Text: S.Hrg. 115-112 — HEARING ON FOREST MANAGEMENT TO MITIGATE WILDFIRES: LEGISLATIVE SOLUTIONS
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[Senate Hearing 115-112]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office]
S. Hrg. 115-112
HEARING ON FOREST MANAGEMENT TO MITIGATE WILDFIRES: LEGISLATIVE
ENVIRONMENT AND PUBLIC WORKS
UNITED STATES SENATE
ONE HUNDRED FIFTEENTH CONGRESS
SEPTEMBER 27, 2017
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COMMITTEE ON ENVIRONMENT AND PUBLIC WORKS
ONE HUNDRED FIFTEENTH CONGRESS
JOHN BARRASSO, Wyoming, Chairman
JAMES M. INHOFE, Oklahoma THOMAS R. CARPER, Delaware
SHELLEY MOORE CAPITO, West Virginia BENJAMIN L. CARDIN, Maryland
JOHN BOOZMAN, Arkansas BERNARD SANDERS, Vermont
ROGER WICKER, Mississippi SHELDON WHITEHOUSE, Rhode Island
DEB FISCHER, Nebraska JEFF MERKLEY, Oregon
JERRY MORAN, Kansas KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND, New York
MIKE ROUNDS, South Dakota CORY A. BOOKER, New Jersey
JONI ERNST, Iowa EDWARD J. MARKEY, Massachusetts
DAN SULLIVAN, Alaska TAMMY DUCKWORTH, Illinois
RICHARD SHELBY, Alabama KAMALA HARRIS, California
Richard M. Russell, Majority Staff Director
Gabrielle Batkin, Minority Staff Director
C O N T E N T S
SEPTEMBER 27, 2017
Barrasso, Hon. John, U.S. Senator from the State of Wyoming...... 1
Carper, Hon. Thomas R., U.S. Senator from the State of Delaware.. 11
Hatch, Hon. Orrin, U.S. Senator from the State of Utah........... 118
Thune, Hon. John, U.S. Senator from the State of South Dakota.... 119
Tester, Hon. Jon, U.S. Senator from the State of Montana......... 120
Daines, Hon. Steve, U.S. Senator from the State of Montana....... 121
Crowder, Jessica, Policy Advisor, Office of Governor Matthew H.
Prepared statement........................................... 126
Responses to additional questions from:
Senator Barrasso......................................... 138
Senator Carper........................................... 139
Fite, Lawson, General Counsel, American Forest Resources Council. 141
Prepared statement........................................... 143
Responses to additional questions from:
Senator Barrasso......................................... 152
Senator Carper........................................... 154
O'Mara, Collin, President and Chief Executive Officer, National
Wildlife Federation............................................ 156
Prepared statement........................................... 159
Responses to additional questions from:
Senator Barrasso......................................... 165
Senator Carper........................................... 166
Senator Whitehouse....................................... 171
HEARING ON FOREST MANAGEMENT TO MITIGATE WILDFIRES: LEGISLATIVE
WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 27, 2017
Committee on Environment and Public Works,
The committee met, pursuant to notice, at 10:05 a.m. in
room 406, Dirksen Senate Office Building, Hon. John Barrasso
(chairman of the committee) presiding.
Present: Senators Barrasso, Carper, Inhofe, Boozman,
Fischer, Rounds, Ernst, Merkley, Gillibrand, Booker, Markey,
OPENING STATEMENT OF HON. JOHN BARRASSO,
U.S. SENATOR FROM THE STATE OF WYOMING
Senator Barrasso. Good morning. I call this hearing to
So far, in 2017, as all of our guests of the panel know, in
2017 fires have burned more than 8 million acres in the United
States. We need to find solutions to address this threat to our
communities and to wildlife.
Today the Committee is going to hear testimony on three
bills related to catastrophic wildfires burning across the
West. Senator Daines has introduced Senate 605, the Litigation
Relief for Forest Management Projects Act, which would address
conflicting circuit court decisions and prevent costly delays
in forest management as a result of duplicative consultation
The Committee will hear testimony on Senator Hatch's bill,
S. 1417, the Sage Grouse and Mule Deer Habitat Conservation and
Restoration Act of 2017. S. 1417 would allow for removal of
pinyon and juniper trees, which are invasive species that lead
to wildfires and compromise habitat for mule deer and sage
grouse across the West.
We also have Senator Thune's bill, S. 1731, the Forest
Management Improvement Act of 2017, which provides the Forest
Service with a series of tools to address the ever-growing
wildfire threats of forests filled with dead and dying trees.
Each of these bills addresses a different, but important
part of forest health and fire prevention.
Decades of fire suppression and a rapid decline in active
management have led to overly dense forests susceptible to
disease and to pest outbreaks. Pests or disease leave thick
stands of dead trees, which are poor habitat for iconic species
such as elk, lynx, deer, and other wildlife that depend on
vibrant forest ecosystems. The dead trees affect watersheds, as
well, as there are no longer leaves or needles to hold snow to
build winter snowpack.
In addition, these dead forests are much more prone to
catastrophic fires. These hot, fast-moving fires are
unpredictable and cause significant damage to the ecosystem and
surrounding communities. There are the obvious impacts from
these fires, and we have a poster board to show Bambi running
away from a wildfire. Wildlife that flee too slowly are burned,
homes and habitat are lost, and smoke billows into the air.
Smoke and ash travel for miles, spreading fear among those
who already face respiratory challenges, as this poster shows.
Looks like a woman and her child walking with masks over their
faces because of the impact of the smoke from the fire. It is
not uncommon to see people, including children and the elderly,
wearing face masks. Coughing, sneezing, and watery eyes leads
people to ask, is all that wildfire smoke damaging my health?
On September 11th, a National Public Radio article
highlighted these concerns, and I will submit a copy of the
article for the record.
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Senator Barrasso. In 2017 alone, schools in Oregon,
Montana, and even Florida have canceled classes to keep
children inside and away from the smoke.
While smoke and falling ash disburse relatively quickly,
other impacts remain for years to come. After a catastrophic
fire is extinguished by brave wildland firefighters or by early
snows, forest ecosystems lose their topsoil. Hot fires
sterilize the soil and, without a strong root system to hold
that soil back, these landscapes experience massive erosion.
Dirt, sand, and other silt quickly accumulates in creeks and
streams, devastating aquatic life and clogging municipal water
systems. High sediment levels raise water temperature and can
be also a cause of widespread fish kills.
What is most egregious is that our Federal land managers
could mitigate a significant portion of these risks. Fire is a
historically important part of an ecosystem, but these large,
unnatural, catastrophic wildfires are not. In order to address
this threat, we need to actively manage forests with excess
dead wood. Large stands of dead trees need to be removed in a
timely fashion so we are not facing another 8 million acres of
We must act quickly to address the risk to human health,
infrastructure, and valuable ecosystems. There are millions of
acres of Federal land, forestland in dire need of thinning,
restoration, and other attention. Last year, the Forest Service
estimated that up to 100 million acres are at some risk of
Today we will hear about bills that address bureaucratic
processes that prevent or delay proactive fire prevention and
ecosystem management; bills that can save lives, property, and
protect our forests' diverse wildlife.
So, before we move to the sponsors and cosponsors of the
bills for their remarks, I would turn to Ranking Member Carper
for his remarks.
OPENING STATEMENT OF HON. THOMAS R. CARPER,
U.S. SENATOR FROM THE STATE OF DELAWARE
Senator Carper. Thanks, Mr. Chairman. Thank you for pulling
this all together.
Welcome to our colleagues.
I am delighted to be holding this hearing; it is an
important one for all of us, whether we are from the great
northwest or a little State on the east coast. Our Country has
experienced, as we know, a number of significant natural
disasters this year, increasingly destructive hurricanes,
catastrophic wildfires, and these disasters disrupt and
endanger people's lives, their homes, their health, their
safety, and their livelihoods. Wildfires and hurricanes, for
that matter, also destroy habitat and imperil our wildlife.
I agree with the Government Accountability Office that
climate change contributes to making these disasters more
severe. They are becoming more common, more destructive, and
exponentially more expensive with each passing year.
As we know, at the start of every Congress GAO publishes
something called their High-Risk List. They do so to call
attention to areas within the Federal Government that pose a
high risk due to their vulnerabilities, and also lead to
spending a lot of money. Once again, in 2017, GAO noted that
climate change presents a significant financial risk to the
Federal Government, and we are seeing that across this Country,
from the fires out West to the devastation in Puerto Rico and
the U.S. Virgin Islands in the last week.
As our Federal budget deficit for this year climbs passed
$700 billion and headed higher, among other things, we need to
ensure we help reduce the risk of future disasters and plan for
When it comes to planning for severe weather events, an
ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Today I look forward to hearing, we look forward to hearing
from our colleagues, and then our witnesses, how best to manage
this serious threat posed by wildfires. We need to make sure we
that we are taking appropriate steps to prevent wildfires from
occurring. We must also ensure that our first responders, our
Federal agencies, and local governments have the tools that
they need to combat faster, longer, and more frequent
I agree with my colleagues that environmental laws should
be nimble, not unduly impede our preparation for and our
response to these unprecedented wildfires. However, I do not
believe that environmental laws are to blame for their
occurrence. Many factors contribute to the severity of
wildfires. They include homes and other developments located
near forestlands, along with climate change, as I have
mentioned, and other factors as well.
As I have said before, we need to be very careful about
making sweeping changes to the National Environmental Policy
Act and the Endangered Species Act, particularly when existing
authorities, more targeted changes, and adequate funding can
help to address our challenges.
We must also adopt budgets that provide for proactive
forest management and firefighting activities. Budget
constraints may actually be preventing the Forest Service from
using existing authorities to more efficiently respond to fires
and mitigate their risks, and the problem is getting worse.
In 1995, only 16 percent of the U.S. Forest Service budget
was dedicated to fire suppression. Sixteen percent in 1995.
Since 2015, the Forest Service has been spending more than half
of its annual budget, over half of its annual budget fighting
fires. According to Secretary Perdue, firefighting activities
will likely consume two-thirds of the Forest Service budget by
I hope today's hearing will lead to even more thoughtful
discussions and to a growing bipartisan consensus in the
Congress in the days ahead on how to build greater resilience
that will enable us to cost-effectively address the increase in
enormously expensive natural disasters that we have been
witnessing in our Country in recent years.
In closing, I ask unanimous consent to enter, Mr. Chairman,
several letters and documents from concerned stakeholders into
And, again, we thank all of our colleagues for joining us
Senator Barrasso. Without objection, they will be ordered.
Thank you very much, Senator Carper.
