Chairman’s Opening Statement - Subcommittee on Federal Lands
Congressman McClintock is the chairman of the Subcommittee on Federal Lands. The subcommittee held a legislative hearing on June 15, 2017 on draft legislation of the Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2017 (Rep. Westerman). Congressman McClintock delivered the following opening statement:
Chairman’s Opening Statement
Subcommittee on Federal Lands
House Natural Resources Committee
June 15, 2017
Today the Subcommittee on Federal Lands meets to consider a draft of legislation to save and restore what remains of our federal forests after decades of neglect. This legislation is the result of the many hearings this subcommittee has conducted on this subject over the last four years, incorporating the advice of the top foresters in our country. We will begin with opening statements of the Chairman and ranking member.
As this Subcommittee has met to hear the testimony of foresters, scientists, legal experts, water agencies and many others, one consistent point was made: our federal forests are dying.
Up until the mid-1970’s, we managed our National Forests according to well-established and time-tested forest management practices. These practices, supported by sound science, managed the forests to prevent vegetation and wildlife from overgrowing the ability of the land to support it. Not only did this assure robust and healthy forests capable of resisting fire, disease and pestilence, it also supported a thriving economy. Revenues from the sale of excess timber, grazing and cabin permits, mining and recreational activities provided a steady stream of revenues to the treasury which could, in turn, be used to further improve the public lands.
But 40 years ago, we replaced these sound management practices with what can only be described as a doctrine of benign neglect. Ponderous, Byzantine laws and regulations administered by a growing cadre of ideological zealots in our land management agencies promised to “save the environment.” The advocates of this doctrine have dominated our law, our policies, our courts and our federal agencies ever since.
These policies have been weighed by experience and found wanting: not only have they decimated the economy – they have immeasurably damaged the environment.
Surplus timber harvested from of our national forests has dropped dramatically since the 1980’s, while acreage destroyed by forest fire increased concurrently. Wildlife habitats that were supposed to be preserved are now being incinerated. 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 as weakened trees can no longer resist their attacks.
Revenues that our forest management agencies once produced – and that facilitated our forest stewardship – have all but dried up. This has devastated rural communities that once thrived from the forest economy, while precious resources are diverted for life-line programs like Secure Rural Schools. Despite a growing population, visitation to our national forests has declined significantly as the health of our forests has decayed. We can no longer manage lands to prevent fire or even salvage dead timber once fire has destroyed it.
Appeals, lawsuits and especially the threat of lawsuits has paralyzed and demoralized the Forest Service and created perverse incentives to ‘do nothing.’
Worse, the 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 death spiral – the more we raid prevention funds the more wildfires we have; the more wildfires we have, the more we raid prevention funds.
By all accounts, our private 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.
The legislation before us is the first step toward restoring sound, rational and scientific management of our national forests. I want particularly to single out the work of our colleague and resident forester, Mr. Westerman of Arkansas, for his work in advancing reforms in this bill.
It requires forest managers to consider the cost of no action alternatives; it streamlines fire and disease prevention programs and assures that fire-killed timber can be quickly removed to create both revenues and room to restore fire-damaged lands. It streamlines onerous environmental review processes without sacrificing environmental protection and provides forest managers with alternatives to resolve frivolous lawsuits.
This draft seeks to provide the Forest Service with tools they can use immediately, building on existing authorities from the 2014 Farm Bill that have been successfully implemented.
The management of the public lands is OUR responsibility. For 40 years, we have experimented with laws that have proven disastrous to the health of our forests, the preservation of our wildlife, and the economies of our communities. THAT is on us. And THAT is about to change.