SPEAKERS CONTENTS INSERTS
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A COHESIVE STRATEGY IS NEEDED TO ADDRESS CATASTROPHIC WILDFIRE THREATS
SUBCOMMITTEE ON FORESTS AND FOREST HEALTH
COMMITTEE ON RESOURCES
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
ONE HUNDRED SIXTH CONGRESS
JUNE 29, 1999, WASHINGTON, DC
Serial No. 10642
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
GEORGE P. RADANOVICH, California
WALTER B. JONES, Jr., North Carolina
WILLIAM M. (MAC) THORNBERRY, Texas
Page 3 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCCHRIS CANNON, Utah
KEVIN BRADY, Texas
JOHN PETERSON, Pennsylvania
RICK HILL, Montana
BOB SCHAFFER, Colorado
JIM GIBBONS, Nevada
MARK E. SOUDER, Indiana
GREG WALDEN, Oregon
DON SHERWOOD, Pennsylvania
ROBIN HAYES, North Carolina
MIKE SIMPSON, Idaho
THOMAS G. TANCREDO, Colorado
GEORGE MILLER, California
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 DOCROBERT A. UNDERWOOD, Guam
PATRICK J. KENNEDY, Rhode Island
ADAM SMITH, Washington
WILLIAM D. DELAHUNT, Massachusetts
CHRIS JOHN, Louisiana
DONNA CHRISTIAN-CHRISTENSEN, Virgin Islands
RON KIND, Wisconsin
JAY INSLEE, Washington
GRACE F. NAPOLITANO, California
TOM UDALL, New Mexico
MARK UDALL, Colorado
JOSEPH CROWLEY, New York
RUSH D. HOLT, New Jersey
LLOYD A. JONES, Chief of Staff
ELIZABETH MEGGINSON, Chief Counsel
CHRISTINE KENNEDY, Chief Clerk/Administrator
JOHN LAWRENCE, Democratic Staff Director
Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health
HELEN CHENOWETH, Idaho, Chairman
JOHN J. DUNCAN, Jr., Tennessee
JOHN T. DOOLITTLE, California
WAYNE T. GILCHREST, Maryland
Page 5 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCJOHN PETERSON, Pennsylvania
RICK HILL, Montana
BOB SCHAFFER, Colorado
DON SHERWOOD, Pennsylvania
ROBIN HAYES, North Carolina
ADAM SMITH, Washington
DALE E. KILDEE, Michigan
OWEN B. PICKETT, Virginia
RON KIND, Wisconsin
GRACE F. NAPOLITANO, California
TOM UDALL, New Mexico
MARK UDALL, Colorado
JOSEPH CROWLEY, New York
DOUG CRANDALL, Staff Director
ANNE HEISSENBUTTEL, Legislative Staff
JEFF PETRICH, Minority Chief Counsel
C O N T E N T S
Hearing held June 29, 1999
Statements of Members:
Chenoweth, Hon. Helen, a Representative in Congress from the State of Idaho
Page 6 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCHerger, Hon. Wally, a Representative in Congress from the State of California
Prepared statement of
Statements of witnesses:
Hill, Barry, Associate Director, Resources, Community, and Economic Division, General Accounting Office; accompanied by Chet Joy, Senior Evaluator, Natural Resource Management Issues; Charles Cotton, Assistant Director, Resources, Community, and Economic Development
Prepared statement of
McDougle, Janice, Deputy Chief, State and Private Forestry, U.S. Forest Service, and Denny Truesdale, Assistant Director, Fire and Aviation Management
Prepared statement of
A COHESIVE STRATEGY IS NEEDED TO ADDRESS CATASTROPHIC
TUESDAY, JUNE 29, 1999
House of Representatives,
Subcommittee on Forests and
Committee on Resources,
The Subcommittee met, pursuant to notice, 2:04 p.m., in Room 1324, Longworth House Office Building, Hon. Helen Chenoweth, [chairwoman of the Subcommittee] presiding.
Page 7 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCSTATEMENT 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 the GAO report entitled, ''A Cohesive Strategy Is Needed to Address Catastrophic Wildfire Threats.''
Under rule 4(g) of the Committee rules, any oral opening statement 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.
We are here today to discuss the recently released General Accounting Office report entitled, ''A Cohesive Strategy Is Needed to Address Catastrophic Wildfire Threats.''
Of the 191 million acres managed by the Forest Service, 70 percent are located in the dry, interior western United States. And, according to the Forest Service, 39 million of these acres are at abnormally high risk of catastrophic fire. The GAO calls the region a tinder box. The problem is an over-accumulation of vegetation that can turn to what would otherwise be a low-intensity fire, which in most instances would not hurt larger native trees, but turn it into a blazing catastrophic fire that destroys everything in its path.
The question is, will the Forest Service be able to reduce excessive fuels accumulation on National Forest lands in a timely and responsible manner? I have serious doubts because of the points raised by GAO in this report. There is a major disconnect between Forest Service rhetoric and its actions.
And, sadly, what is at stake are the lives of local residents and firefighters, the environmental health of our national forests, and the protection of adjacent state and private forests and property, and the economic well-being of local communities.
Page 8 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Not only do I look forward to hearing the GAO discussion on this report, but I look forward to hearing exactly how the Forest Service intends to act on this critical issue.
With that, I would like to welcome Mr. Barry Hill, the Associate Director for Energy Resources and Science Issues with the GAO for his testimony.
And I would ask that Mr. Hill to come to the witness table. Mr. Hill will be accompanied by Mr. Chet Joy, who is the Senior Evaluator, Natural Resource Management Issues, and Mr. Charles Cotton, Assistant Director, Resources, Community, and Economic Development.
And I would like, under unanimous consent, to ask if there are any other opening remarks. I see Mr. Herger has joined the Subcommittee.
Do you have any opening remarks, Mr. Herger?
Mr. HERGER. I do, Madam Chair.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. You are recognized for your opening remarks.
STATEMENT OF HON. WALLY HERGER, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA
Mr. HERGER. Madam Chairman, members of the Subcommittee, I thank you for arranging this hearing today on this issue of such great importance.
The danger of wildfires is particularly severe in forests in the western United States. I personally have all or part of 11 national forests in my Northern California district and am gravely concerned about this impending threat.
Unlike other forests in other parts of the country, forests in the West suffer from unusually high incidents of fire. Historically, the forest floors were less dense and were naturally and regularly thinned by lightning and native-caused fires that would clean out dense underbrush, allowing large trees to grow even larger.
Page 9 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC 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. In some areas, our national forests are two to three times 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 normally healthy fires of the past, but have the capability of leaving an almost sterile environment in their wake with almost no vegetation, wildlife, or habitat left behind.
Unfortunately, the Forest Service has failed to address this critical threat. The following account provides a troubling example of the Forest Service's failure to take action:
In northern California, in the summer of 1996, at a time when uncommonly severe storms resulted in massive tree blow-downs, which further exacerbated the threat of catastrophic wildfires, the Clinton-Gore Administration directed a completely hands-off approach to these areas of extreme fire danger. This management ban occurred despite the almost desperate pleas of a local forest supervisor who was begging for the authority to act, emphatically informing her superiors that the hands-off mandate was unworkable and dangerous and would result in catastrophic fire.
Yet, the Washington office only allowed her limited access to the areas she wished to enter to remove massive amounts of downed material. This material, once removed, would have greatly reduced the fire risk and could have also generated a net profit to the U.S. treasury and the local communities as a salvage-timber sale. Thus, a potential win-win was, by inaction, turned into a lose-lose.
Page 10 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The Quincy Library Group legislation, which I authored and which passed the Congress overwhelmingly last year, provides, I believe, a win-win solution for our communities and a model for responsible Forest Service management.
The QLG legislation mandates two specific resource management activities that will significantly reduce the risk of catastrophic fire while also providing for the economic well-being of local communities. The success of the QLG plan will prove that forest health and economic stability are not mutually exclusive. And it will prove that for forest management to be successful, local collaboration must take precedence over Washington-based directives.
The threat of wildfire discussed here today is not irreversible. Using the QLG as a model, the Forest Service can take proactive steps to improve forest health on all our Western national forests through an aggressive policy that focuses on thinning out of smaller trees and dense underbrush to restore our forests to their historic healthy conditions. Regrettably, however, because of a top-down, Washington-based approach to forest management that has virtually paralyzed the Forest Service, this necessary policy is not being implemented. In the meantime, forest health deteriorates rapidly, the threat of catastrophic fire looms, and our communities suffer economically.
Madam Chairman, each national forest is unique. And it is unacceptable for the administration to assume that it can manage this emergency situation better from Washington than the local foresters can from their own local areas.
[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 Subcommitte, thank you for arranging this hearing today on an issue of such great importance.
The danger of wildfire is particularly severe in forests in the western United States. I personally have all or part of eleven national forests in my northern California district, and am gravely concerned about this impending threat. Unlike other forests in other parts of the country, forests in the West suffer from unusually high incidents of fire. Historically, the forest floors were less dense and were naturally and regularly thinned by lightening and native-caused fires that would clean out dense underbrush allowing large trees to grow even larger. 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. In some areas, our national forests are 2 to 3 times 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 normally healthy fires of the past, but have the capability of leaving an almost sterile environment in their wake with almost no vegetation, wildlife, or habitat left behind.
Page 11 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Unfortunately, the Forest Service has failed to address this critical threat. The following account provides a troubling example of the Forest Service's failure to take action. In northern California in the summer of 1996, at a time when uncommonly severe storms resulted in massive tree blow down which further exacerbated the threat of catastrophic wildfires, the Administration directed a completely ''hands-off'' approach to these areas of extreme fire danger. This management ban occurred despite the almost desperate pleas of a local forest supervisor who was begging for authority to act, emphatically informing her superiors that the ''hands off'' mandate was unworkable and dangerous, and WOULD result in catastrophic fire. Yet the Washington office only allowed her limited access to the areas she wished to enter to remove massive amounts of downed material. This material, once removed, would have greatly reduced the fire risk, and could have also generated a net profit to the treasury and the local communities as a salvage timber sale. Thus, a potential win-win was, by inaction, turned into a lose-lose.
The Quincy Library Group legislation, which I authored and which passed last Congress overwhelmingly, provides, I believe, a win-win solution for our communities and a model for responsible forest service management. The QLG legislation mandates two specific resource management activities that will significantly reduce the risk of catastrophic fire, while also providing for the economic well being of local communities. The success of the QLG plan will prove that forest health and economic stability are not mutually exclusive, and it will prove that, for forest management to be successful, local collaboration must take precedence over Washington-based directives.
The threat of wildfire discussed here today is not irreversible. Using the QLG as a model, the Forest Service can take proactive steps to improve forest health on all of our western national forests, through an aggressive policy that focuses on thinning out of smaller trees and dense underbrush to restore our forests to their historic healthy conditions. Regrettably, however, because of a top-down, Washington-based approach to forest management that has virtually paralyzed the Forest Service, this necessary policy is not being implemented. In the meantime, forest health deteriorates rapidly, the threat of catastrophic fire looms, and our communities suffer economically. Madam Chairman, each national forest is unique, and it is unacceptable for the Administration to assume that it can manage this emergency situation better from Washington than the local foresters can from their own local area.
Page 12 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Thank you.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Thank you, Mr. Herger.
And now the Chair recognizes Mr. Adam Smith for any opening remarks.
Mr. SMITH. Thank you, Madam Chairman. I thank you for bringing this important subject before us, the Subcommittee. I look forward to the testimony from the witnesses.
I guess what I am most interested in, in this area, is something that we have been talking about for quite sometime, is the need to thin out areas for fire protection, also bug infestation and other concerns that are threatening the forest health.
There seems to be an incredibly wide gap, however, between people's views on what this sort of thinning means, how extensive it is. And there is wide suspicion on behalf of the environmental community that the thinning is primarily aimed at resource extraction, and there's images back to the salvage rider and concerns about that.
I guess in my work in politics, I have never seen such a divergent opinion on such an issue. It seems to me that we ought to be able to reach some sort of consensus on it. And what I am most interested in, in hearing from the witnesses, is how can we arrive at that consensus?
And if we are talking about underbrushactually haven't gone out and looked at this, although I am going out this August to look at some forests back in my home state to get a look at the problem and understand it, what exactly are we talking about in terms of how much is going to be thinned out. What does this have to do with cutting down trees, if we are just talking about cleaning out underbrush? And is there some way we can bridge a gap between the folks who tend be onif you go back to the traditional battlefront of the timber companies and loggers on one side, environmentalists on the other, there is this wide gap in there.
Page 13 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The timber companies say, gosh, we have to do this thinning for forest health; the environmentalists say that is just a ruse to cut down more trees. They don't, in my experience in talking with them, deny that there is a problem with the underbrush and that thinning could be part of it.
But their alternative argument is: fine, let's focus on forest health as the pre-eminent issue and forget about resource extraction and just talk about what we do need to make the forests healthy.
So if you gentlemen and anyone else who testifies can help me bridge that gap, that is what I am most interested in, because what is undeniable is that we do have a problem in terms of forest health in this country. And I would like to go pastget past the arguments over what to do about that and get to doing something about it.
So that is what I would be interested in hearing from, and I thank the Chair for the opportunity.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. I thank my Ranking Minority Member for his statement.
We are only going to have one panel today, and so I would like to call Ms. Janice McDougle up to join the witness table.
Ms. McDougle is Deputy Chief of State and Private Forestry with U.S. Forest Service here in Washington, and she is accompanied by Mr. Denny Truesdale, Assistant Director of Fire and Aviation Management.
As explained in our first hearing, it is the intention of the chairman to place all witnesses under the oath. It is a formality of the Committee that is meant to assure open and honest discussion and should not affect the testimony given by the witnesses. I believe all of the witnesses were informed of this before the hearing and that they have each been provided a copy of the Committee rules.
