Forest Policy

Forest Policy

Excess timber comes out of the forest one way or the other: it is either carried out or it burns out.  From the inception of the U.S. Forest Service, we managed our public lands according to sound forest management principles.  We prevented overcrowding by removing excess timber so that trees had room to grow healthy and strong.  This assured not only resilient forests, but also a thriving economy throughout our mountain communities and an important revenue stream to the treasury that was available for additional improvements to the public lands.

But beginning in the 1970's, Congress began enacting laws such as the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act that promised to improve the forest ecology.  Routine forest management projects and timber sales became subject to cost prohibitive and endlessly time consuming environmental studies, accompanied by opportunistic litigation.  Our once healthy and well maintainned federal forests were consigned to a policy of benign neglect.  After 40 years of these laws – all predicated on the promise they would improve the forest environment – I believe we are entitled to ask, “How is the forest environment doing?” 

The answer is damning. In those years, Federal surplus timber harvests have dropped 80 percent while acreage destroyed by fire has increased concomitantly.  The Sierra now has four times the timber density that the acreage can support.  In this overcrowded and stressed condition, our trees become susceptible to drought, pestilence, disease and ultimately, catastrophic wildfire.  Even after a fire, salvageable trees sit and rot for at least a year before required environmental studies are completed -- during which time they lose most of their marketable value and the acreage is abandoned to scrub brush.

 More than 1,000 square miles of forest have been incinerated by wildfire in the last three years in the fourth congressional district, including many habitats these laws were supposed to protect.  When laws not only fail to achieve their objective, but are directly counterproductive to their promises, and when they economically devastate local communities to boot, then it is time, as Lincoln said, "that we must think anew and act anew."

The Federal Lands Subcommittee that I chair has produced landmark legislation to restore sound management to our federal forests, and I have introduced legislation to expedite the removal of dead timber, replanting of lost acreage and proper grooming of our surviving acreage.

 

Time is Running Out for the Sierra

House of Representatives, Washington, D.C. - November 13, 2013

This summer, the biggest fire in the history of the Sierra Nevada Mountains burned 400 square miles of forest land.

The fire left behind an unprecedented swath of environmental devastation that threatens the loss not only of the affected forestland for generations, but sets events in motion that could threaten the surrounding forests for many years to come.       

The fire also left behind as much as a billion board feet of dead timber on federal land that could be sold to raise hundreds of millions of dollars – money that could then be used to replant and restore the devastated forests.  In addition, processing that timber would help to revive the economy of the stricken region. 

But time is already running out.  Within a year, the value of the timber begins to decline rapidly as the wood is devoured by insects and rot.  That’s the problem: cumbersome environmental reviews and the litigation that inevitably follows will run out the clock on this valuable asset until it becomes worthless.  

Indeed, it becomes worse than worthless – it becomes hazardous.  Bark and wood boring beetles are already moving in to feast on the dead and dying timber, and a population explosion of pestilence can be expected if those dead trees remain.  The beetles won’t confine themselves to the fire areas, posing a mortal threat to the adjacent forests.   

By the time the normal bureaucratic reviews and lawsuits have run their course, what was once forestland will have already begun converting to brushland, and by the following year, reforestation will become infinitely more difficult and expensive. 

Within just a few years, several feet of brush will have built up and the smaller trees will have begun toppling on this tinder.  It’s not possible to build a more perfect fire stack than that.  Intense, second-generation fires will take advantage of this fuel, sterilizing the soil, eroding the landscape, fouling the watersheds and jeopardizing surrounding forests.

Without timely salvage and reforestation, we know the fate of the Sierra, because we’ve seen the result of neglect after previous fires. 

The trees don’t come back for many generations.  Instead, thick brush takes over the land that was once shaded by towering forests.  It quickly overwhelms any seedlings struggling to make a start.  It replaces the diverse ecosystems supported by the forests with scrub brush.

For this reason, I introduced HR 3188, which waives the time-consuming environmental review process and prevents the endless litigation that always follows.  It authorizes federal forest managers, following well-established environmental protocols for salvage, to sell the dead timber and to supervise its careful removal while there is still time.

