watershed analysis has been done, is to apply this new technologyor, rather, this new research and the technology that this will lead toto harvesting and doing active management in those buffered areas as we can enter into them and then, finally, over the whole landscape as the new decadeal plan is developed. I think it's a great opportunity to apply science, a science that has been peer-reviewed, and I will be presenting this at 11 o'clock on Thursday to Mike Dombeck.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Gosh, that's very interesting. I'd like to ask Mr. Sampson, What impact is the current Forest Service emphasis on prescribed fire likely to have, in your opinion?
Mr. SAMPSON. Well, they're certainly ramping-up their efforts in prescribed fire, and they're doing it over a lot broader area and a lot more cheaply. The problem that I think you're going to see was touched on briefly by the GAO. Because the target is acres, the incentives are to go get what you can get, rather than what's really the highest priority.
And because the tool is prescribed fire, some of the highest priority areas are really dangerous to get. They're too close to habitation, there are too many houses aroundit's just too difficult. They're in highly populated areas, and the smoke problem is very real and very much of a restriction.
So the problem with going at the large situation that exists with prescribed fire as the main approach is that it tends to lead you away from the highest priority and most dangerous and difficult areas.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. How important are the current restrictions on smoke and air pollution?
Mr. SAMPSON. Well, they have not stopped very much yet, it doesn't appear.
Page 43 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mrs. CHENOWETH. No.
Mr. SAMPSON. We can't find a lot of evidence yet that they have limited the use of prescribed fire. When you find what limits prescribed fire in the West today, you'll find a lack of staff trained in the techniques. You'll find a limited number of days in a year when you can safely burn anything, between when it's too dry to be safe and too wet to do it at all, and you'll find these large areas involved.
Smoke is important. There are very real health hazards caused by smoke, and in those populated areas it's going to get worse and worse. But, so far pollution regulations haven't stopped very much because most of the burning has been back away from that populated area.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Mr. Sampson, your four points that you concluded your testimony are very, very good, but the fact is, is it not true that actually getting in and mechanically cleaning up the understory and the fuel load and thinning out actually can still have a value in the marketplace, whereby prescribed burning, really, simply costs the taxpayers money? What is your opinion on that?
Mr. SAMPSON. Well, I don't think you should put them at opposite poles like that. I think each are appropriate in their own place. The problem with the products that need to be taken out is very local. In Cascade, Idaho, there's a new mill that takes material down to a 4-inch top, positions it with computers, and economically produces lumber out of 4-inch material. That changes the definition of a saw log dramatically from what we've seen in many other areas. But what can happen in that mill in Cascade can't happen anywhere else in that region because they're the only ones that have invested in that.
I was in Colorado yesterday doing a project where there's no industry left at all, so nothing is a saw log. It doesn't matter what its size or quality. There's no such thing as commercial timber opportunity of any kind when there's no industry left to take it out of the woods and do something with it.
Page 44 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC So, this is very localized in nature. In a lot of these communities, people are making really fine use of this small stuff. We've got trees out there 5 inches in diameter that are 125 years old. They've been suppressed; they're sitting there at 5 and 6 inches. They are some of the highest quality wood for beams and other products that is available. We've just got to get them into that kind of use.
So, there's a lot of opportunity. It's almost all non-traditional. We've got to deal with it by weight instead of scaling, because if you try to scale one of these forests that's full of 4-inch, 5-inch and 6-inch stems, with 1,200 of them to the acre, you just go crazy with your costs. There are ways to do it, but we've got to get away from the traditional timber harvest mentality and go to a forest restoration mentality, administratively. That was the point I was trying to get at.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Well, let me take another run at this.
Mr. SAMPSON. OK.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Prescribed firedoes that add anything to the timber fund?
Mr. SAMPSON. It really does. You've got forests out there, Madam Chairman, that were maintained historically by fire and that need fire once in a while. That prescribed fire might be slash burning after a mechanical treatment. It might be prescribed fire before or after treatment; that's not the case. You don't have anything else in your tool kit that recycles nutrients and that provides the kind of ecological impact that fire does, and so putting fire back in that landscape safely is a really important part of this that shouldn't just be done as an either/orwe're either going to do this or that. We need to do a lot of all of that.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Now with prescribed burning, is what you're telling the Committee that in the long run, given that there will be some sort of mechanical harvesting of some sort down the pike in the long run, then that later on adds to the timber fund?