Page 14 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC And so if all five of you would please stand and raise you right arm to the square?
And now we recognize Mr. Barry Hill for his testimony.
STATEMENT OF BARRY HILL, ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR, RESOURCES, COMMUNITY, AND ECONOMIC DIVISION, GENERAL ACCOUNTING OFFICE; ACCOMPANIED BY CHET JOY, SENIOR EVALUATOR, NATURAL RESOURCE MANAGEMENT ISSUES; CHARLES COTTON, ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, RESOURCES, COMMUNITY, AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
Mr. BARRY HILL. Thank you, Madam Chairman, and as always, it is great pleasure to appear before this Subcommittee. We are here today to discuss the status of efforts by the Forest Service to develop a cohesive strategy to reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfires in the national forests in the interior West.
And, if I may, I would like to briefly summarize my prepared statement and submit the full text of the statement for the record.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Without objection, so ordered.
Mr. BARRY HILL. As you well know, in April we did report that many national forests in the interior West as well as nearby communities are increasingly threatened by large, catastrophic wildfires caused by the excessive accumulation of vegetation that forms fuels for such fires. The chart to my right here shows the forests in the interior West that we are talking about.
The Forest Service has agreed to develop a cohesive strategy for reducing these fuels and formally communicate the strategy to the Congress together with estimates of the cost to implement it. According to the agency, it intends to develop a strategy by the end of this year.
Page 15 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Developing and implementing a fuels-reduction strategy presents a difficult challenge to the Forest Service. We estimate that the cost to the agency to reduce fuels on the 39 million acres of national forest land in the interior West could be as much as $725 million annually. That is more than 10 times the current funding level.
Such a strategy also transcends the boundaries of both the Forest Service's field and program structures. For example, the 155 national forests are the agency's basic planning units, and each forest has considerable autonomy and discretion in interpreting and applying the agency's policies and directions. However, a strategy to reduce the risk of catastrophic fire in the region will need to transcend the boundaries of individual forests and involve most, if not all, of the 91 national forests located in the interior West.
Similarly, a strategy to reduce fuels must include all three of the Forest Service's major organizational areas: the National Forest System, the State and Private Forestry programs, and the Research and Development arm of the agency. Within the National Forest System, such a strategy will need to draw funds and staff from many of the agency's nine resource-specific programs, including those responsible for timber, wildlife and fish, recreation, and water and air quality.
Forest Service field staff told us that it is often difficult to undertake needed fuel reduction efforts because the agency's areas and programs often have different goals, objectives, and funding sources, use different criteria to allocate funds to the field offices, and are not adequately coordinated to focus on overarching priorities such as fuel reduction.
Confronted with other issues that transcend its field and program structures, the Forest Service has, on occasion, shown that it can develop and implement a cohesive strategy. For example, together with the Bureau of Land Management, the Forest Service developed and is implementing a regional plan-management strategy in the Pacific Northwest called the Northwest Forest Plan. The plan provides management direction for 22.3 million acres of land managed by the two agencies, including 19 national forests and seven BLM districts in the range of the threatened Northern Spotted Owl.
Page 16 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The agencies completed the plan expeditiously and at a relatively low cost compared with past national forest planning efforts. Other agency-wide issues, however, have languished for years as the Forest Service has undertaken study after study without ever developing a strategy, or has developed a strategy but left its implementation to the discretion of its independent and autonomous regional offices and forest with mixed results.
At the Forest Service, a key element that separates the strategies that are effectively implemented from those that are not is whether the agency treats the issue as an agency-wide priority. For example, improving the condition of the agency's road system is clearly a high priority. To accomplish this, the Forest Service has identified the issue as a funding priority in its Fiscal Year 2000 budget justification, has requested an additional $22.6 million for maintaining and decommissioning roads during Fiscal Year 2000, has proposed a new appropriation for next fiscal year that includes monies for reconstruction and maintaining road, and has linked the issue to the goals and objectives in its strategic plan.
In comparison, reducing the growing threat of catastrophic wildfires is not emphasized in the agency's strategic plan. In addition, only one of the Forest Service's three major organizational areas with responsibility for reducing fuels, the State and Private Forest Programs, has been tasked with developing such a strategy.
In addition, even though the agency said that it would need an additional $37 million in Fiscal Year 2000 to increase the number of acres treated, the agency did not request any additional funds and with therefore will treat about 60,000 fewer acres next year than it will treat this year.
Madam Chairman, we recognize that the Forest Service has just begun to develop a fuel-reduction strategy and that priorities can and do change. If reducing the threat of catastrophic wildfires does become a priority, then we would expect it to be reflected in three documents that the agency will issue over the next eight months.
Page 17 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC First, we would expect it to appear in the agency's update of its strategic plan as an objective or outcome, or at least be linked to the plan's goals and objectives. Second, the strategy being developed would provide the agency's land managers with adequate direction for implementation and set standards for holding them accountable rather than merely providing broad general objectives and direction that cannot be quantified or measured.
Finally, and probably most telling of all, if fuel reduction is accorded a high priority, then we would expect the agency to identify the strategy as a special project for funding in Fiscal Year 2001 and to withhold funds from the regions' and forests' budgets to develop and implement the strategy before funds are allocated to resource-specific programs.
Madam Chairman, this concludes my statement, and we would be happy to answer any questions you may have.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Barry Hill follows:]
STATEMENT OF BARRY T. HILL, ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR, ENERGY, RESOURCES, AND SCIENCE ISSUES, RESOURCES, COMMUNITY, AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT DIVISION
Madam Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee:
We are here today to discuss the status of efforts by the Department of Agriculture's Forest Service to develop a cohesive strategy to reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfires on national forests in the interior West. Our comments are based primarily on the report and two testimonies that we prepared for this Subcommittee over the last year(see footnote 1) and the agency's actions to date in response to our findings and recommendation.
In summary, the Forest Service has begun to develop a strategy to address the growing threat that catastrophic wildfires pose to forest resources and nearby communities. Developing and implementing such a strategy presents a difficult challenge to the agency because the wildfire issue transcends the boundaries of both its regions and forests and its resource-specific programs. Confronted with other issues that transcend these boundariessuch as protecting the habitat of the threatened northern spotted owlthe Forest Service has, on occasion, shown that it can develop and implement a cohesive strategy expeditiously and at a relatively low cost. At other times, it has begun to develop a strategy but has either studied and restudied the issue without ever doing so or developed a strategy but left its implementation to the discretion of its independent and highly autonomous field offices with mixed results. What separates the strategies that are effectively implemented from those that are not is whether the agency treats the issue as an agencywide priority. Those issues that are treated as priorities (1) benefit from a sense of urgency and strong leadership by top-level management in developing and implementing a strategy, (2) are addressed through a strategy that provides the agency's managers with adequate direction and sets standards for holding them accountable, and (3) are allocated the resources necessary to implement the strategy. To date, we have not seen the strong leadership or the marshalling of funds and resources within the agency that would indicate to us that the Forest Service feels a sense of urgency and assigns a high priority to reducing the threat of catastrophic wildfires.
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The Forest Service Has Agreed to Develop a Cohesive Strategy to Reduce the Threat of Catastrophic Wildfires
In April 1999, we reported that many national forests in the interior West, as well as nearby communities, are increasingly threatened by large, catastrophic wildfires caused by the excessive accumulation of vegetation that forms fuels for such fires. Fuels are accumulating, in large part, because for decades the agency has suppressed fire in forests where frequent, low-intensity fires historically removed such accumulations. We observed that the actions taken by the agency to date to deal with this problem may be too little, too late. Moreover, the Forest Service faces several barriers, including (1) difficulties in reconciling different fuel reduction methods with other stewardship objectives, such as clean air and clean water; (2) programmatic incentives that tend to focus efforts on areas that may not present the highest fire hazards; (3) statutorily defined contracting procedures that impede efforts to reduce fuels; and (4) the high costs associated with implementing the different fuel reduction methods. We also found that the agency lacks the data required to overcome these barriers and to establish meaningful goals and measures for fuel reduction.
The Forest Service agreed with our findings and recommendation that it develop a cohesive strategy for addressing these barriers and reducing fuels and formally communicate the strategy to the Congress, together with estimates of the costs to implement it. According to the Forest Service, it intends to develop a strategy by December 31, 1999.
Developing a Strategy Presents a Difficult Challenge to the Forest Service
Developing and implementing a strategy to address the growing threat of catastrophic wildfires in the interior West presents a difficult challenge to the Forest Service. We estimate that the cost to the agency to reduce fuels on the 39 million acres of national forestland in the interior West that are at high risk could be as much as $725 million annually, or more than 10 times the current level of funding for reducing fuels.
Page 19 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Such a strategy also transcends the boundaries of both the Forest Service's field and program structures. For example, the 155 national forests are the agency's basic planning units, and each forest has considerable autonomy and discretion in interpreting and applying the agency's policies and directions. However, a strategy to reduce the risk of catastrophic fire in the region will need to transcend the boundaries of individual forests and involve most, if not all, of the 91 national forests located in the interior West.
Similarly, a strategy to reduce fuels must include all three of the Forest Service's major organizational areasthe National Forest System, which includes the national forests; State and Private Forestry programs, which include those for hazardous fuel reduction; and the Research and Development arm of the agency, which conducts fire-related research. Within the National Forest System, such a strategy will need to draw funds and staff from many of the agency's nine resource-specific programs, including those responsible for timber, wildlife and fish, recreation, and water and air quality. These programs often have separate staffs in the agency's the agencies' headquarters and field offices. Forest Service field staff told us that it is often difficult to undertake needed fuel reduction efforts because the agency's areas and programs often have different goals, objectives, and funding sources; use different criteria to allocate funds to the field offices; and are not adequately coordinated to focus on overarching priorities, such as fuel reduction.
The Forest Service Has Adequately Addressed Some Issues That Transcend Its Boundaries, but Not Others
Confronted with other issues that transcend its field and program structures, the Forest Service has, on occasion, shown that it can develop and implement a cohesive strategy. For example, together with the Department of the Interior's Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the Forest Service developed and is implementing a regional land management strategy in the Pacific Northwest called the Northwest Forest Plan. The plan provides management direction for 22.3 million acres of land managed by the two agenciesincluding 19 national forests and 7 BLM districtsin the range of the threatened northern spotted owl.(see footnote 2) The agencies completed the plan expeditiously and at a relatively low cost compared with past national forest planning efforts. The plan not only resulted in the Federal courts' lifting the injunctions that had brought timber sales on Federal lands in the Pacific Northwest to a virtual halt, but also provided guidance on protecting the environment across the ecosystem.
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Key factors that contributed to the timely and cost-effective development of the Northwest Forest Plan included the (1) sense of urgency created by the court injunctions and (2) strong leadership displayed by top-level officials in developing the plan. Moreover, the plan provides the agencies' land managers with adequate direction for implementation and sets standards for holding them accountable. In addition, the plan has been identified as a special project for funding in the agency's fiscal year budget justifications, and funds are withheld from the regions' and forests' budgets to develop and implement the plan before they are allocated to resource-specific programs.
Other agencywide issues, however, have languished for years as the Forest Service has undertaken study after study without ever developing a strategy or has developed a strategy but left its implementation to the discretion of its independent and autonomous regional offices and forests with mixed results. In fiscal year 1991, for example, the Congress asked the Forest Service to develop a multiyear strategy to reduce the escalating costs of its timber program by not less than 5 percent per year. The agency responded by undertaking a cost-reduction study and issuing a report in April 1993. However, the Forest Service left the implementation of the field-level actions to the discretion of each of its nine regional offices, and while some regions rapidly pursued the goal of becoming cost-efficient, others did not. In April 1997, the agency was preparing to undertake the third major examination of its timber program in the last 4 years.
Similarly, the House Committee on the Budget has an ongoing interest in the Forest Service's efforts to be more cost-effective and businesslike in its operations. In October 1998, the agency agreed to revise the strategic plan that it has developed to comply with the requirements of the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993 (the Results Act) to include goals and performance measures for obtaining fair market value for goods, recovering costs for services, and containing expenses. However, to date the agency has not done so.
Page 21 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCReducing the Threat of Catastrophic Wildfires Does Not Appear to Be a High Priority for the Forest Service
At the Forest Service, a key factor that separates the strategies that are effectively implemented from those that are not is whether the agency treats the issue as an agencywide priority. For example, improving the condition of the road system in the national forests is clearly a high priority within the agency and is one of only four areas emphasized in the Forest Service's natural resource agenda. This agenda sets the agency's priorities and gives strategic focus to its programs. Under the agenda, and at the direction of the Chief of the Forest Service, the agency is developing a long-term forest road policy that will guide (1) the building of new roads; (2) the elimination of old, unneeded ones; (3) the upgrade and maintenance of roads that are important to public access; and (4) the development of new and dependable funding for road management. To accomplish these objectives, the Forest Service has (1) identified the issue as a funding priority in its fiscal year 2000 budget justification, (2) requested an additional $22.6 million for maintaining and decommissioning roads during fiscal year 2000, (3) proposed a new appropriation for fiscal year 2000 that includes moneys for reconstructing and maintaining roads, and (4) linked the issue to the goals and objectives in its strategic plan.
In comparison, reducing the growing threat of catastrophic wildfires is not emphasized in the agency's natural resource agenda or in its strategic plan, and top-level management has not been involved in developing a fuel reduction strategy. In addition, only one of the Forest Service's three major organizational areas with responsibility for reducing fuelsState and Private Forestry programshas been tasked with developing such a strategy. A team from various disciplines within the agency is to advise staff from State and Private Forestry. The strategy is to be developed by the end of the year, but the team has not yet been formed and a leader has not yet been appointed. In addition, even though the Forest Service said that it would need an additional $37 million in fiscal year 2000 to increase the number of acres treated, the agency did not request any additional funds and will therefore treat about 60,000 fewer acres next year than it will treat this year.
