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Kurt S.
Democrat OR 5

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  • Forest Management and Wildfires

    by Representative Kurt Schrader

    Posted on 2015-12-09

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    SCHRADER. I thank the chairman. I want to applaud you and the ranking member for the Conservation and Forestry Subcommittee for having this colloquy here tonight.

    I think it is really important for folks to understand the severity of the issue that is before us here. As my western colleague pointed out a moment ago, these wildfires are alive and well, unfortunately, and absolutely devastating, devastating at a level that we had never seen or expected before.

    These disasters, not just back east with Sandy and Katrina, but the wildfires that we see in New Mexico and in my home State of Oregon and neighboring State of Washington this summer, are absolutely catastrophic, and way above and beyond what we have seen in past decades.

    The firefighting situation has become untenable. The height of ridiculousness [[Page H9194]] is to acknowledge the fact that firefighting costs have doubled over the last 15 years, on a regular basis, 8 out of 10 years, as was pointed out a moment ago, and not do anything about it.

    The wildfires don't go away when we put our heads in the sand. They continue to devastate.

    I would like to point out three, maybe four things I think are really important. We are talking about an omnibus bill here that everyone is arguing over. There are certain policy riders, I submit, that have nothing to do with the budget.

    There is some discussion about a fire funding fix, though, to get after this budgetary disaster that we have, now every year. Why not budget up front for this so that the resources can be allocated immediately? Secondly, not devastate the Forest Service budget, because if you take it out of the Forest Service budget, even temporarily, then the Forest Service can't do its land management work, which gets rid of the hazardous fuel, gets rid of the diseased trees, takes care of the pests to prevent the next wave of forest fires.

    This is very simple, folks. This is very simple.

    The funding fix also talks about working in a collaborative way to build the collaborative relationships that have eluded us so far for our forestry problems.

    The fix talks about working collaboratively on the NEPA process with folks, make sure it is done correctly, but in a way that the Forest Service can manage and get it done quickly.

    It talks about set-asides for small areas that could be categorically excluded where there is already collaborative work being done on the urban-rural interface and, actually, some areas to promote wildlife habitat.

    I mean, this is the type of thing that actually gets at what both the environmental community and the forest community need to have.

    One last big point I think that gets ignored a lot in this discussion is the economic loss that occurs as a result of these forest fires. We could have a lot more money for tax resources if we got after these fires early on.

    Right now, I have timber communities in my State where over 50 percent of the land is Federal forest lands that go up in smoke, that they could otherwise be harvesting or reducing that fuel load by thinning, to promote jobs, economic development, and tax revenues.

    I think a small investment in this budget to offset larger costs later on, and adequately fight these fires, to protect rural America, is critical.

    Right now, rural America is not getting its fair share. There is a lot of talk about 9/11 and making sure our first responders get the health care that they need and deserve for stepping in in a disaster situation in New York City.

    Where is the stepping in to help my firefighters out west? These men and women go into toxic situations, life-threatening situations, and they get no respect just because we are out west.

    As the ranking member pointed out, and the chairman pointed out, these are devastating disasters, just as bad as tornados, just as bad as hurricanes. Where is the fairness to my western colleagues in getting their issue taken care of? This devastates the communities. These rural communities are poor already. With these fires rampaging across the landscape, they get poorer quicker.

    There is no Intel or Microsoft setting up in the middle of nowhere in the rural parts of my State and my district. They depend on natural resources, the good use of natural resources, resources that can be used for carbon sequestration by not having these fires.

    I find it amazing that, in a budgetary discussion, we are trying to save money, not just in the short term, but in the long term, that we are having trouble getting this fire funding fix that is bipartisan. Even the White House is behind it.

    We have an opportunity to get this done for a small amount of money that will be paid back over the next few years in spades. I think it is a shame that we can't get this thing done just instantaneous.

    I hope the discussion tonight opens the eyes of some folks about the discrimination that is going on against rural America, particularly out west.

    And I really, really, want to thank the ranking member and the chairman, who I have worked with closely over the years, a true friend, a friend of rural and forested America, for bringing this to our attention. Thank you very much.

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