Senator: ‘We have serious challenges that we need to address in a shorter amount of time than it took us to get to this place. We need to find more efficient ways to manage and restore our forests.’
Ranking Member’s Opening Remarks on Improving the Health and Increasing Socioeconomic Opportunities of U.S. National Forests
Washington, D.C. - Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell, (D-Wash.) ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, called for developing a 21st century management plan to restore the health U.S. National Forests and encourage public access.
During a full committee hearing, Sen. Cantwell discussed opportunities to use technology advances, foster partnerships with industry leaders and create moderate-value forest products that generate revenue with the goals of restoring the health of the national forests and encouraging public access and input.
“The United States Forest Service needs to use management approaches that are different than the approaches of the last century [and] that have created the conditions today,” Sen. Cantwell said. “Overall, the Forest Service is working hard to restore the health of the forests. But we can’t try to measure the agency’s success only in the amount of timber harvested; we need to look at other things as well.”
“In the last few years, we have seen restoration efforts take hold when the Forest Service has formed collaborations. Particularly, collaborations on watershed management such as those in the Pacific Northwest.”
The committee received testimony from Duane Vaagen, president of Vaagen Brothers Lumber in Washington state, who has been a leader in the partnering with the Forest Service on restoration initiatives in the Pacific Northwest.
“Over the past decade, my company has invested significant time, energy and money into collaboration,” Vaagen said. “The coalition has helped bring once warring sides together to find forest management solutions on the Colville National Forest, built around a blueprint that identifies areas most appropriate for active forest management, restoration treatments and meeting conservation objectives.”
On restoration partnerships, Sen. Cantwell also said:
“Restoration projects need funding to move forward. As such, markets for forest products are critically important to the success of these projects. To expand forest restoration efforts, we need to expand markets. We have to figure out how to generate moderate-value products from low-value wood. The increased use of cross-laminated timber and wood pellets could provide us with such an opportunity.”
On recreation, Sen. Cantwell noted:
“Recreation on National Forests annually contributes $13 billion to the economy. I also believe it deserves consideration in helping to revitalize and expand opportunities on our National Forest. However, we also must look at just how difficult it is for youth organizations to get access to our Forest Service lands without permits.”
On the importance of public input, Sen. Cantwell commented:
“I want to reiterate the importance of the public’s input in management decisions. Within any bill from this committee, I want to make sure that we continue to streamline the process but also allow input. It must remain a major building block of how we manage our public lands.”
On Friday, Sen. Cantwell also sent a letter to Under Secretary of Agriculture Robert Bonnie, requesting three additional listening sessions in the state of Washington to receive public input on what should be considered and included in the upcoming revision of the Northwest Forest Plan. Sen. Cantwell suggested locations that would be more easily accessible to the constituents living in communities adjacent to the National Forests. Prior to her letter, only one session had been scheduled in the state.
Below is a full transcript of Cantwell’s opening statement:
“Thank you, Madam Chair, and thank you for holding this important hearing.
“Mr. Bonnie, I want to thank you for coming today to talk to about the U.S. Forest Service. I believe this is your first time appearing before the committee, in your role as undersecretary.
“I also want to recognize Dwayne Vaagen, who is here from the Pacific Northwest. Mr. Vaagen lives in Colville, Washington, and has experience partnering with the Forest Service on many of its restoration initiatives, and has been a leader for our region. So, thank you for being here today.
“I want to start by reflecting on the lawmakers of the 1960s and 1970s. These members saw the problems that were being created by the way the federal government was managing our forests. And they set out to fix them. They passed the most sweeping reforms of the 20th century, and we really haven’t seen anything like it since.
“In recent years, I’ve seen a lot of attempts to fix various problems in a piecemeal fashion. But what’s really needed is a 21st century management plan. We need a strategy that will improve the health of our national forests, conserve important areas and encourage recreation. Public input needs to be unambiguous in this plan.
“Most of us would agree that our national forests are in bad shape. One hundred years of fire suppression has left our national forests prone to catastrophic wildfires. Decades of clear-cutting have left the overall structure of our national forests unbalanced. In many places, habitat for our threatened and endangered species is in short supply.
“Here are a few sobering facts:
• Over the last decade, bark beetles destroyed 32 million acres of the 193 million acres managed by the Forest Service.
• The National Forest Service’s latest disease model shows that another 37 million acres of the National Forests will die from disease before 2027.
• Here’s another one. Another model shows that 58 million acres are at high risk of imminent burning in a catastrophic fire.
“As we talk about this, we’ll need to assess how much of these percentages are related to a lack of management and how many are made more difficult by the changing climates.
“So how do we move forward? That’s obviously the topic of today’s hearing.
“We have serious challenges, and we need to address them in a shorter amount of time than the 100 years that it took us to get to this place. We need to be more efficient in ways to manage and restore our forests.
“To do that, the Forest Service needs to use management approaches that are different from the approaches of the last century, and previous approaches that have created the conditions today.
“In the last few years, we have seen restoration efforts take hold when the Forest Service has collaborated with stakeholders.
“I want to say, collaboration on watershed issues have been particularly important in the Pacific Northwest, where salmon receives and deserves so much attention. These collaborations around watershed management have been very helpful.
“Now, restoration projects need funding to move forward. As such, markets for forest products are critically important to the success of these projects. To expand forest restoration efforts, we need to expand markets. We have to figure out how to generate moderate-value products from low-value wood. And [how to] generate them at scales large enough to reduce the increasing devastation of wildfires. The increased use of cross-laminated timber and wood pellets could provide us with such an opportunity.
“I will say that the Forest Service really needs to also use different technologies. One example worth highlighting – just because later today we are also having a hearing in the Commerce Committee on this – one example is drones. Multiple organizations now have developed drones that can be used to reforest areas. Each of these drones would be able to plant about 36,000 trees per day, at 10 percent of the Forest Service’s cost. After the devastating wildfires, like we had at the Carlton Complex, there’s a need to stabilize and restore these areas.
“Overall, the Forest Service is working hard to restore the health of the forests. But, we can’t try to measure the agency’s success only in the amount harvested. We need to look at other things as well. The Forest Service must keep mills nearby. I’ve already talked about the importance of markets. But we also need to make sure we talk about stewardship and access to some of these smaller mills.
“Recreation on National Forests contributes $13 billion to the economy, about 40 percent of the contribution to the economy.
“In conversations that will be unfolding, I believe recreation also deserves consideration in revitalizing and expanding recreation on our national forests. We had a hearing earlier about this and had a lot of questions for the Forest Service on just how difficult or challenging it is for youth organizations to get access to our Forest Service lands without permits. So I think we need to look at that.
“We all know that wildfires are probably the biggest problem facing the forest every summer. That’s why, with Chairman Murkowski’s help and my colleague Sen. Wyden - with whom I am happy to have co-sponsored his legislation - would do just that more squarely and hopefully put more resources at play to help us manage this.
“Finally, I want to reiterate the importance of the public’s input in management decisions. This has been very important.
“Within any bill from this committee, I want to make sure that we continue to streamline the process but also allow input. It must remain a major building block of how we manage our public lands.
“Thank you, Madam Chairman, for this important hearing and thank you again to all the witnesses.”