Page 22 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Madam Chairman, we recognize that the Forest Service has just begun to develop a fuel reduction strategy and that priorities can, and do, change. If reducing the threat of catastrophic wildfires does become a priority, then we would expect it to be reflected in three documents that the agency will issue over the next 8 months. The first will be the Forest Service's updated strategic plan that is scheduled for release this fall. If fuel reduction has become a high priority for the agency, then we would expect it to appear in the strategic plan as an objective or outcome, or at least to be linked to the plan's goals and objectives. The second document will be the strategy itself. A good indicator of the priority given to fuel reduction will be whether the strategy provides the agency's land managers with adequate direction for implementation and sets standards for holding them accountable or whether it merely provides broad, general objectives and direction that cannot be quantified or measured. Finally, and probably most telling of all, will be the Forest Service's fiscal year 2001 budget request. If fuel reduction is accorded a high priority, then we would expect the agency to identify the strategy as a special project for funding and to withhold funds from the regions' and forests' budgets to develop and implement the strategy before funds are allocated to resource-specific programs.
Madam Chairman, this concludes my formal statement. If you or the other Members of the Subcommittee have any questions, we will be pleased to answer them.
Contact and Acknowledgment
For future contacts regarding this testimony, please contact Barry T. Hill at (202) 512-8021. Individuals making key contributions to this testimony included Charles S. Cotton, Chester M. Joy, and Michael J. Daulton.
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(GAO/RCED-99-64, May 26, 1999).
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Thank you very much, Mr. Hill.
The Chair now recognizes Ms. McDougle for her testimony.
STATEMENT OF JANICE McDOUGLE, DEPUTY CHIEF, STATE AND PRIVATE FORESTRY, U.S. FOREST SERVICE, AND DENNY TRUESDALE, ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, FIRE AND AVIATION MANAGEMENT
Ms. MCDOUGLE. Thank you very much, Madam Chairman and members of the Subcommittee. We appreciate the opportunity to be here today. I would like to briefly summarize my testimony and submit the full testimony for the record.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Without objection.
Ms. MCDOUGLE. But let me say at the outset, we agree with the assessment of GAO. The Forest Service is committed to the health of ecosystems we manage, and the health and safety of our wild lands and rural neighbors. And I would also like to say that we are actively engaged in developing a strategy to address this complex issue.
The General Accounting Office accurately reports that many forest ecosystems have changed structurally over the last 100 years to a point where they are now at high risk of catastrophic fire. The Federal Fire Suppression Policy for the last 100 years has had an unintended consequence. In addition to protecting forests from fires, it has profoundly influenced the composition, structure, and function of ecosystems, where frequent and low-intensity fires historically occurred.
Over time, other values have taken on added importance. Americans today want to protect resources and habitat for federally listed threatened and endangered species, protect air quality, especially near urbanized areas of the country, and allocate land to wilderness and other special designations.
Page 24 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC These values provide challenges to putting fire back into the ecosystem because most methods of reducing fuels are difficult to reconcile with them. In addition to changes in forest conditions, an increasing number of people are moving from urban areas to rural areas near public lands, which has resulted in more homes and businesses near national forests. This mix of people, property, and forests is commonly called Wildland-Urban Interface. Structures in these areas are extremely vulnerable should wildfire occur. Increased population in the rural and forest environment coupled with the increased hazards from fuels accumulation has increased the risk of fire threat to life and property.
The Forest Service anticipates completing a cohesive strategy by the end of 1999. The fire management staff is leading an interdisciplinary team composed of specialists in fire, forest health, forest management, watershed, fire research, and wildlife and fish management to develop this strategy. The strategy will include the use of many management tools available to us, timber sales where appropriate, banning of timber fans, watershed improvement projects, wildlife habitat treatment, as well as prescribed fire and mechanical treatment.
In terms of collecting better data and developing measurable goals, I am happy to report great progress on our risk-mapping effort. I testified before this Subcommittee in the fall of 1998. The Forest Service had established an interdisciplinary team to coordinate our efforts to define and map risks so that we will have better information to prioritize our fuel-reduction work.
The Forest Service currently developing a strategic plan, annual performance plan, as directed by the Government Performance and Results Act. We are also in the process of developing both strategic plan objectives as well as annual performance plan indicators of fuel treatment.
Areas in need of high-risk fuel reduction do not always coincide with areas of highest priority for forest health, watershed restoration, and protection or timber production. It is not always possible for the two to combine into a cohesive program that provides the optimum fuel treatment.
Page 25 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The GAO accurately reports that the high costs of treating fuels is a significant barrier, and we are confident that by identifying prioritized strategic treatment areas, we may significantly reduce the total number of acres that the Forest Service will need to treat.
In closing, Madam Chairman, clearly, we face great challenges in improving forest health and reducing high fire risk. However, the Forest Service in 1998 treated nearly 1.5 million acres for fuels reduction. By the year 2005, the goal is to treat at least 3 million acres per year.
This concludes my remarks, and I welcome any questions that you and the members of the Subcommittee may have.
[The prepared statement of Ms. McDougle follows:]
STATEMENT OF JANICE MCDOUGLE, DEPUTY CHIEF, STATE AND PRIVATE FORESTRY, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE, FOREST SERVICE
MADAM CHAIRMAN AND MEMBERS OF THE COMMITTEE:
Thank you for the opportunity to be here. I am Janice McDougle, Deputy Chief for State and Private Forestry, with responsibility for the fire management programs of the Forest Service. Accompanying me is Denny Truesdale, Assistant Director for the Fire and Aviation Management staff.
I would like to cover the following key points today:
(1) Many forest ecosystems have changed structurally over the last 100 years to a point where they are now at high risk to catastrophic wildfire;
(2) Increased population in the rural and forest environment has increased the risk of fire threat to life and property;
(3) The recommendations identified in the final General Accounting Office report (GAO Report RCED-99-65), and;
Page 26 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC(4) The Forest Service response to those recommendations and challenges.
Forest Ecosystems and Risk of Catastrophic Fire
The General Accounting Office (GAO) report systematically and accurately lays out the seriousness and magnitude of the problem that now exists with the threat of catastrophic wildfires to forest resources and communities. We agree with the assessment made in the report, and have discussed this issue on several occasions in testimony before this Subcommittee. Briefly, I can outline the nature of the problem as follows.
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 and 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.
The success of fire suppression efforts for the last 100 years has also 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. Fire is part of a natural, ecological cycle and, over a long enough period, all forests will eventually burn. Fire suppression has increased the fuel load and the risk of higher intensity fires. Unless we address current forest conditions, the risk and severity of high intensity fires will continue to grow, threatening the health of our watersheds and larger ecosystems.
Over time, other values have taken on added importance. Americans have wanted to protect resources and habitat for federally-listed threatened and endangered species, protect air quality, especially near urbanized areas of the country, and allocate lands to wilderness and other special designations. These are values that the agency agrees with, but they also provide more challenges in putting fire back into ecosystems. This results in the need to balance putting fire into the ecosystem with these other values. Therefore, as we acknowledged before, treating the entire 39 million acres is not possible for a multitude of reasons. However, we are engaged in prioritizing areas needing treatment, and those areas literally should start at home. Additionally, fire is a necessary tool for managing and improving habitat for many wildlife species, including critical habitat for some threatened or endangered species.
Page 27 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
The Wildland Urban Interface
In addition to changes in forest conditions, the increasing number of people moving from urban areas to rural areas near public lands has resulted in more homes and other structures being built in wildland environments near national forests. We commonly call these wildland urban interface areas. Because of their location, these structures are extremely vulnerable to fire should a wildland fire occur. This trend, coupled with the increased hazard from fuels accumulation discussed above, is resulting in a volatile situation that must be addressed.
GAO Report Recommendations
GAO recommends that the agency reduce and maintain accumulated fuels on national forests of the interior West to acceptable levels. They recommend a formal report to Congress on a cohesive strategy, which would include the following:
(1) Specific steps for: (a) acquiring the data needed to establish meaningful performance measures and goals for reducing fuels; (b) identifying ways to better reconcile different fuel reduction approaches with other stewardship objectives, and; (c) identifying changes in incentives and statutorily defined contracting procedures that would better facilitate the accomplishment of fuel reduction goals;
(2) A schedule indicating dates for completing each of these steps, and;
(3) Estimates of the potential and likely overall and annual costs of accomplishing this strategy based on different options identified in the strategy as being available to do so.
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Forest Service Response and Plan of Action
As noted in the GAO report, the Forest Service began to address the issue of increased fire risk in the early 1990's. In 1998, the Forest Service treated nearly 1.5 million acres for fuels reduction. By the year 2005, the goal is to treat at least 3.0 million acres per year in order to address the most critical high fire risk areas.
The Forest Service anticipates completing a cohesive strategy by the end of 1999. An existing forest health interdisciplinary team representing programs in fire, forest health, forest management, watershed, fire research and development, and wildlife and fish management, with fire management taking the lead, will work together to develop the strategy. We will use the strategy to guide the implementation of the hazardous fuels reduction program into the future. The strategy will be updated annually to account for treatments, wildfire occurrence, insect and disease outbreaks, and inclusion of new scientific information developed under the Joint Fire Sciences Plan and other research initiatives. We will address these problems with an aggressive program to use fire in a more natural ecological role, integrating our many related activities into a cohesive strategy. The full range of tools will be brought to bear on the problem: timber sales, where appropriate; thinning; watershed improvement projects; wildlife habitat treatments; as well as a full range of mechanical and prescribed fire treatments, to name just a few.
Data Needs and Performance Goals
We have an ongoing effort to develop a database that will help identify and define risks to forest ecosystems. A team is coordinating our efforts to define and map risks and develop procedures for using risk information in decision making. The insects and disease risk map is completed. The fire and wildland urban interface risk maps will be completed by February of the year 2000, if not sooner.
Page 29 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC There is a strong partnership with research to define and map fire risks. Last year, funds were allocated through the Joint Fire Sciences Program to expand the scope of the project to include additional risk factors such as fire occurrence, expected fire danger, and the wildland urban interface. Prototype maps were delivered in February, 1999, and we are currently validating them with our regional experts, cooperating Federal agencies, and state partners.
By developing sets of maps and databases to display areas at highest risk in critical ecosystems, and then combining or overlaying that information for broadscale assessments, we will assure that areas of high risk will receive priority for planning, funding, and implementation at the regional level. This analysis will provide the basis for programmatic assessments that focuses national priorities balanced with regional and local capabilities and the needs of local communities.
The Forest Service is also concurrently developing a strategic plan and annual performance plan as directed by the Government Performance and Results Act. We are in the process of developing both strategic plan objectives, as well as annual performance plan indicators for fuels treatment. While the strategic planning and annual performance planning is not yet finalized, we will use it when completed along with the risk mapping effort so that accomplishments can be meaningfully tracked. This will improve upon our current reporting systems.
Reconciling Fuels Reduction With Other Stewardship Objectives
The hazardous fuel reduction program has always been approached in an interdisciplinary fashion. Even though the primary purpose is to reduce the threat of catastrophic fire and damage to life, property, and resources, in almost all situations, the treatments produce benefits for other resources.
For example, a very successful effort is the wilderness fire program. Both the Wilderness Act and agency policy recognizes the role that fire plays in maintaining and restoring natural environments such as wilderness areas. In 1995 the Forest Service developed a guide that provides a highly coordinated approach to re-establish the role of fire in the wilderness, meeting the intent of the Wilderness Act, and at the same time providing a much higher degree of protection from wildfires that may escape from a wilderness and threaten public lands or private property.
Page 30 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Challenges will remain in integrating programs. While prescribed fire may be one of the most cost-effective tools in some areas, protecting air quality is also a priority for states, therefore full application of this program may not be possible. Adequately protecting soil and water resources may also limit the amount and timing of mechanical treatments. Protecting habitat for threatened or endangered species may also limit the tools and extent of application of treatments, which will result in fewer acres treated. All of these factors point to the need to take a strategic approach toward ensuring the treated acres reflect the most efficient and effective use of limited resources. This is not impossible, as evidenced by a recent analysis on the Idaho Panhandle National Forest, where a 400,000 acre area was studied for treatment for forest health and fuels purposes. Through a focused analysis and prioritization process, a 25,000 acre project was developed based on site-specific information with full public involvement.
Identifying Changes in Incentives
Areas in need of high risk fuel reduction do not always coincide with the areas of highest priority for forest health, watershed restoration and protection, or timber production. In fact, a high proportion of the suitable timber base is outside of urban interface, wilderness areas, and other high priority fuel reduction areas. Producing timber and reducing fire hazards are both legitimate and critical resource objectives, but often with different desired outcomes. It is not always possible for the two to combine into a cohesive program that provides the optimum fuel treatment.
A number of options are available to help address this situation. Pursuant to section 323 of the Department of the Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 1999, commonly known as the Wyden Amendment, the Forest Service is authorized to integrate activities through cooperative agreements with private landowners. Using this new authority, several units are planning and implementing projects in 1999. The use will expand as more projects are completed successfully. The Wyden Amendment is seen as a useful tool to treat watersheds effectively.
Page 31 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The proposed fiscal year 2000 Forest Ecosystem Restoration and Improvement line item in the Forest Service budget will enable us to focus treatments, such as noncommercial thinning, on lands where noncommercial treatments are required to restore or maintain watersheds and forest health. This will give managers flexibility in planning and integrating projects that are outside of the timber production areas.
The wildland/urban interface assistance component within the state fire assistance program, helps communities at risk of wildfire by providing special competitive grants for planning and mitigation. This approach can reduce insurance premiums for homeowners, prevent wildland fires from destroying homes, and reduce damage to Federal, state, and private forest resources.
