Republican News

Washington, D.C. – Chairman Pete Domenici today affirmed plans to introduce legislation next month that reflects the goals of President Bush’s Healthy Forest Initiative and H.R. 1904, a forest management bill slated for House passage today. Chairman Domenici joined President Bush and others at this White House this morning for the President’s remarks on his Healthy Forest Initiative. President Bush noted that wildfire last summer cost 23 lives and seven million acres. He praised the bipartisan H.R. 1904 and urged similar Senate action to protect 190 million acres of high risk forests from future fires. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which Sen. Domenici chairs, has held several hearings this year on forest health problems. Chairman Domenici earlier this year listed healthy forest legislation as one of his top three priorities. Next month, he will join Sen. Craig in filing such legislation. Chairman Domenici’s statement: I congratulate President Bush for his vision and leadership. His remarks today precisely outlined the crisis and proposed the right solution. Congress must act swiftly to rescue our national forests from years of neglect and mismanagement. Today, 190 million acres of forest are at risk for fire. In the last three years, we’ve lost more than 17 million acres of forest, hundreds of homes and countless fish and wildlife to devastating fire. Last year alone, seven million acres burned, destroying municipal watersheds and devastating our environment. That’s unacceptable. I believe the American people will no longer tolerate management by fire. Senator Craig and I will introduce legislation next month that reflect the goals of the President’s Healthy Forest Initiative and the bipartisan bill slated for House consideration today. Forests in my home state of New Mexico have already been devastated by fire; more than nine million acres are still at risk. Overcrowded forests in the mountains east of Sante Fe have been ravaged by bark beetles and other insects. This land is now crammed with dry, dead wood just waiting for a spark. Appeals by environmental groups have delayed forest thinning in the Sante Fe wastershed and driven up the cost of thinning to $1,500 per acre. Thanks to these appeals, this project will take seven years to complete at an estimated cost of nearly $7 million. If a stewardship contract, like those approved by Congress in February, could have been used, we could save this forest in two or three seasons at less than 15 percent of the current, estimated cost. There are situations like this around the country. Let me cite a few: 150,000 acres of the San Bernardino National Forest near Lake Arrowhead, California, have been killed by bark beetles. The governor of California has declared an emergency and has requested the FEMA also declare an emergency. The local counties have told private land owners that they must remove dead trees from their property to reduce the risk of fire, or the county will remove the trees and charge the land owner. Tree cutting services are charging $1,000 to $2,000 per tree to do this work – a price that ruin a land owner’s personal finances. The Healthy Forest Initiative would give the Forest Service the ability to treat this forest before it reached this state of crisis. A spruce bark beetle epidemic has killed the larger spruce trees on 175,000 acres of the Dixie National Forest in Southern Utah. Efforts by the Forest Service to salvage these trees failed because environmental groups appealed virtually every government proposal. Time and time again, the courts delayed the projects. Today, most of the forest is dead and the Forest Service has given up efforts to salvage it. The Healthy Forest Initiative could have prevented the tragic loss of this pristine forest. Bark beetle has killed several thousand acres of Black Hills National Forest near Sturgis, South Dakota. The situation is so critical that Senator Daschle inserted language in the Supplemental Defense Appropriations bill last year that required the Forest Service to develop fuel breaks in this Roadless Area. He exempted the project from NEPA, appeals, and litigation and required the material to be logged, stacked in a rock pit, and given away as firewood. Had the government been able to go in early in the bark beetle attack, as they would under the President’s initiative, the forest could have ben saved and there would be virtually no cost to the taxpayer. For the forty of the last 50 years, the Forest Service could handle insect attacks before they became epidemic, ravaging our forests. We had healthy forests and fewer, less devastating fires. The fires we sar didn’t scorch the soil for decades or destroy wildlife habitat and municipal watersheds. But in the last decade, we’ve seen endemic litigation cause management paralysis. This has cost us lives, communities and nearly 30 million acres of once beautiful forests – all lost needlessly to fire. I share President Bush’s commitment to return to wise and proactive managing our forests to protect our environment and our rural communities. ###