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.