Not all funding in fuels management can or should be directed only at high fire risk areas. We must maintain areas that are already in a healthy situationfor example much of the South. Many areas are treated with prescribed fire on a regular cycle. These areas are a high priority for fuels funding in order to maintain the current health of the stands. These stands provide the least risk and the least cost for the total management options for the sites. They also result in the lowest fire suppression cost with the highest rates of suppression success. I invite you to visit forests such as the Francis Marion which have beautiful stands of long leaf pine that are burned on a 3 to 5 year cycle to maintain the excellent habitat for the Red Cockaded woodpecker.
Identifying Changes in Contracting Authorities
We are currently testing a broad range of new stewardship project processes and procedures pursuant to section 347 of the Department of the Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 1999. This provision authorized the Forest Service to enter into pilot contracts using special authorities to improve efficiency in achieving national forest land management goals while helping meet rural community needs. Some of the authorities expand current contracting mechanisms to allow removal of low value material to reduce fire hazard and provide products to community industries. Examples include: exchanging forest products for services, retaining receipts from product sales for related forest health activities, increased flexibility in the methods for appraising product value, and new ways of designating products to be sold. We will report to Congress annually during the testing period.
Page 32 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Our efforts to improve utilization of small diameter materials to reduce fire risks extends beyond the pilot projects authorized in the appropriations act. A team of representatives from fire, forest management, research (through the Forest Products Lab), and cooperative forestry program areas are working to expand utilization of small woody material on both public lands and private lands. Throughout much of the West tightly spaced small trees contribute to fire risks but this material often has little economic value. Improved technology, harvesting techniques, and market development are part of the small diameter utilization effort.
Schedule for Completion
The schedule for completion of each of these steps identified for the cohesive strategy will be developed. As it is early in the process, we have not yet developed a schedule.
The GAO report identified the high cost of treating fuels as a significant barrier. Current and projected budgets will not allow for treatment of all areas that have been identified as high fuel hazards. However, prioritization and strategic locations of treatments may significantly reduce the total number of acres that the Forest Service would need to treat. The challenge will be to use fuels treatment funding, as well as funding in wildlife, forest management, and watershed, to treat high fuel risk areas effectively. It is not possible at this time to know if there will be sufficient funds to accomplish this, but this will be thoroughly explored in the drafting of the cohesive strategy.
Page 33 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCSummary
Clearly, we face great challenges in improving forest health and reducing high fire risk. We are moving ahead quickly to develop a cohesive strategy to address this issue and anticipate delivering a plan by December of 1999.
In closing, we do not agree that this is ''too little, too late,'' as stated in the GAO report. We will develop a comprehensive, cohesive strategy that will address this important issue, and through innovative watershed scale approaches and the full use of all the tools available for this work, we believe we will achieve significant accomplishments in treating critical high risk areas. This problem did not develop overnight, and it will not be solved overnight. In fact, the next century's challenge is to restore these ecosystems to resilient ones where fire will be one of the tools used.
Thank you Madam Chairman, and I welcome any questions the Subcommittee may have.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Thank you, Ms. McDougle. I have a question that I would like to direct to you or to Mr. Truesdale.
As you may remember, I was very upset last year when the Forest Service expanded and eliminated the very elite Boise Hot Shots firefighting crew. I brought this matter before this Subcommittee, and the Forest Service subsequently reinstated the Boise Hot Shots, much to your credit.
Yesterday, I learned, fortunately, that this final chapter involving charges against Kole Berriochoa of Boise, who was the leader of the Boise Hot Shots, were finally dropped. He was the supervisor of the Boise Hot Shots crew. And they were dropped after 16 months of administrative leave and countless sleepless nights as he was waiting for a thoughtless bureaucracy to decide his fate.
Page 34 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC But I would like to know what your thoughts are on this, and I would like some assurance from you, Ms. McDougle, and from you, Mr. Truesdale, that the Forest Service will deal with any future personnel problems in a manner more respective of justice and with more care to the people involved, and to the communities that rely on these essential firefighting crews, such as we were just involved in last weekend in our hearings in Florida in which the Boise firefighting crews were involved.
I would like a commitment from you, today, that Kole Berriochoa will be reinstated and that you will do whatever you can to prevent anything like this from happening in the future.
Ms. MCDOUGLE. Madam Chairman, we were just made aware of this about two minutes before this hearing by your staff. We had not been informed that this had happened at all.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. I take it that you mean ''this'' being that the charges had been dropped?
Ms. MCDOUGLE. Yes.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Knowing that the charges have been dropped, I would like to know that Kole Berriochoa, who is such a highly-trained firefighter and a man I can attest to with great personal integrityI think that the Boise Hot Shots need his leadership again. And certainly the Forest Service has relied on this kind of firefighting crew. So I would like to know that they will be made whole again with his joining the Hot Shots again.
Ms. MCDOUGLE. Madam Chairman, I am a little reluctant to do that without consultation with the Regional Forester. We have not had an opportunity to visit about that. But if he is okay, I am okay.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. All right. I appreciate the fact, Ms. McDougle, that you will pursue that.
Page 35 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC And, Mr. Truesdale, would you add any thing to the record that you would like with regards to this matter?
Mr. TRUESDALE. Well, I agree that the Hot Shots crew program is one of our significant part of our wildland firefighting effort. We have crews all over the country similar to the Boise crew, and they perform admirably throughout. We have reinstated the crew. The crew is up and functioning. I know that the crews efforts for the Boise National Forest and for the area are very important, and we intend to maintain that program with the highest level of integrity and commitment that we can.
Yes, we will maintain those crews, and I assure you the commitment you had previously, that the Boise crew would be there, will be honored.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. And it is my hope that you will lend your support to Ms. McDougle on the reinstatement of Kole Berriochoa.
Mr. TRUESDALE. Yes. We will look into that and get back with you with that.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Can I expect a report from you within the next 24 hours?
Mr. TRUESDALE. Yes. We cana personnel matter is something that I am not equipped at all to give you promises one way or the other, but within 24 hours we will talk to your staff about what I have found out and what status there is. Yes, we will do that.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. That is good, Mr. Truesdale. I appreciate your keeping us posted on this very important issue to us in Idaho.
Bad things happen to good people, and bad things happen to well-intentioned programs. And this is our chance to resolve this once and for all. I thank you very much.
Page 36 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I also want to say that I have been reading with interest Chief Dombeck's recent comments that the new top management priority for the Forest Service is clean water. I guess this shouldn't be much of a surprise, considering that the Chief has a fisheries and not a forestry background.
But I also notice that the number two position in the agency, that of the Associate Chief, was recently filled by a fisheries scientist from the National Marine Fisheries Service. The agency has also in recent years bought out or riffed more foresters than any other discipline in the Forest Service.
I am just wondering whether the name ''Forest Service'' is appropriate any more. Maybe we should just call the Forest Service something else, such as the Park Service, and move it out of the Department of Agriculture and into the Department of Interior. I would like for you to give me some reasons why we shouldn't move the agency into the Department of Interior since we seem to have changed our focus.
Ms. MCDOUGLE. Madam Chairman, you put me in an awkward position because I am not in the room when those decisions are made. I don't have the benefit of the thinking that goes into them. So, you know, if you want a reaction, I am not the one.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Well, Ms. McDougle, I will be directing the question, then, to the Chief.
Ms. MCDOUGLE. Thank you.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Thank you very much. And I will be returning with questions for Mr. Hill. Right now, I would like to recognize Mr. Adam Smith for questions.
Mr. SMITH. Thank you.
Ms. McDougle, I wonder if you would help us out right at the start. When you talk about treating forest areas for fuels reduction purposes, what does that mean? I mean, what are the three or fouris there a list of treatments, there are four or five things. Mr. Hill, if you have an answer to this, you can throw that out there, too.
Page 37 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC But if you could like chart for us: You look at, you see the problem, okay, this needs to be treated. You know, what are the tools that you have to select from at that point?
Ms. MCDOUGLE. I am going to let Mr. Truesdale help here because he has done it for many years, but, you know, you have prescribed burning, you have mechanical treatments, you have timber harvestthere are a myriad of ways to treat an area.
Mr. SMITH. Yes, the mechanical treatments I could use further explanation on. Mr. Truesdale?
Mr. TRUESDALE. When I think of treatment, it is usuallywell, it is either one of two things. One is the reduction in the amount of biomass from the material that is out there, or it is a rearrangement of that material. And we tend to generically break it down into two ways.
One is prescribed fire, which is fairly easy to understand, and then mechanical treatment lumps a whole range of things. It has been such things as tractor piling, where you take bulldozers or some mechanical piece of equipment, and pile things up to knock it down; it can be the timber sale treatments, where you actually remove commercial or non-commercial material that can reduce the structure of the standa whole range of things, hand-piling, just having people out there cutting brush with chain saws and piling it up. That is very effective around the interface, for example, where other types of treatment would be unacceptable aesthetically. But it is a whole range of activities.
Mr. SMITH. To what extent is commercial logging part of that? And I guess I ask that question because to a noviceI don't know a great deal about forests, I just recently have been put on the Committeeit seems to me like if you are talking about underbrush, right off the top it occurs to me that, how would much of that be commercially viable? How would that be something that would even be of help to the logging industry, if you are just talking about clearing stuff out that could be a fire hazard?
Page 38 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. TRUESDALE. Logging in the sense that you are taking great big trees out that can be turned into lumber, it may or may not be applicable because in many cases in fire-adapted ecosystems, such as Ponderosa Pine, those large Ponderosa Pine are resistant to fire and is how you would structure the stand that you would like to have left.
But there is a whole range of things from small materials, small-diameter material, from just chipping and biomass, using the biomass as just brush. There may not be a market for the undergrowth there, but it can be a wide range of things.
In some ways, timber sale harvest as was practiced 40 or 50 years ago may have caused some problems by removing the big, large, easy-to-get trees and leaving the less desirable material. I think we have learned a lot in the last 50 years, and commercial timber sales can be a very important part of that.
It is not the full answer, though. There is so much stuff out there that right now doesn't all have commercial value.
Mr. SMITH. Mr. Hill, did you have to add on that or
Mr. BARRY HILL. No. I think the point that Mr. Truesdale made at the end is a significant one. Much of what needs to be removed does not have commercial value, and right now there are really no incentives in the contracting procedures that the Forest Service has to remove those fuels.
Mr. SMITH. I get the impressionand again I come at this with just the old a little knowledge is a dangerous thingI get the impression that, you know, some of the old battles between environmentalists and the logging companies are sort of getting in the way of, you know, moving forward with this policy.
I guess the first thing is, am I right or wrong about that? To what extent does that, you know, people concerned about too much salvage crossing over the line into commercial logging, or on the other hand, commercial loggers trying to use the excuse of salvage logging to grab more timberto what extent has that hampered your ability to deal with the fuels problem? And what could we do to get past that?
Page 39 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Ms. MCDOUGLE. You are right; that is a challenge of ours because of the trust factor.
Mr. SMITH. The lack of trust factor, I think.
Ms. MCDOUGLE. Yes, but we think that the risk maps that are being developed and refined and science-driven will help us towith the credibility issue in terms of how we got to where we are, what the priorities are, where, and then let the field-driven process, including public participation, bear it out.
But we thinkand that is another thing that I wanted to say about these maps; we want to get it right. And we want to make them credible, and then we want to use them.
Mr. SMITH. Okay. I wanted to ask about the science of it. And this is a point I kind of awkwardly made earlier. I have never encountered an issue there is such diametrically opposition to the basic facts. It is almost to me like I have got one side saying 2 plus 2 is 3, and the other side saying 2 plus 2 is 5. And they are sticking to their guns.
There is wide conflict on this science. I mean, one person's science is somebody else's hack research, and are we making any progress in getting to the point where we can at least agree on the science? I mean, the nature of science is that it shouldn't be subjective; it shouldn't matter what your perspective is, how clear the science is. But you have to laugh when I make that statement because everybody who works on these issues knows that the determining factor on what the science says is almost always where you are coming from.
Is there any way to get around that? Any way to have, like, if there is such a thing in this area, an impartial sign to say, this is the science? And are we making any progress on that?
Ms. MCDOUGLE. Yes. We are, in addition to the science, we are having the information that they develop peer-reviewed and field validated. And, hence, that is what has taken us a little longer. So we can make them as credible as possible.
Page 40 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC But keep in mind, no one has ever done this before. And so this is new. But I don't think that is a real issue, at least with what we are trying to do.
Mr. JOY. Mr. Smith, I would just like to point out about whether or not there have been any changes. During the course of our review, I think we did notice some changes or progress. And that was, in an area of the country where there has been a lot of controversy and there has been the bitter division in which many environmentalists would essentially cut nothing, the Forest Service has been relying on the Department of Interior on some advice in designing some fuels reduction which suggested about 85 to 90 percent of the trees in a given area should be removed. Now, I want to emphasize, that may sound like a lot, but when 95 percent of the trees are as big as my finger, it doesn't make much difference.
In any event, the point is that there had been absolute opposition before. More recently, the group that had been opposed to that has done some of their own tests, analyses, et cetera, and they decided that about 50 or 60 percent would be all right.
Now, obviously, there is still a lot of difference between the two. And the group is also concerned that even if there isif they do come to an agreement on the numbersthat, nonetheless, nothing should be sold because that would create an incentive.
So the point is, if you can agree on a number and it is within these bounds, it shouldn't matter as long as there is a commitment not to go cross that line. But nonetheless, that does reflect some progress. The narrowing of the difference between the 50 and the 90 or whatever, is, I think, what we also see as crucial to be done. And that is something that the Forest Service's efforts really have to be directed at.
Mr. SMITH. Well, I would agree. I think few things are more important than solving this problem and making exactly the type of progress that you just described, and making more of it.
Thank you very much.
Page 41 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mrs. CHENOWETH. Thank you, Mr. Smith. The Chair recognizes Mr. Duncan for questions.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you, Madam Chairman.