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Senator Barrasso. We are fortunate to have joining us today
Senator Hatch, Senator Thune, Senator Tester, and Senator
Daines. I am looking forward to your comments and your
statements. I know you have very busy schedules, with
additional commitments, so once you have had a chance to share
information about your bills, those of you that have sponsored
or cosponsored, welcome you to get to the remainder of your
So, Senator Hatch, we would like to start with you.
OPENING STATEMENT OF HON. ORRIN HATCH,
U.S. SENATOR FROM THE STATE OF UTAH
Senator Hatch. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. Today I
would like to speak in support of the bipartisan Sage Grouse
and Mule Deer Habitat Conservation and Restoration Act.
This particular legislation would streamline important
vegetation management projects to conserve and restore the
habitat of sage grouse and mule deer in a way that carries an
added benefit of reducing fuel modes for catastrophic
I was eager to join Senator Heinrich in introducing this
badly needed legislation because, across the West, especially
in our home States of Utah and New Mexico, and elsewhere,
wildlife populations are suffering from the dangerous
encroachment of invasive pinyon and juniper trees. And, what is
worse, these burgeoning forests increase the risk of wildfire,
threatening homes, property, and human lives. Because sage
grouse and mule deer share similar habitats, Senator Heinrich
and I worked together to create a solution that would help
restore sagebrush habitat and support these iconic western
As the Fish and Wildlife Service would agree, invasion of
pinyon and juniper trees destroy sage grouse habitat and
provides artificial nesting sites for predators of sage grouse.
In the face of this challenge, responsible tree removal helps
curtail this damaging expansion and carries widespread
ecological benefits. In fact, wildlife managers in the West
have long worked to convert pinyon and juniper stands to
sagebrush because doing so increases forage and soil water
availability, which improves wildlife carrying capacity,
reduces wildlife risks, and benefits big game populations,
particularly mule deer.
Although tree expansion is a natural process normally
controlled by wildfire, fire suppression efforts over the years
have allowed expansion to go unchecked. As a result, trees have
spread to areas they have not historically occupied because
wildfire, which threatens wildlife, private property, and human
lives, is no longer a viable option for combating forest
expansion. Effective alternatives are needed to limit the
damage caused by invasive trees.
Fortunately, Federal restoration projects have proven
successful in replicating the benefits of wildfire, while
avoiding its associated damages to natural habitat, adjacent
property, or human neighbors. Our legislation helps build on
these successes by removing lengthy, cumbersome environmental
review processes for vegetation management projects that
benefit sagebrush ecosystems.
Though targeted tree removal would seem to be a commonsense
priority, Senator Heinrich and I found that responsible
management efforts by Federal agencies are frequently delayed
by needless bureaucratic impediments. So, to help safeguard and
reinvigorate sage grouse and mule deer habitats, we agreed to
accelerate the approval of beneficial vegetation management
projects by giving the Bureau of Land Management expanded tools
to aid its sagebrush restoration efforts.
As I mentioned earlier, this is a bipartisan effort, and a
diverse group of stakeholders have come out in support of the
reasonable measures contemplated in this bill. I am confident
that passage of this legislation will bolster ecological health
and promote sustainable populations of wildlife species that
depend on sagebrush habitat.
Our bill will also reduce the risk of costly catastrophic
wildfire. In accomplishing this goal, I believe we can benefit
communities throughout the West that rely on sportsmen and
natural resource development as economic drivers, while still
sending a clear message that we are serious about sound
Mr. Chairman and other members of the Committee, it is
critical that we get this legislation signed into law, and I
appreciate the opportunity today to speak to the merits of this
bill. I want to thank the Chairman and the members of the
Committee, with whom I am eager to work in moving this bill
forward, and I just appreciate this opportunity to make these
Senator Barrasso. Thank you very much, Senator Hatch.
Senator Thune, welcome to the Committee.
OPENING STATEMENT OF HON. JOHN THUNE,
U.S. SENATOR FROM THE STATE OF SOUTH DAKOTA
Senator Thune. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Chairman Barrasso,
Ranking Member Carper, and members of the Committee, I
appreciate the invitation and opportunity to speak today on
behalf of a bill that I introduced in August, which is Senate
Bill 1731, the Forest Management Improvement Act of 2017.
Mr. Chairman, we have all heard the saying that Nero
fiddled while Rome burned. Well, this happened in A.D. 64,
when, for 6 days and seven nights, the citizens of ancient Rome
watched helplessly as their city burned.
Fast forward to 2017 and we have a familiar scene. Since
January 1 of this year, through today, Americans have watched
49,000 fires burn more than 8.4 million acres of forestland.
According to the U.S. Forest Service, since 2000, wildfires
have burned an average of 6.9 million acres every single year.
But, Chairman, after nearly a quarter century of hands-off
management, fire suppression costs have grown, as Ranking
Member Carper pointed out, from 16 percent of the Forest
Service annual appropriated budget in 1995, to 52 percent of
the Forest Service annual budget in 2015. We must take
immediate steps to improve the health of our Nation's
forestland by being much more aggressive and proactive when it
comes to forest management. Because forest fires are occurring
on a large scale across the western United States, proactive
management to protect our forests must be initiated on a large
Mr. Chairman, I believe my bill being discussed here today
offers commonsense solutions that would help solve our problems
of declining forest health. In short, my bill would one,
increase current categorical exclusions from 3,000 to 10,000
acres; two, allow the Forest Service to take steps to rapidly
salvage dead and dying trees after wildfires, ice storms, or
wind events; three, expedite the environmental review process;
four, create a single Good Neighbor Authority policy; five,
clarify congressional intent on stewardship contracting; and,
finally, six, provide much greater certainty for project level
decisions through litigation relief.
Proper management of forests makes them resilient and
better able to withstand fires, pests, and diseases. We must
allow expanded use of 21st century techniques by land
management professionals, and not cave to the direct mail
specialists and litigators whose misguided efforts have
resulted in disasters in our forestland.
We have the technology and know-how to restore America's
cherished landscapes back to healthy natural conditions, and we
should waste no more time to use this technology to preserve
and protect our Nation's forest landscape.
Mr. Chairman, I urge my colleagues to support this bill. I
thank you, Mr. Chairman and Ranking Member, for bringing Senate
Bill 1731 before this Committee and inviting me to speak on
behalf of this important legislation. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Senator Barrasso. Thank you, Senator Thune.
Senator Tester, welcome to the Committee.
OPENING STATEMENT OF HON. JON TESTER,
U.S. SENATOR FROM THE STATE OF MONTANA
Senator Tester. Well, thank you, Chairman Barrasso and
Ranking Member Carper, and thank you to all the members on the
Committee. It is a pleasure to be here today to talk about this
important legislation. And I also want to thank my colleague,
Senator Daines, for sponsoring this important bill.
In Montana and across this Country, we are experiencing a
historic wildfire season. A changing climate, historic drought,
longer summer, a crippled Forest Service resulting in a lack of
forest management turned Montana into a tinderbox, and all it
took was Mother Nature to light it up, and she did.
Over 1 million acres of Montana is burned, and we are not
out of the woods yet. A dangerous and costly wildfire season
forced the Forest Service to burn through much of their budget
and already start the fire borrowing process.
In its 2015 Cottonwood decision, the Ninth Circuit Court of
Appeals ruled that the Forest Service can be required to
continuously update its forest plans to protect an endangered
species, even if it has already consulted with the Fish and
Wildlife Service, even if it has updated its forest plan, and
even continues to consult with the agency for projects under
This means that the Forest Service actively, under that
plan, from timber harvest to watershed restoration, could be
put under an injunction for years while the plan is updated.
And there is no guarantee that the plan won't need to be
updated again and again and again as new species listed or
habitat areas are changed. All the while the forest goes
The Cottonwood decision has already led to injunctions on
five vegetation management projects in Montana alone. One of
those, the Stonewall Vegetation Project, included fire
mitigation work, and part of that burned this summer as well.
Across Regions I, II, and IV, at least 80 projects are at risk.
This bill is targeted as a bipartisan fix to this court
case. We need to support the recovery of endangered species,
there is no doubt about that, but blocking forest management
across the board is not going to help our forests. This
legislation that you are going to consider today, the
Litigation Relief for Forest Management Act, will help address
the real and pressing issues for our Forest Service.
It will help put saws in people's hands, cut trees,
mitigate wildfire hazards, restore habitat, strengthen timber
economy, and maybe most importantly, maintain our forests. It
will ensure the requirements to update forest plans make sense
and that the Forest Service will be able to get started on
their projects, instead of being stuck in a constant
bureaucracy and endless litigation. It will cut through red
tape and allow for the Forest Service to spend more time in the
woods and less time in the courtrooms.
This legislation will help good forest projects move
forward. These projects are carefully designed. They take input
from Fish and Wildlife Service, they will take input from the
public, and, ideally, they will hold up in court.
But for the Forest Service, to get the job done and win in
court, they need the resources to do the analysis. If the
Forest Service spends over half its money in fighting fires,
that is less money for responsible forest management; it is
less money to create recreational access, to create watershed
protections, and the due diligence that they need in order to
succeed in court and produce a healthy forest.
The Forest Service is already borrowing $300 million to
cover firefighting costs this year. This depletion means it
won't be able to responsibly manage our forests, making it
harder to mitigate the impacts of wildfires. Sadly, the Senate
seems incapable of addressing climate change in a responsible
and tangible way, and I think that is a big problem.
We may not be able to decide on how to tackle climate
change today, but we should be able to give the Forest Service
the tools they need to responsibly manage our forests. The
Litigation Relief for Forest Management Act is a good start,
but we will need to address the funding issues within the
Forest Service as well.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Senator Barrasso. Well, thank you very much, Senator
Senator Daines, welcome to the Committee.
OPENING STATEMENT OF HON. STEVE DAINES,
U.S. SENATOR FROM THE STATE OF MONTANA
Senator Daines. Thank you, Chairman Barrasso, Ranking
Member Carper for holding today's hearing on Senate Bill 605,
my legislation with Senator Tester to increase active forest
management by fixing a damaging court decision that just
creates red tape and blocks much-needed projects on the ground
with no benefit to the species.
We burned over 1 million acres in Montana this fire season.
In fact, the Ranking Member, it is the size of the State of
Senator Carper. Huge.
Senator Daines. It is big.
Senator Daines. To put it in perspective, we lost two
firefighters, too, and a sobering thought, lost their lives in
Montana fighting those fires.
Let me say up front that this legislation codifies the
legal position taken by the Obama administration. Leaders of
the Department of Agriculture and Department of Interior under
the current Administration, likewise, have expressed support
for the core elements of my legislation.
