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Solving Wildfire Crisis Requires Long-Term Forest Health Solutions

Washington – Today, House Committee on Natural Resources Ranking Member Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.) hosted a forum to hear from witnesses across the country on the impacts of catastrophic wildfire and the need for long-term forest health.

“The sobering fact remains that we are completely and utterly failing to turn the tide against this crisis,” Westerman said during the forum. “Decades of poor management combined with historically unrivaled drought conditions and rising temperatures have turned far too many of our nation’s forests in ticking time bombs. With over 1 billion acres at risk for wildfire across the nation it is not a matter of ‘if’ these forests will experience catastrophic wildfire, but ‘when.’ There’s a saying that ‘if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.’ This is sadly exactly what has happened over the last several decades as we’ve continued to neglect our fire-prone forests and naively expected different results. As a licensed forester, it pains me greatly to see such foolishness continue to go unchecked. The fact is that active forest management has proven effective wherever it has been applied, and if implemented on a broader scale, would return resiliency and restore health to our fire-prone forests. Contrary to the ridiculous fearmongering promulgated by out-of-touch activists, active forest management does not lead to indiscriminate logging, but instead requires land managers to follow the science to meet the individual challenges facing the unique ecosystems seen in our nation’s forests.”

The panel of members heard from nine witnesses during the forum:

The Honorable James Paxon, county commissioner, Sierra County, N.M.
Scott Lindgren, fire chief, Tahoe Douglas Fire Protection District
Hannah Downey, policy director, The Property and Environment Research Center
Rick Goddard, CEO, Caylym Technologies
Phil Rigdon, vice president, Intertribal Timber Council
Stefanie Smallhouse, state president, Arizona Farm Bureau
Jake Garfield, deputy director, Utah Public Lands Policy Coordinating Office
Ryan Bronson, director of government affairs, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation
Bart Brainerd, president, Firehawk Helicopters

“We must begin now to better manage our forests to reduce fuels and reduce the incidence of large destructive wildfires,” Paxon said.” Nothing remains as it is today, especially in a forest. These are changing, evolving plant and animal communities that do not remain static as some would wish. Yet, the forests are loved by many, even to their destruction with a desire to ‘preserve’ them. In my 50 years of observation, I believe that most things involving forested lands, such as timber sales, thinning and fuels reduction and prescribed fire can occur in balance with other needs and management actions.”

“Our current fire threat is no secret,” Lindgren said. “Since 2015, fires in the West have been rewriting the history books every year setting records and doing things they have never done before. Every year seems to get worse and worse. We are at all-time record dryness in the Lake Tahoe Basin. I’m seeing more dead and dying trees every day in the Basin. Our fire situation is at critical mass and frankly, I’m very scared at what the next few months will bring. We almost lost this amazing place last year when the Caldor Fire made it over the Sierra Crest and into the Lake Tahoe Basin. What will this year bring?”

“Forest lands treated under the Shared Stewardship Agreement are not clear cut, but they are thinned out, allowing existing mature trees to absorb more water, and allowing rain, snow, and sunlight to reach the forest floor and establish healthy undergrowth,” Garfield said. “Such treated forests may still burn in the event of a wildfire, but such fires will often stay on the ground rather than burning the forest canopy, burn with lower temperatures, and ultimately have fewer adverse impacts on Utah’s watersheds and wildlife habitat. Wildfires in these proactively treated areas typically become ground fires after ignition and are easier to fight, posing fewer threats to homes and communities in the wildland urban interface.”

“Actively managed forests provide optimal habitat for elk and other wildlife, and are more resilient to weather, insect outbreaks and fire,” Bronson said. “Catastrophic fires that destroy critical habitat for endangered species are an increasing risk, so treating over grown forests to protect ecosystems should be a non-controversial policy goal. Unfortunately, litigious special interests have weaponized the Endangered Species Act to prevent many fire and habitat management projects. The 9th Circuit Cottonwood Environmental Law Center vs. US Forest Service decision has already delayed 130 projects, and these delays have led to catastrophic fires that have destroyed lives, property, homes and important wildlife habitat.”

Watch the full forum here.

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