Ms. McDougle, at a hearing earlier this year, we were told that there is roughly 23 billion board feet of growth in the national forests each year or now, and that we are cutting approximately 3 billion board feet. Are those figures roughly accurate? Or roughly correct?
Ms. MCDOUGLE. What fiscal year are you talking about, Fiscal Year 1999?
Mr. DUNCAN. Yes.
Ms. MCDOUGLE. I don't know.
Mr. DUNCAN. And then we were also told that there is about 6 billion board feet of dead or dying timber in the national forests. And in other words, we were told that it was about twice the amount that we were cutting. Is that correct? Or you don't know?
Ms. MCDOUGLE. Let me get back to your other question. Three billion is about right.
Mr. DUNCAN. The 3 billion is about right?
Ms. MCDOUGLE. Yes. Now, in terms
Mr. DUNCAN. Well, most of these wildfires that we are talking about wouldn'tdoes a lot of that risk come from the dead and dying timber?
Ms. MCDOUGLE. Most fires are caused by lightning. But in terms of trees that suffer weakness, yes, it is a contributing factor. But most fires are caused by lightning.
Mr. DUNCAN. Do you have any ideaI know I read an article a few months ago in the Knoxville newspaper that approximately half of it was in forests. Do you have any idea, rough guess as to how much of the land mass of the United States, what percentage is in forests? Is 50 percent, as in Tennessee, fairly typical? Or what does it range just out of curiosity? Can you make ado you have a rough idea?
Page 42 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Ms. MCDOUGLE. We don't have that information.
Mr. DUNCAN. You don't have that?
Ms. MCDOUGLE. But we can provide it to you.
Mr. DUNCAN. Okay.
Ms. MCDOUGLE. I do know that we have approximately 500 million acres of forested land that are not Federal.
Mr. DUNCAN. Five hundred million?
Ms. MCDOUGLE. Nationwide.
Mr. DUNCAN. Nationwide.
Mr. Hill, you have estimated that it would cost approximately $12 billion over the next few years, or the GAO has, to take care of this wildfire problem. Is that correct?
Mr. BARRY HILL. That is correct.
Mr. DUNCAN. But you are talking in that figure just about the interior West. Is that also correct? That does not include Alaska and the rest of the country, the Midwest, the East, and so forth?
Mr. BARRY HILL. That is correct. That is based on the 39 million acres in the interior West.
Mr. DUNCAN. Right, the 39 million. I saw that figure. Do you have any estimate as to how many million other acres, like in Alaska and Midwest and the East and other parts of the country are at risk? Would you have any idea of that?
Mr. JOY. It has got to be substantially lower, simply because in many places, particularly in the Southeast, they have been fairly well thinned and taken care of over the past largely through the efforts of the Forest Service. We are talking here of only about Forest Service lands, by the way. And other places generally don't have the climatic and vegetative conditions to create these kinds of wildfires. There are a few small areas, but it is mainly the interior West. The gray portion there is the problem.
Page 43 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. DUNCAN. Well, I noticed thatlet me also ask this, we were told that the Forest Service had a plan to start doing something about this or to really take care of this problem that a plan that was produced in, I think, 1994. What has been done since that time? How far along are we with that plan?
Ms. MCDOUGLE. Are you asking me or
Mr. DUNCAN. Yes, ma'am.
Ms. MCDOUGLE. We have done a lot of activities on the recommendations that were included in there, and we would be happy to provide you a list of
How many were there, Denny, of the 1994 plan?
There were 39 recommendations, and we have made substantial progress on them. So I will be happy to provide a list of the statuses of those recommendations.
Mr. DUNCAN. Well, what I am getting at, according to a staff report that we have, it says that in 1994 you released a Western Forest Health Initiative in 1994, but that in 1995 you recommended an increase in the number of acres treated annually to reduce fuels, but you are not really coming anywhere close to your own targets. Is that correct?
Ms. MCDOUGLE. Our targets to treat acres?
Mr. DUNCAN. Yes, ma'am.
Ms. MCDOUGLE. Yes. Last year, we didsome of the regions did even better than they were targeted to do. And we are still counting this year.
Mr. DUNCAN. Also, you have got, according to you, a maintenance backlog for roads at 7.3 to 8.3 billion, and then we need $12 billion to cover these wildfire threats, yet, you have been able to request about $219 million in Fiscal Year 2000 for roads and $65 million for fuels reduction. If we are coming that far short of what the money that is needed, is it not time for us to start thinking about the Forest Service divesting itself of some of this land if we really can't take care of it in the way it should be taken care of?
Page 44 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Ms. MCDOUGLE. I think that we have and are looking at many new ways of operating that is different from what we have traditionally done in order to maintain what we have. I think that the American people expect us to maintain it, expect us to take care of it, and we just have to seek different ways to do it, be it through partnership, leveraging dollars, or whatever. But it cannot be done the way it always has been done. We can no longer afford that.
Mr. DUNCAN. Well, I think that the American people do not realize though that we have 23 billion board feet a year of growth and we are only allowing 3 billion to be cut, and that we have got 6 billion in dead and dying each year. And if people want homes and books and toilet paper, and all of those kinds of things, we are going to have to allow a few more trees to be cut if we are going to keep anywhere close to the standard of living that we have now.
And the Forest Service could and should play an important part in that if it was being managed correctly and not by extremists. I think that is an important point to get out.
Thank you very much.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Thank you.
Mr. COTTON. Mr. Duncan, could I make two points before you move on, very quickly?
Mr. DUNCAN. Yes, sure.
Mr. COTTON. It is true that lightning starts many of the fires. The problem is that it is the fuel buildup on the forest floor due to suppressing those fires in the past that turns what would have been a relatively healthy fire into a catastrophic fire that causes damage to both the resources and nearby communities.
The second point is the fact that the Forest Service, even though it says it is moving toward a goal of treating 3 million acres a year to meet their effort to reduce the 39 million acres that need to be treated, they are actually going to treat, what is it, 60,000 fewer acres this year than they treated last year. They are going to drop from roughly 1.4, 1.5 million, down to 1.3. So to us, they are moving away from that goal, not toward it.
Page 45 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mrs. CHENOWETH. That is an excellent point, and I thank Mr. Duncan for bringing that up and for you in addressing it in more detail. In fact, the Forest Service Chief has testified before this Committee that there are 39 million acres at catastrophic risk.
We have also had testimony that our forests are in a state of near collapse. Out of the 39 million acres, as you had mentioned, the Forest Service set a goal of reducing fuels on 3 million acres, and they have only been able to accomplish that on less than 1 million acres.
So the American people are beginning to ask, what is going on with the agency that they can't even reach less than one-tenth of the acres that have been determined by that agency themselves to be at high risk for catastrophic fire.
So I thank you, Mr. Duncan, bringing that point out. I look forward with the new mapping priorities and this new report to seeing a new direction for the Forest Service, hopefully.
The Chair recognizes Mr. Doolittle.
Mr. DOLITTLE. Thank you, Madam Chairman.
Ms. McDougle, when did the Forest Service determine that developing a comprehensive agency-wide strategy to combat catastrophic forest fires would be one of its goals?
Ms. MCDOUGLE. The first one that we developed was the insect-disease one. That shows, across the United States, how, where we have the biggest problems in terms of mortality there. We are on our fourth iteration of that. We have been funded to work through our joint forest sciences program to do that. And that was one of the projects that we have identified.
Mr. DOOLITTLE. No, my question was, when did you make the determination?
Page 46 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. TRUESDALE. If I may, the plan that is being referenced today is developed based on the specific questions and specific criteria within the GAO report. So
Mr. DOOLITTLE. Okay. So the GAO report was the reason that you developed the idea of having a strategic plan to combat forest fires. Is that right?
Mr. TRUESDALE. This particular one, the 19I would have to look at the dates, the Course to the Future, which outlined the 3 million acres, was probably done in 1995, more or less. I don't know the date exactly.
Mr. DOOLITTLE. Okay.
Mr. TRUESDALE. Earlier iterations of the different plans, strategic plans, have been in place for awhile.
Mr. DOOLITTLE. And let's see, the GAO report was commissioned on what date? Mr. Hill, if you know, you can jump in?
Mr. BARRY HILL. We have been doing work for the past nine or 10 months, but we issued it in its final form on April 2nd of this year.
Mr. DOOLITTLE. Okay. On April 2nd of this year it was issued. We are notJune, what is this?the 29th. I note in your testimony, Mr. Hill, that we do not yet have a team, nor do we have a team leadernone of those has been appointed. Is that your testimony, Mr. Hill?
Mr. BARRY HILL. That was one of the concerns we had. This is a problem that we feel transcends not only the agency, the way they are currently organized between the headquarters and the field structure, but internally with the three areas as they are broken up.
This cannot be accomplished by any one group. It is going to take a joint effort. And what we would like to see is that joint effort, not only in terms of staffing, but in terms of funding.
Page 47 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. DOOLITTLE. Ms. McDougle, do you dispute the fact that neither the members of the team nor the leader have been appointed?
Ms. MCDOUGLE. Yes, I do. We are using an existing, established forest health team that is corporate in nature, crosses functions. And that effort is being led by the Director of Fire and Aviation Management.
Mr. DOOLITTLE. Do you want to respond to that, Mr. Hill?
Mr. BARRY HILL. Mr. Doolittle, the last time we looked, an interdisciplinary team that was going to support State and Private Forestry in developing that plan had not been designated. And the last time we looked was last week.
Mr. DOOLITTLE. Thank you.
Okay, now I note that in the testimony from the GAO, which says that, we estimate that the cost to the agency to reduce fuels in the 39 million acres of national forest landI suppose that was what you were referring to, Mr. Truesdale, when you mentioned the 3 million acres per year figure as the goal, even though the implementation has been about only a third of that. But the 39 million figure comes from that 1995 report. Is that right?
Mr. TRUESDALE. Yes.
Mr. DOOLITTLE. So, quoting the report, we estimate the cost to the agency to reduce fuels in the 39 million acres of national forest land in the interior West that are at high risk could be as much as $725 million annually, or more than 10 times the current level of funding for reducing fuels. Now, I understand that we are not increasing our level of funding in this fiscal year coming up. Is that correct?
Ms. MCDOUGLE. That is correct.
Mr. DOOLITTLE. And could you tell me why you have decided not to increase the level of funding given this testimony from the GAO?
Ms. MCDOUGLE. Well, the administration has many priorities, and that is one of them.
Page 48 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. DOOLITTLE. Well, you are the administration responsible for the forests. Did you request, or should I say, did the Forest Service that you represent request of OMB or the administration an increase in the amount of funding?
Ms. MCDOUGLE. The agency request was higher.
Mr. DOOLITTLE. The agency request was higher. How much higher?
Ms. MCDOUGLE. A hundred million.
Mr. DOOLITTLE. So the agency requested a hundred million more dollars than the administration chose to give it in the final budget. Is that right?
Ms. MCDOUGLE. It was a hundred total. Thirty-five million more.
Mr. DOOLITTLE. So they asked for $35 million more. And what was it that the administration included in this budget? What was the figure?
Ms. MCDOUGLE. Sixty-five.
Mr. DOOLITTLE. So they included $65 million, and you asked for half again as much, roughly, at $35 million. According to this, you would need 10 times as much in order to meet the goal.
I just wanted to ask the GAO, and this has been a concern of mine, and Mr. Duncan got right to it in his questioning, pointing outyou know, I have been on this Committee for eight and half years and catastrophic forest fire has been the subject of testimony from the Forest Service and others for every one of those years that I can recall.
Back in those years, we were looking at growing four to five times as much board feet of timber annually as we were harvesting. Now using the figures that Mr. Duncan has used, and I guess the Forest Service, I understand, is agreeing to them, it is now more than seven times the amount of board feet of timber that we are growing annually as contrasted to what we are harvesting.
But I would like to ask Mr. Hill and his experts, aren't we vastly, almost geometrically, compounding this problem of overgrowth in the forests, even if we went with the goals of the Forest Service? It is my understanding by, what is it, 2015, there would still be 10 million acres of the 39 that would be untreated. And yet, we fail to take into account that all of these acres, treated and untreated, are continuing to produce timber.
Page 49 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC So, Mr. Hill, did you take into account this huge mathematical compounding of the problem as you did your report?
Mr. BARRY HILL. Well, yes. Obviously, that was part of our calculations. And they do seem to be losing ground.
Mr. JOY. Mr. Doolittle, I would like to clarify one thing. The Forest Service testified today that they feel that they can do substantially less than 39 million acres of fuel reduction and protect the forest. And our report stated that it could take up to $12 billion. They said it could be less.
We agreed that it could be less. Our point is, if you are going to spend less, then you have to specify and arrange those places you are cutting in a priority to reduce the risk to the remaining, to break it up in some way, so that fire can't spread across it. Until they have established, though, that kind of priorities, there is no basis for eliminating any of the acres from the at risk acres.
Mr. DOOLITTLE. Well, I think you brought the facts out. I mean, the Clinton Administration is saying one thing and doing another. And we are falling dramatically behind in keeping up with the health of our forests. And by the way, there is the implication, Mr. Hill, in your report that most of this problem is basically due to this undergrowth, you know, these inch in diameter types of things that are growing.
Even in Ms. McDougle's testimony, she acknowledges that there is severe overgrowthif I can find her testimony right here. She says on page 2 here that many of these stands are dense and overcrowded with high mortality rates due to bark beetles and other insect outbreaks. I can tell you, as I fly over my Sierra Nevadasand I believe your own information backs this upover one-third of the stand is made up of dead and dying trees.
I mean, they are obviously, from the air, brown trees. It is appallingly bad. The forest health is the worst it has ever been in the 20th century. And I, you know, would like to clarify or ask you to clarifyyou have sort of implied this is mainly due to the dense undergrowth.
