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Chairwoman Stabenow Opening Statement at Hearing on Under Secretary of Agriculture for Natural Resources and Environment Nominee Homer Wilkes

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Chairwoman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, today released the following opening statement at the hearing to consider the nomination of Dr. Homer L. Wilkes to be Under Secretary of Agriculture for Natural Resources and Environment. Live video of the hearing is available here.

Stabenow’s statement, as prepared for delivery, follows:

Good Morning. I call today’s hearing of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry to order. We’re here to consider the nomination of Dr. Homer Wilkes to be Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment which oversees the U.S. Forest Service.

In this role, Dr. Wilkes will tackle wildfires and work to restore and protect the health of our public forests and grasslands. The health of our forests, both public and private, is impossible to separate from the well-being of our country. Healthier forests mean cleaner air, safer water, and fewer wildfires.

It means being able to take in the fresh air on a hike in the Hiawatha National Forest in Michigan; go camping and fishing in the Ozark National Forest in my friend Senator Boozman’s home state of Arkansas; or simply be able to stay safe from wildfires out west thanks to the heroic work of our Forest Service firefighting crews who are - as we speak - putting their lives on the line to protect all of us.

Wildfires have been increasing in size, number, and intensity every year, spreading like – well, wildfire. Right now there are 96 wildfires active in 14 states that have already consumed nearly 1.9 million acres and continue to threaten the livelihoods of the surrounding rural communities, including many farmers and ranchers.

With strong leadership in the Natural Resources and Environment mission area and the Forest Service we can restore our public lands. This includes replanting trees that have been affected by wildfire and are unlikely to regenerate on their own; adjusting land management practices to store more carbon and benefit wildlife; and pursuing targeted and science-based restoration of our forests that can prevent wildfires in the first place.

All of this is done in close collaboration with state foresters, tribal governments, and private landowners. President Biden nominated Dr. Wilkes because he has the skills to tackle these pressing challenges. Dr. Wilkes has had a 41 years career at USDA leading efforts in conservation, ecological restoration, and prescribed fire management, and he worked closely with private landowners and community-led organizations alike.

He has existing relationships with many of the stakeholders his mission area oversees including conservation, forestry, and natural resource groups like the National Wildlife Federation, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, the National Wild Turkey Federation, and many others. I have a letter of support from several stakeholders for his nomination that I’d like to add to the record – without objection.

If confirmed, Dr. Wilkes will work closely with the Forest Service’s new Chief, Randy Moore. Chief Moore started his career at the Natural Resources Conservation Service in 1978 and has over 20 years of experience at the Forest Service, most of them on the front lines of our wildfire challenges. Between the two of them, they have eight decades of experience in natural resource conservation and defense.  

I have every confidence that they will be a great team and work to restore and protect our public land through responsible forest management practices, conservation, research and recreational opportunities - all of which create jobs and drive rural economies.

I look forward to hearing from Dr. Wilkes about his vision for the future of the Natural Resources and Environment mission area and the U.S. Forest Service. With that I recognize my good friend Senator Boozman for any comments he’d like to make.