There is a reason there are two Montanans in front of you
today on the hearing. Montana had two of the three most
expensive fires in the Nation. I just saw the brief from
Secretary Perdue yesterday. Stack ranked the most expensive
fires, the top 20. Montana, No. 1, was the Lolo Peak fire south
of Missoula, and No. 3 was the Rice Ridge fire near City Lake.
Furthermore, Representative Mike Simpson and Representative
Collin Peterson have introduced bipartisan companion
legislation in the House, so we have this from a bipartisan,
bicameral viewpoint, as well as administrative support. It is
also supported by dozens of organizations, several sportsmen
and conservation groups, as well. Simply put, it has strong
bipartisan roots and strong bipartisan support.
Senator Bill 605 responds to the Ninth Circuit ruling in
the U.S. Forest Service versus Cottonwood Environmental Law
Center that the Forest Service is required to do an extra layer
of plan level consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Services following the designation of critical habitat for the
lynx species. To be clear, the Forest Service and Fish and
Wildlife Service were already conducting robust scientific
analysis with regard to lynx habitat at the project level, so
these agencies were and are fully committed to the conservation
of the species.
The Cottonwood ruling stands in contrast with a Tenth
Circuit ruling on a related case in 2007. Unfortunately, in
2016, October, the Supreme Court declined the Obama
administration's petition to resolve the conflicting circuit
court opinions, which effectively upholds the Ninth Circuit
As highlighted by President Obama's Department of Justice,
the Cottonwood ruling has ``the potential to cripple the Forest
Service and BLM's land management functions.''
DOJ also highlighted that this decision substantially
increases unnecessary paperwork requirements without any
conservation benefit. And far from being just a case about the
lynx, the Department of Justice noted that there are more than
850 listed species in the geographical area of the Ninth
Circuit, and emphasized the sheer volume of agency resources
that would be required to adhere to the court's decision.
We are seeing this firsthand in Montana, as the Forest
Service is now prioritizing re-consultation with the U.S. Fish
and Wildlife Service on the lynx first, above other work like
grizzly bear consultation and permitting projects.
Today there are five forest management projects in Montana
comprising over 150 million board feet of timber that have been
blocked through injunctions due to the Cottonwood decision.
These projects were designed to achieve critical objectives
such as reducing the risk of wildfires, improving habitat, and
protecting water quality. Several of these projects were
developed through locally driven, collaborative process that
involved diverse stakeholders working together to improve
forest health, and yet each one was stopped due to repeat
fringe litigants capitalizing on the Ninth Circuit's disastrous
And perhaps the most alarming example, and Senator Tester
just alluded to it, was the injunction of the Stonewall
Vegetation Project near Lincoln, Montana. This project was
enjoined this past spring, just days before the work was
scheduled to begin. And about 1 month later, guess what
happened? Fires broke out on some of the very acres that would
have been treated under this project.
While I can't say the project would have prevented the
fire, the mere fact that wildfires occurred in areas that could
not be treated due to the Cottonwood shows that we need to
urgently pass my bipartisan legislation to statutorily reverse
this decision. Senator Bill 605 simply clarifies that Federal
agencies do not need to do the extra layer of unnecessary
consultation that is required by the Cottonwood decision. This
will statutorily fix right now this conflict we have with the
circuit courts. Removing this burden will allow Federal
agencies to have more time to complete preventive work on the
ground, while also creating good paying wood products jobs.
I strongly believe this legislation, together with other
management and wildfire funding reforms, should be passed into
law this year. We say out in Montana either we are going to
manage the forests or the forests are going to manage us.
I look forward to working with this Committee toward that
end. Thank you.
Senator Barrasso. Thank you very much, Senator Daines. We
appreciate you bringing forth this bipartisan piece of
legislation and are very grateful for your leadership. Thank
We will now hear from our witnesses.
I am pleased to first introduce Jessica Crowder, who serves
as a Policy Advisor for Wyoming's Governor Matt Mead. From her
work for the Governor's Office and as a former policy analyst
for the Wyoming Department of Agriculture, Jessica knows the
value of strong coordination among States, Federal, and local
Jessica holds a bachelor's and master's degrees in range
management, during which she studied post-fire activities,
including grazing following prescribed fire during summer
Jessica is a key member of the Governor's Task Force on
Forests, which concluded January 2015, and she continues to
work closely with me and my staff to develop forestry solutions
for Wyoming. Jessica wears many hats and offers a unique
perspective on the way fire affects forest health.
Jessica, I appreciate you making the trip to be with us
today. I look forward soon to hearing your suggestions for
improving forest health for the next generation.
In addition to Ms. Crowder, we have Mr. Lawson Fite, who is
a General Counsel for the American Forest Resources Council. We
appreciate you being here today.
And Mr. Collin O'Mara, good to see you again, President and
CEO of the National Wildlife Federation.
I would like to remind the witnesses that your full
testimony will be made part of the official hearing record
today. Please try to keep your comments to 5 minutes so that we
may have time for questions.
Ms. Crowder, please begin.
STATEMENT OF JESSICA CROWDER, POLICY ADVISOR, OFFICE OF
GOVERNOR MATTHEW H. MEAD
Ms. Crowder. Thank you and good morning, Mr. Chairman and
members of the Committee. Thank you for the opportunity to
testify on enhancing forest management to effectively mitigate
Wyoming's forested lands make up more than 11 million acres
of our State, and over 60 percent is administered by the Forest
Service and the Bureau of Land Management. Federal impediments
to active management have negatively affected Wyoming's
economy, natural resources, private property, and human health.
The current situation on forested lands in Wyoming and
across the Country demands immediate action. Governor Mead
believes we can do better in managing our forests. He created a
Task Force on Forests in 2013 to analyze and consider response
strategies for forest management. Through this and subsequent
work, we believe there are opportunities to reach the goal of
Wyoming's forests offer an illustration of the need for
active management. Logging, mechanical treatments, managed
livestock grazing, prescribed fire, managed wildfire, all of
these serve to improve forest health and the multiple benefits
derived from our forests. Despite this knowledge, we have not
been able to fully implement active management at a landscape
scale, and the results are concerning.
Over the past 20 years, aerial detection surveys have
mapped over 4.6 million cumulative acres of trees killed by
insect and disease in Wyoming alone. Catastrophic wildfires and
the costs to fight wildfires have increased across the West.
Unmanaged forests impact the ecosystems and essential benefits
they provide. Dead trees pose a hazard for humans. Downed trees
make it difficult for people and animals to use an area. Forage
for livestock and effective wildlife habitats are reduced. It
is difficult to access areas for treatment for livestock
management or for recreational pursuits such as mountain
biking, hunting, and hiking.
Forests impacted by insects and disease also make
firefighting difficult. 2017 has been average year in terms of
wildfires for Wyoming. Unfortunately, this is not true for
several western States. For Wyoming, the fire season of 2012
was an intense and record setting year: over 700,000 acres
burned and over 75 residences were destroyed. The suppression
costs totaled approximately $110 million.
Increased occurrences of catastrophic wildfires can harm
municipal watersheds. High intensity fires increase erosion and
sedimentation in reservoirs that provide water for people.
Wyoming's air quality has also been affected by smoke. The
first 2 weeks of September were particularly smoky. The Wyoming
Department of Environmental Quality has recorded nearly 40
values over air quality standards for particulate matter and
ozone since July.
Because of these impacts of unmanaged forests and wildfires
to Wyoming, I offer these potential solutions.
First, I would like to address insect and disease areas.
Congress gave the Forest Service the ability to use categorical
exclusions under the Agricultural Act of 2014, or the Farm
Bill, in designated insect and disease areas. Federal agencies
are, in some instances, hesitant to utilize existing
authorities and capitalize on opportunities to complete
analyses in an expedited manner. In Wyoming, over 2 million
acres have been designated. To date, this tool has not been
used in our State.
Congress should urge the use of categorical exclusions
already allowed in insect and disease areas. Additionally,
increasing the acreage allowed to be considered under a
categorical exclusion would be beneficial. It will take
management on a larger scale than has occurred in recent years
to effectively decrease wildfire risks.
Second, Wyoming has worked to increase partnerships with
both the Forest Service and the BLM. The permanent
authorization and expansion of Good Neighbor Authority and the
Farm Bill is important for getting more work done on the
ground. This work contributes to proactive management and
decreased potential for large intense fires.
However, the Farm Bill does not allow permanent roads to be
reconstructed under Good Neighbor Authority, and these roads
are often necessary. We recommend removing this provision.
And, finally, I would like to discuss the National
Environmental Policy Act. NEPA was enacted to fulfill a
specific purpose. It is a procedural statute designed to
disclose impacts and assist Federal agencies in making
decisions. Yet, NEPA has evolved into a cumbersome and costly
process. Analyses often contain unnecessary information in an
effort to guard against or answer possible litigation.
A change in the NEPA process through legislative action and
agency action is necessary. My written testimony contains
simple suggestions for improving NEPA. Slow and unwieldy
analyses do not provide for progress in reacting to ever-
changing conditions on the ground. A shift from how the law is
currently being executed will require leadership, and I submit
that this Committee is exceedingly qualified to undertake and
accomplish the goal of restoring and streamlining NEPA.
In closing, Governor Mead appreciates this Committee's
continued leadership and interest in finding solutions to the
crisis we are seeing on our western landscapes.
Thank you again for this opportunity to share Wyoming's
perspective, and I welcome any questions you may have.
[The prepared statement of Ms. Crowder follows:]
[GRAPHIC(S) NOT AVAILABLE IN TIFF FORMAT]
Senator Barrasso. Thank you, Ms. Crowder.
STATEMENT OF LAWSON FITE, GENERAL COUNSEL, AMERICAN FOREST
Mr. Fite. Thank you. Chairman Barrasso and Ranking Member
Carper, members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity
to address you today.
This hearing is a timely and constructive step toward
commonsense reforms in the way that we manage our Federal
The American Forest Resource Council, where I am the
General Counsel, represents the forest products industry in
Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and California. Our
members' businesses, and the rural communities that they
support, depend on a steady and predictable supply of timber.
The forest products industry is one of the only sources of
family wage jobs in these areas, and these jobs are the
linchpin of many rural economies. The milling and logging
infrastructure that our industry provides also makes forest
restoration and thinning efforts possible.
We in the forest products industry take pride in our
stewardship of the lands where we work. We are invested in
sustaining this renewable resource for future generations,
protecting our communities, and ensuring the health of our
forests so it will offer its benefits to the many users who
work, fish, hunt, and recreate there.
Right now, swaths of our Federal forests are overstocked,
unhealthy, and at high risk of catastrophic wildfire. As you
have heard during this hearing, this year's wildfire season in
the West was one of the worst on record: over 8 million acres
burned. The effects of these wildfires are not mere statistics;
they are human suffering, burned homes, destroyed and charred
wildlife habitat, and burned dead forests. And when forests
burn, valuable timber resources are lost, leading to job loss
and closure of that needed mill and logging infrastructure.