Page 45 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. SAMPSON. It's both now and later. There's a huge bulge of material out there now
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Right.
Mr. SAMPSON [continuing]. from 50 to 75 years, and a lot of that has to come out before prescribed fire can be re-introduced. But in the long run, a management regime that does not totally exclude fire is probably going to create healthier and more productive forests, than one that tries to totally exclude it.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Let me take my third run at this. Within a period of 10 years' prescribed fire, would that add to the treasury in the timber fund?
Mr. SAMPSON. No.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. OK.
Mr. SAMPSON. Not in the short term. It won't in the short term, and in the short term the bulge of material that's on much of that land, as we've said earlier, precludes using prescribed fire in many areas.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. But with a change in policy within 10 yearsif, you know, given that the marketplace has changed and given the fact that some mills are going down to the 4-inch diameter, given the fact that even in Idaho, and I'm sure many of the agricultural States, they're not now talking about timbers made out of straw. Given the fact that the market will respond to the demand that's out there, if we went in with mechanical means we could then begin to buildup the timber fundnot with straw, but with the small stuff, as well as the larger diameter timber. So that was my original question.
Mr. SAMPSON. Well, I honestly have to tell you that for the Congress to think that it's going to build a timber fund with a lot of these projectsI'm not as optimistic about that as I believe your position is. What I think you're doing is reducing the damage accounts greatly and, hopefully, bringing the timber fund into it neutrally. I think you could make enough money to pay for the treatment. I don't think we're going to get rich
Page 46 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mrs. CHENOWETH. OK; so this answer that you've just given me is based on your second premise, that to go in and restore the land will be expensive, and we're going to have to re-order our thinking with regards to below-cost timber sales.
Mr. SAMPSON. But in the long run, that's the pathway back to healthy forests in that region.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. I think so. Very good. Thank you, Mr. Sampson. Mr. Marcellus?
Mr. MARCELLUS. Yes, Madam Chairman, if I may add to the answer of Mr. Sampson in light of your question of prescribed burning, I think he made it fairly clear that prescribed burning can be after harvesting operations to burn the slash, which was a historical management tool of the Forest Service and private industry. And I think what you were asking, if prescribed burning was done without harvest, would that give a return to the coffers? And in the short term, no; it's costly to go out there and do that sort of thing.
But if it's done successfullyand I'm not a proponent of prescribed burning when there is the opportunity to get out there and do it mechanically or cost-effectively by manpower and do the thinning of the overstocked stands. I wish I'd have brought a little pine section that I cutoff of a tree that I thinned out on my own home just outside of my house, years ago, and it was a Ponderosa pine tree which isn't known to respond that well to release.
And that's what we're talking about, is getting in there and dealing with the overstocked stands to give more room for growth, more ability to get moisture and nutrients. And it will bring a return because your trees that are left behind are more insect-resistant and fire-resistant, and they will grow faster and will get more growth per acre in 20 years or more return. So we do have somebut I think in our county and throughout the West, there are stands that are in great need of traditional management practices that have been cast away that will generate returns today.
Page 47 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mrs. CHENOWETH. Very interesting. I have two bills out there that we're hoping, somehow, will be successful, and they've addressed what Mr. Sampson and all three of you, actually, have talked aboutthe Hazardous Fuels Reduction Act, which cleans up the area between the urban wildland interface, and the video that we saw GAO show, my bill would directly address that.
We saw catastrophic fires in Florida this year affecting people's homes. We lost homesthank goodness we didn't lose any lives, but the year before that we lost a large number of homes and some lives in California because we have not addressed that urban-rural interface, and we must do so.
And then the NEPA parody bill, which will target certain forests that are in dire shape, and hopefully will be able to give the Forest Service a tool to get in and start working on those areas, which, by the way, every single one of them is a red area that was shown on Mr. Hill's poster boards.
So with that, I've learned a lot from you, and I want to thank all three of you for being here. Two of you have come a long way. And it's always a privilege to be able to hear Mr. Sampson, and I appreciate this book, the ''Forest Health in the United States'' by R. Neil Sampson and Lester DeCoster. I've read it once and am going to look forward to reading it again. Thank you very much.
