Senator Barrasso: The U.S. Forest Service is Failing to Address America’s Wildfire Crisis

May 16, 2024

Click here to watch Senator Barrasso’s opening 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 2025.

The hearing featured testimony from Mr. Randy Moore, Chief, U.S. Forest Service, who was accompanied by Mr. Mark Lichtenstein, Director of Strategic Planning, Budget and Accountability, U.S. Forest Service.

For more information on witness testimony click here.

Senator Barrasso’s remarks: 

Well thanks so much Mr. Chairman.

Thanks for holding today’s hearing.

“Chief Moore, thanks so much for coming.

“I share your concerns – historic investments, failure to meet the targets.

“I mean that is what you pointed out and that is what people on both sides of this aisle have continued to point out year after year.

“Wyoming’s forests –  including our eight national forests –  help sustain our way of life. They support our local communities.

As is the case across the West, our forests face many challenges, including wildfire, drought, insect and disease outbreaks.

We face additional pressures, as you mentioned Mr. Chairman,  from the sawmill closures.

In 1976, Wyoming’s sawmills could process over 300 million board feet each year.

“The forests were healthy. The forests were productive.

“According to the Forest Service’s latest statistics, Wyoming’s sawmills can now process just over 100 million board feet.

“So that goes from 300 million down to 100 million.

“That’s a two-thirds drop in our capacity.

“And now the health of national forests in Wyoming is poor. The wildfire risk is high.

“And if we don’t make things better in the way we manage our national forests, these risks are going to keep growing and things are going to get worse.

“So, I look forward to hearing how the Forest Service intends hit the targets to address these critical challenges.

“I am pleased with some of the priorities in the budget.

“There is funding to protect our communities from catastrophic fire.

“Also a pay raise for our wildland firefighters.

“But I do have concerns also about the budget.  

“For years, the Forest Service has asked Congress for more and more money.

“And we’ve heard it from both sides of the aisle. That money has been granted.

“Congress has responded by giving the agency billions of dollars in additional taxpayer funds.

“Since 2021, Congress has given the agency more than $40 billion – with a ‘B’ – $40 billion.

“Yet the Forest Service has not treated more acres.

“It has not sold more timber.

“It has not expedited the environmental review process for forest management projects.

“Mr. Chairman – the question continues. Where has all these taxpayer dollars gone?

“Now, I acknowledge the Forest Service faces enormous challenges as it combats wildfires.

“Yet, despite having more money than ever, the agency has not done the work on the ground to address the crisis.

“In fact, the agency expects to treat fewer acres than it did last year, this year. And for the timber harvest levels to remain flat in fiscal year 2025.

“This is completely unacceptable.

“In Wyoming, sustainable timber harvests support our local communities.

“They reduce wildfire risk. They improve forest health.

“Year after year, we find ourselves in the same situation.

“Inconsistent log supplies from the national forests undermine our local sawmills.

“Without a dependable and affordable supply of timber from our public lands, these family-owned businesses cannot survive.

“And we know it all too well in Wyoming.

“Just last month, Neiman Enterprises – a family business based in Hulett, Wyoming – had to announce layoffs.

“They hated doing it.

“This was a direct result of the Forest Service’s decision to reduce timber harvest levels in the Black Hills National Forest.

“The Forest Service has upended the lives of fifty hard-working employees and their families.

“It has jeopardized jobs at nearby wood products facilities.

“And it has put at risk the health of the Black Hills National Forest.

“The decision to reduce the timber sale program on the Black Hills will reverse years of progress.

“Without active management that forest is going to return to the same conditions that resulted in wildfires and the beetle kill.

“This is exactly what we are trying to avoid.

“Yet the Forest Service seems indifferent to the consequences of their own inaction.

“There is broad agreement on this committee that the Forest Service is not meeting the challenges it confronts.

“The Forest Service no longer safeguards and promotes forest health.

“It is now just managing the deterioration of our national forests.

“The Forest Service must change course.

“Must start managing our forests in a serious and credible way.

“We know what works and what we need to do.

“And the forest products sector is willing to help get that work done.

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”