The hundreds of millions of dollars raised can then be directed toward re-planting the region before layers of brush choke off any chance of forest re-growth in the foreseeable future.

It is modeled on legislation authored by Democratic Senator Tom Daschle for salvaging dead and dying trees in the Black Hills National Forest, a measure credited with speeding the preservation and recovery of that forest.

This legislation has spawned lurid tales from the activist Left of uncontrolled logging in the Sierras.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  This legislation vests full control of the salvage plans with federal forest managers, not the logging companies.  It leaves federal foresters in charge of enforcing salvage plans that fully protect the environment.        

The Left wants a policy of benign neglect: to let a quarter million acres of destroyed timber rot in place, to surrender the ravaged land to beetles and to watch contentedly as the forest ecosystem is replaced by scrubland.     

Yes, without human intervention the forests will eventually return – but not in the lifetimes of ourselves, our children or our children’s children.   

If we want to stop the loss of this forestland and if we want to control the beetle infestation before it explodes out of control, the dead timber has to come out soon.  If we take it out now, we can generate the funds necessary to suppress brush buildup, plant new seedlings, and restore these forests for the use and enjoyment of our children. 

If we wait for the normal bureaucratic reviews and delays, we will have lost these forests for the next several generations.    

That is a choice.  Congress must make that choice now, or nature will soon make that choice for us.

 

True Environmentalism

Rural Wildfire Forum - State Capitol, Sacramento, California - August 13, 2008

A generation ago, we recognized the importance of proper wild lands management.  We recognized that nothing is more devastating to the ecology of a forest than a forest fire.  And we recognized that public lands should be managed for the benefit of the public.  We recognized that in any living community – including forests – dense over-population is unhealthy.

And so we carefully groomed our public lands, removing excessive vegetation and giving timber the room it needs to grow.  Surplus timber and undergrowth were sold for the benefit of our communities.  Our forests prospered and our economy prospered.  And forest fires were far less numerous and far less intense than we see today.

But that was before a radical ideology was introduced into public policy – that we should abandon our public lands to overpopulation, overgrowth, and in essence, benign neglect.

We are now living with the result of that ideology.  Forest fires, fueled by decades of pent up overgrowth are now increasing in their frequency and intensity and destruction. 

The first victim of this wrong-headed policy is the environment itself.  Recent forest fires in this region made a mockery of all of our clean-air regulations.  Anyone who has seen a forest after one of these fires knows that the environmental devastation could not possibly be more complete. 

But the cost of these policies doesn’t end there.  Timber is a renewable resource – if properly managed it is literally an inexhaustible source of prosperity.  And yet, a region blessed with the most bountiful renewable resource in the state has been rendered economically prostrate.  A region that once prospered from its surplus timber now is ravaged by fires that are fueled by that surplus timber. 

This is not environmentalism – true environmentalists recognize the damage done by overgrowth and overpopulation and recognize the role of sound forest management practices in maintaining healthy forests. 

We are beginning to recognize the damage done by this Luddite ideology to our energy independence and the horrific fires are bringing into sharp focus the damage that it has done to the safety, prosperity, and environmental health of our forests.

I want to commend the organizers of today’s hearing as we begin restoring the role of common sense and modern forestry management to our public lands.

 

A Time of Crisis for Our Forests

House Subcommittee on Federal Lands - March 22, 2016

The Subcommittee on Federal Lands meets today to review the President’s proposed budget for the U.S. Forest Service for Fiscal Year 2017.  

We meet at a time of crisis for our national forests.  They are dying.  

In my district that comprises the Sierra Nevada, more than 1,000 square miles of forest have been destroyed by catastrophic wild fire in the last three years.  Those acres not destroyed by fire are now falling victim to disease and pestilence.  It is estimated that 85 percent of the pine tree stock in the Sierra National Forest is dead or dying.

Forty years ago, Congress began imposing volumes of highly restrictive environmental laws with the promise they would improve the environmental health of our forests.  Those laws, and the regulations and litigation that followed them, have made active management of the forests virtually impossible.  The harvest of excess timber out of those forests has plummeted by 80 percent in the intervening years.  