And with that, this panel is excused.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. The Chair now recognizes Janice McDougle as the next panelist. Ms. McDougle has faced this Committee many, many times, and she is the Associate Deputy Chief for State and Private Forestry, Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington, DC, and she is accompanied by Mr. Harry Croft, Acting Director, Fire and Aviation Management of Forest Service, USDA in Washington, DC.
So, Ms. McDougle, I wonder if you could take one of the center seats, maybe over on the otherthat's good. Good, and now I wonder if you could both stand and raise your hand to the square.
Page 48 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC [Witnesses sworn.]
Ms. McDougle, please proceed.
STATEMENT OF JANICE McDOUGLE, ASSOCIATE DEPUTY CHIEF FOR STATE AND PRIVATE FORESTRY, FOREST SERVICE, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE, WASHINGTON, DC; ACCOMPANIED BY HARRY CROFT, ACTING DIRECTOR, FIRE AND AVIATION MANAGEMENT, FOREST SERVICE, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE, WASHINGTON, DC
Ms. MCDOUGLE. Good afternoon, Madam Chairman, members of the Subcommittee. I appreciate the opportunity to join you to discuss forest health and to hear the GAO's preliminary observations concerning forest health and fuels. The Forest Service is looking forward to working with GAO to identify ways to continually improve forest health conditions.
We estimate that approximately 39 million acres of National Forest System lands, primarily in the inland West and the Atlantic coastal States are at high risk from damaging, high-intensity wildland fire. Many of these stands are dense and over-crowded, with high mortality rates due to bark beetle or other insect outbreaks. It is important that the public understand that fire is part of a natural ecological cycle, and over a long enough period, all forests will eventually burn.
The exclusion of wildland fire for the last 100 years has had a profound influence on the composition and structure of natural fuel conditions and the function of those ecosystems where frequent and low-intensity fires historically occurred. These conditions are contributing to the growing severity of the fire situation throughout the country. Unless we address these changed conditions, the fire severity situation will continue to grow, threatening the health of watersheds and larger ecosystems.
In addition to changes in natural hazardous fuels, demographic changes of people moving from urban areas to rural areas have resulted in an increasingly complex mix of people, infrastructure, and forests, which is known as the wildland urban interface.
Page 49 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Throughout the United States, it is more and more common to see homes and other types of structures being built in wildland environments. Because of their location, these structures are extremely vulnerable to fire, should a wildland fire occur in the surrounding area. The trend is resulting in a volatile situation that must be addressed.
This is as much a forest health concern as a fuels concern. We are addressing this problem at the most fundamental level. We have embarked on an aggressive program to use fire in a more natural ecological role to reduce fuels hazards and to help protect forest ecosystems from the ravages of high-intensity fires and epidemics by insect attacks.
Other tools we are using to improve ecosystem conditions include timber sales, thinning, and other fuel reduction methods, including mechanical treatments. However, we will not treat, nor is it practical to treat, all of the affected acreage.
Therefore, we are prioritizing areas to be treated first, to address those areas of greatest risk and potential for damage, such as wildland urban interface areas, critical watersheds, and sensitive wildlife habitats. This strategy will focus available funds and capabilities where they will have the most effect. We are creating a management environment that encourages the treatment of those priority areas through budget allocation and direction to local managers.
To help understand the nature of the issues, we are currently implementing the Joint Fire Science Plan as provided in the Conference Committee report for the 1998 Interior Appropriations Act. The four principal purposes of the plan are to complete a national program for fuels inventory and mapping, evaluation of fuels treatment, scheduling of treatments, monitoring and evaluation. Projects have already been identified and grants and contracts issued to help us better manage the hazardous fuel reductions program.
Clearly, the challenges we face in improving forest health and reducing fire risk are great. By restoring fire to its natural role in ecosystems, we can improve the health of our Nation's forests, while at the same time reducing their susceptibility to catastrophic fire.
Page 50 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Thank you, Madam Chairman. I have summarized my remarks, and we will enter into the full record our testimony. I'm prepared to answer any questions that you may have at this time.
[The prepared statement of Ms. McDougle may be found at end of hearing.]
