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Bruce W.
Republican AR 4

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  • Forest Management and Wildfires

    by Representative Bruce Westerman

    Posted on 2015-12-09

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    WESTERMAN. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman from Pennsylvania, and also thank him for his leadership on this issue, a very important issue, and one that he has a good grasp of that I wish the rest of our Federal Government could get a good grasp of.

    I also would like to thank the ranking member for her remarks, and the gentleman from Oregon, for his remarks.

    We do have a national treasure in our forests. The U.S. Forest Service manages over 193 million acres of forests and grasslands from Maine to Alaska.

    The Forest Service was formed by President Teddy Roosevelt and his friend, Gifford Pinchot, who was the first Chief of the Forest Service. These men were true conservationists and naturalists. They understood the science of the forest. They understood the value of the forest, and they understood its contribution to society, so they worked to conserve that for future generations.

    Roosevelt and Pinchot hold a special place in my heart. I grew up by the forests that were established by Roosevelt, and I studied at the Yale School of Forestry that was founded by Pinchot.

    Teddy Roosevelt once said about our natural resources, he said that our Nation behaves well if it treats its natural resources as assets, which it must turn over to the next generation, increased and not impaired in value.

    Mr. Speaker, we are not behaving well as a Nation. We are decreasing and impairing the value of our forests.

    {time} 1900 Our forests are not just an asset; they are a treasure, a treasure that provides beauty, makes clean air, purifies our water, provides wildlife habitat, and a variety of recreational activities and opportunities. Our forests store carbon and provide many of the products that we live in, that we learn from, and that we use to survive every day.

    Mr. Speaker, this is not a Republican failure, and it is not a Democratic failure. It is a congressional and an agency failure that we have the power to correct.

    Wildfires continue to sweep across the country. They are burning hotter [[Page H9195]] and faster than in years past. More than 9 million acres of Federal land burned this year alone. Costs to fight fires and the number of fires burning grows every year.

    As has been mentioned so many times before, the Forest Service's biggest expense is firefighting. The costs of it have ballooned over the years. It is not just the cost of fighting fires, as the gentleman from Oregon said, that is the cost. We are destroying a valuable asset: 9 million acres of Federal land and timber that goes up in smoke. These products could be used. They have value to them. We are not only spending the money to fight the fires; we are losing valuable assets every year.

    This year, Mr. Speaker, Congress had to appropriate an extra $700 million to land management agencies to cover the cost of fire borrowing. The Forest Service is becoming a firefighting agency, unable to meet its mission of ``caring for the land and serving people.'' Fire borrowing is not the only problem, and I submit that it is actually not even the problem. It is the symptom of a problem. It is the result of our current management choice that each year is becoming less and less management. Unfortunately, we do not have the luxury of choosing not to manage.

    Forests are dynamic, living organisms. They don't pay attention to what we say here in Washington, DC, or what we write in laws. The only thing forests know is to grow and fill their growing space and to absorb the sunlight. They fill the growing space, and they quit growing. Then they become weakened. They are subject to insect and disease attack. They die. We get debris on the forest floor. Lightning strikes, and the forest burns. If we choose not to manage the forests, then nature continues to manage. We don't have that luxury of saying that we are just not going to manage the forest.

    Our land management policies have changed for the worse simply and mainly because we have not been able to manage. Red tape and lawsuits are harming our landscapes. Forests are overgrown, and they are unhealthy.

    Healthy forests will lead to smaller fires that can be contained. A healthy forest puts less carbon in the atmosphere, and, in fact, it sequesters more carbon through new tree growth and reforestation. Simply by the biological growth curve, younger organisms grow faster so they are pulling more carbon out of the atmosphere. They are storing it in their trunks, in their leaves, and in their roots.

    The good news is the House has been behaving well. The House produced and passed a good piece of legislation in H.R. 2647, the Resilient Federal Forests Act. Now, this isn't the end-all to fix the problems with our forests, but it is a great first step.

    H.R. 2647 simultaneously ends fire borrowing in a fiscally responsible manner, but it also gives the Forest Service the tools it needs to create healthy forests. Healthy forests are a winning situation. Everybody wins with a healthy forest. Wildlife wins, and sports and outdoor recreation enthusiasts win. We all win with cleaner air, and we all win with cleaner water. Our rural communities win with an economic benefit. There is not a downside to having a healthy forest. It is good for America to have healthy forests.

    Mr. Speaker, it is time for us to put the policy in place so that we can have healthy forests. It is time for the Senate to behave. It is time for the Senate to act on H.R. 2647 so we can end fire borrowing and manage our forests.

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