December 20, 2012
During the height of this year’s record-breaking fire season, the Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands held a legislative hearing on bills to address forest health and reduce the risk of catastrophic forest fire. Following a Forest Service report on the need for restoration on 65-82 million acres of National Forest land, the Forest Service testified that it had restored 3.7 million acres in 2011. Restoration is the process of assisting recovery of an ecosystem that has been degraded, damaged, or destroyed. Following the hearing, we submitted a series of questions to get further detail on what methods the agency used to “restore” these lands.
In its response, the Forest Service explained that of those 3.7 million acres, over 1.4 million – nearly 40% of the total – were “restored” through a combination of prescribed fire (fire intentionally set and monitored by the agency) and wildland-use fire (fire allowed to burn to achieve resource objectives). Meanwhile, commercial harvest was only allowed on 195,477 acres - 5% of the total work for 2011 and only .1% of the 193 million acres managed by the Forest Service.
In short, the Forest Service “restored” seven times more land by the use of wildfire than by management to produce merchantable wood products, support jobs, or generate economy activity and revenue for our rural forest communities and schools. The 195,000 acres treated this year produced 2.4 billion board feet of timber – down 80% over the last twenty years. This decline in forest management has resulted in millions of acres of unhealthy forests caused by insect and disease infestation and overgrowth, an ever growing threat of catastrophic wildfire, and significant damage to local economies.
This data shows that there is tremendous opportunity to restore active management of our forests that will create jobs and foster economic development.