Wildfire plan sparks national debate

Walden-sponsored bill would expedite forest recovery after wildfires, proponents assert

November 30, 2005

One hundred and thirty members of the U.S. House of Representatives have signed on to a plan, which they believe will expedite forest recovery efforts following a wildfire or other natural disaster.

Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., authored the Forest Emergency Recovery and Research Act (FERRA). House Resolution 4200 is co-sponsored by Rep. Brian Baird, his Democratic counterpart in Washington state, Stephanie Herseth, D-S.D., and Wayne Gilchrest, R-Md.

The legislation is also being championed by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., who chairs the House Committee on Agriculture. That committee helps set policy for the Department of Agriculture, which has jurisdiction over 191 million acres of national forests. The proposed legislation would also apply to 55 million acres managed by the Bureau of Land Management under the Department of the Interior.

Goodlatte has pledged to hold hearings in his committee during December and then expeditiously move FERRA to the House floor.

Walden said the bill provides tools and grants authority to federal land managers — such as the U.S. Forest Service — for a rapid assessment of conditions. The legislation would go into play if more than 1,000 acres of a forest are damaged by any catastrophic event.

Administrative appeals and litigation would follow the streamlined guidelines established under the Healthy Forests Restoration Act, according to Walden.

He said adjacent nonfederal lands would also be included in the evaluation when desired by tribal entities, local government and private landowners. The evaluation would determine if expedited reforestation and other recovery work was needed to protect forest health.

Walden said land managers would then be able, if necessary, to harvest dead and dying timber, restore landscapes, remove excess fuel loads, restore water and air quality, and prevent an additional reforestation backlog.

“Today in America’s forests, it can take three years for the federal government to cut a burned, dead tree after a fire. And by the time the decision is finally made, the trees have often rotted, become bug infested or lost most of their value. The Government Accountability Office reports that upwards of a million acres of forestland is in need of replanting. We can, and should, do better than that,” said Walden.

However, Walden’s legislation has drawn fire from the Sierra Club and numerous other conservation groups across the nation. The environmental community contends that FERRA “disregards important protections for clean drinking water and wildlife.”

“This legislation is a gross example of misplaced priorities. We should be protecting homes and communities at risk from fires, not diverting scarce resources to damaging logging activities. Scientific research has shown that logging dead or dying trees damages streams, increases fire risk, destroys wildlife habitat and wastes taxpayer dollars,” wrote David Willett, Sierra Club spokesperson, on Common Dreams News Wire.

Walden chairs the House Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health, which has spent almost two years in public hearings on these issues. He said FERRA allows dead timber to be utilized instead of letting it go to waste. He contends the proposed regulations follow all environmental laws while streamlining the process to clean up and restore forests.

“This is a responsible, common sense bill. People use wood – to build homes, to make paper – and that wood needs to come from somewhere,” said Baird. “We can use wood from trees that are dead or dying, or from trees that are alive and healthy.

“Furthermore, we can responsibly harvest wood here at home, abiding by environmental protections and creating jobs – or we can get our wood from clear cuts in equatorial rainforests where the environment is far more fragile and environmental protection and labor laws are far weaker or even nonexistent,” he continued.

FERRA has also been endorsed by Dr. Hal Salwasser, dean of Oregon State University’s College of Forestry, Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth and Lynn Scarlett, assistant secretary of the Department of the Interior.

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