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Thank you, Ms. McDougle. The GAO, in their testimony, indicated that the agency lacks a strategic plan that will deal with these critical acres that he indicated on his poster board. You indicated that you will focus first on certain critical watershed areas, urban-rural wildlands interface, and certain wildlife habitat areas, especially for critical wildlife habitat.
Does that comport with what Mr. Hill said, in terms of the fact that there are 10 million acres left with absolutely no plan whatsoever or no long or short range plan to do anything with those acres?
Ms. MCDOUGLE. Well, I thought the remarks were interesting in that it was suggested that we have a national plan for addressing these issues, and I'm not sure that we believe that that is indeed required. Our efforts in this regard are not just the Forest Service's; they are all the land management agencies who have collectively decided what the priorities are.
Our activities in terms of reducing fuelsit's not done out of the Washington office. It's not done nationally; it's done by the units, and as they aggregate, we can tell how much that they feel they are capable of getting done in any given year, and it's an estimate. Sometimes they do more, like this year. I think we exceeded our targets during this Fiscal Year, and so these are estimates that are field-driven. And in terms of how they're going to go about doing it, these are also their calls, based onon the ground conditions.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Well, given that we're talking about 39 million acres that are in a very, very, very serious catastrophic condition39 million acres. You'll agree to that, right?
Page 51 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Ms. MCDOUGLE. That's the best estimate we have, and we are validating those numbers right now.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. OK. That's about one-third of the entire base of our national forests. How did it happen that the agency let one-third of its entire resource get into this kind of condition?
Ms. MCDOUGLE. Like I said, it's taken over 100 years for this to happen, and it's going to take some time to do it. And as Mr. Sampson said earlier in his testimony, it isn't any one thing. It isn't totally within the agency's control, and, frankly, it hasn't been a priority in Congress. The priority has been focused on the timber program, and this hasn't been one of those issues that has been a priority on the Hill.
We didjust to get the fuels program some attentionrequest and receive for the 1998 appropriation a specific budget identify for fuels because we weren't able to getwe weren't able to build a program. We received support from the Congress in 1998, and as best I can tell, we will in 1999. We spent $50 million in 1998, and we requested in the President's budget $65 million. This is an evolving effort of the Forest Service to focus attention on the fuels issue.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Now the President asked for $65 million specifically for what?
Ms. MCDOUGLE. Fuels.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Fuels. In what way?
Ms. MCDOUGLE. Well, for fuels management, and in terms of strictly devoted to reducing the fuels. You know, the methods are notthere are a whole array of tools to be used, but they all go toward reducing the fuels.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. I think I probably share with you the fact that we can't go back and can't keep asking ourselves, ''Why?'' We have a difference in opinion as to why 39 million acres are in a situation that is considered code red. But I want you to know, Ms. McDougle, Congress is concerned, and there is a lot of expression of concern on the Hill.
Page 52 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I get the stuffing kicked out of me, and other western Members get the stuffing kicked out of them, because we're not seeing a return to the timber account. And the environmental organizations and their publications are replete with the fact that we can't manage sufficiently to do anything but have low-cost timber sales.
So, yes, you need to know at your level and at every level that Congress is very concerned and very concerned that we're able to return money back to our timber account. Nobody is more uncomfortable with the fact that we are having below-cost timber sales while we're seeing a deterioration in the forest system itself than I am.
So, what can you provide the Committee in terms of maps and tables indicating the current fuel loads on national forests, by State and by watershed, and the levels of risk of catastrophic fire that they face in relation to some explained scales of risk and hazards to resources and to people? I'd like for you to be able to do that.
And, furthermore, I wanted to ask youyou mentioned the fact that you're still involved in mapping. Isn't a lot of the mapping being done by aircraft or by satellite, in terms of the intensity of fuels in the forest?
Ms. MCDOUGLE. We're doing GIS modeling. Regarding when will the maps be available, I think I mentioned to you at a previous hearing that we will have our Fire: Forests at Risk map available this fall. I learned Friday that we should have it early November. We have a map, and our people are currently validating a mapa new map that shows the wildland urban interface areas that are of great concern, and we're updating our insect and disease map.
So I think that in the next month or two, we will have a pretty darned good picture of all of these issues to make some assumptions from, especially in terms of focusing priorities on work.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. When you prepare projects to improve forest conditions, such as timber sales, thinnings, mechanical field treatments, and/or prescribed burning, what types of environmental analyses are required?