California’s national forests are now choked with an average of 266 trees per acre on a landscape that historically sustained 20 to 100 trees per acre. In the lower elevations of the Tahoe Basin, we have four times the normal density of vegetation.

The Forest Service itself estimates 40 million dead trees on federal lands in California last year, with an additional 29 million dying.  

Trees that once had room to grow healthy and strong now fight for their lives against other trees fighting for the same ground. With that stage set, the drought pushed us past a tipping point.

Ironically, while the National Forests have been devastated, the private lands not subject to these policies are thriving.  

I have seen time and again in my own district that the private lands are properly thinned and maintained; they have proven resistant to forest fire; and when they have suffered damage, owners have quickly salvaged and replanted.  

Inexplicably, at a time when the Forest Service has utterly failed to responsibly manage our forests, it seeks massive increases in funding to acquire still more forest land.  That means transferring land from private hands, where it has been well managed, to the federal government that has spectacularly failed in its land management responsibilities.

The administration envisions expansion of Secure Rural Schools as a “tool to strengthen economic opportunities for rural communities.” The Secure Rural Schools program is essential to our mountain communities, but not because it strengthens economic opportunity.  Rather, it meagerly compensates rural communities for their economic losses because of these policies.

USFS management points out that fire suppression has become its greatest expense.  The House addressed this last year in the Resilient Forests Act of 2015 that now languishes in the Senate.  

The fact is, fire expenses will grow every year until we restore sound forest management practices to our national forests and that in turn will require very different policies than those presented by the Forest Service today.

These laws not only prevent us from timely and economical removal of excess timber, they even prevent us from salvaging fire-killed timber and replanting.  Millions of dead trees on thousands of square miles of the Sierra alone must be removed and the acreage replanted.  Yet environmental restrictions make even salvage cost-prohibitive.

Even without these laws, it will cost an estimated $1,600 per acre to remove dead wood and replant the acreage already destroyed.  This is where our funds should be going – not to acquiring still more land to mismanage.

Removing commercially viable excess timber before it can burn should yield about $300 of direct federal revenues per acre per year if the forests were properly managed.  If directed toward reclamation, we could have healthy forests again in a matter of just a few years.

All that stands in the way is failed public policy.  This Congress stands to change that policy.  And I would respectfully counsel this administration to lead, follow or get out of the way.

 

Hearing on Wildfire Prevention

House Federal Lands Sub-Committee - April 23, 2015

The Sub-committee on Federal Lands meets today to examine the government’s management of our forests and the effect its policies have had on both the health of our forests and the safety of our communities.

Let me cut right to the chase.  We have seen an 80 percent reduction in timber harvested from our national forests, and in the same period a concomitant increase in acreage destroyed by fire.  This phenomenon far predates the Western drought and was best summed up by a forester long ago who observed, “All that excess timber comes out of the forests one way or the other.  It is either CARRIED OUT or it is BURNED OUT.  But it comes OUT.”

When we carried it out, we had healthy forests and a thriving economy.  Timber sales not only thinned overgrown forests, giving trees room to grow – it provided millions of dollars to the federal government with which to manage the public lands and it generated economic activity throughout forest regions from which mountain communities prospered.  Often timber contracts included provisions to assure that the removal of commercially viable forest products also paid for the removal of ladder fuels that ignite destructive crown fires. 

Well maintained timber roads provided access to all parts of our forests, giving the public full access to the public lands and giving firefighters an immediate way to reach the heart of a fire at its earliest stages.  And when a fire had killed timber, we quickly removed it while it still had value, using the revenues to reforest the land before it was claimed by brush.

About thirty years ago, a radical and retrograde ideology began to slowly replace modern forestry science with a policy that can best be described as benign neglect.  In the name of protecting endangered species, we placed increasing tracts of land off limits to forest management, allowing our forests to become dangerously overcrowded and overgrown.  We abandoned the timber roads desperately needed by firefighters until they became impassable.  We devastated the economies of mountain communities, requiring increasingly expensive federal financial aid, such as the Secure Rural Schools program, to make up for revenues lost to these communities.  The forests are now densely overgrown, and dying trees now fight for their lives in desperate competition for crowded ground. 

