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Press Release

Members Respond to Ongoing Wildfire Crisis

Today, the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held a hearing on solutions to restore health and resiliency to national forests and mitigate the threat of catastrophic wildfires.

“At a time when national attention has focused on the disastrous effects of multiple hurricanes, more than 8.5 million acres of America has been ravaged by almost 49,000 fires this year. Fifty-eight million acres of our national forest system are at a high risk of ecologically destructive wildland fire. This problem will only intensify unless we act now to expand active science-based management practices,” Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations Chairman Bruce Westerman (R-AR) stated.

Approximately 60 million acres of national forest are at high, to very high, risk of catastrophic wildfire. Despite data from the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) indicating that active forest management reduces wildfire intensity and improves forest health, only 1 to 2% of high risk areas are treated. Devastatingly, nearly 8.5 million acres have been consumed by wildfire so far this year.

“The American people want our forests returned to health. They want the growing scourge of wildfire brought back under control. They want the destruction of mountain habitats by fire, disease and pestilence arrested and reversed.  They want the prosperity of their forest communities restored. To achieve these goals will require a dramatic change in current policy. Enactment of the Resilient Federal Forest Act is the first step toward restoring sound, rational and scientific management of our national forests,” Subcommittee on Federal Lands Chairman Tom McClintock (R-CA) said.

“Over a million acres of our beautiful state have burned. Smoke has covered our communities, and dangerous air quality has threatened the health of Montanans. We need to be proactive and improve how we manage our forests. When we manage our forests well there is more wildlife, more hunting, and more good-paying jobs for Montanans. And importantly, our wildfires are less severe,” Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-MT) stated.

While the mission of the USFS is to “sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the Nation’s forests and grasslands,” the agency is forced to spend an overwhelming portion of its budget on fire suppression. According the U.S. Department of Agriculture, wildland fires suppression costs have exceeded $2.3 billion this year, making 2017 the most expensive year on record. To cover these costs, the USFS is forced to transfer critical resources from non-suppression funds, also known as “fire-borrowing,” which is expected to reach up to $600 million this year.

“Active forest management is needed to stop the spread of catastrophic wildfires. Irreplaceable natural resources and human lives are at stake, and we must focus on the immediate solutions available. It is time for members of both parties in the House and Senate to work together to pass the Resilient Federal Forests Act,” Westerman added. 

In June, the Committee passed Westerman’s Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2017. In the 114th Congress, the bill passed the House with bipartisan support. Legislation to reform the way the federal government manages its forests has been introduced in both chambers.  

Click here for additional information on today’s hearing.