Page 53 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. CROFT. Madam Chairman?
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Yes.
Mr. CROFT. I think that would be based on the complexity of the project at hand. I don't know first-hand knowledge of perhaps what you are referring to. At one timeI have been in the field for years. I've done timber sales, I've done thinnings, and I've fought fire. I just want you to understand that. When I first started out, I could do an EA for a 20 million board feet timber sale. Today you require an EIS. It clearly has changed in terms of what's required.
On fuels projects, it's all depending on where you are and what the probable impacts are. In the southeast, you could do a categoric exclusion for a 1,000-acre prescribed fire. If you're in the Northwest, it may be only 20 acres, so it depends on the nature of the project and the probable impacts of that project.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Interesting. Well, Ms. McDougle or Mr. Croft, I've seen a proposal establishing an arbitrary acreage limit for thinnings and other activities that require an EIS, based on which eco-region the project is located in, so if it's located in the southeast it might have another arbitrary requirement than in the Northwest. It appears that the proposal would greatly increase the number of EIS's required for such vegetation management proposals, and given the catastrophic conditions that we have out there, I'm very concerned about that. Would one of you address that?
Mr. CROFT. I think you might be referring to the draft regulations?
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Yes, the draft regulations.
Mr. CROFT. I've only just seen those, and I just have seen them and have not had that chance to look at them. I know at first glance we did have some concerns, and we are talking with the land management planning people right now about those concerns, I think for the same reasons.
Page 54 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mrs. CHENOWETH. Thank you. I would very much appreciate your staying in close touch with my staff on this. I'm very concerned about it, given the catastrophic situations that we have. I do think the National Forest Management Act does allow for the supervisor to be able to use his own experience and discretion in making those decisions, and I don't want to take that away from him. So, I would appreciate your focus on this.
As you know, I have a lot more questions, but my time has expired, and I will excuse you right now, but I will be submitting more questions for you to answer. And this record will remain open for 5or for 10 working days, should you wish to supplement your testimony with anything. And I would appreciate your answering our questions within 30 days30 calendar days.
[The information referred to may be found at end of hearing.]
Mrs. CHENOWETH. So with that, again, I want to thank the panels for being here and for your valuable testimony, and with that, this hearing is adjourned.
[Whereupon, at 3:45 p.m., the Subcommittee adjourned subject to the call of the Chair.]
[Additional material submitted for the record follows.]
STATEMENT OF EARL L. MARCELLUS, CHELAN COUNTY COURTHOUSE, WENATCHEE, WASHINGTON
Dear Committee members:
I am Chelan County Commissioner Earl Marcellus and on behalf of our three member board I want to thank you for this opportunity to discuss our forest health problems and suggest solutions.
First a few facts about Chelan County:
Page 55 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The eastern border follows the Columbia River where the arid environment creates rangeland conditions.
The western border extends to the crest of the Cascade Mountain range where the forest type ranges from Douglas fir to late successional hemlock/cedar species.
less than 12 percent privately owned
88+ percent controlled by government (primarily the U.S. Forest Service).
Obviously Chelan County is a rural, timber dependent county.
With due respect to the Congressmen who will hear and/or read my testimony I would like to make a tongue in cheek but pointed statement. It appears that the perception of many from the Potomac is that the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management (B.L.M.) are doing an excellent, scientifically based job of managing our national forests in the Western states. That perception, however, is just as incorrect as the perception of those in the western states who believe Washington, DC is the ''workfree drug place of America.''
The fact of the matter is, a crisis was brewing in the early 1990's because the health of our forests were in decline and no active, legitimate effort was being made by the U.S. Forest Service to harvest the timber that was dead and dying from insects, disease, and drought. Then, in late July 1994 that brewing crisis blew up into an absolute disaster when a lightning storm moved through our county.
Seventy (70) million dollars later the fires were suppressed but only after the loss of 200 thousand acres of valuable watershed and wildlife habitat and approximately 1 billion board feet of timber. To date, rehabilitation costs have surpassed 20 million dollars yet less than 10 percent of the burned timber was ever salvaged on Federal lands resulting in the needless loss of revenue and resource utilization. These losses do not take into account the tremendous personal and financial hardships experienced by the citizens and businesses throughout our county because of highway closures and the smoke filled air keeping tourists from visiting as well as the loss of homes and other properties by our citizens.
