Congressman Tom McClintock

Representing the 4th District of California

Hearing on Wildfire Prevention

May 17, 2017

Congressman McClintock is the chairman of the Subcommittee on Federal Lands.  The subcommittee held a hearing on May 17, 2017.  Congressman McClintock delivered the following opening statement:

Hearing on Wildfire Prevention
Federal Lands Subcommittee
House Natural Resources Committee

Today, the subcommittee meets to hear testimony on the government’s management of our forests and the effect its policies have had on both the health of our forests and the safety and prosperity of our communities.  We will begin with opening statements of the Chairs and ranking members of the sub-committee and full committee, and I will begin.

A century ago, we set aside vast tracts of land for the benefit and enjoyment of the American people.  Our government accepted its responsibility to manage these lands, in the words of Gifford Pinchot, “For the greatest good for the greatest number of people in the long run.”

The emerging science of forestry gave us insight into how to manage these lands in perpetuity – protecting them from wildfire and promoting forest health and resilience by actively managing the land.

The result was healthy, vibrant forests and thriving mountain economies.  The sale of excess timber provided a steady stream of revenue to the treasury and thousands of jobs to support local families.  We could match and maintain tree density to the ability of the land to support it.
Forty five years ago, we began imposing laws that have made the management of our forests all but impossible, effectively ending Pinchot’s vision for our national forests and replacing sound forest management with a doctrine of benign neglect.

These laws all promised to improve the forest environment.  After 45 years of experience with them, I think we are now entitled to ask, “How is the forest environment doing?”

The answer is damning.  Our forests are dying.  Two years ago, the Forest Service reported 20 million dead trees in the Sierra Nevada.  Last year, the number grew to 66 million.  This year, the number is 102 million dead trees. 

In the Sierra Nevada, the land can support between 20 and 100 trees per acre.  The average tree density is now 266 trees per acre.  Trees that once had room to grow healthy and strong now fight for their lives against other trees trying to occupy the same ground.  In that overcrowded and stressed condition, they fall easy prey to disease, pestilence, drought, and ultimately to catastrophic wildfire.

In that same period, we have seen an 80 percent reduction in timber harvested out of our national forests, and a concomitant increase in acreage destroyed by forest fire, illustrating the old maxim that the excess timber comes out of the forest one way or the other.  It is either carried out or it burns out.

Laws that promised to protect endangered species placed their habitats off-limits to scientific management.  How have they worked out?  This subcommittee has already noted the abysmal record of species recovery under the Endangered Species Act.  Forest fires promoted by these policies have incinerated hundreds of square miles of endangered species habitat.  Just two fires in my district recently destroyed 90 protected spotted owl habitats.  

The devastation doesn’t stop with fire.  The resulting mudslides, flooding and erosion then devastate soil and water quality for wildlife and human populations alike.

Today forest managers complain they only have a fraction of the money needed to manage our forests.  But before these laws, timber companies paid us to manage national forest lands.  We sold them the commercially viable excess timber and they removed it before it burned.  

These same laws have in effect placed these trees off limits to scientific forest management, condemning them instead to the indiscriminate ravages of the bark beetle.

And when fire inevitably finishes what overpopulation began, these same laws prevent the salvage of dead timber and the planting of new seedlings, abandoning these forestlands to scrub brush and decay for decades to come.

Nationwide, the Forest Service reports it is accomplishing less than 20 percent of its post-fire reforestation needs.  By contrast, private landowners move quickly to salvage dead timber while it still has value and then use a portion of these proceeds to replant their forest. 

Time and again, we see vivid boundaries between the young, healthy, growing forests managed by state, local and private landholders, and the choked, dying or burned federal forests. 

The laws of the past 45 years have not only failed to protect the forest environment – they have done immeasurable harm to our forests.

The American people want our forests returned to health.  They want the growing scourge of wildfire brought back under control.  They want the destruction of mountain habitats by fire, disease and pestilence arrested and reversed.  They want the prosperity of their forest communities restored.  To achieve these goals will require a dramatic change in current policy, which this hearing is intended to chart and this majority is prepared to undertake.