Ironically, the endangered species in whose name we have imposed these misguided policies are even bigger losers than the human population.  This sub-committee has already noted the abysmal record of species recovery under the Endangered Species Act.  One reason is forest fires that have resulted from these policies have incinerated hundreds of square miles of endangered species habitat.  For example, the Rim Fire alone incinerated 46 protected spotted owl habitats and the King Fire another 32.

Forest managers today complain that they only have a fraction of the money needed to remove ladder fuels.  Only three percent of the highest risk acreage is currently scheduled for thinning. Thirty years ago, this wasn’t a problem, because timber companies paid us to thin national forest lands.  They did so because they were allowed to remove a portion of the commercially viable trees.  Today, the commercially viable trees are largely off limits, requiring us to pay others to treat forest acreage.  And there’s not enough money to make a dent in this need.

The full impact of these neglectful policies can be seen in the contrast between privately managed forest lands and public.  After the Rim Fire, private landowners salvaged fire-killed trees and used a portion of the proceeds to replant the forest.  On the federal lands, the scorched trees still rot in place while six feet of dry brush accumulates around them.  It will likely be an entire century before a forest naturally occupies this land again.    

Time and again, we see vivid boundaries between the young, healthy, growing forests managed without these restrictions, and the choked, dying or burned public forests managed with these restrictions.

Enough is enough.

Today we will hear expert testimony pointing the way back to the future.    

We know what works and we know what doesn’t.  The American people want our forests returned to health.  We want the growing scourge of wildfire brought back under control.  We want the destruction of mountain habitats by fire, disease and pestilence arrested and reversed.  We want the prosperity of our mountain regions restored.  And that will require a dramatic change in current policy, which this majority is preparing to take.

 

Restoring Sound Forest Management

American Loggers Council Annual Meeting - Eureka, California - September 26, 2015

Ladies and Gentlemen:

Thank you for your invitation to join you here in Eureka for the American Loggers Council Annual Meeting.  “Eureka” of course is the motto of California, taken from the Greek, meaning, “I have found it.”  It’s an appropriate motto for California, which became an economic powerhouse of the nation – indeed, of the world – based on its immense bounty of natural resources. 

Thanks to the foresight of our pioneers, we set aside vast tracts of land – in the words of the original Yosemite Charter – “for public use, resort and recreation…for all time.” 

More than a century ago, we created the National Forests based on founder Gifford Pinchot’s maxim: “to provide the greatest amount of good for the greatest amount of people in the long run.”

In the view of these visionaries, preserving these resources for future generations did not mean closing them to the current generation.  Rather, it meant managing them for the sustained and on-going benefit of the nation.

For our national forests, this meant good stewardship of the public lands.  The emerging science of forestry offered us principles of sound forest management with which to assure healthy, thriving and resilient forests in perpetuity.

These practices prevented vegetation and wildlife from overgrowing the ability of the land to support them.  Not only did this assure robust and healthy forests capable of resisting fire, disease and pestilence, it also supported a prosperous economy.  The sale of excess timber provided a steady stream of revenues to the treasury which could, in turn, be used to further improve, protect and manage the public lands.

But 45 years ago, we replaced these sound management practices with what can only be described as a policy of benign neglect.  In 1970, Congress adopted the National Environmental Policy Act and in 1973 the Endangered Species Act, that opened a floodgate of ponderous and  Byzantine policies, regulations and lawsuits, with the explicit promise to “save the environment” from the predations of mankind.

After 45 years of these policies, I believe we are entitled to ask, “How is the forest environment doing?”  The answer is damning.  According to every scrap of evidence submitted to our sub-committee by a wide spectrum of forest experts, these laws have not only failed to improve the forest environment – they have catastrophically harmed that environment.