Page 56 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The tragic fact is the following two avoidable contributors led to much of these devastating losses:
1. The U.S. Forest Service obviously had a ''let burn policy,'' at least for the first 3 days during which time the initial manageable fires turned into dangerous project size fires (no budget constraints).
2. The U.S. Forest Service has abandoned the proven, scientifically based, traditional forest management practices that in the past have controlled forest health problems through early treatment of insects, diseases and overstocking.
When the Forest Service supervisors and district rangers are challenged about their management practices they avoid discussing the merits of the issues and simply state they are following the laws established by Congress. I appeal to you to review the current laws and policies which are having a devastating effect on the health of our forests as well as our communities. And then establish laws and allow only regulatory policy that is based on sound, verifiable, peer-reviewed science. Congress must weigh lightly and guardedly the environmental rhetoric and computer modeling which too often simply reflects the bias of the bureaucrat at the keyboard.
Specifically, Congress should consider at a minimum the following points:
1. Grant the U.S. Forest Service the authority to begin the prompt removal of dead or dying trees of all species and sizes (not just the small trees).
2. Require the Forest Service and B.L.M. to designate forest health emergency and high-risk areas and apply necessary remedial management activities.
3. Provide for expedited processes for complying with environmental activities, laws and regulations.
Page 57 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC 4. Limit judicial review and prohibit frivolous appeals.
5. Require proactive management activities aimed at enhancing forest health be included in the planning process of the U.S. Forest Service.
I am aware that those in Congress who agree with my assessment of forest health problems and their solutions will meet with opposition from fellow Congressmen and the current administration. However, the signers of the Declaration of Independence faced much greater opposition when they mutually pledged to each other their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor. I sincerely believe we must look backwards if we are going to move forward in salvaging not only our forests but our beloved Republic.
STATEMENT OF GORDON ROSS, COMMISSIONER FOR COOS COUNTY, OREGON
Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you on the issue of forest health in the Northwest. I am especially thankful to have the opportunity to extol the virtues of the Douglas Fir Region where we have some of the most productive forest land and anadromous streams in the world and particularly Coos County, where we have consistently, since 1855, harvested more timber than any county in Oregon and at the same time have more Coho salmon than all other counties combined. This to me was an anomaly until the work on ''Disturbance Based Ecosystems'' was published in the fall of 1995 and then God gave us a divine demonstration on November 18, 1996 and we all saw first hand the part that slides play in rejuvenating our streams with spawning gravel and large woody debris. I wish to share with you two things today. #1, the science and #2 the opportunity it presents.
(1) Both the Douglas Fir forests of the region and the anadromous streams are ecosystems based in disturbances, mainly fire and flood.
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Gifford Pinchot, after three years on the Olympic Peninsula stated ''I have not seen a Douglas Fir seedling growing under the canopy or an opening that was not filled with them.'' Fire was the principle stand replacement event in nature. While its frequency varied, recent research by Bob Zybach indicates a frequency greater than formerly believed. The fact that an early cruise of marketable timber in Coos County shows 92 percent to be Douglas Fir and only 8 percent shade tolerant species backs up this research. I must comment, the meager amount of regeneration harvest embodied in the N.W.F.P. will result in a much different mosaic than existed in pre-settlement times.
The flood events that followed the fires will still occur but with passive management they will be less dynamic in their restoration of our streams. In short, active management is needed to replicate the disturbances that shaped the Douglas Fir region. With active management, disturbances can be located, timed and controlled to maximize the beneficial impacts on our streams, while minimizing any adverse effects. A happy by-product of this approach is utilization of our timber resources in a way that supports our local communities.
(2) What are the opportunities this newly articulated science provides under the N.W.F.P. and R.O.D?