Page 50 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC What about the standing trees that are dead and dying? Doesn't that in conjunction with the dense undergrowth and lightning produce these sorts of catastrophic forest fires that sear the soil for years and produce these devastating consequences.
Mr. JOY. You are absolutely right, Mr. Doolittle.
Mr. DOOLITTLE. Well, then, why didn't you put that more forcefully in your report?
Mr. JOY. In point of fact, many of the dead and dying trees occur because the stands are weakened because of excessive undergrowth. It is a succession of problems in which the excessive number of trees compete too much for nutrients and water. And then the trees become susceptible to the bugs, and you have a suite of problems.
Mr. DOOLITTLE. I'll ask the last question because I am running over. But I have to go. And I want to ask this one question.
There was a time in this country, up through the 1980's, when we were able to carry out a decent timber program, where we cut live trees. We were able to thin out the forest. They were healthy. They were in great shape. And things were running correctly. The Clinton Administration has succeeded in slowing this down. I think we have now reduced our timber harvest by about four-fifths of what it was in 1990.
Did you conclude, Mr. Hill, or your associates, that that reduction in the timber harvest has had some negative impact on forest health?
Mr. BARRY HILL. No. I can't say we concluded that. There are a lot of factors that go into the current forest-health problem. And it is true that you could use a timber program to help in solving some of this problem
Mr. DOOLITTLE. But that would be politically incorrect, wouldn't it? That wouldn't appease Mr. Gore's friends.
Mr. BARRY HILL. That, Mr. Doolittle, I will not answer, but I will say that is not the sole solution to the problem, and I think in our report
Page 51 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. DOOLITTLE. I didn't say it was, but is it part of the solution? Well, I wish you would say that in your report.
Mr. BARRY HILL. And I believe we do say in our report that a small percentage of this problem could be managed through the timber program.
Mr. DOOLITTLE. Does it concern you that we have to pay people to go in and take out these dead and dying trees? Whereas, if we got them within a year after they started to be dying that they would have commercial value and then someone could pay for them other than the taxpayer?
Mr. BARRY HILL. Well, it concerns me the problem that we have. And unfortunately, most of the problem that we currently are dealing with is basically non-commercial value materials.
Mr. DOOLITTLE. Yes, and how do they get to be non-commercial value, when speaking of trees, the ones I see from the air that are all brown? How do they get to be that way?
Mr. BARRY HILL. Well, that may be a question that you want to direct to the Forest Service, Mr. Doolittle.
Mr. DOOLITTLE. Well, I would like the GAO to look into that, but I will direct it to the Forest Service and ask you to report your findings there perhaps in a written supplemental statement.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Thank you, Mr. Doolittle. And the Chair recognizes Mr. Gilchrest for questions.
Mr. GILCHREST. Thank you, Madam Chairman. John asked all my questions. I have a couple more, though.
Ms. McDougle, could you tell us when did the policy of fire suppression in the Forest Service change?
Page 52 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Ms. MCDOUGLE. What do you mean the policy of fire suppression? Can you clarify that for me?
Mr. GILCHREST. Well, I guess it used to be, you know, in the Park Service and the Forest Service, for most of the 19th and 20th centuries, there was a policy of suppressing fires. And part of the reason we have buildup of fuel is because of the suppression of fires in our nations Federal land.
And I don't know the answer to this: Was there a point in time when the Department of Interior or Department of Agriculture said that the suppression of fire is a bad idea and we have to change that policy? Was there ever a time when that happened? Last 10 years, 20 years?
Mr. TRUESDALE. Yes, I may. I don't think either agency, any of the Interior agencies or any of the Forest Service will ever say that suppressing fires is a bad idea. We still have to suppress most of the fires. We can't allow them to go back to their natural role because of either the condition of the forest or the wildland-urban interface or a whole range of reasons to suppress fires.
In 1995, in December of 1995, Secretary for Agriculture and the Interior signed the Wildland Fire Policy, which reaffirmedit wasn't really a change in policy, I don't believeit reaffirmed the fact that fire suppression is a key part of our management strategy. It reaffirmed the fact that due to aggressive fire suppression over the past 50 years and the elimination of fire in large areas of the forest, we have resulted in the problem that GAO has just reported about in their report.
And that what we need to follow up on is get that re-introduction of fire back into the ecosystem through an aggressive fuels treatment program and through the use of wild natural ignitions and allowing them to burn where feasible.
Page 53 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. GILCHREST. How long has it been recognized? It seems to meI'm not a forester; I live in the State of Maryland and all that, and I am here with my western companionsit seems to me, thoughI lived for awhile in a designated wilderness in northern Idaho in 1986 and 1987. And at that point, the Forest Service recognized that a healthy forest was one when there was a lightning strike probably didn't burn more than a couple of acres. The buildup of fuel was damaging to the health of the trees and posed a catastrophic danger for uncontrolled fire that causes their own weather and a whole range of other things.
That was back in 1986 and 1987. They were very familiar with that policy. So over the yearsand I guess I will ask this to GAO, and I haven't read your reportcan you point to, is it the leadership in the Department of Agriculture that didn't say 10 years ago, 15 years ago, so many years ago that we are having a buildup of fuel; we need to deal with this issue? Was it a lack of resources? Can you point to a specific series of problems that caused the situation we now find ourselves in? And do you have some specific recommendations for us to get out of it?
I know that is a simplistic question, with complicated
Mr. COTTON. Well, actually, what we have found for this and other problems was that it was a lack of knowledge. The Forest Service has learned a lot over the past 15 years. And if there is one thing that holds true for Federal land management in general is the issue of unintended consequences.
You do something for one reason, such as putting out fires and suppressing smokeokay?in populated areas and everything. And by doing that, you create another problem that you maybe never thought of or never considered the consequences of when you made that decision.
But, quite honestly, you can probably end up blaming this whole thing on Smokey Bear. I mean, he is suppressing fires. And that was the idea, whether they will
Page 54 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. GILCHREST. It seems that, back in 1986, it was very clear in my mind; having been in this, living in this wilderness cabin, one of my duties was to look for forest fires.
Now they weren't going to be fought, but I was to report and lightning strike for forest fire that I saw and where it was. But it was clear back then from those fellows at Powell Ranger Station on Lochsa River in the Bitterroot Mountains that suppressing fires caused major problems.
Mr. JOY. Mr. Gilchrest, first of all, you have livedthat is a wonderful place to be. I say that as a Marylander.
Secondly, however, one of the real difficulties here is that we are running out of decision space. There is a difficulty reconciling the different stewardship requirements of watersheds, resources, species, and keeping fuels downand we have got a lot of people moved into the neighborhood.
So as Mr. Truesdale accurately said, deciding when and how you let a fire burn and when the situation has gotten too complex to let it burn, is a difficult one to make.
I think what our report really is talking about is the fact that we have to understand those conditions and set priorities that maximize as best we can in the situation. You are not going to be able to let everything burn. The reason since 1986 there hasn't been a dash to lighting matches or whatever, letting it burn, is because there are other resources at riskincluding air quality, which is better in many places than nature ever put it out there.
We have to make some choicesI mean, the Forest Service is facing some difficult reconciliation chores. Our point is, that can't be done on the basis of ad hoc. There has to be a very cohesive strategy that clearly recognizes those priorities and makes it absolutely transparent to everyone what the thinking is that is going into it. And that is the difficulty, and that requires a really cohesive strategy.
Page 55 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. GILCHREST. Thank you very much.
Thank you, Madam Chairman.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Thank you, Mr. Gilchrest. The Chair recognizes Mr. Peterson for questioning.
Mr. PETERSON. I just want to follow up on the discussion that just transpired. You just mentioned that the reasons we manage forests is for watershed, air quality, wildlife, and the forest. We have all theseyou talked like they were competing reasons to manage. Did you mean that, that these things are competing and what is good for one isn't good for the other?
Mr. JOY. They are very difficult sometimes to reconcile because the forests have been changed a lot, and there are 250 million people
Mr. PETERSON. I don't speak knowledgeably about the West. I spent three days in the West touring the forests a couple of years ago. So I have limited knowledgeI grew up in the Eastern forests; I understand the hardwood forests, but I don't really understand the softwood forests.
But, you know, I think you are making it more complicated than it really needs to be. If you have a healthy forest, the rest happens. You will have watershed protection, you will have wildlife, you will have clean air. All the things win when you have a healthy forest.
And while we may be managing for these other things, if we allow the forest to become unhealthy, it all falls apart. And I think that is where we are at. We have ait is not that complicated.
Mr. JOY. It isn't, Congressman.
Mr. BARRY HILL. It is complicated now because we have allowed the forest to become unhealthy. Now the problem is, how do you correct that problem? And that is a complicated answer. It is putting Humpty-Dumpty back together.
Page 56 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. PETERSON. Yes, but if you have a dyingand I was amazed: I flew over the huge burnout there that I guess I had never seen anything like that. It seemed like we flew in choppers for hours before we saw any vegetation that was alive. I mean, it appeared to be sterile. And it was right after those huge fires a couple years ago.
And nothing is worse than that because the devastation there tothere was no wildlife left, there was no environment left. And only the good Lord knows how long it will take to come back.
But it appears webecause we have accepted a no-cut policy, that cutting is some horrible thing, we have allowed a process to develop where, and this is not the case in the East where I come from, but I am told out there that every part of the West has a different amount of stems that will support with waters and nutrients. I mean so, you are on this ridge, it may be 60 stems per acre, and this ridge it may be 40 stems per acre. And we seem to be able to determine that.
But if we don't, and then you have a couple wet seasons and you get a lot of vegetative growth and then you come back to your normal dry seasons, and we stop the fires and we got the whole nature, balance of nature, out of sorts, because it is immoral and sinful to cut down a tree, we can't fix it.
Now, I am not prescribing this, but I was at a forest association banquet, or a breakfast, yesterday in Pennsylvania for the National Association of Foresters. And the ex-State Forester, who is a good friend of mine when I was in State government, gave a review of Pennsylvania's forests and how they were totally destroyed by the people who cut all the hemlock and the beech for the bark. They didn't cut it for the wood. They cut it for the bark and totally destroyed Pennsylvania's forests.
But the Lord was good to us. There was a little bit of hardwoods mixed in, and when it came back we have a gorgeous hardwood forests, and we have very limited beech and very limited hemlock. But we have cherry and oak and maple, and all the high-quality species the good Lord gave us.
Page 57 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC But just 50 or 60 years ago, that was just a brush pile. And it wasn't much of anything. In some cases, it's to the point where we are going to have to go in and cut down dying forest and help a new forest to grow.
But it appears like we are in a policy where that is considered evil; we are going to wait until it destroys itself because it is going to have a fuel load that a fire will be uncontrollable once it starts. And when it gets done burning, there is not going to be anything left.
And so, I think somehow we are going to have to have a public discussion about that. And the anti-cut people are going to have to realize that it is either cut or burn. And which is worse?
And when it burns, from what I saw, I don't think anything wins. The air certainly didn't win; wildlife had to be destroyed if it didn't run fast enough; and the water quality had to go to hell in a hand basket. It just had to. There was no winners with a major fire.
And I just don't think we look at that seriously enough. We are still arguing about do we cut down trees or don't we cut down trees. And if there are 200 trees on an acre and it can only support 50, if you don't cut 150 down, you are not going to have any.
Now maybe I am oversimplifying, but it seems to me that we have to get serious about it, and maybe we have to figure out another creative way of how to utilize this waste in some productive way because it appears now we are down to the point where we don't have any value. We have to somehow pay somebody to come in and fix it. And we don't have the resources, or we are not willing to put up the resources to do that.
But it just seems terrible to me that we end up with what was a wonderful forest in the West slowly being destroyed because of competing policies that can't come together.
Any of your thoughts?
Page 58 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. COTTON. Mr. Peterson, it gets back to that issue of trust. And that is why it is so important for the Forest Service to develop a strategy based on good science that will convince people that harvesting timber is a valuable tool in restoring forest health and that, if you are going in to cut commercial timber, you do cut commercial timber, but if you are going in with the purpose, a stewardship purpose, to restore forest health, that you only harvest those trees that critical to getting you to that desired condition.
And that is why you really can't have any false starts. You are going to have to have a good strategy; you are going to have to convince people of the fact that we are doing it right. And the way you do that is public participation.
Mr. PETERSON. And if we have, continue to have, political figures making those decisions that don't know much about science of forestry, we will continue to go down the road we are in, which is the wrong road, in my view. I think politicians have gotten in the way of good science. And political people have spoken and are controlling what we do in the forest today who don't know anything about managing forests. And I think that is the problem we are at. And until we are willing to face that, I don't know we solve the problem.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Thank you. Mr. Peterson. The Chair recognizes Mr. Hill.
Mr. HILL OF MONTANA. Well, thank you, Madam Chairman. And I want to thank all the members of the panel for their testimony and their comments.
Ms. McDougle, I have a few questions. I want to make sureyou indicated the Forest Service accepts certain aspects of the GAO report and then takes dispute with some other aspects. And I just want to read a couple of things that are in the report, and I would ask you if you agree or disagree with those.
The GAO report says that the most extensive and serious problem related to the health of national forests in the interior West is the over-accumulation of vegetation, which has caused an increasing number of large, intense, uncontrollable, and catastrophically destructive fires. According to the Forest Service, 39 million acres on national forests in the interior West are at high risk of catastrophic wildfire.
Page 59 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Do you take issue with that statement, or do you agree with that statement?
Ms. MCDOUGLE. I agree.
Mr. HILL OF MONTANA. The report goes on to say that the increasing number of larger, more intense fires pose grave hazard to human health, safety, property, and infrastructure. Do you agree with that statement?
Ms. MCDOUGLE. Yes. And that is why we are focusing as a national priority working on the wildland-urban interface issue, because of that reason.