The harvest of surplus timber from our national forests has dropped more than 80 percent in those years, while acreage destroyed by forest fire has increased proportionally.  Wildlife habitats these laws were supposed to preserve are being systematically incinerated as forests become choked with dry tinder – precisely because these same laws prevent us from thinning.  Precipitation that once flowed to riparian habitats now evaporates in overgrown canopies or is quickly claimed in the fierce competition of densely packed vegetation.  We have lost vast tracts of national forests to beetle infestations and disease as weakened trees can no longer resist their attacks.  As these trees die and cannot legally be removed, they provide the fuel for the ultimate round of destruction: catastrophic wildfire.

The U.S. Forest Service reports that in the Tahoe Basin in my district, there is now four times the vegetation density as normal under proper forest management, and trees that once had room to grow and thrive now fight for their lives against other trees trying to occupy the same ground.

Revenues that our forest management agencies once produced – and that facilitated our forest stewardship – have all but dried up.  Some years we actually lose money on timber sales because of wildly expensive environmental reviews and restrictions.

This has devastated mountain communities that once thrived from the forest economy.  Precious resources that could have been used to further benefit the forests must now be diverted for fire suppression.  Economic support programs like Secure Rural Schools and Payments in Lieu of Taxes divert billions more from forest management in order to replace the tax revenues lost to these communities because of these policies. 

Not only can we no longer manage lands to prevent fire, we cannot even salvage dead timber once fire has destroyed it.  Salvage after a fire must first undergo a full year of environmental reviews while the fire-killed timber loses half its value.  Litigation often runs out the clock on what time remains to get any value from these losses – resulting in vast tracts of forest left to decay.

Scrub-brush – not new trees – takes first claim of our fire-killed forests left to neglect.  Within a few years, five to eight feet of dry tinder accumulates where mighty pines and cedars once grew.  Then the dead, dry trees begin toppling over, forming a perfect fire-stack for a second-generation fire.

Appeals, lawsuits and especially the threat of lawsuits has paralyzed and demoralized the Forest Service and created perverse incentives to ‘do nothing.’ Our forests once had well maintained timber roads and small timber crews dotted the mountains.  When a fire broke out, it was a simple matter to move equipment to the source of the fire and stop it.  Now fire often explodes out of control before firefighters can reach it. 

This steadily deteriorating situation is forcing managers to raid forest treatment and fire prevention funds to pay for the growing costs for wildfire suppression, creating a fiscal death spiral – the more we raid prevention funds the more wildfires we have; the more wildfires we have, the more we raid prevention funds. 

I visited the command center for the King Fire in my district on the day firefighters feared we would lose the entire communities of Georgetown and Foresthill.  One firefighter, with tears in his eyes, came up to me and said, “Congressman, I can’t even get to this fire on the ground.  We used to have good timber roads throughout the forest – we could get to the fire and put it out.  All I can do now is drop stuff from the air and pray the wind shifts.”

The wind did shift, saving the homes of hundreds of Georgetown and Foresthill families, but that fire nevertheless destroyed 150 square miles of our precious forests.

Last month, I toured the aftermath of that fire.  It was a remarkable sight from the air.  You can vividly see the property line separating the federal lands from the privately owned and managed lands of Sierra Pacific Industries.  On the federal side there is complete devastation – it’s as if a giant had planted 30 foot black toothpicks one next to another as far as you can see.  It is a scene of complete devastation – until you reach the SPI property line.  The moment the fire hit SPI’s well-managed land, it began to break up into smaller patches that could finally be extinguished.    

A year after the fire, those fire-killed patches on the SPI lands have been completely salvaged and crews are beginning to plant new trees before brush can claim the ground.  Meanwhile, the federal lands sit abandoned and forsaken.  Today, the dead federal timber has already lost much of its value and most of it will probably never be salvaged. 

Just a few short years from now, the private lands will once again be green, growing, thriving young forests, while the public lands will be scrub brush, dead trees and bark beetles. 

A few weeks ago I visited the command center for the Rough Fire that has destroyed almost 250 square miles of the Stanislaus forest in my district.  The fire fighters there wanted to impress one thing on me: fire breaks matter and forest management matters.  Where the fire reached properly thinned and managed acreage, it slowed enough for firefighters to extinguish it.  But there wasn’t nearly enough such ground.