(A) In the short term the opportunities lie in the management on the matrix lands within the buffers of the intermittent streams. The current buffers were intended by the N.W.F.P. to be temporary until watershed analyses were completed. Many of the watershed analyses are now complete. The opportunities exist within these buffers for regeneration harvest that would leave large debris that could eventually enhance a fish-bearing stream. The opportunity to leave standing timber that could reach those streams or leave down wood on a harvest unit for that purpose could far better reproduce natural events than passive no touch management. In many cases the large woody debris could be placed in or near streams to speed up natural processes. This approach could be gradually implemented now, without disrupting the N.W.F.P., indeed consistent with the N.W.F.P. expectation that managers would gradually move back into the buffers once watershed review was complete. The BLM resource management plan periodic reviews scheduled for the next two years provide the perfect opportunity to move in this direction.
Page 59 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC (B) The long-range opportunity is to apply this science in the next decadal plan across the entire Federal landscape. The timetable is right to begin this historic and scientific approach and extend these principles into the first decadal plan of the 21st century. A new decadal plan is due in 2004. I urge the Federal managers to begin the process now, so we have orderly plan development rather than the slap-dash, hurry-up process that gave us the N.W.F.P.
This information can and must be a turning point in the way Congress and the American consumer view commodity production in the forests of the Northwest. The political decisions that have been made about logging have hinged around the debate over environmental protection vs. commodity production. We have tried to balance, as it were, these issues on a giant set of steelyards, placing on the right side the commodity benefits, jobs, revenues and resources while on the left side clean air, clean water, fish and wildlife resources. We have seen the balance go heavier to the right as the threat of job losses in our rural communities in the Northwest materialized, as revenues dropped for essential services and as the cost of housing rose across America and our balance of trade was adversely impacted by imports.
One by one through science and best management practices, we have also seen the shifting of the other issue from one side to the other. Most wildlife that the average person knows or cares about are benefited by the openings and temporary meadows brought about by a regulated harvest. Last year it was established before this Committee that our air: that the amount of oxygen released into the atmosphere, the amount of carbon fixed in wood fiber by the forest is enhanced by the harvest of mature timber and manufacture of durable goods and the re-growing of new timber stands.
I submit to you, ladies and gentlemen, until this new science on disturbance based ecosystems has been presented the only issue left on the other side of the fulcrum is the health of our streams and our trout and salmon runs and this is no small issue. This issue also embodies the issues of jobs, revenues and resources. But today, I submit to you that the health of not only our forests but also our streams and their runs of salmon and trout and the jobs and food supply connected with those runs will, over the long run, be benefited by commodity production after careful watershed analysis are completed. Today I submit this report into the Congressional record and subsequently into the Library of Congress for the benefit of those decision makers that hold in their hand the destiny of the Northwest, the health of its forests and streams and to a large degree, the availability of affordable housing in America.
Page 60 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I wish you to note this report was published in 1995, it has been published in scientific journals and has been out for scientific peer review for three years. It is not premature to use this information as a basis for decision making.
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STATEMENT OF JANICE MCDOUGLE, ASSOCIATE DEPUTY CHIEF, STATE AND PRIVATE FORESTRY, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE, FOREST SERVICE
MADAM CHAIRMAN AND MEMBERS OF THE SUBCOMMITTEE:
I am Janice McDougle, Associate Deputy Chief for State and Private Forestry responsible for forest health, fire and aviation, and cooperative forestry programs. Thank you for the opportunity to join you to discuss forest health and to hear the General Accounting Office's (GAO) preliminary observations concerning forest health and fuels.
It is our understanding that the GAO report will focus on the health of the nation's forests as it relates to fuel conditions and risk of damage from catastrophic wildland fire. The Forest Service is looking forward to working with GAO to identify ways to continually improve forest health conditions.
Wildland ConditionsWhat is the Nature of the Problem?
We estimate that approximately 39 million acres of National Forest System lands, primarily in the inland West and the Atlantic coastal states, are at high risk from damaging, high-intensity, wildland fire. Many of these stands are dense and over-crowded with high mortality rates due to bark beetle or other insect outbreaks. For instance, in eastern Oregon and Washington, forest inventories show that mortality has been above average over the past decade on all forest ownerships.
Page 61 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC It is important that the public understands that fire is part of a natural, ecological cycle and, over a long enough period, all forests will eventually burn. The exclusion of wildland fire for the last 100 years has had a profound influence on the composition and structure of natural fuel conditions, and the function of those ecosystems where frequent and low-intensity fires historically occurred. These conditions are contributing to the growing severity of the fire situation throughout the country. Unless we address these changed conditions, the fire severity situation will continue to grow, threatening the health of watersheds and larger ecosystems.
