Water, Oceans and Wildlife Subcommittee: “State of Wildlife” Hearing
March 12, 2019
House Natural Resources Committee
Water, Oceans and Wildlife Subcommittee
“State of Wildlife” Hearing
Opening Statement by Ranking Member Tom McClintock
For many years, our nations’ water policy was one of abundance and our nation’s lands policy was one of sustainable, scientific management.
These policies served the betterment of both humanity and nature.
Great reservoirs provided a seemingly limitless supply of clean, cheap and abundant water and hydroelectricity and life-saving flood protection. Vast deserts blossomed into some of the most agriculturally productive lands in the nation, producing affordable groceries and plentiful jobs for the American people. These same projects protected riparian habitats from being blown away by uncontrolled floods or dried to a trickle in droughts. The year-round water flows and the cold water preserved by dams sustained fish hatcheries that assured thriving populations.
Meanwhile, active land management protected our forests and wildlands from the devastating cycle of overgrowth, die-off and massive fire. Scientists estimate that California once lost between 4 ½ and 12 million acres to catastrophic wildfire each year. Sustainable land practices tamed this to just 250,000 acres(1), assuring the preservation of natural wildlife habitats protected by healthy, resilient forests. Revenues generated by the sale of excess timber supported our forest management programs and the prosperity of our local mountain communities.
But beginning in the 1970’s, Congress imposed a series of laws with the promise to better protect our land and water resources. They resulted in endlessly time-consuming and ultimately cost-prohibitive requirements that brought the era of abundant water and power and sustainable land management to an end.
For our water projects, it has meant endless delay and expense. One community in my district, Foresthill, has been trying for years to add a simple spillway gate to its existing dam to add storage capacity. The gate costs $2 million – but after meeting the cost of these laws, the community is looking at around $11 million.
For our forests, it has meant an 80 percent decline in timber harvested from our federal lands(2). Thinning projects that once made money for taxpayers now cost them millions. Our mountain communities that once thrived from forest management now rely on handouts from the federal government.
California – blessed with among the most abundant water resources in the country – now faces the spectacle of chronic water shortages. Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill imposing Draconian limits on residential water usage(3). Communities are being pushed to desalinate water at nearly four times the cost of surface water storage. A continuing effort to tear down the Iron Gate Dam on the Klamath threatens to shut down a fish hatchery that is producing five million salmon smolts a year – 17,000 of which return to the Klamath as fully-grown adults to spawn annually.
The Sierra Nevada is now carrying four times the timber density the land can support(4,5,) and our morbidly overcrowded forests are dying – falling easy prey to disease, pestilence, drought and catastrophic wildfire. California lost nearly two million acres of forest and grasslands to wildfire last year, including the entire town of Paradise(6). Ironically, critical habitat designations prevent active forest management, which in turn condemns them to the most severe fires. We will hear from a cattleman today how abandoning active grasslands management has put protected species like the sage grouse at grave risk.
These laws have not only failed to protect the environment, they have done it enormous harm AND devastated the human populations that depend on it. For the last eight years, the majority of this committee has sought to overhaul these laws – to require transparency to assure that sound science is free to challenge junk science; to streamline bureaucratic permitting regulations and curtail frivolous litigation that has brought us to this sorry state. I fear that the new majority has different designs.
It’s a choice between two very different visions. One is the continuing neglect of our natural resources and increasingly severe government-induced shortages, higher and higher electricity, water, and grocery prices, dying forests, catastrophic wildfire and a permanently declining quality of life for our children.
The other is a vision of abundance: of clean, cheap and plentiful hydro-electricity; great new reservoirs to store water in wet years to assure abundance in dry ones; of healthy and resilient forests; a future in which families can enjoy the prosperity that abundant water, hydroelectricity, food and forest products provide. It is a society whose children can look forward to a green lawn, a backyard garden, affordable air-conditioning in the summer and heating in the winter, brightly lit homes and cities and abundant and affordable groceries from America’s agricultural cornucopia.
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