Westerman Releases Statement Ahead of 2023 Fire Season
Today, House Committee on Natural Resources Chairman Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.) issued the following statement ahead of the 2023 wildfire year and in response to President Joe Biden’s recent meetings on wildfire preparedness:
"Federal forests, particularly in the western U.S., make up the vast majority of the 80 million acres at high risk for wildfire and are in desperate need of large scale comprehensive restoration with a long-term strategy for continued resiliency. Haphazardly throwing large sums of money here and there and hoping something sticks is not comprehensive, strategic or remotely on course to be successful. It is encouraging to see that President Biden and some in his administration are recognizing the need for forest management and that it made the cut on his talking points and travel schedule. I'd be happy to sit down with President Biden anytime and explain things from a forestry standpoint, and how we have Republican solutions in Congress that will actually make a difference in forest health and resiliency while saving the taxpayer money to boot. Until we make these long-term changes, land managers will continue having to sacrifice ounces of prevention for pounds of cure, all of which costs more and more money while doing nothing to mitigate the underlying issues. We can’t keep spending massive amounts of money to treat minimal acreage, and we can’t simply spend our way out of these self-inflicted wildfire disasters waiting to happen."
This week, Biden held meetings with cabinet members ahead of the wildfire season and touted a $1.1 million project in Colorado being used to treat a mere 600 acres. This is part of $170.4 million being allocated across Colorado’s Front Range to treat 36,100 acres ($4,720/acre). A 2021 U.S. Department of Agriculture report states that the average Colorado farmland real estate value was $1,610/acre. If this same funding structure was applied to the 80 million acres of U.S. Forest Service (USFS) lands at high risk for wildfire, it would cost USFS $144 billion to treat all of their lands, not to mention the 54 million acres of land at high risk of fire under Department of Interior management. To put that in context, the entire annual budget for USFS is less than $8.3 billion.These staggering costs are intricately connected to poor policy and planning and are untenable. A unique characteristic of forests is that when they are resilient, they are growing, so forest management isn’t a one-off expense. Forest management is a continuous program that should be self sustaining, not a cyclical drain on the U.S. budget.
Past failed policies have gotten forests into this shape by driving infrastructure off the landscape in the West. The treatments USFS is applying should be generating revenue for the U.S. taxpayer, not costing them money while the country remains a net importer of wood products, in search of more renewable fuels and searching for more environmentally friendly products that could be made from excess wood fiber. USFS has congressional authorized tools - such as 20-year Stewardship Contracting - to attract industry to develop new infrastructure, but has failed to execute a single project since receiving the authority in 2018, despite considerable interests from the private sector.
Republicans have advanced comprehensive, fiscally responsible solutions to address our forest health and catastrophic wildfire crisis. This week, the House of Representatives passed the Fiscal Responsibility Act, which contained provisions to streamline National Environmental Policy Act reviews for a wide range of projects, including forest management. Yet all the tools in the toolbox are of little use without a dedicated will to use them.
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