In addition to changes in natural hazardous fuels, demographic changes of people moving from urban areas to rural areas have resulted in an increasingly complex mix of people, infrastructure and forests, which is known as the wildland urban interface. Throughout the United States it is more and more common to see homes and other types of structures being built in wildland environments. Because of their location, these structures are extremely vulnerable to fire should a wildland fire occur in the surrounding area. This trend is resulting in a volatile situation that must be addressed.
Management DirectionWhat are We Doing?
This is as much a forest health concern as a fuels condition. We are addressing this problem at the most fundamental level. We have embarked on an aggressive program to use fire in a more natural ecological role to reduce hazardous fuels and to help protect forest ecosystems from the ravages of high-intensity fires and epidemic insect attacks. Other tools we are using to improve ecosystem conditions include timber sales, thinning, and other fuel reduction methods, including mechanical treatments. However, we will not treat, nor is it practical to treat, all of the affected acreage. Therefore, we are prioritizing the areas to be treated first, to address those areas of greatest risk and potential for damage such as, wildland urban interface areas, critical watersheds, and sensitive wildlife habitats. This strategy will focus available funds and capabilities where they will have the most effect. We are creating a management environment that encourages the treatment of those priority areas through budget allocation and direction to local managers.
Page 62 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC To help better understand the nature of the issues, we are currently implementing the Joint Fire Science Plan as provided in the Conference Committee report for the 1998 Interior Appropriations Act. The four principal purposes of the plan are to complete a national program for:
Fuels Inventory and Mapping
Evaluation of Fuels Treatment
Scheduling of Treatments
Monitoring and Evaluation
Projects have already been identified and grants and contracts issued to help us better manage the hazardous fuel reduction program.
We appreciate Congressional support for expanding our fuels treatment program. During FY 1998, the Forest Service will have treated more than 1.2 million acres. By 2005, we plan to treat at least 3.0 million acres annually. Treatments will continue to focus on high hazard areas and those which pose significant risk to highly valued resources, public and firefighter safety and wildland urban interface areas.
This program expansion has received Congressional support both in terms of increased appropriations and a budget structure that moved hazardous fuel reduction activities from Preparedness and Fire Use to Fire Operations. This allows flexibility in funding hazardous fuel activities to address more effectively the health of NFS lands without detracting from the capability to prevent forest fires and take prompt action on supressing wildfires. The Federal Fire Policy, also, has given both the Forest Service and the Department of the Interior greater flexibility to manage wildland fire to benefit resources, particularly using prescribed fire.
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As the hazard fuels reduction program expands, we are facing many challenges that may reduce our ability to use cost effective prescribed fire. Examples of these challenges include public acceptance and understanding of prescribed fire practices, smoke management issues, and concerns for homes and structures in the wildland urban interface. Also, costs to treat the highest priority areas, such as highly valued resource areas and wildland urban interface zones, will be higher than current national fuel treatment costs per acre. This is because some of these areas will require multiple treatments, such as combinations of mechanical treatments and fire to be safely and effectively executed. Other internal challenges to accomplishment of hazard fuel reduction goals include maintenance and development of skills, training, personnel and contracting authorities to support adequately the program.
Clearly, the challenges we face in improving forest health and reducing fire risk are great. By restoring fire to its natural role in ecosystems, we can improve the health of our nation's forests while, at the same time, reducing their susceptibility to catastrophic fire. Through improved collaboration among cooperating Federal agencies and State and local entities we can maximize the effectiveness and efficiency of our fuels treatment and fire fighting efforts insuring that resources are better utilized.
We cannot lose sight of the fact that the current situation developed over many decades. Any solution requires significant time and commitment. The Chief is changing accountability within the agency to assure that the performance measures of District Rangers and Forest Supervisors are directly related to the conditions of the forests they manage. We are working to assure that there is a comprehensive inventory of conditions and strategic ''plan of attack,'' and we are working to insure that all stakeholders are partners in our efforts. We believe that we have the ability and capability to move towards improved forest health and reduced fire risk in critical areas of concern to the public.
Page 64 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Thank you, Madam Chairman, and I welcome any questions the Subcommittee may have.
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