Barrasso: America’s Western Forests are Facing a Wildfire Crisis

September 29, 2022

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 the following remarks at a legislative hearing to examine and receive testimony on a number of forestry related bills. Barrasso’s bill, the Promoting Effective Forest Management Act of 2022, was discussed at the hearing. 

The hearing featured testimony from Mr. John Crockett, associate deputy chief of State and Private Forestry at the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service; Mr. Jeff Rupert, director of the Office of Wildland Fire at the U.S. Department of the Interior; Mr. James W. Hourdequin, CEO of the Lyme Timber Company; and Mr. Patrick O’Toole, president of the Family Farm Alliance. 

For more information on witness testimony and to see the full list of bills examined click here. 

Senator Barrasso’s remarks: 

“Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. 

“I appreciate your leadership in dealing with this issue, your co-sponsorship. 

“I know the two of us are working on several pieces of legislation that are on the agenda today. 

“We have had another devastating wildfire season this year. 

“Make no mistake: America’s western forests are facing a wildfire crisis. 

“And this crisis is not going to solve itself. 

“Roughly 63 million of the 193 million acres of the National Forest System are at either high or very high risk of catastrophic fire. 

“These at-risk forests are in dire need of management to reduce fire damage.

“Congress has provided the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management with increased resources and tools. 

“But these agencies have been slow to use these tools. 

“It’s good to have Senator King here because you pointed that out at the last hearing – that we’ve done what they have asked and there’s more work to be done on their part to respond to the direction of Congress.

“This is why the chairman and I have introduced the Promoting Effective Forest Management Act. 

“This bipartisan bill is going to hold agencies accountable for the results they themselves have told us they must achieve. 

“Forest Service officials have repeatedly testified before this committee that they need to dramatically increase the pace and scale of wildfire mitigation treatments. 

“Our legislation will hold them to task by prioritizing results over rhetoric. 

“The legislation directs land management agencies to set annual acreage treatment targets, and to drastically increase those targets in the coming years. 

“If these targets are not met, agencies must report to Congress any limitations or challenges that hindered their progress. 

“That includes litigation challenges and permitting delays. 

“Our bill also contains a number of measures to help set agencies up for success. 

“It requires the Forest Service and BLM to use their existing streamlining authorities for projects that would reduce wildfire risk and improve forest health. 

“Currently, these authorities are optional and are often unused, significantly slowing down vital projects. 

“Making them mandatory will help cut red tape and protect our forests.

“The bill that Senator Manchin and I have together also recognizes and enhances the vital role our ranchers and farmers play in reducing wildfire risk. 

“Specifically, it directs agencies to develop a strategy to increase the use of grazing as a wildfire mitigation tool. 

“I had an opportunity this morning to meet with a number of the members of the Wyoming Agriculture Community who are in this very room to hear about that and to talk about the issues of grazing as a management tool and mitigation tool. 

“This includes expanding the use of targeted grazing, and increasing issuances of temporary grazing permits. 

“As we have seen in Wyoming, ranchers contribute to practices that create healthier and more resilient landscapes and forests. 

“The Promoting Effective Forest Management Act will also halt the Biden administration’s destructive efforts to restrict responsible management of mature forests.  

“According to a recent piece written by Nick Smith published in The Hill: ‘At a time when we need more management on fire-prone federal lands, this is a formula for more bureaucracy and red tape that further ties the hands of our public lands managers.’ 

“Instead of blindly following a misguided agenda, our bill makes it clear that agencies must adhere to the law and to sound science. 

“Finally, our legislation will benefit our wildland firefighters. 

“As Senator Manchin mentioned, among other changes, it places a cap on the rent they are forced to pay for agency-provided housing.

“The provisions will help Federal agencies hire and retain wildland firefighters.

“Our bill enjoys broad support from a wide range of organizations, including: sportsmen’s groups, agriculture organizations, timber companies, private forest owners, and firefighter advocates. 

“Mr. Chairman, I am grateful for your partnership in moving this vital legislation forward. 

“I would also like to welcome Pat O’Toole of Savery, Wyoming, who will be testifying today. 

“I’ll have a bit more to say about Pat in a few minutes. 

“There are a number of other good bills on the agenda today, and I look forward to today’s hearing. 

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”