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Congressman Tom McClintock

Representing the 4th District of California

Healthy Forests and a Healthy Economy

September 16, 2013

Congressman McClintock's remarks from the House floor debate on H.R. 1526, Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act.  The Congressman is a co-sponsor of the legislation.

Healthy Forests and a Healthy Economy

September 10, 2013
Mr. Speaker:
I want to thank Chairman Hastings for organizing this discussion and for his work on HR 1526, the Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act.
This act takes on poignant and crucial importance to my district in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California, where the Yosemite Rim fire continues to burn through more than 400 square miles of forest land.
For years, foresters have warned us that the excess timber will come out of our forests one way or another: it will either be carried out or it will be burned out – but it will come out.
For generations, we carried the excess timber out of our forests through sound forest management practices, leaving room for the remaining trees to grow healthy and strong.  We had far less frequent and less intense forest fires, healthy trees that were disease resistant and pest resistant, a healthier watershed and a thriving economy.
Today, extremist environmental regulations have driven that harvest down by more than 80 percent in the Sierras over the past 30 years.  We now consign the forests to a policy of benign neglect, and rather than harvesting a small percentage of the trees to keep our forests healthy and fire resistant, we are watching more than 400 square miles of the Sierra Nevada incinerated.  
If we had just harvested a small fraction of those trees, it is quite possible that we could have spared the Sierras from the conflagrations that are feeding on excessive fuels.
It’s also likely that we could have snuffed out those fires almost immediately after they started.  A generation ago, small harvesting crews operated throughout the mountains and moved along well-maintained timber roads.  When a fire first broke out, it took no time for a crew with a bulldozer to get to that fire and stop it before it got out of control.  Those crews are gone, the roads are in disrepair, and so fires that a generation ago consumed just a few acres now consume hundreds of thousands of acres.
The result is now clear and undeniable: economically devastated communities, closed timber mills, unemployed families, overgrown forests, overdrawn watersheds, jeopardized transmission lines, rampant disease and pestilence and increasingly intense and frequent forest fires.
That is the story of towns throughout the Sierra Nevada – once thriving and prosperous communities that have been devastated by these policies.  
This is not environmentalism.  True environmentalists recognize the damage done by overgrowth and overpopulation and recognize the role of sound, sustainable forest management practices in maintaining healthy forests.  
If there is any doubt of the connection between the reduction of timber harvesting and the increase in acreage incinerated by forest fires, I ask you to look at this chart, that shows the board feet of timber harvested from our public lands since 1983 and the forest acreage destroyed by fire.  There is nothing subtle about these numbers.  As the timber harvest has declined, the acreage destroyed by fire has increased contemporaneously and proportionally.    
It is either carried out or burned out.  
They say there isn’t enough money for forest thinning, and yet we used to have no problems keeping our forests thinned and healthy when we sold commercially viable timber.  The problem is that if they take place at all, timber harvests are restricted to small diameter trees with no commercial value.  Can you imagine a fishery or wildlife policy limited to taking only the small juveniles of the species? 
Thus, the U.S. Forest Service, that once produced $1 billion a year through timber sales now consumes $2 for every dollar it produces.
And the mountain communities that once thrived economically because of the economic activity of the mills are now economically prostrate – with unemployment levels that rival those of Detroit.
This act is long overdue.  By streamlining regulations and refocusing the Forest Service’s mission on sound forest management practices, HR 1526 will mean environmentally healthier forests and economically healthier communities.
Ironically, just two weeks before the Yosemite Rim fire broke out, Congressman Nunes and myself hosted a public meeting on a proposal by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service to add more restrictions on nearly two million acres of the Sierras.  Our expert witnesses warned urgently of the fire dangers these policies have created.  
Yet these warnings were actually ridiculed by leftist newspapers like the Sacramento Bee.  How sad.
Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the people of my district, I thank the gentlemen for this important reform and only wish it had come in time to prevent the environmental devastation that we are now suffering this summer in the Sierras.
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