07.16.15

Chairman Roberts Reviews Forestry Bills, Hears from USDA

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Pat Roberts, R-Kan., Chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, today held a legislative hearing to review pending U.S. Forest Service and forestry-related bills.

“I hope this hearing serves as a reminder to the U.S. Forest Service and stakeholders that we are a resource and an ally to address policy questions now before Congress, such as catastrophic wildfire and forest management,” Chairman Roberts said.

“Forestry, much like production agriculture, faces many similar challenges whether it be an over-reaching regulation from EPA, complying with burdensome and time consuming environmental laws and regulations, or protecting countless species under the Endangered Species Act.

“The Administration has pointed out repeatedly that fire suppression costs are threatening to swallow the Forest Service whole. Congress has before it numerous proposals to provide a stable source of fire suppression funding without compromising needed management. As we move forward, my hope would be that the Administration would engage with Congress on the issue of reforming the Forest Service in addition to fixing the fire funding problem.”

For witness info, testimony, and to watch the hearing, click here.

The following is Chairman Roberts’ opening statement as prepared for delivery:

Good morning. I call this meeting of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry to order.

Today we will hear testimony from USDA on several Forest Service and forestry related pieces of legislation that have been referred to our Committee. I welcome and thank our witness, Under Secretary Robert Bonnie, for attending today’s hearing.

The bills before us cover a variety of issues either impacting the National Forest System or the management of state and private forest land -- and all in ways that I hope will make the Forest Service more efficient.

I also welcome as our guest today Senator Shaheen from New Hampshire who is the sponsor of one of the bills on our agenda.

This Committee has oversight responsibilities of the U.S. Forest Service, the programs that the agency administers, and its budget.

It is my hope that this hearing serves as a reminder to the U.S. Forest Service and stakeholders that we are a resource and an ally to address policy questions now before Congress, such as catastrophic wildfire and forest management.

While most of the pine trees in Kansas are in the form of telephone poles, I want to convey to all those listening that this Committee has significant interest in the National Forest System.

I’m sure that my colleagues would agree with me, being a member of this Committee means that you not only represent your state’s agricultural interests, but you also represent all of agriculture, of which forestry plays a most important role.

Forestry, much like production agriculture, faces many similar challenges whether it be an over-reaching regulation from EPA, complying with burdensome and time consuming environmental laws and regulations, or protecting countless species under the Endangered Species Act.

The U.S. Forest Service has the primary mission and responsibility to sustain the health, diversity and productivity of our country’s National Forests. The National Forest System encompasses 193 million acres of National Forests and Grasslands in 41 States.

In Kansas, the Cimarron National Grassland, located within Morton and Stevens Counties in southwestern Kansas, contains 108,000 acres, and is the only federally owned land in Kansas administered by the U.S. Forest Service.

Members sitting on this Committee represent states and regions of the country that encompass over 40 million acres of National Forest System lands throughout the Northeast, Southeast, Midwest, and Rocky Mountain West.

The U.S. Forest Service has been part of the Department of Agriculture since 1891.

And our National Forests are administered and managed in a manner to provide multiple uses and benefits – including outdoor recreation, rangeland for livestock, timber supplies, protection of watersheds, water quality, wildlife and fish habitat, and even mineral and energy extraction.

But all is not well within our National Forest System.

The Forest Service readily admits that between 60 and 80 million acres of our National Forests are at high risk of devastating insect infestations, disease, and catastrophic wildfires.

Consequences from policy decisions in the 1990’s to reduce forest management and set aside nearly 60 million acres of National Forest land from active management are now becoming more and more evident. Overstocked stands, plagued by chronic drought and uncharacteristic insect outbreaks, are sitting as hazardous fuel stockpiles susceptible to damaging wildfires.

A 75 percent reduction in timber harvests on National Forest land has resulted in overstocked forests which has been devastating to rural economies dependent upon the forest product and logging industries, further driving neighboring communities into poverty.

The 2014 Farm Bill recognized the urgency of these problems with the inclusion of provisions such as a nationwide expansion of the Good Neighbor Authority, permanent authority for Stewardship Contracting, and expedited authority for the Forest Service to conduct forest restoration on land impacted by insect infestations.

Since the enactment of that Farm Bill, over 45 million acres of National Forest land have been designated to receive expedited management as a result of insect infestations.

The Administration has pointed out repeatedly that fire suppression costs are threatening to swallow the Forest Service whole. Wildfire preparedness and suppression costs now account for nearly half of the agency’s annual discretionary budget – that’s up from 17 percent just over two decades ago.

Congress has before it numerous proposals to provide a stable source of fire suppression funding without compromising needed management.

As we move forward, my hope would be that the Administration would engage with Congress on the issue of reforming the Forest Service in addition to fixing the fire funding problem.

I look forward to hearing from our witness. With that, I now recognize our ranking member, Senator Stabenow for any remarks.

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