Mr. HILL OF MONTANA. Okay. My point is, this has been identified as the most intensive and serious problem, and that the increasing number of fires pose grave risks to human health and safety and property. Because then the report goes on to say that maintaining current funding levels for preparedness as is now planned will result in increased risks of injury and loss of life.
Do you agree or disagree with what
Ms. MCDOUGLE. Would you repeat that again?
Mr. HILL OF MONTANA. Page 5 of the GAO report says, ''maintaining the current funding levels for preparedness, as is now planned, will result in increased risks of injury and loss of life.''
Ms. MCDOUGLE. I wouldn't agree with that. I don't know that to be true, given the priorities that we are focusing on next fiscal year that are highly identified in our budget. I also have, take exception with the costs that GAO has identified to fully implement
Mr. HILL OF MONTANA. You have testified to that already, but I want to come back to this.
Then what you are saying is, the current levels of funding are sufficient to protect the property and well-being of the people in the interior West. Is it sufficient or is it
Page 60 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Ms. MCDOUGLE. Oh, in the interior West.
Mr. HILL OF MONTANA. I mean, it is either sufficient or it is insufficient.
Ms. MCDOUGLE. It is more than just the funding. It is all the other conditions and values that we have to consider. It is not just throwing money at it.
Mr. HILL OF MONTANA. Okay.
Ms. MCDOUGLE. It is having good weather. It's all of the components. It is having public acceptance and valuing, all the other things that make a difference. But it is not just dollars.
Mr. HILL OF MONTANA. So you don't need more dollars or you do need more dollars? I am trying to find out what the answer is.
Ms. MCDOUGLE. We can use more dollars, yes.
Mr. HILL OF MONTANA. I am asking though if you need them or not. I mean, you asked for $100 million, you got
Ms. MCDOUGLE. And we believe we could advance the program with that, yes.
Mr. HILL OF MONTANA. Can you do what is necessary to protect the property and the people of the West with the current level of funding, the $65 million? That is the question I am asking.
Will $65 million per year be sufficient for you to protect the people and the property? We have identified that it is at risk. Is that enough money, or not enough money?is what I am trying to find out.
Ms. MCDOUGLE. We have testified before this Committee, I believe, that by 2005 we will be burningour goal is to burn 3 million acres a year, or treat 3 million acres a year.
Page 61 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. HILL OF MONTANA. That's the next question I have, and I think Mr. Joy, I think, one of the things that you commented earlier is that you said you could blame this whole thing on Smokey the Bear. That is a little bit simplistic, isn't it? The fact is, there were catastrophic fires in the West before there was logging in the West and before there was really settlement. Isn't that true?
Mr. COTTON. Well, since I blamed it on Smokey, I will take the question. The point is, there has always been fire in the West.
Mr. HILL OF MONTANA. And big fires.
Mr. COTTON. Okay. In the past, they were not as intense, as large as they are now, because fire swept through those systems far more often. It was less to burn.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Would the gentleman yield, please?
Mr. HILL OF MONTANA. Certainly yield.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. I am sure in the gentleman's district, as well as in my district, the ravages from the 1910 fire still exist. And that fire burned across three States and burned so deep into the soil that even today, nearly 90 years later, we have not been able to see a natural revegetation occur, even in fact, we can't even plant trees and have them grow there because the soil was sterilized to such a vast degree because of the intense heat from the fire back in 1910.
And I yield back to the gentleman.
Mr. HILL OF MONTANA. I thank the gentlelady. As a matter of fact, every analysis that I have read, for example, of Yellowstone Park, it has been the site of catastrophic fires at relatively regular intervals over periods of centuries. But the point I was getting at is that I think your comment is that we are running out of time, decision time. And the suggestion that we are going to solve all this problem with prescriptive burning is just unrealistic, isn't that true?
Page 62 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. JOY. That is not our recommendation.
Mr. HILL OF MONTANA. That is not your recommendation?
Mr. JOY. And let me clarify. Our use of the phrase ''catastrophic fire'' is borrowed from the Forest Service. And we would make distinctions. Certainly the 1910 fire was a huge fire. That happened for a whole host of reasons that are different than the current conditions. One of the things that makes a fire that is a large fire now, even not as large as the 1910, in some ways, catastrophic is because we have a lot more people and things in the way. So it is a lot of other things that go into the definition of ''catastrophic.''
Mr. HILL OF MONTANA. And the intensity of the fire and how that impacts the soil and watersheds and other issues is part of that because of the excessive fuel?
Mr. JOY. And danger to firefighters and the whole bit.
Mr. HILL OF MONTANA. Which means that we are going to have to use mechanical methods of mimicking fire. I mean, isn't that part of what the solution is going toprescriptive fire may be part of this?
Mr. JOY. Our report does indicate that it is going to require all of those, but it is the general consensus that it is clearly going to require mechanical means as well.
Mr. HILL OF MONTANA. Ms. McDougle, earlier you said that, in response to Mr. Doolittle's questions, with regard to the fact that the GAO has pointed out that a team hasn't been appointed, and a leader hasn't been appointed to deal with this strategy. And you said that actually you have identified some people within the Forest Service to do that.
I just want to contrast this with how the Forest Service has taken up the issue of roads. Interestingly, the Forest Service has put greater priority on its road management plan than it has on its fire hazard management plan. In fact, that has been identified I think in both testimony and reports.
Page 63 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC But isn't it true that the road issue is going to be part of the fire management issue as well? I mean, isn't this kind of putting the cart before the horse?
Ms. MCDOUGLE. You mean in terms of access?
Mr. HILL OF MONTANA. Yes.
Ms. MCDOUGLE. Our field leadership hasn't identified that as a problem.
Mr. HILL OF MONTANA. Except that you haven't identified that as a problem that you may close roads or reduce access to forest that you haven't decided yet how you are going to manage?
Ms. MCDOUGLE. That has not been a problem in the fire arena. It has not been identified to us as being an issue.
Mr. HILL OF MONTANA. Let me ask you one other question, and that is, how far along are you to risk modeling on individual forest basis? Have you identified the risks in each forest yet?
Ms. MCDOUGLE. They are doingthe field is doing a validation of the maps.
Mr. HILL OF MONTANA. But you do have some risk analysis that is done already?
Ms. MCDOUGLE. We have done some at the national level, and, yes, additional work will be done on the ground too.
Mr. HILL OF MONTANA. But has some work been done, some risk modeling work been done by
Ms. MCDOUGLE. In certain areas of the country, but spotted. It is spotted.
Mr. HILL OF MONTANA. Is the work that has been done to date available to this Committee?
Page 64 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Ms. MCDOUGLE. Certainly.
Mr. HILL OF MONTANA. Okay. So if there are any risk models or maps or any of that material that has been completed to date, you will provide that information to this Committee?
Ms. MCDOUGLE. I am trying to be clear on what it is you are expecting.
Mr. HILL OF MONTANA. Whatever risk modeling that has been done on an individual forest basis with regard to risk associated with damage to property or to life or to the resource itself or to habitat or to watershed. Any of that work that has been done, any maps that have been done.
Ms. MCDOUGLE. Okay.
Mr. HILL OF MONTANA. That information is available to the Committee?
Ms. MCDOUGLE. Certainly.
Mr. HILL OF MONTANA. Lastly, if I could have just one more minute, Madam Chairman? Mr. Hill, Ms. McDougle says that they don't need more money. You have testified that they need about $725 million a year. Would you care to comment on that, comment that they don't need any additional money to address the problem of risk to people and property? Is that realistic?
Mr. BARRY HILL. Well, the only comment I would have is it must be a heck of a strategy they are coming up with because they haven't been able to come near their goals with the amount of the money they have been spending so far.
Mr. HILL OF MONTANA. So with no team, no leader, and a commitment to have this by the end of 1999you have identified that they don't have good risk data now to do this with. The fact that they are not going tothe comment that they would be able to do this with existing budget, does that seem pretty unrealistic to you?
Page 65 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. BARRY HILL. Yes, sir, it does.
Mr. HILL OF MONTANA. Thank you, Madam Chairman. Thank you to all the members of the panel.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Thank you, Mr. Hill. The Chair recognizes Mr. Sherwood for questions.
Mr. SHERWOOD. Thank you, Madam Chairwoman.
This has been a very disturbing hour and a half to me. Unless I am mistaken, I heard the Forest Service agree with the GAO's report that we have a crisis in our national forests and our forest lands in that we have way too much fuel accumulation so that we do not have a healthy forest, and yet, I then have heard that we don't have too much of a plan or too much money to back the plan up, and yet we think we are going to be successful and solve the problem.
And as an observer here today, that just doesn't compute to me. I think we have one of the greatest resources that we as a nation have been entrusted with, and it has been managed by the science of the day for a hundred years. And if I am to believe what I hear today, it is probably in the worst shape it has been in a hundred years.
Now, where are we going here, folks? It sounds to me like the Forest Service is carrying the administration's and, to some extent, good-meaning policies from the environmental community's water instead of doing their job and taking care of our forests.
Would anyone like to comment?
Ms. MCDOUGLE. I understand you concerns. The issue is real. I would hope that you not leave this hearing thinking that the Forest Service is doing nothing about it. Most of the forests in this country are healthy, but we do have problem areas. And we are doing what we can within the budgets that we are given to address it.
This does not mean that we are going to treat every acre or need to. And that is why I had some concerns with the GAO budget estimate. It doesn't mean that, but I don't get to say what it does mean, the field leadership does, and it differs all over the country.
Page 66 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. SHERWOOD. Well, active work to create a longstanding problem is very difficult, and it is a huge job. But I think first we have to get good policies. Now we don't have in Pennsylvania the huge fire problem that you have in the West because we have more moisture. But we have the same problem with changing forests. You know, they have gone from a coniferous forest to a hardwood forest and now with gypsy moths and dying oak, they are going back in some respects to a coniferous forest, which will not be nearly as valuable to us.
And yet, in the Allegheny National Forest, which is where the highest quality furniture and veneer lumber in the world comes from, we have the Allegheny forest shut down. There is no harvesting allowed in the Allegheny National Forest. So that forest is becoming over-mature. When it becomes over-mature, we waste the resource, and the private grounds surrounding the Allegheny National Forest has so much financial pressure on it that it is being over-cut.
So ''unintended consequences'' I think could be the title of this hearing today. But not only unintended consequences of our policies over the last hundred years, but unintended consequences of the policies that we are pursuing today.
And I will stop now, but it is very concerning to me that we don't seem to learn from our mistakes. And if anybody wants to take anything I have said apart, you are welcome. I would love to hear it.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Are there any comments from the witnesses?
Ms. MCDOUGLE. No.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Mr. Sherwood, thank you very much. The Chair recognizes Mr. Herger for questions.
Mr. HERGER. Thank you, Madam Chair.
Ms. McDougle, you just stated, I believe, that youI tried to write it down as you stated itthat you understand our concerns. Now I have been listening to this testimony for the last hour and 35 minutes, and as a Member of Congress who represents northeastern part of California, all of or parts of 11 national forests, which is part of this area in interior West on the map over here, and areas, that by looking at thatI would say it is probably more than a quarter of the entire United Statesthat not only do you not understand our concerns, Ms. McDougle, I am convinced you don't have a clue of our concerns.
Page 67 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC You stated earlier in your testimony that the Americanand you said this very emphaticallythatI wrote this down, too, when you stated itthat the American people expect action. Is that not what you said?
Ms. MCDOUGLE. Yes.
Mr. HERGER. The Americanwell, I wrote it down. You said very emphatically that the American people expect action.
My question to you isand we have talked about this with earlier questionsbut with the fact that the GAO says thatand I might mention, I am in an area that has forests that have catastrophic wildfires in them virtually every year, forests that in many areas are two and three times denser than they were historically simply because we have eliminated fires over the years, well-meaning Smokey the Bear fires and now our forests are so dense, two and three times denser in areas competing for the same amount of moisture in our area, which is prone to drought. Six of the last 13 years have been droughts. Four of thosefive of those have been consecutive droughts.
Now we have areas that are just a time bomb waiting to happen. This is not new. It has been this way for all of the almost 13 years that I have been representing that area. This is not new to the Forest Service. But my question is to you, when you say that the American public people expect action, and when you say that you understand our concerns, and yet your plan is only to treat 3 million acres when the GAO says there is 40 million acres that are in need of being treated.
Can you tell me how you can say that, how you can define that as a definition of action? And how you even have the slightest idea of our concerns?
Ms. MCDOUGLE. The situation and concerns you spoke of are not unique to your corner of the world, sir. There are a lot of considerations that we have to bring into decisions as to how fast we can target this. We have never maintained in any hearing that we are going to treat all 39 million acres, or that we need to.
Page 68 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC And so, I am a little taken aback by that
Mr. HERGER. Do you feel that 3 million of 39 is enough, and I might go on as an additional question, is of that 3 million, you are only treating one-third of that. So you are only doing one-third of 3 million. I would ask you, does this not verge on being criminal? And is there any correlation perhaps that, for the first time with the Clinton-Gore Administration, the leadership of the Forest Service is now a political appointee where never before it was? Perhaps it is because of the leadership of the extreme environmental community that perhaps pulls strings that only allows you to treat one-tenth or less than that of what needs to be treated?
And how you can sit before us and have the audacity to state that you understand our concerns or that the American public expects action, and yet you are doing virtually nothing? Could you respond to that, please? Virtually nothing.
Ms. MCDOUGLE. Again, we have air quality considerations. Our target is 3 million acres a year. We never
Mr. HERGER. Out of 40. You are only doing one-third of that.
Ms. MCDOUGLE. We never testified that we were going to do that
Mr. HERGER. And yet you don't want more money, and that is what the GAO says you need to be able to doin other words you are going downhill.
Ms. MCDOUGLE. I don't know if that is true, sir.
Mr. HERGER. You are getting worse on your results, not better.
[Chairwoman uses gavel.]