Many of these risks were illustrated in dramatic fashion by
the Eagle Creek fire just east of Portland. This fire took
weeks to contain, it threatened key area water sources and
gravely damaged treasured recreational sites such as Multnomah
Falls and the Angel's Rest Trail. It covered the entire
Portland area with a thick blanket of smoke.
On September 17th, Portland had the worst air quality in
the entire Country. Portland public schools canceled their
first day of kindergarten this year. My daughter's preschool,
they have gone outside every day for 30 years, and this year
they had to stay inside for several days because of the poor
air quality from this wildfire.
Fortunately, there are solutions that can increase the
resilience of our forests and our rural communities. The
legislation before you today makes great strides toward
streamlining forest management and reducing artificial
constraints on land management agencies. In particular, S. 605,
the Litigation Relief for Forest Management and Projects Act,
which is a bipartisan bill and a bicameral bipartisan bill,
would fix the Ninth Circuit's disastrous Cottonwood decision
which is currently stalling a wide range of needed projects
across 11 national forests. The bill would fix the decision by
adopting the position taken by the Obama administration in
front of the Ninth Circuit and in a petition to the Supreme
In Cottonwood, the Ninth Circuit ruled that when a new
species is listed or new critical habitat designated, it is not
enough to consult on that species for a project that is
underway; it ruled that the Forest Service had to go back and
redo its plan level consultation, even for a forest plan that
may be 20 or more years old. In the Northwest, in particular,
we are operating under a series of forest plans adopted in
This plan level consultation offers no conservation benefit
over a project level consultation because plan level
consultations often include a broad level of acceptable impact
that can be spread over many projects. But when projects are
analyzed project by project, a buffer is more likely to be
incorporated to ensure those projects do not adversely affect
Cottonwood has had a dramatic effect on the ability of
Region I of the Forest Service to manage its lands, and that is
only the beginning.
In addition to S. 605, both S. 1417 and S. 1731 are worthy
of your considerations. Currently, there are too many
roadblocks and too much analysis paralysis going on in managing
our Federal forests. Solutions to these problems can be
achieved here in Washington, DC, and we urge the Committee to
[The prepared statement of Mr. Fite follows:]
[GRAPHIC(S) NOT AVAILABLE IN TIFF FORMAT]
Senator Barrasso. Thank you very much, Mr. Fite, for your
Mr. O'Mara, welcome back.
STATEMENT OF COLLIN O'MARA, PRESIDENT AND CHIEF EXECUTIVE
OFFICER, NATIONAL WILDLIFE FEDERATION
Mr. O'Mara. Chairman Barrasso, Ranking Member Carper, thank
you for the invitation to be with you all. I am so thankfully
to you personally, Mr. Chairman, for holding this hearing. This
is a crisis that has not received nearly the attention
nationally that it should; it has been drowned out in the news.
And when you look at 8.5 million acres of wildfire this year,
it is a big number. There are a million acres burning right
now, which is the same size as, Senator Carper, my State of
Delaware. Eight of the worst years in wildfire history have
been the last 15. I mean, this is a trend that is absolutely
terrifying. And there are solutions that have gone up to the
two yard line in the last several congresses, but haven't quite
gotten kind of across into the end zone.
I want to be clear from the beginning that fire is natural.
There are absolutely appropriate uses of fire, prescribed
burns, very appropriate management technique. That is not what
we are talking about today. These megafires that we are seeing
are unlike anything we have really ever seen before, and they
are more intense, they are more frequent.
And the thing that is scary for me is that this year we
actually had a decent snowpack in a lot of places. So the
summer was just so hot after that basically all the additional
precipitation that we had wasn't enough to increase the soil
health, and you still had these massive fires.
So you can't ignore the climate impacts between the
snowpack and the warmer springs and the longer, drier summers,
but there are things we can do about it, and right now the
Forest Service is estimating that between 65 and 82 million
acres of forests of the 193 million acres in our national
forest system require restoration. We are only restoring a
fraction of that. And for this conversation I think it is
absolutely imperative that we both link the management
improvements that are absolutely possible with this funding
crisis, because we can have all the tools in the world for our
guys on the ground, and they are doing the best they can with
the tools they have, but if there are no resources to actually
restore these forest stands, it will all be for naught.
So there is a bipartisan path forward. There was a bill
introduced just a few days ago by Senator Crapo, with Senator
Wyden, Senator Merkley is on it as well; a huge bipartisan
coalition of folks. But we would really encourage that this
conversation be tied to that conversation because, at the end
of the day, if we don't fix this fire funding crisis, a lot of
these tools we are talking about will be insufficient.
And we have talked about half of the Forest Service budget
going toward fighting fires. We are going to be over 60 percent
this year, and pushing up to two-thirds, 65 percent in the next
At the same time, we absolutely can improve forest
management, and there are commonsense things we can do. We
should be pushing innovation and collaborative tools. We should
be focusing on restoration, on habitat restoration in
particular. We need to make sure that forests and wildlife
health and watershed health are adequately considered. And we
can also improve the efficiency of the way that we look at
these tools while maintaining public input and collaboration
and environmental safeguards.
And before this Committee today you have two bills that are
great examples of reaching this balance. Senator Hatch and
Senator Heinrich's sage brush bill is a good start. It is a
bill that is targeted on a very specific problem, the juniper
encroachment and looking at some of these other invasive
species. It is targeted. It requires there be a habitat
benefit. It addresses multiple threats, and it has incredible
The thing about this bill that is interesting is that you
have support from almost all the conservation groups; you have
support from industry groups like the American Petroleum
Institute, the NRA. There are some conversations folks want to
have about a couple small pieces. Some folks are concerned that
invasives could come if you create a lot more roads and you
could have some unintended consequences. But it is a great
bipartisan bill that we strongly support.
Senator Daines and Senator Tester talked about the
Cottonwood bill. Again, huge bipartisan support; great broad
coalition of folks. Again, there are a few small pieces that
some groups want to talk about. I think there is a
collaborative process we can have between now and markup to
have that conversation, but, again, something that has big
bipartisan support that makes a lot of sense.
I also agree with Senator Thune that a lot of the concerns
that he has raised are things that we need to address. I think
his bill goes a little too far in some places, and we would
like to work with the committee to ratchet it back a little
bit. I think there are a couple places where we should have
more collaboration and really empower local communities. I
think some environmental safeguards that are kind of stepped by
the wayside that, frankly, could be kept in place and still be
But, again, these are conversations that are timely and you
could have a big bipartisan win at a time in this chamber where
I think bipartisanship is fairly rare. You could have a
massive, massive bipartisan victory in the next 2 months using
these bills before this Committee as a basis and combining
Senator Crapo's work on the other side.
So, for me, at the end of the day, if we can put forward a
package that solves the wildfire funding crisis, finally, that
we have been talking about for 4 years, adopts landscape scale
approaches, the Nature Conservancy has been doing good work on
this; if we can actually reduce some of these redundant
environmental reviews in a way that still protects the
integrity, but actually increases efficiency; if we reward
collaboration--there is nothing more frustrating for folks than
to participate in a process for years, finding good commonsense
bipartisan solutions, nonpartisan solutions and have them blown
up by litigation later--and then expanding and improving these
Good Neighbor and stewardship contracting provisions, we could
have an absolute homerun and actually address a major problem
on the landscape in a big way.
So, on behalf of the National Wildlife Federation, our 6
million members, our 51 State affiliates, State and territorial
affiliates, thank you for working on this issue because I think
this is one of those opportunities that could be government at
its best over the next couple months if we put our heads and
actually get something big done. So thank you to Mr. Chairman
and Mr. Carper.
[The prepared statement of Mr. O'Mara follows:]
[GRAPHIC(S) NOT AVAILABLE IN TIFF FORMAT]
Senator Barrasso. Thank you very much for your testimony. I
appreciate the testimony of all of you. We will proceed to some
questioning at this time, and I will start with Ms. Crowder.
According to the Federal land management agencies, on
average, humans are, either intentionally or unintentionally,
responsible for many of the wildfires in the United States.
Casper Star Tribune reported that the cost of fighting the most
expensive fire in United States history was in California, and
that exceeded $200 million. The fire was caused by an illegal
campfire. Last year, in Wyoming, a fire believed by the
authorities to be man-caused destroyed a residential home and
burned more than 19 square miles near Yellowstone National
Park. It cost the U.S. Bureau of Land Management $1.4 million
to fight that fire in Wyoming.
Given the high cost to the American taxpayer, are there
measures that we should be taking in order to make our forests
more resistant to catastrophic manmade fires, or man-caused
Ms. Crowder. Mr. Chairman, yes, there are steps we should
be taking and could take fairly easily. First, continued
support for State fire assistance programs is important. In
Wyoming, this includes fire prevention efforts such as
education, educating the public on the impacts that their
actions may have on citizens and even just their visit to these
areas. Fire-wise programs to help homeowners and communities
reduce the risk of wildfire damage are also important. Of
course, hazardous fuel reduction projects are very important.
This is an opportunity to mitigate wildfire hazards and lessen
the threat of catastrophic fires or megafires. It is an
opportunity to reduce lighter fuels, opportunities to reduce
surface fuels, and also put in place some thinning projects.
And these State fire assistance programs also provide the
State opportunity to build or maintain capacity of State,
Federal, and even volunteer fire departments, which become
important in initial attacks when we have these fires. And, of
course, I believe also that proactive management on a large
scale is necessary as well.
Senator Barrasso. Following up on that, to Mr. Fite, some
parties are advocating a complete hands-off approach to
national forests. In the past, you have expressed some
skepticism over this concept of passive forest management.
Specifically, June of this year you were quoted in Courthouse
News as saying this approach ``leads to conditions that are
quite unhealthy and even dangerous.''
So, do you feel that there is a way to have healthy
interactions with forest ecosystems and make forests more
resilient to disease, to pests, and to catastrophic fire?
Mr. Fite. Yes, Mr. Chairman, absolutely. There are things
that we can do to make our forests more resilient and to
restore a more natural role of fire in our ecosystem, and that
involves active management, that involves untying our land and
management agencies' hands so they can implement active
management on a wider basis and without devoting so much of
their resources to planning activities. For example, the Forest
Service figures that we have seen 40 percent of their time and
resources are spent on paperwork and planning, and that is not
the way we should be out there managing our forests, reducing
the fuels so that, when a fire comes through, the impacts are
not catastrophic like we have seen this year.
Senator Barrasso. Thank you.
