Remarks In Support of Mechanized Fire Mitigation - Motion to Recommit - HR 2546 Wilderness Package
February 12, 2020
In Support of the Motion to Re-Commit
HR 2546 Wilderness Package
February 12, 2020
The question presented in this amendment comes down to this: are we willing to protect our wilderness areas from catastrophic wildfire, or are we content to stand by and watch them burn.
The Wilderness Act of 1964 designates lands – quote -- “for the use and enjoyment of the American people IN SUCH MANNER as will leave them unimpaired for future use and enjoyment as wilderness.”
That’s important, because nothing impairs the future use and enjoyment of our wilderness areas more than catastrophic fire. Our pledge in the wilderness act is to – quote -- “To provide for the protection of these areas.”
“To provide for the protection of these areas.”
Look at America’s wilderness areas today – it is heart-breaking. We have utterly failed to protect them from the scourge of wildfire that is now consuming them.
An untended forest is no different than an untended garden – it will grow and grow until it chokes itself to death. As it becomes morbidly overgrown, it falls victim to disease, pestilence, drought and ultimately catastrophic wildfire that incinerates everything in its path.
Once a forest is cremated, scrub brush takes over, and the forest won’t re-grow for a century or more, denying multiple generations of Americans the use and enjoyment that the Wilderness Act promises. And then the process of destruction will begin again.
Why? Because we’ve made it all but impossible for forest managers to protect these habitats by removing excess timber before it can choke off the forest. Without special permitting, land managers are restricted to hand saws and axes – which consigns our wilderness forests to a policy of benign neglect even as they die before our eyes and await the inevitable wildfire.
And even when the conflagration is ravaging the forest, permission to use mechanized equipment to fight the fires in wilderness areas is often difficult, time-consuming and rare.
The 2019 Decker Fire in Colorado began in the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness – where benign neglect had already decimated the forest. Eighty percent of the trees had already perished in the overcrowded conditions that made them vulnerable to pestilence and drought. When the fire came, fire fighters were held back due to the wilderness designation until the fire literally exploded. The same tale is told over and over again.
There are currently 111 million acres of federal land designated as wilderness – that’s about the size of California. This bill would add 1 ½ million more: the size of Delaware and half of Rhode Island combined – much of it in areas where federal land managers warn are not suitable for wilderness designation and are opposed by local governments because of the proximity to towns, homes and property.
My amendment simply allows for mechanized wildfire mitigation – that is, something more than hand saws and axes – for the express and sole purpose of protecting life, property or the environment in these newly created wilderness areas.
This isn’t a new policy. There are 29 instances where similar active management activities are already written into specific wilderness designations. This amendment would be the 30th time we’ve done so.
When Republicans were in the majority, we set three objectives for the federal lands: to restore public access to them; to restore good management to them and to restore the federal government as a good neighbor to the communities directly impacted by them.
This bill reverses the three objectives set by House Republicans. Instead of restoring public access to public lands, the Democrats restrict it. Instead of restoring good management to the public lands, the Democrats interfere with it. And instead of restoring the federal government as a good neighbor to those communities impacted by the public lands, the Democrats give those communities the finger.
But mark these words: if these wilderness restrictions are imposed on acreage near people’s homes – it is only a matter of time until the forest succumbs to neglect and the inevitable cycle of overcrowding, death and fire. In the aftermath, people will have the right to ask why their elected representatives refused to protect them, their families, their homes – AND THEIR FORESTS – when they had this chance TODAY to allow our nation’s foresters to do their jobs and care for this precious resource.
At this moment, my Democratic colleagues, remember: only you can prevent forest fires.