Ranking Member Stabenow Opening Statement at Hearing on U.S. Forestry Policy

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow, Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, released the following opening statement – as prepared for delivery – at today’s hearing on pending legislation impacting forestry policy in the United States.

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

Thank you Mr. Chairman for convening this important hearing.

I would like to welcome Robert Bonnie – Undersecretary for Natural Resources and Environment at USDA. I look forward to hearing your testimony on these important pieces of legislation. 

Before we dig into the substance of today’s hearing, it is important to acknowledge that, as we speak, there are dozens of wildfires raging across the West and Alaska.

While many of these fires are burning in backcountry areas, there are still thousands of firefighters from the Forest Service and other agencies putting their lives on the line to protect people, homes, and critical infrastructure.

To those firefighters – we support you and thank you for your efforts to protect these communities.

Mr. Chairman, this Committee has a long history of legislative accomplishments on forestry matters and the bills we are considering today illustrate the central role we have when it comes to managing our forest lands.

As we know, the 2014 Farm Bill made important reforms to forestry policy.

It strengthened the Healthy Forests Restoration Act to help ensure local communities have the tools and assistance they need in combating insect and disease outbreaks.

It expanded the Good Neighbor Forestry initiative – a program that allows state foresters to do restoration work on federal lands – to all 50 states.

It also permanently reauthorized Stewardship Contracting to help the Forest Service achieve land management goals, all while supporting rural economies.

As we discuss major newreforms to forest policy – whether before this Committee, in the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, or other legislation – it is important to remember that the major reforms we made in the Farm Bill are just now being fully implemented.

We worked in a bipartisan manner in the Farm Bill to pass these commonsense reforms – enacting ideas proposed by Senators Thune, Barrasso, Wyden, Mark Udall and Baucus.

I would also like to recognize the hard work of Senator Michael Bennet who led the effort to expand the Healthy Forests Restoration Act, and pass other reforms, as our Forestry Subcommittee Chairman during the 2014 Farm Bill.

Senator Bennet’s leadership continues as he’s authored or coauthored nearly half of the bills the panel will review today.

While most of today’s bills are regarded as noncontroversial, I would like to raise a few questions about the legislation pertaining to prescribed burns.

The bill, while certainly well intentioned, may have the effect of curtailing the Forest Service’s ability to conduct important wildfire mitigation work. 

Prescribed burns are an essential tool for the agency to make landscapes less vulnerable to severe wildfires.

While we certainly ought to do everything we can to ensure these burns do not get out of control or harm private property, I believe we may have more work to do to make sure this legislation does not have any unintended consequences.

That being said, I am glad we have an opportunity to hear the Administration’s view on this and all of the bills we have before us today.

Thank you.