Ms. Crowder, you know, as a doctor, I am concerned about
health impacts of these wildfires. Earlier this month, the
Casper Star Tribune reported that the EPA considered the air
quality over parts of several western States as very unhealthy
because of the fires. It also quoted a physician with the
American Lung Association who warned that fires spew
particulates into the air which are linked to premature death
and cancer, and can make asthma and chronic lung diseases
As a Wyoming official and a resident, can you describe what
impacts these fires are having on the physical health of the
people of the West?
Ms. Crowder. Yes, Mr. Chairman. Human health is certainly a
concern when it comes to wildfires. The air quality in Wyoming
has been particularly bad this summer. Particulate matter, or
those particulates that are suspended in the air, really do
cause damage. The Wyoming Department of Health has put out
several announcements and warnings to Wyoming citizens over the
past several months, warning them to stay indoors and close
their windows. You know, as a Wyoming resident, I have seen my
own neighbors be forced inside because of air quality, and that
is concerning in Wyoming.
Additionally, we are concerned about visitors who visit our
great State, and the impacts that poor air quality has on them
and their trip, as well as our economy.
We are also concerned with municipal watersheds and the
impacts that fires may have on municipal watersheds, from
sedimentation to notices from the Cheyenne Board of Public
Utilities that our water may smell like smoke or taste like
dirt because of a small wildfire in the area.
So these are real health concerns in Wyoming.
Senator Barrasso. Thank you.
Senator Carper. First of all, welcome one and all,
colleagues. It is great to see you back here, and thank you for
all the good work that you continue to do with your life; and I
think the same is true for our other witnesses as well.
You had a chance to hear Mr. O'Mara's comments in his
testimony. Do you agree, Ms. Crowder, with anything he said?
Ms. Crowder. Mr. Chairman, Senator Carper, he makes some
very good points. Fire is a natural process and we do need to
look at management at a large scale, and management needs to
occur now at a large scale. There are several tools that we
have in the toolbox, and we need to be using those immediately.
I also believe that the testimony that Mr. O'Mara put
forward that these megafires are of concern is absolutely true,
and I do believe that collaboration is an important part of the
process. We have seen some collaborative processes in Wyoming
move forward. We have seen the Forest Service lead some of
these collaboratives in Wyoming and put together landscape
scale, and start to put landscape scale management activities,
and that is important.
However, I do think we also need to move quickly, and time
is of the essence here. Thank you.
Senator Carper. All right. Thank you.
Mr. Fite, do you agree with anything that Mr. O'Mara had to
say here in his testimony?
Mr. Fite. Yes, Senator. For example, Mr. O'Mara discussed
the Cottonwood bill, S. 605, sponsored by Senators Daines and
Tester, and how that is a way to ensure that we get needed
forest management projects done particularly in the northern
Rockies and other regions where they are being held up for
paperwork reasons that aren't producing conservation benefits.
On the collaboration aspect, we in the industry support
collaborative efforts where they produce good projects. We have
a project where I, in fact, represented a collaborative in
court that has been held up in litigation under the Cottonwood
decision. So that is holding up collaborative projects, and
that is why we need that fix.
Senator Carper. All right, thank you.
Collin, in your testimony, I think regarding the Litigation
Relief Act, you mentioned that other members of the
conservation community who are concerned that this bill, this
would be the Tester-Daines bill, are concerned that this bill
may be broader than necessary to achieve its goals and may
result in some unintended consequences.
Could you just elaborate on these unintended consequences
and how we might address these concerns in the legislation?
Mr. O'Mara. Sure. Thanks, Senator. And I have to give
Senator Daines and Senator Tester a lot of credit. If you
compare this bill to the House bill, it is already much more
concise, and I think there is some concern that if you are only
looking at the project level, when there is new information
that comes on, that there could be information that should be
integrated into kind of cumulative facts across the entire
plan. I, frankly, think with a little bit more conversation we
can actually resolve this quickly. We support the bill as it
is. We are very grateful to Senator Daines for the work that he
has done. We think that is actually a very strategic approach.
These plans are supposed to be done every 10 years. It is more
like 25 years in practice. So we just don't want to see
projects held up that are going to help species today waiting
for some long, collaborative process. But I think the biggest
thing is just making sure there is no unintended consequences
Senator Carper. Our other witness, do you have any brief
reaction to what Collin just said? Briefly.
Ms. Crowder. Mr. Chairman, Senator Carper, yes, I do
believe that these projects do need to happen for habitat
management and other reasons as well. As I spoke about earlier,
the bill, the Daines-Tester bill does allow for project-
specific consultation, and that is important. Ultimately, we
want to see species recovery, and we don't want to harm that in
any way or harm the opportunity for actually getting management
done on the ground. So I do agree that is an important step
Senator Carper. OK, thanks.
Mr. Fite, any comment on what Collin just said?
Mr. Fite. Yes, thank you, Senator. I think this bill is
very carefully drawn. It does not undo existing law as to how
you consult when you revise or prepare a new forest plan. So
Senators Daines and Tester worked very carefully to make this a
narrow fix that just eliminates work that is not going to
actually benefit our species.
Senator Carper. All right. I have some more questions and
hope we will have an opportunity to ask those. Thanks for those
Senator Barrasso. You certainly will, Senator Carper.
Senator Inhofe. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I have been
sitting and listening with a lot of interest. Of course, I know
this hearing is covering the forest fires, but we have prairie
fires in Oklahoma. In fact, the last one we had was not really
a record-setter, but it is something that we are facing. I can
remember flying my own plane over it and going all the way up
to southern Kansas and seeing the carcasses of animals up
against fences where they were trying to get loose. So it is a
very tragic thing.
Ms. Crowder, in your testimony you say outreach at the
early stages of development in the NEPA process would be key to
reducing the time it takes to reach a decision. We have a lot
of experience in that in this Committee during our highway
bills and everything else, and we have learned from experience
that we can do that. Last week I introduced a bill that
pertains to the FERC permitting, providing for all Federal,
State, and local regulatory agencies to come to the table early
to coordinate their participation. It sounds to me like this is
needed across government for all other types of projects.
Can you further detail as to why it is important to get all
the stakeholders at the table early, rather than later?
Ms. Crowder. Yes, Mr. Chairman, Senator Inhofe. I have
extensive experience working on these National Environmental
Policy Act processes and actually putting the documents
together, and, from my personal experience, those projects
where the Federal agencies engage State and local governments,
as well as others, early in the process tend to move a lot
faster. So, for example, if a State agency has, and they often
do, wildlife data that is important and useful for the Federal
agency, then that State agency can bring that wildlife data
forward, instead of waiting until the last minute to provide
Senator Inhofe. Which is normally the case.
Ms. Crowder. Often the case, yes, sir. So I believe that
bringing the entities to the table that have the data and
expertise is of most importance.
Senator Inhofe. And I think we successfully did this in
some of our, in our FAST Act, the previous transportation bill
prior to that, and we got some things done that otherwise we
would not have gotten done. It was a joint effort, very
bipartisan effort and very successful.
Mr. Fite, in hearing your testimony today, there seems to
have been more of a system for forest practices at a more local
level. Besides the NEPA process, the Forest Service and other
agencies are constantly blocked from responsible forest
management through litigation from environmental groups that
challenge every decision, even when these decisions are backed
by science and beneficial to the overall ecosystem. There is a
problem that needs to be solved, as these cases delay projects
for years and create uncertainty, and then we will see
situations like when the circuit courts split and the Supreme
Court doesn't weigh in.
What are your thoughts? You concentrated in your opening
remarks more about S. 605, but on the other bill that Senator
Thune was interested in, S. 1731, do you have any other
thoughts on how you can solve these problems? Concentrate more
Mr. Fite. Yes, Senator. Thank you for the question.
Litigation is a real problem, particularly when you have a
project like you were describing, where stakeholders get
involved, they are at the table helping develop the project,
and then an outside group comes in at the very end and undoes
the whole process, halts everything in litigation. And the
arbitration provisions in 1731 I think are a good step at a
pilot project for trying to figure out ways to streamline the
litigation process, because right now the litigation process on
top of the planning process can take years and years, and we
need to fix that.
Senator Inhofe. Well, that is good. Do you think 1736 would
help in that respect?
Mr. Fite. Yes, Senator.
Senator Inhofe. The legislation we are discussing today are
some ways to address forest management issues. Are there other
things that Congress could do that are not addressed in this
Mr. O'Mara. Senator, thank you. I would really----
Senator Inhofe. You are a very effective fast talker. My
wife is always telling me to talk slower, and I am realizing
now there is a great benefit to talking faster.
Mr. O'Mara. Trying to squeeze 10 minutes into 5 minutes.
Mr. O'Mara. I joke that I grew up in Syracuse, New York;
and if you don't talk fast, your mouth actually freezes shut.
I would encourage everyone to take a look at Senator
Crapo's legislation on the funding side, because if we fix the
funding side and there are sufficient resources for managers
and we make some of these management improvements so they have
more tools, then we actually could have a victory that would
transform forest management in this Country; and, frankly, it
would be one of the most significant improvements in decades.
So putting those two together I think could be an absolute
Senator Inhofe. Good. Appreciate that.
Any other comments on that, other things that could be
Mr. Fite. There are a number of measures that have been
proposed on the House side in a bill sponsored by Congressman
Westerman that can really streamline planning processes, in
particular an action-no action analysis. So that could really
Senator Inhofe. Well, that is interesting. We will get that
and look at those provisions.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. By the way, this is just another
reminder that we have a problem between two Committees, this
Committee and the Commerce Committee, that always seem to meet
at the same time, so one of these days we will get that fixed.
Senator Barrasso. Thank you, Senator Inhofe.
Senator Merkley. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
And thank you all for your presentations.
Oregon has been burning with 20 major forest fires, and
some of those are complexes, meaning it is called one fire, but
it is actually maybe a dozen. At one point there were over 80
fires burning in my State just recently.
Mr. Fite, I was up on the Eagle Creek Trail and the Pacific
Crest Trail while the Indian Springs was burning on Eagle
Creek, but we then had the fireworks that set off the whole
Pacific Gorge aflame, and phenomenal just what that did.
Oregon has had probably more success than any State in the
Country on stewardship projects and collaboratives, and that
effort came from, well, we have this war, this war going on
over our forests, with some saying, hey, they should be managed
primarily to get forests to an old growth State where they are
fire resistant, and don't mess with Mother Nature, and others
saying the solution to everything is to clear-cut. So that war
was unproductive, ends up in all these court battles, so out of
that came the stewardship efforts and the collaborative
We have hundreds of thousands of acres in Oregon of second
growth forests that are really good for fire and they are
really good for disease, but they are not either great for
either timber stands or for ecosystems. So there is a potential
here for a win-win, and that is what the stewardship projects
and the collaboratives are all about. And essentially, in the
end, it is some version of thinning. You have these forests
with the trees far too close together. The boughs are very low;
the fire easily moves from the soil level to the canopy. Every
tree is so close it lights the next one on fire; any wind blows
through that. Then that carries over out of the fatal forests
onto private land.