Ironically, our private forest lands are conspicuously healthier than the public lands precisely because they are freed from so many of the laws that are tying the hands of our public foresters.  These policies may be making environmental law firms rich, but they are killing our national forests. 

Eric Hofer once observed that every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business and degenerates into a racket.  That is the story of the environmental movement – organized to address some very real problems but that gradually crossed the line from sound public policy to ideological extremism.

So here we are today.  The U.S. Forest Service manages a land area the size of the state of Texas – about ten percent of all the lands in the United States.  Because of our current laws, between one fourth and one third of this land – about the size of New York and Pennsylvania combined – has been declared at risk of catastrophic wildfire, and yet the agency this year expects to treat less than three percent of that acreage.  Last year, the forest service estimated that 851,000 acres of fire-destroyed forests needed to be replanted. 

We’re told we don’t have the funds.  But you know the economics of forest management better than anyone.  The excess timber on these public lands – if allowed to be carried out of the forests before it burns out – can generate more than enough funds not only to clean out and protect our forests, but also to replant the acreage we have lost, assure a perpetual resource for future generations, restore a vibrant and prosperous economy to our forested regions, generate a bounty of tax revenues for state and local governments in these regions, and provide a positive cash flow to the U.S. Treasury.

We’re told just to leave nature alone and it will take care of itself.  But Thomas Hobbes was right when he said that life in a state of nature is nasty, brutish and short.  A century ago, we made a sound decision to preserve our forests so that they are available for future generations.  That decision REQUIRES that we manage them properly.  In a state of nature, fire takes out overgrown vegetation, devastating wildlife habitats and in the case of catastrophic fires, requiring a century or more for the forest to grow back. 

In my district alone over the last three years, we have lost more than a THOUSAND SQUARE MILES of Sierra Forest – a thousand square miles of a national treasure that our government had a solemn responsibility to protect.

Leaving our forests to nature to reclaim means losing them to our children, their children, and their children after them.  This is not responsible stewardship of our public lands.  It makes a mockery of our vows to preserve them for future generations. 

We are sacrificing our forests on the altar of environmental extremism – a policy that is now destroying 3.6 million acres of federal forest land each year.  Unless we act, we are literally running out of forests to pass on to future generations.

But I sense the tide finally is turning.  The cost of these policies is now becoming graphically clear to the American people.  A new generation is living with the consequence of these policies.  Because this new generation is not emotionally invested in the mistakes of the past, it is beginning to ask some fundamental questions – such as, “Mom, Dad – what were you thinking?”

The first step toward restoring sound forest management to our public lands has already been taken by the House in the form of the Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2015, HR 2647.  Its principle author is Congressman Bruce Westerman, himself a professional forester schooled at Yale University, which the founder of the U.S. Forest Service, Gifford Pinchot, did so much to shape.

It seeks to provide the Forest Service with immediate reforms that require no new regulations, rules, planning or mapping.  Instead, it builds on existing authorities from the 2014 Farm Bill.

It requires forest managers to consider the cost of no-action alternatives.  It streamlines fire and disease prevention programs by providing categorical exclusions from NEPA for forest treatment and salvage operations.  It sets a 90-day time limit on environmental studies for salvage sales, assuring that fire-killed timber can be quickly removed to create both revenues and room so that we can restore fire-damaged lands.  It protects forest managers from frivolous lawsuits by requiring litigants to post bonds.  It prevents restraining orders from running out the clock on time-sensitive projects.

It permanently fixes the fire borrowing problem by amending the Stafford Act to allow wildfire costs that exceed the budget to be paid for by the Disaster Relief Fund.   

HR 2647 passed the House in July, and we now await action in the Senate.  And, as you know, the Senate is a different institution.  It is, as Jefferson said, “The saucer in which the hot tea of the House is left to cool.”  Under the current Senate rules, it takes six Democrats to defy their leaders and cross party lines just to consider a bill.  But I have high hope and even an expectation that this growing crisis will produce the votes from western state Democrats to adopt this legislation so we can get it to the President.

And in 483 days, I am confident that we will have a president who will sign it.

When we are successful – and I fervently believe it is a question not WHEN and not IF – I believe other legislation can quickly follow that will produce a renaissance of forest management. 

