Barrasso: We Must Protect Our Forests From Burning to the Ground
Click here to watch Ranking Member Barrasso’s remarks.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, U.S. Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), ranking member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources (ENR), delivered remarks at a full committee hearing to examine the president’s budget request for the U.S. Forest Service for Fiscal Year 2023.
The hearing featured testimony from Mr. Randy Moore, chief of the U.S. Forest Service at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
For more information on witness testimony click here.
Senator Barrasso’s remarks:
“Thanks so much, Mr. Chairman for holding this important hearing.
“Chief Moore, I want to welcome you here for your first appearance in front of this committee.
“Congratulations again on your appointment as the Forest Service Chief.
“I look forward to working with you and hearing your vision for the agency.
“We’ve had a chance to meet previously and discuss these key issues.
“As we both agree, our forests play a number of vital roles.
“They provide habitat for wildlife, improve water and soil quality.
“They yield timber and provide recreational opportunities—both essential components of the West’s economy and our way of life.
“And they can act as carbon sinks by sequestering large amounts of carbon from the atmosphere.
“But our forests cannot play any of these roles if they burn to the ground, and we’ve discussed that.
“Last year we had another devastating wildfire season.
“Wildfires burned over seven million acres nationwide.
“Well over half of this destruction occurred on U.S. Forest Service lands.
“These fires destroyed lives and livelihoods, wiped out wildlife and habitat, increased carbon emissions, and reduced air quality.
“Of the six thousand structures destroyed by wildfires last year, 60 percent were family homes or residences.
“Unfortunately, this year seems to be shaping up to be yet another difficult fire season.
“Severe drought and a lack of proactive management have turned many of our landscapes into tinderboxes.
“New Mexico has already been hit with multiple mega-fires, including the largest fire in the state’s history.
“This destructive fire originated from controlled burns and has raised questions around when and where agencies should utilize this tool.
“I hope today we can get some answers on who is accountable for this situation.
“We also need to know what steps the Forest Service will take to ensure that such catastrophes do not happen again.
“The Forest Service’s budget request for fiscal year 2023 is $9 billion.
“I am interested to know how the Forest Service intends to make these dollars go as far as possible, in order to proactively manage our forests.
“According to the agency’s budget, 63 million acres—nearly one-third of our National Forests—are at high or very high risk to catastrophic wildfires.
“The agency simply must accelerate its treatments of these acres.
“This includes dramatically reducing hazardous fuels including through logging and thinning projects and livestock grazing.
“Well planned and executed prescribed fire treatments can also be used—especially when acres have already been thinned.
“I am also interested to know whether the Forest Service plans to protect saw mills.
“Saw mills in the West, including in Black Hills National Forest, are struggling to survive on or near National Forests.
“After 120 years of successful partnership with industry, recent actions by the Forest Service have jeopardized the survival of timber businesses in Wyoming and South Dakota.
“If industry partners like those on the Black Hills are forced to close, it will make hazardous fuels reduction projects even more expensive and less efficient.
“Such closures will inevitably endanger our forests and those who live near them.
“Any successful plan to tackle our nation’s wildfire crisis must involve maintaining and utilizing our saw mill infrastructure.
“Finally, I’d like to hear what steps the agency is taking to avoid critical staffing shortages in the wildland firefighting workforce.
“Years of low pay, and a host of other issues, have significantly depleted the federal firefighting workforce.
“As the wildfire season becomes longer and more intense by the year, we simply cannot afford to do without these brave defenders of our forests and surrounding communities.
“Again, welcome to the committee.
“Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and I look forward to hearing the testimony.”