So I was involved in a couple pilot projects that involved
various types of thinning, and I have been up in the woods with
both timber companies and the environmental groups to discuss
how do we push this forward. So I just wanted to ask each of
you, Ms. Crowder, do you feel like there is a real space for
thinning projects to be able to kind of provide a steady supply
of saw logs to the mills, but also to reduce the disease and
fire challenges that we have in these forests?
Ms. Crowder. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Senator Merkley.
Thinning is absolutely a useful tool for reducing fuels. It
reduces fuels that lead to crown fires potentially; it has the
potential to improve wildlife habitat; has positive impacts on
tree growth, which leads to positive tree and forest health. It
also leads to a potential decrease in insect and disease. So I
do believe that thinning is a useful tool for reducing fuels
and improving forest health. But thinning is only one of the
tools in the toolbox.
Senator Merkley. I am going to run out of time, so I won't
ask you to go through the other tools.
Mr. Fite, do you feel that is a useful tool?
Mr. Fite. Yes, Senator. Thinning projects are a useful
tool. I would say that even for thinning projects the process
and litigation has become a significant roadblock. For example,
projects in Oregon, a 187-acre project, for example, or a
couple thousand acres, courts have required an environmental
impact statement which is on the level of--that is more
documentation than you need to build a new runway at Hillsboro
Airport, quite literally, and that is why we need some fixes to
Senator Merkley. Thank you, Mr. Fite. I will point out that
virtually no stewardship projects ended up in court in Oregon.
The whole point is to get people together beforehand and work
out what is referred to as a prescription so you don't battle
it out in court and you actually get work done in the woods.
Mr. O'Mara. Thank you, Senator. I think you are right, I
think some of the collaboratives in Oregon are some of the best
examples, and I think some of the early stewardship
contracting. I would like to see a lot more of it. I want to
make sure that we actually enhance those programs and kind of
build on the lessons since the Farm Bill. But, absolutely,
thinning, prescribed burns, the things that actually work for
some of the northwestern forests are absolutely essential to
Senator Merkley. One of the challenges with thinning
projects is they are often not commercially viable. It is just
a lot, if you will, cheaper to take out trees in big chunks,
big clear-cuts, and that is why we have programs to help fund
that thinning. We had a lot in the stimulus bill. We have
various other fuel hazardous loads and so forth programs. But
we need to do a lot more of that.
That is an interesting sound. Whose phone was that?
Unidentified Speaker. Seems like it was coming from out
Senator Merkley. Hello.
So that is one challenge, the funding to do those thinning
But one of the things that happens often when we have fires
is there are folks who say, well, you know, the best thing to
do is just get rid of the environmental side and let's go in
and allow clear-cuts without any sort of action and, by the
way, let's take out the fire-resistant trees at the same time,
which just puts off alarm bells. Why would we take out old
growth and the fire-resistant trees in the course of trying to
make a forest more resilient?
And since I am out of time, I won't ask you all to answer
that, but I did notice that is exactly what is in Senate Bill
1731, full permission to take out the old growth and the fire-
resistant trees; and that is just the sort of approach that
destroys all the efforts to bring together the two communities
to create forest health, because it is like, oh, well, here is
an excuse to just go to old-style clear-cutting, rather than
actual forest stewardship and making the better timber stands
and better ecosystems.
So I just wanted to express that concern and say that we
really need to focus on not increasing the timber wars, but
expanding on the foundation we have from the stewardship
contracts and the collaboratives who are showing how we can
stay out of the courts, make the forests more healthy, and
produce a steady supply of saw logs for the mills. Thanks.
Senator Barrasso. Thank you, Senator Merkley.
Senator Rounds. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Fite, in your testimony you State that wildfires this
season have been one of the worst on record. Now, according to
the U.S. Forest Service, fire seasons are now approximately two
and a half months longer than in 1970. Just this month alone,
KEVN News in Rapid City, South Dakota, has cited over 20
wildfires in the Black Hills National Forest. We are facing, in
my opinion, a Federal forest management crisis.
If you could point to the most needed change to Federal
management policy, what would that be, and why?
Mr. Fite. Thank you, Senator. The most needed change is
simply a focus on actively managing our landscape and making
sure that the Forest Service and the BLM, those are the two
agencies with the most Federal forests, that is their No. 1
priority. Wildfires have to be fought when they come out, and
it certainly costs a lot of money and we need to pay for it,
but we need to be getting in there on the front end and making
our landscapes more resilient so then, when a fire does come
through, we don't get the destructive and catastrophic effects
like we have seen this season and the past few seasons.
Senator Rounds. Let me just ask a specific, because the
suggestion is that the type of management that you would
suggest is clear-cutting forests. Can you talk about that for a
minute? Is that really what the desired management practice is?
Mr. Fite. No, Senator, and I appreciate you asking the
question. I think in one of the previous comments from the
Committee there was a discussion of are we clear-cutting, are
we removing fire-resistant trees. When we are going in and
doing active management, there are different tools that
agencies use in different circumstances, and in some cases you
may want to create an opening or use former regeneration
harvest. But a land management agency goes in and it uses its
tools intelligently, knowing how the landscape is going to
benefit. And we have seen research, particularly in California,
that a little more intensive management can open up areas for
prey for some of these iconic owl species; and that if you
aren't going in and managing at all, that is, one, going to
create this wildfire risk, but then you are not creating the
prey base for these wildlife species that folks want to keep
Senator Rounds. Really, what you are talking about is a
diversity within the Forest Service itself. You want some areas
with grass; you want some areas with shrubbery; you want some
areas where heavy timber stands are allowed, moved in. It is
almost like managing a garden in many ways, isn't it?
Mr. Fite. I think that is a fair characterization, Senator.
The Forest Service should be using all the tools at its
disposal to make an active, healthy forest that produces all
the multiple uses that they are designed for. And I think there
are solutions out there with active management that can help
give them those tools and help our communities as well.
Senator Rounds. In your testimony you indicated that there
seems to be a disparity in outcomes between federally and non-
federally managed forestlands. With all due respect to our
Federal agencies and employees, I have seen this firsthand in
the Black Hills in my home State, and it is often obvious from
the condition of the trees themselves where federally managed
forestlands start and where they end. A failure to properly
manage forestland, or a lack of management entirely, is what
leads to some of these very dangerous conditions; fuel
buildups, undergrowth that hasn't been addressed in some cases;
old growth timbers that have not been thinned in some cases.
And when you do have a pine beetle infestation or anything
else, you end up with so much heat that you basically sterilize
the ground; the heat gets so high.
Can you elaborate on what exactly the Federal Government is
doing wrong as it relates to active forest management?
Mr. Fite. It is a combination of factors, Senator, and one
of those factors is just the agencies' hands are tied. They
have one hand tied behind their back by a number of these
repetitive processes and then the litigation loop, so they are
not able to get projects together at the scale or the pace that
they need to get them together.
Senator Rounds. Ms. Crowder, very quickly, you testified
that the permanent authorization of Good Neighbor Authority in
the 2014 Farm Bill has been an important tool for getting work
done on the ground. Can you explain how the Good Neighbor
Authority, collaborating with the Forest Service and the Bureau
of Land Management, has allowed you to better manage forests?
Ms. Crowder. Absolutely. Thank you, Senator, Mr. Chairman.
In the Black Hills of the national forests, we have seen, with
State forestry and working with the Federal Government, as well
as the National Wild Turkey Foundation, a Good Neighbor
Authority project that actually does improve active management
on the Black Hills. We have also seen some very particular
projects on BLM lands in southcentral Wyoming, where we have
been able to work with other entities, including the BLM and
the Forest Service, through Good Neighbor Authority to do mule
deer habitat improvement and to actually get some timber moved
off of some of those areas before it is unusable.
Senator Rounds. Thank you.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Senator Barrasso. Thank you very much, Senator Rounds.
Senator Gillibrand. Thank you so much, Mr. Chairman and Mr.
Ranking Member, for holding this hearing.
Mr. O'Mara, in your written testimony you mention that the
U.S. Forest Service is restoring just under 5 million acres per
year. The U.S. Forest Service also estimates that approximately
65 million acres of Forest Service land is in need of some type
of restoration. This seems to me to be an alarming gap between
what needs to be done and what is actually being done to
Yesterday, Secretary Perdue said, during his press
availability, that what we need is a ``permanent funding fix''
and that a legislative effort is not necessarily needed if a
funding fix is provided.
Do you agree with Secretary Perdue that the major
impediment to forest restoration efforts is primary lack of
funding and resources? And what level of funding should
Congress and the Administration be providing to carry out
forest restoration projects?
Mr. O'Mara. Thank you, Senator. I absolutely agree with
Secretary Perdue. During my testimony earlier, I was focused on
that. You can have all the management tools in the world, but
if you don't have the resources to get products on the ground,
they are all for naught. And I think right now you are spending
$2 billion between the Forest Service and BLM and the Interior
agencies on fighting these catastrophic fires, and that doesn't
include the money that the Pentagon is spending and some State
agencies are spending on top of it. So it is a massive number.
And there has been good work by Senator Murkowski and Senator
Udall and others in the appropriations process to try to put a
band aid on the problem, but there is a great bipartisan bill
that Senator Crapo has been working on with Senator Wyden and
Senator Feinstein and so many others that I think is a perfect
path to actually having the funding necessary.
My belief is that we should have a dedicated separate fund
for fires, rather than trying to put it into the FEMA universe,
because if there is another hurricane that hits New York or
Delaware or somewhere else, those funds are not predictable
enough. So there should be a separate funding source. And there
is a model that I think has broad bipartisan support, at least
in this body; and if we can move that quickly, it solves a lot
of these other problems. And I would love to complement it with
some good management improvements also to give folks more tools
to do better projects.
But right now this restoration deficit, if you had all the
money in the world, you would be able to restore a lot of that
65 to 82 million acres in the coming years, instead of this
maybe, if we are lucky, over the next 20 or 30 years at the
current rate of funding.
Senator Gillibrand. Well, I would like to work with you on
those management ideas, because if we do get a vote on that
bill in this Committee, I could offer an amendment to add that
to the bill.
In your written testimony, you raised several concerns with
S. 1731, the Forest Management Improvement Act. Among the
concerns you raise is the reduction in transparency and public
involvement that would be the result of the bill. What would
the consequences of limiting the options that are looked at as
part of an environmental review or environmental assessment for
all forest management practices, and how would such a
limitation affect the ability of the public to provide
meaningful input in the process?