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Please let the Congressman complete his question.
Mr. HERGER. I am completed.
Page 69 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In other words, you are getting worse, not better. Your results are far worse than they used to be, not better. Again, how can you sit here representing a political appointee and say somehow you understand and that you are working on this or even making any allegation you are doing better. Not only are you not doing better, you are doing far worse and are basically ignoring completely the problem.
Ms. MCDOUGLE. Is that a question or a comment, sir? I am not clear.
Mr. HERGER. Well, it is a statement that I wouldn't mind you attemptingI know it is pretty difficult to respond to itis the fact that I believe I have stated, I wouldn't mind you responding to it.
Ms. MCDOUGLE. I think we are moving very aggressively to deal with
Mr. HERGER. Very aggressively?
Ms. MCDOUGLE. Yes.
Mr. HERGER. Three million out of 40, you are only doing one-third of that. Are youyou say that is aggressive? What, in your opinion, would be non-aggressive?
Ms. MCDOUGLE. We have moved
Mr. HERGER. What would your definition of not being aggressive be?
Ms. MCDOUGLE. We have moved in the last five years or so from a little over 300,000 acres to 1.3 million, and so, yes, we do think we are getting the job done.
Mr. HERGER. You are really moving, aren't you?
Ms. MCDOUGLE. And we are focusing. We are focusing.
Mr. HERGER. You really are?
Page 70 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Ms. MCDOUGLE. Yes. That's
Mr. HERGER. I don't know how you can sit before this Committee and even make the statements that are so outrageous with the facts being what they are. I represent a communitylet me just, a district that is burning up, where forest health is virtually completely destroyed by the incredible mis-action and policies of the Federal Government and the Clinton-Gore Administration and the Forest Service. And I think it is time the country be aware of that.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Thank you, Mr. Herger. The Chair recognizes Mr. Udall.
Mr. UDALL. Thank you, Madam Chair. And thank you, Panel, for taking your time to be here today.
I have a large group of questions; I don't think I will be able to get to all of them, but I wanted to start out and just set the stage for you in regards to my district. I represent the 2nd district in Colorado, which includes a lot of the northern Denver suburbs and Boulder County. But then it has two mountain counties, Gilpin and Clear Creek. And we have quite a bit of national forest lands there.
In our area, the big issue right now is the urban-wildland interface, and I had a letter here that I think complements that point of view. And I want to just make a comment about that. In some of our counties, local governments are using zoning and fire codes, such as restriction on building materials and where you can build your homes as tools to reduce the risk of property loss from fire.
Does the Forest Service work with local governments along these lines?
Ms. MCDOUGLE. Yes, we do. And we also, in terms of our research component of the organization, help develop some of these treatments to make more fireproof building materials.
Page 71 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. UDALL. Ms. McDougle, I don't know if you have seen a paper that I have been given reporting onactually, it is a letter reporting on a paper that is based on some research, suggesting that reducing the ignitability of houses in the interface could be as important as other steps that would reduce risk. Are you familiar with this paper? And would you have any comments along those lines?
Ms. MCDOUGLE. I think I know what you are talking about. I have not seen the research paper itself; I just saw an article that referred to it. But, Denny, do you want to speak to that?
Mr. TRUESDALE. Yes.
Ms. MCDOUGLE. Is that the Oregonian article?
Mr. UDALL. Well, I haveactually, now I have two. One is Jack Cohen has done some research, and then I have another report here from John Kealey and Mr. Fatheringham, and Marco Morais as well.
If you could, maybe for the record, Madam Chair, submit some comments in the near future?
Ms. MCDOUGLE. We will be happy to, if we have them.
Mr. UDALL. Thank you for that.
Mr. UDALL. Hearkening back to, I think, some questions that Mr. Doolittle asked. I want to direct these to Mr. Hill. There was some discussion whether the problem we are talking about is whether enough board feet are being removed or not.
I wonder if the proper measure, in terms of reducing fire danger, has to do with board feet, a certain amount of board feet is being removed or if instead it's how many acres we are getting treated. Could you speak to that?
Mr. BARRY HILL. Well, I think, what we were saying wasI mean, you have got a problem out here, let's just talk the interior West now, 39 million acres. And I think what you need to do is figure out where those problems are and what are the best techniques or tools for dealing with it. In some cases, it is mechanical. In some cases it is controlled burns. In some cases it is timber harvesting or thinning or clearing out areas and doing it in a way that makes sense.
Page 72 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC And part of the problem in developing this strategy is what you are dealing with. What's there on the land? If there are residential houses that are in the forests or cabins and things like that, you may have to use different tools and different techniques.
So we can't say that there is a blanket tool that can be used to deal with this entire situation. It has got to be done on an individual, case-by-case basis, an that takes science, that takes data, that takes information to assess the risk and what is present on that land in order to determine what the best technique or tool is to use.
Mr. UDALL. So it is still the measurement, in many ways comes down to acres treated. And in some cases, you have to use certain technique
Mr. COTTON. Could I add to that?
Mr. UDALL. Certainly.
Mr. COTTON. In fact, we even point out in our report that probably acres treated is not a good measurement of the accomplishment of the program.
Mr. UDALL. All right.
Mr. COTTON. And the fact that it costs far more per acre to treat at the urban interface area, which is your concernokay, the concern of your constituentsthan it does to treat out in the all green forests, okay, and everything, we could accomplish a while lot more in the number of acres treated for the same amount of money that you would treat far less acres at the urban interface, because you are going to have toyou can't let it burn there. You are going to have to go in, you are going to have to do mechanicalwe use that word, you are going to have to go in and cut trees.
Mr. JOY. Mr. Udall, the report also points out, because they have used the acres treated, when the money comes down to the Forest Service, you understand the incentive is to do cheap stuff first. And that's what has been documented, and I think a number of places said they were running out of the cheap places.
Page 73 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC What is needed is an understanding on a landscape level and at different levels, of what is the nature of the threat, what is the nature of the hazard. And we are talking about hazard reduction as opposed to simply acres or board feet.
Mr. UDALL. So part of what your report was speaking to, or is looking at, is this whole issue of incentives and that we ought to look
Mr. JOY. Absolutely. Our report recommends that a step in the agency's strategy should be that they identify the naturehow to overcome that particular problem.
Mr. UDALL. In my district, a lot of the issue is not so much about timber that is standing, but it is all the brush that is in place. And I don't know whetherI haven't read your report in great detail, but do you get to the issue of how much of these areas are a problem potentially because of brush and understory as opposed to areas where you have mature timber?
Mr. JOY. I don't think we get to that detail. We do address it. The fact that you have, really, multi-level structuring that shouldn't be there, and it is different in different places. Some of it is going to be, especially when you have got mixed conifer coming up underneath a ponderosa pinethat stuff that there is no reason why it shouldn't be thereit is going to cause a fire risk, and it has commercial value. There is an awful lot that does not, a vast amount that does not. And so we are going to have to look at how we use fiber.
Mr. UDALL. Madam Chair, if I might ask just one last question, I think to Ms. McDougle?
We talk about the 39 million acres. Wethe GAOtalks about more resources directed your way. My sense, if the Forest Service received some more of these resources, you could tackle some of these other areas. But the question is, of the 39 million acres, how are you prioritizing what of those areas you are going to treat?
Page 74 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Ms. MCDOUGLE. We don't at the national level, you know. It is a bottom-up kind of thing. What we hope that we will have developed by the end of the year is a strategy by which the field leadership can train priorities. But they are the ones who are going to do it.
Mr. UDALL. So you really honor that Forest Service tradition of local control and local input and involvement?
Ms. MCDOUGLE. Within a context.
Mr. UDALL. Within the overall context?
Ms. MCDOUGLE. Yes.
Mr. UDALL. Thank you, Madam Chair. Can we submit some questions for the record?
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Certainly, we would welcome your questions.
Mr. UDALL. Thank you.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Thank you, Mr. Udall.
I just want to close with a question to Mr. Truesdale. I understand that the Forest Service is embarking on an accelerated fuels reduction program in eastern Oregon. I was very pleased to hear about this. And I was wondering if you would mind, for the record, giving us some more details on that.
Mr. TRUESDALE. We are looking at accelerating as many areas as we can. I believe that the idea of consolidating projects, doing large-scale areas is very useful, and we have started to emphasize that with the field.
As far as any specifics for the eastern Oregon project, I didn't come prepared to do that, but I would be happy to send it to you. I don't have the information at hand. We talked to some of the staff, and I don't remember if your staff was there. I believe we got some information to your staff yesterday. We will try to follow up with a formal package right after the hearing. I will do that for you.
Page 75 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mrs. CHENOWETH. I would appreciate that. Thank you very much.
I do want to mention that back in 1988 there was a plan issued by the Forest Service entitled, ''Forest Health Through Silviculture and Integrated Pest Management Control: A Strategic Plan.'' That plan itself, in 1988, although it is common knowledge that, once the pests attack a forest then in its wake, that attack leaves that forest more vulnerable to catastrophic fire, it didn't deal with the fire control then.
In 1994, the Forest Service issued a report, ''The Western Forests Health Initiative Strategic Plan,'' which did deal with the growing risk of catastrophic fire. We are now, five years later, and we haven't moved from this point one. We are still dealing with things in the office, with the exception of the approximate 1 million acres out of 40 million acres, or 39 million acres, one-39th of the problem has been dealt with. And the problem is catastrophic in nature. So that is setting aside the normal management that should occur in a forest that keeps the forest healthy.
On the average, while a healthy forest, it is agreed, would contain 40 trees per acre. We are now in a situation where the per-acre load is 400 trees per acre.
So, you know, this country was built on the fact that people could see the problem and put the shoulder to the wheel and grease the elbows and start working in the field. And that is what we need.
Ms. McDougle, I am aware of the fact that you went through some pretty intense questioning today. And I know that the members are very sincerely concerned because we live and work in areas in our district that are facing these catastrophic collapses in our national forests, and, hence, with our communities, it is a very alarming situation. And you have been in this position, or in this Department, ever since I arrived at the Congress.
And whether it is from bottom-up or top-down, I don't know, because the bottom-up blames the top-down. And somehow we are not getting the work done.
Page 76 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC When we deal with only 1 million acres out of 39 million acres of catastrophic acres that could be vulnerable to catastrophic fire, and likely will be, we are ignoring a trust that the American people placed in us to take care of their asset and their resources.
To even suggest that dealing with 1 or 2 million acres is what we are going to do and that is it, you know, the rest of the American people as well as this panel, this Subcommittee, is saying to this administration, but what about the other 39 million acres that will collapse and will be destroyed without attention?
So, that is the point that Mr. Hill made in his report, that to render the necessary attention, you must ask for the necessary resources because we are at a state of near collapse in at least 39 million acres of our forests. And that is growing exponentially.
My concern is that we are dealing almost with a single focus, not realizing that there is a chain of concepts that must work together in order to have good forest health. We need to harvest it and prune it like we would our own gardens.
Without good forest health, we lose wildlife habitat, and then we lose soil stability, and then we lose the clean water. We lost watershed stability. And our natural resources are the total losers, and the American people are the total losers because we are focusing strictly on clean water, ignoring the fact that we are losing wildlife habitat, ignoring the fact that we are losing that dynamic in that balance in a good growing and healthy forest.
So my plea to you is that the Forest Service once again look at the whole picture and not look at just one link in the chain, and that you look at the entire 39 million acres that is growing year by year, and not look at just 1 million acres of 2 million acres.
I realize that this has been a tough hearing. It was tough for me to read Mr. Hill's report. And I know it is equally as tough on you, Ms. McDougle. But I would like a commitment from the Forest Service that we not just focus on clean water, or just focus on the aesthetics. We are big enough to get our minds around this problem, and then put the shoulder to the wheel and get the labor out there in the field to begin that necessary road back to forest health.
Page 77 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mrs. McDougle, I would like to offer you a final statement or comment, should you wish.
Ms. MCDOUGLE. I don't think it would be very difficult at all for us to, as you say or I think you said, be more comprehensive in what we are doing. And we are doing that in a number of ways, and I hope the next time that I am before you we can talk about all the progress we have made on the strategy.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Thank you, Ms. McDougle. I look forward to your new report.
Mr. Hill, do you have any final comments?
Mr. BARRY HILL. Well, we share the concerns that all the members shared today. There is a need for urgency, I think, in dealing with this problem. And, unfortunately, the Forest Service has been kind of studying it and re-studying it for a number of years, and the problem continues to get worse. I mean, we would hope that they aggressively this time develop a strategy, implement it, see it through, hold the managers at all levels of the organization accountable for getting the job done.
And what we would like to see, I think, are maybe some defined performance measures and timeframes laid out so it is easier to hold people accountable in getting this task done.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Thank you, Mr. Hill. I would go one step further. I am anxious to see the labor in the field.
So I want to thank the witnesses again for your fine testimonyall of you. And we will welcome the questions from the minority, and we will also be submitting additional questions.
My thanks to the GAO for their good work on this report. And should you wish to amend or add to your testimony, you have 10 working days in order to do so.
Page 78 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Again, thank you very much. And this hearing is adjourned.
[Whereupon, at 4 p.m., the Subcommittee was adjourned.]
[Additional material submitted for the record follows.]
(Footnote 1 return)
Western National Forests: Catastrophic Wildfires Threaten Resources and Communities (GAO/T-RCED-98-273, Sept. 28, 1998); Western National Forests: Nearby Communities Are Increasingly Threatened by Catastrophic Wildfires (GAO/T-RCED-99-79, Feb. 9, 1999); and Western National Forests: A Cohesive Strategy Is Needed to Address Catastrophic Wildfire Threats (GAO/RCED-99-65, Apr. 2, 1999).
(Footnote 2 return)
Ecosystem Planning: Northwest Forest and Interior Columbia River Basin Plans Demonstrate improvements in Land-Use Planning.