When Gifford Pinchot founded the U.S. Forest Service in 1905, his vision was of an agency that welcomed the American people to their public lands; and that worked cooperatively with local communities to maximize the sustainable use and enjoyment of our resources.  His policy was to manage our forests “for the greatest good for the greatest number of people in the long run.”  

Pinchot gave a series of lectures at the Yale School of Forestry from 1910 to 1915, in which he propounded maxims for the (quote) “Behavior of Foresters in Public Office.” 

Among them: 

A public official is there to serve the public and not run them.

Public support of acts affecting public rights is absolutely required.

It is more trouble to consult the public than to ignore them, but that is what you are hired for.

Find out in advance what the public will stand for.  If it is right and they won’t stand for it, postpone action and educate them.

Get rid of an attitude of personal arrogance or pride of attainment or superior knowledge.

Don’t try any sly or foxy politics.  A forester is not a politician.

The land management policies of the environmental left – policies of benign neglect and “look, but don’t touch” -- are the antithesis of the American vision of public lands managed well for the public good.  Our objective is not only to restore sound forest management practices to our national forests, but to restore public access and enjoyment of the public lands and to restore the federal government as a good neighbor to those communities directly impacted by its policies.

To do so, we must confront the environmental left on its own ground – hold it accountable for the disastrous environmental damage it has wrought upon our national forests and the tragic economic damage it has caused to thousands of hard-working families in our mountain communities.  We must hold them accountable for the elitist and exclusionary policies that seek to deny the public’s right to the use, resort and recreation of their own lands.  We must educate the public that there is a better way.

I see a day in the not-so-distant future when we can again manage our federal public lands just as carefully as private owners manage their own land – constantly tending to its health and vitality; removing excess timber to promote healthy forests and a thriving economy.  Our forests are not being struck down by mysterious acts of God, but by specific and breathtakingly foolish acts of government.  We can change that the moment we summon the political will to do so – and necessity now demands it.

And for that reason, I feel confident in predicting that The Golden Age of our Federal Forests is ahead of us – not behind us.

 

The Aftermath of the Rim Fire

Forest Sustainability Action Coalition - April 23, 2014

This is a chart of the board feet harvested out of the forests plotted against the acres destroyed by fire.  As the board feet declined, the fire destruction increased proportionally.  The excess timber is either carried out or it is burned out.

For the past six years that I have attended these meetings, this comes up every time – and yet timber yield continues to decline, from 1.9 billion board feet in 1980 to 223 million board feet last year. 

Now we have had the Rim Fire.  It is estimated that on the current trajectory of fires, every acre of productive forest land will be destroyed by fire within 35 years.

For this, the Forest Service is deeply answerable.

But I do want to thank them for at least attempting to expedite the Timber Salvage Plan and for their assistance in drafting legislation that would cut through the red tape and prevent litigation from running out the clock.

That legislation passed the House, but languishes in the Senate.  I met with Senator Feinstein last month, who indicated support for the legislation, but nothing has happened.  With it, salvage could begin this month.  Without it, salvage cannot begin until August at the earliest, and litigation then could once again run out the clock until this timber loses its commercial value.

We are losing 2.2 million board feet of salvageable timber every day the Senate refuses to act.

Meanwhile, on the 16,000 acres of privately held land, salvage is more than half finished.  A portion of those proceeds will be used to re-plant that acreage, which just a few years from now will be thriving, growing new forest.  Meanwhile, the public lands are on track to be overwhelmed by brush.  Our management of the public lands will be measured against the management of the private lands, and at this point it is clear will be found grievously wanting.

The Forest Service plans to sell 400 million board feet of fire-killed timber next year, but only 100 million board feet of excess timber – adding to the overgrowth in the forests and hastening the next major fire. 

At present, we are only harvesting 7 percent of the annual growth of the Sierra and that will be further reduced by the current plan.

The second issue I would like to raise is the overwhelming impact of special interest groups and their influence on the Forest Service.  When the Forest Service says it consults and listens to the public, it is usually referring to a handful of activists on the public’s fringe, who are accorded disproportionate influence and attention.