Mr. O'Mara. So, I am a big fan of collaborative processes,
where you get folks on the ground together to come up with kind
of solutions, and the 2014 Farm Bill actually had a great model
for a lot of these individual exclusions to have a more
collaborative process, and what they did there is they actually
kept the environmental safeguards in place, but they really
focused on empowering the collaboratives. And I think in this
case there is a commonsense moderate middle between, and I
think there is a bipartisan agreement where I think this
overreaches on a few fronts. I think there is a more moderate
place. None of us want to see projects that are collaborative
blown up by the courts and things like that, but the answer
isn't get rid of everything in the process and kind of throw
the baby out with the bath water. So there is a middle ground
that we would love to work with you and the Committee on
finding, because we can get this done very well.
Senator Gillibrand. A major reason why we subject major
projects and activities to an environmental review process is
to ensure that the voices of the public and other stakeholders
are heard before decisions are made. This allows, in many
instances, potential conflicts and unintended consequences to
be identified and resolved before a project moves forward,
rather than trying to fix it after the fact.
For any of you, could you give us an example, either now or
for the record, of how this process has worked well to resolve
environmental issues before a project was implemented?
You could start, Collin.
Mr. O'Mara. Sure. I mean, I think there are incredible
projects in places like Oregon and places like Montana that
have had great collaborative processes that identified
potential impacts to make sure you had the sportsmen interests
for elk and big game kind of matched and making sure you don't
have an adverse impact on things like raptors and owls and
other kind of species. So having more voices at the table at
the local level I think is the absolute best way to do this.
And then what I would like to see is have those processes
bolstered so they have greater weight in the courts. I mean,
you shouldn't have somebody that wasn't part of the process be
able to blow they up. We see that all too often.
And I think this is where Senator Daines' bill and Senator
Tester's bill, of making sure we are not having to go back to
the entire plan, but just kind of focus on a specific piece and
getting the best science, best collaboration at that level is a
commonsense moderate middle that can actually make sure these
kind of projects that are good and collaborative actually
Senator Gillibrand. Lawson.
Mr. Fite. Thank you, Senator. Certainly, in Idaho and
Montana there has been a lot of progress. I was involved in a
project recently in southern Idaho where we got on the phone
with conservation groups and the Forest Service and worked
Things are a little more difficult in Oregon. We have a
collaborative project that is under litigation by a former
member of a collaborative and a group that has participated in
those processes, so I think that is a frustrating experience
for folks when they go in that process and then there is still
Senator Gillibrand. Chairman, I am out of time. Could
Jessica answer, though?
Senator Barrasso. Ms. Crowder.
Ms. Crowder. I will be brief. Thank you, Senator.
The collaboratives are important. We do have collaborative
processes beginning in Wyoming. We are a little behind Oregon
on some of those efforts. And I would submit to you that
involving the people locally on the ground who live and work in
these communities is of the utmost importance. However, I would
also caution, and what we hear often from our constituents is
we need immediate action; and they want to be involved in the
process, but they want the process to lead to action on the
ground. Thank you.
Senator Gillibrand. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Senator Barrasso. Thank you very much.
Senator Boozman. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member. I
apologize for being late; I was at a Veterans hearing talking
about veteran suicide, which is also very important. But, also,
this is very important too, in a different way.
Ms. Crowder, my State of Arkansas is very active in forest
management on private, State, and some instances on Federal
land. We have a thriving timber industry that provides good-
paying jobs for thousands of Arkansans. Further, Arkansas
creates a net sequester of carbon at an impressive 16 million
tons a year. It appears that investing in forest management is
not only good for our environment, but it also boosts the U.S.
In your testimony and in answers to questions, it appears,
Ms. Crowder, that you feel like that the legislation that we
are discussing, well, enhanced forest management practices
would help with the forest fire situation. Am I correct in
Ms. Crowder. Yes, sir.
Senator Boozman. Do you view increased forest management as
a way for the United States to reduce its carbon footprint?
Ms. Crowder. Yes, sir. Trees are important; they are carbon
holders, carbon capture, so they are of the utmost importance
to having healthy forests, to having healthy people, to having
a healthy environment; and active management of those trees
only increases those opportunities.
Senator Boozman. Would you all comment, if you would?
Mr. Fit. Well, I will comment very quickly. I met with one
of our members, one of our sawmill members, and he said, you
know what I do? I sequester carbon. By putting wood into
products like the paneling in this room, we are sequestering
carbon and we are storing it in our forests. And if we have
these catastrophic wildfires, then we are releasing amounts of
carbon that could be stored in those forests and kept there
with good active management.
Mr. O'Mara. Thank you, Senator, and thank you for the
question. The estimates have ranged anywhere from 50 million
metric tons of carbon go off every year from these wildfires to
150 million. Just by way of comparison, all the refineries
combined across the entire Country is about 220 million metric
tons. So it is a lot. So, if we can improve management of our
forests in a constructive way that reduces some of these
catastrophic fires, the emission savings are significant; and,
frankly, I would rather have it be in the trees, in the older
trees and the larger trees, and actually have some local jobs
as a result, also.
Senator Boozman. Very good. Thank you.
Mr. Fite, as you know, forest management is generally a
bipartisan issue. Do you believe the legislation in front of us
today effectively promotes a healthy environment, while getting
rid of redundant processes that put our Country at greater risk
of catastrophic wildfires? And I think it kind of goes to the
comment that Ms. Crowder said a few minutes ago about the need,
when you talk to individuals on the ground, the locals, getting
something done now. But we have redundancies and we just have a
paralysis of action.
Mr. Fite. Absolutely, Senator. Forestry is a bipartisan
space, and it is really encouraging that there are so many
bills, particularly the litigation reform bill sponsored by
Senators Daines and Tester also has bipartisan support in the
House, and that is so encouraging because it is so important to
our communities and to our ecosystems. We can do a lot of
things that are win-win, where we are increasing the health of
our forests, but we are also increasing the stability of our
communities. And one of the great things about forestry is it
provides jobs in rural areas that are blue collar and middle
class; and there aren't as many jobs in this Country like that
as there used to be, and that is a great thing for America.
Senator Boozman. Very good.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Senator Barrasso. Thank you, Senator Boozman.
Senator Carper. Thanks, Mr. Chairman.
Collin, I will come back to you on the first question.
Could you just take a minute and explain the relevance of the
term categorical exclusion to this discussion? And then I am
going to ask you some more specific questions.
Mr. O'Mara. Sure. So the categorical exclusion is a way to
have a project that is defined that basically avoids the need
for the same level of environmental analysis that would be
required under the National Environmental Protection Act, and I
think they have been used very strategically in some places, in
the Farm Bill. I used a couple examples of that. The
administrative agencies also have some authority to have
narrowly crafted ones. And it is a way to basically expedite
the review of projects by not having the same level of
Senator Carper. I understand that the Forest Service has
authority, I think explicit authority, to use categorical
exclusions up to, what is it, 3,000 acres now? And I understand
they have used it not hundreds of times, but maybe 30, 40
times, something like that. On average, I believe it is about
roughly 1,000 acres at a time. And we have heard testimony
today that they have not fully utilized this authority.
Your testimony expresses strong concern about proposed new
categorical exclusions up to what, I think 10,000 acres. Could
you talk more about the unintended consequence of implementing
such a broad exclusion, particularly before the Forest Service
has fully implemented its existing authorities and before
Congress has addressed the agency's funding needs?
Mr. O'Mara. Sure. There is kind of two parts to the
proposal. One is increasing the acreage and the second is kind
of reducing the other kind of collaboration and the restoration
intent that some of the other exclusions have. So what we would
like to see is a more narrow focus on projects that actually
have a restoration purpose, and I think we actually see that in
the mule deer bill, the stage grouse bill that Senator Hatch
and Senator Heinrich have been working on; and at the same time
still encourage things like collaboration and having some level
So we just don't think it is absolutely necessary, given
that the vast majority of projects that the Forest Service is
looking at using this particular exemption for right now are
about 1,000 acres, as you mentioned, not even reaching the full
3,000. So I think the deal that was the bipartisan agreement
from the Farm Bill in 2014 was a pretty good one. I would love
to have them have more resources and more tools to use that
existing exemption, as opposed to going further for something
they really don't need yet.
Senator Carper. OK, good. Thanks. That was helpful.
Ms. Crowder, somewhere in your testimony you mention that
the State of Wyoming--have you always lived in the State of
Ms. Crowder. I am sorry?
Senator Carper. Have you always lived in the State of
Ms. Crowder. I have been there about 13 years.
Senator Carper. I was in Wyoming last weekend, Camden,
Wyoming. It is a little town just south of Dover, Delaware. I
go there a lot, and I always say to John Barrasso, our
Chairman, and Mike Enzi, I was in Wyoming last weekend. It is a
different one. I have been there a couple times. Lovely place.
Lovely place. The real Wyoming, the really big one.
But you mention in your testimony that your home State,
your native State requested that the Forest Service uses
authorities enacted in the Farm Bill we were talking about
earlier, 2014 Farm Bill, but the agency has not yet done so.
And I just want to ask you if you think this is in large part
because the Forest Service's budget is inadequate and the
agency has to spend more than half of its budget fighting
Ms. Crowder. Yes, sir. Fire borrowing is a real concern,
and Governor Mead shares that concern and would like to see a
fix to the fire borrowing issue. Essentially what it does is it
takes away opportunities for us to get some active management
done on the ground, as well as other projects, recreation
projects, habitat enhancement projects, and others.
In Wyoming, categorical exclusions related to insect and
disease designation areas under the 2014 Farm Bill have not
happened yet. That is not only because of the fire borrowing
issue; it is because of a hesitancy to utilize the tool and
also because there are many instances where a larger action is
necessary. So chipping away 3,000 acres at a time on a forest
like the Medicine Bow National Forest won't make the results
happen as quickly and it won't be as useful as we would like to
Senator Carper. OK, thanks.
I have maybe one question, but for the next round?
Senator Barrasso. Go ahead.
Senator Carper. OK, thanks.
This would be for all witnesses, but I am going to start
off, if I could, Mr. Fite, with you.
According to the Forest Service's NEPA handbook, the agency
has, I don't know, 30, 40, maybe 35 categorical exclusions at
its disposal. Do you believe these exclusions are being fully
utilized? If not, why do you think they have not been fully
utilized? And do you have specific recommendations on how they
could be better utilized?
Mr. Fite. Thank you, Senator. The categorical exclusions,
many of them are being utilized, but they are for very small
pieces of work, for 70-acre treatment or there is a categorical
exclusion for facility maintenance. So many of these
categorical exclusions don't really make a difference on the
As far as barriers to using categorical exclusions, I will
say I think Region I of the Forest Service has done a really
good job using the Farm Bill authorities. They already have 15
projects, just Montana, northern Idaho, North Dakota.
Certainly, budget is an issue, but making sure that we can
streamline authorities ensures that money will be spent wisely
and it gets a good return, because the difference between a
categorical exclusion and an EA versus an EIS can be
significant time and significant taxpayer dollars.
Senator Carper. All right.
Mr. O'Mara. I do think that we have gotten better at this
the last few cycles and we have seen some improvement. There is
a really great idea that the Nation Conservancy and the
National Wildlife Federation and Senator Cantwell and Senator
Murkowski have been talking about, kind of like these landscape
scale plans where you basically try to do habitat restoration
at scale and then use it through an EA process as a way to kind
of expedite the review, but as opposed to every individual
small project kind of looking at scale.
So I think what we would argue is that we could use the EA
process much more efficiently and not need the full-blown EIS,
kind of NEPA analysis, and that is a better solution, from our
point of view, than having a bunch more categorical exclusions
that may or may not be used. So I think there is a better
mousetrap to get the same exact result on the ground in a way
that can be much more bipartisan.
Senator Carper. OK, good.
And Ms. Crowder.
Ms. Crowder. Yes. Categorical exclusions, I agree with
these two gentlemen, do not provide the needs that we have in
Wyoming, in Region II and Region IV of the Forest Service,
across several of our forests that are just devastated, and
that is my concern. I am sorry, categorical exclusions do
provide that opportunity. So when we don't see those
categorical exclusions used because they don't provide the bang
for your buck that is needed in some of these areas that are
truly devastated, that is where the concerns come in.
We do have two projects that are very close to 3,000 acres
that are starting to move forward under the insect and disease
designation areas permitted in the Farm Bill of 2014; however,
it is slow. It has been very slow. And we would like to see
that use be improved and expanded. And I think that
streamlining NEPA as a whole for environmental assessments and
environmental impact statements is also necessary and a very
Senator Carper. All right.
The last thing I would ask is sometimes when we have issues
for which there is not yet unanimity, we look to a panel like
you. You don't see all these issues entirely the same, but
there is a lot of consensus. Just a closing word or two, some
counsel for us, as we try to move forward with these bills,
just to keep in mind. Anything, any last thought that you have,
we would appreciate it.
You want to go first, Ms. Crowder.
Ms. Crowder. Thank you, Senator, Mr. Chairman. I think
that, in closing, for Wyoming and the rest of the Country, what
is important here is immediate action, an opportunity to
evaluate what we really want our forests to look like, how we
really want our forests to function. Do we want them to provide
ecosystem benefits and jobs for our economy? Do we want them to
be a great place to recreate and for visitors to enjoy, for
wildlife? Yes. So we need to evaluate what those goals actually
are for our forests and what are the steps to actually get
In Wyoming, we are concerned with management being too
small, at two small a scale to get to the level of management
that we would like to see, and to see the healthy forests that
we really do want and that are very important to our citizens.
So thank you for the opportunity.
Senator Carper. No, we are grateful to you. Thank you.
Mr. Fite. Thank you, Senator. In closing, some words to go
on, we have a great opportunity with active management to
create healthy forests that support our communities and support
many of the other uses of the national forests, which are great
multiple-use lands for timber production, recreation, and all
sorts of other uses. What we need, though, is a comprehensive
approach, because merely fixing a budget approach without
giving the Forest Service and BLM more management authorities
isn't going to get us to where we need to be with an actively
managed healthy landscape, because if we just send money at the
problem--and I agree the wildfire funding problem needs to be
fixed, and we in industry support fixing that, but without some
management reforms, we are not going to get the management
outcomes that we need on our national forests. And we in the
forest product industry, we stand ready to partner across the
aisle, across the spectrum to create solutions and support
approaches that will create good results on the ground.
Senator Carper. All right. Thanks.
Mr. Fite. Thank you for the opportunity.
Senator Carper. Collin, last word?
Mr. O'Mara. Thank you, Senator. There is an opportunity of
a big bipartisan agreement here if we focus on the things that
are truly bipartisan, and I think the fire funding crisis fix I
think is bipartisan in the Senate. I think we have gotten
really close a few times. I think the bills you have before
you, with Senator Tester and Senator Daines, as well as Senator
Thune and Senator Hatch, I think those are bipartisan. I think
that with some more thought, I think there are some pieces of
the Thune bill, in Senator Thune's bill that could be
bipartisan. But speed is of the essence.
We have been stranded. We have lost kind of goal line
stands several times on this issue in the last several years,
so I think we can't let perfect be immediately good and I think
we have to be rational on all sides, and frankly it comes back
to your three Cs, right? Collaboration and compromise. And we
could get this done by the end of the year. I mean, this could
be one of the biggest national resource bills that has gone
through this body in years. But I think everyone is going to
have to be legitimately compromising to get there.
Managers absolutely need more tools and managers absolutely
need more resources, and if we focus on outcomes like wildlife
habitat and forest resilience and watershed health and local
recreation and local jobs, there is a solution there; and we
would love to work with both of you to make that happen.
Senator Carper. Great. Thank you so much. Thank you. Great
to see you. Thank you.
Senator Barrasso. Thank you, Senator Carper.
I ask unanimous consent to include a record letter, number
of different articles on wildfires into the record.
Senator Carper. I object.
Senator Barrasso. Without objection.
Senator Carper. I don't object.
Senator Barrasso. Objection is overruled.
[The referenced information follows:]
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Senator Barrasso. Mr. O'Mara, if I could, just following up
on what you were talking about. You mentioned catastrophic
wildfires, tens of billions of dollars in damages, local
communities, the economies. So many of the populations depend
on the great outdoors to sustain the economies. We have had
these catastrophic fires. They affect hunting, fishing, hiking,
all of the activities. Can you talk a little bit about just the
impact on the outdoor economies that is impacted?
Mr. O'Mara. Yes. And I think we haven't done a good job
quantifying this, but this year, using Senator Daines' and
Senator Tester's hometown, all the folks who tried to go to
Glacier that couldn't visit this year, that is a massive loss
of impact on Kalispell and Whitefish and all those communities
up there. I was in Jackson just a few weeks ago and there was
still haze in the air, still affecting local kids and local
So you are talking about tens of billions of dollars of
impact on the ground on the physical assets. You are probably
talking, you know, 30, 40, $50 billion of economic impact
further upstream. So a fire funding fix that is a fraction of
that cost, plus some management reforms that are basically just
better policy, is a small price to pay for having this massive
impact on the economy, rural jobs and outdoor economy jobs.
Senator Barrasso. I want to go to Mr. Fite next, but I am
going to let you finish it off, Ms. Crowder, and you can talk
about that, even things like the eclipse and the impact on
people coming to Wyoming, and whether they are going to have a
good vision of the Great American Eclipse.
Mr. Fite, let me just get to you in terms of wildlife and
the specifics there to better protect species. This Committee
has examined how to improve wildlife conservation. We have done
that over the last several months; we have had hearings. Given
the importance of conservation to this Committee, can you talk
a little bit about your thoughts as to the devastating impact
wildfires have on our Country's wildlife and how you believe
these bills addressed will really help protecting wildlife?
Mr. Fite. Yes, Senator, absolutely. We have seen fires in
the West recently that have had dramatic and horrific impacts
on key wildlife habitat. One example was a fire complex called
Westside on the Klamath National Forest in northern California.
It destroyed 20,000 acres of very high quality northern spotted
owl habitat. Just destroyed it. It looked like a bomb had gone
off, basically. And the Forest Service, in its evaluations of
the northwest forest plan 20 years on, it noted that wildfire
impacts to key wildlife habitat are 10 times that of timber
harvests or really any other impact. Wildfire is really the No.
1 threat that a lot of these sensitive, endangered, and
threatened species are facing, particularly forest-dependent
species and particularly old forest-dependent species. If we
are not managing areas that are designated for timber
production or more of the front country, if we are not managing
that, then areas that are set aside as reserves are going to be
vulnerable from fire.
So we are not looking at management as a solution. It
protects not only the active working forests, but it protects
areas that we have set aside, such as Glacier. And the
solutions that are in front of this Committee can really have a
positive impact on those conservation efforts. Going back to
the Cottonwood bill, so many of those projects have significant
wildlife benefits like fish passage improvements and the like.
So what the opportunity here is a great win-win of
improving wildlife conservation and supporting our local
economies, and also preventing more catastrophic wildfire in
Senator Barrasso. Ms. Crowder.
Ms. Crowder. Senator, tourism is Wyoming's No. 3 industry.
We have several of these reserve forests and wilderness areas
and national parks that people enjoy visiting. We have several
places throughout State that people love to go fish, they love
to go hike, they love to get on the Snake River and raft. What
we see from wildfires are concerns from our tourists, as well
as our citizens, that they won't be able to do those things
that they really want to do.
We often see letters from people who have planned their
once-in-a-lifetime trip to Yellowstone, Grand Teton National
Park, the Bridger-Teton National Forest, and they find out that
there are wildfires and they don't know if they should come to
Wyoming or not; they don't know if they should cancel their
trip. They are worried about their health; they are worried
about their ability to do the activities that they have planned
a lifetime for. And that is concerning. And we saw that play
out with the Great American Eclipse. And we are not the only
State that had these concerns.
The potential for people to come to Wyoming to watch the
eclipse in its totality, what an amazing experience, really;
and people planned for years for that. And what we saw was a
concern and a real concern that wildfires would put a lot of
smoke in the air and really block that view, and that would
have a major impact on our tourism industry not just for that
day, but in the weeks surrounding it. And, luckily, that ended
up not being the case, but there were fire bans throughout the
State to make sure that would not be the case.
It has also come to light in places like Jackson or Casper,
where folks are concerned that wildfires really will ruin their
industry, people who live and work in those places who maybe
run a fishing business and a guide business or a rafting
business. And those folks have concerns that they won't be able
to continue their livelihood in these areas if wildfires
continue to be an issue and they stop people from coming to
these great places that we love across our Nation.
Senator Barrasso. Well, I appreciate all of you being here.
I thought it was excellent testimony; excellent give and take.
We had about 10 members who had the chance to be here to ask
questions. Some members may want to submit written questions,
as well, so I would hope that you would respond to those
quickly because the record will stay open for 2 weeks.
I want to thank each and every one of you for being here
for this very important issue.
This hearing is adjourned. Thank you.
[Whereupon, at 11:45 a.m. the committee was adjourned.]