Click here to watch Chairman Barrasso’s remarks
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, U.S. Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW), delivered the following remarks at a full committee hearing on “Forest Management to Mitigate Wildfires: Legislative Solutions.” The hearing focused on forest management and the mitigation of catastrophic wildfires.
The hearing featured testimony from Jessica Crowder, policy advisor to the office of Wyoming Governor Matthew Mead; Lawson Fite, general counsel for the American Forest Resources Council, Inc.; and Collin O’Mara, president and chief executive officer for the National Wildlife Federation.
For more information on their testimonies click here.
Senator Barrasso’s remarks:
“So far in 2017, fires have burned more than 8 million acres in the United States.
“We need to find solutions to address this threat to our communities and to wildlife.
“Today, the committee will hear testimony on three bills related to catastrophic wildfires burning across the West.
“Senator Daines has introduced S. 605, the Litigation Relief for Forest Management Projects Act, which would address conflicting circuit court decisions and prevent costly delays in forest management as a result of duplicative consultation requirements.
“The committee will hear testimony on Senator Hatch’s bill S.1417, the Sage-Grouse and Mule Deer Habitat Conservation and Restoration Act of 2017.
“S.1417 would allow for removal of Pinyon and Juniper trees which are invasive species that lead to wildfires and compromise habitat for mule deer and sage grouse across the West.
“We also have Senator Thune’s bill, S.1731, the Forest Management Improvement Act of 2017, which provides the forest service with a series of tools to address the ever-growing wildfire threat of forests filled with dead or dying trees.
“Each of these bills addresses a different, but important, part of forest health and fire prevention.
“Decades of fire suppression and a rapid decline in active management have led to overly-dense forests, susceptible to disease and pest outbreaks.
“Pests or disease leave thick stands of dead trees which are poor habitat for iconic species such as elk, lynx, deer and other wildlife that depend on vibrant forest ecosystems.
“The dead trees affect watersheds as well, as there are no longer leaves or needles to hold snow to build winter snowpack.
“In addition, these dead forests are much more prone to catastrophic fires.
“These hot, fast-moving fires are unpredictable and cause significant damage to the ecosystem and surrounding communities.
“There are the obvious impacts from these fires.
“Wildlife that flee too slowly are burned, homes and habitat are lost, and smoke billows into the air.
“Smoke and ash travel for miles, spreading fear among those who already face respiratory challenges. As this poster shows. A woman and her child walking with masks over their faces.
“It’s not uncommon to see people, including children and the elderly, wearing face masks.
“Coughing, sneezing, and watery eyes leads people to ask ‘is all that wildfire smoke damaging my health?’
“On September 11, a National Public Radio article highlighted those concerns. I will submit a copy of the article for the record.
“In 2017 alone, schools in Oregon, Montana, and even Florida have cancelled classes to keep children inside and away from the smoke.
“While smoke and falling ash disperse relatively quickly, other impacts remain for years to come.
“After a catastrophic fire is extinguished by brave wildland firefighters or by early snows, forest ecosystems lose their topsoil.
“Hot fires sterilize the soil and, and without a strong root system to hold that soil back, these landscapes experience massive erosion.
“Dirt, sand, and other silt quickly accumulate in creeks and streams, devastating aquatic life, and clogging municipal water systems.
“High sediment levels raise water temperature and can also cause widespread fish kills.
“What is most egregious is that our federal land managers could mitigate a significant portion of these risks.
“Fire is a historically important part of an ecosystem, but these large, unnatural, catastrophic wildfires are not.
“In order to address this threat, we need to actively manage forests with excess dead wood.
“Large stands of dead trees need to be removed in a timely fashion so we are not facing another 8 million acres of burned lands.
“We must act quickly to address the risk to human health, infrastructure, and valuable ecosystems.
“There are millions of acres of federal forest land in dire need of thinning, restoration, and other attention.
“Last year, the Forest Service estimated that up to 100 million acres are at some risk of wildfire.
“Today, we will hear about bills that address bureaucratic processes that prevent or delay proactive fire prevention and ecosystem management.
“Bills that can save lives, property and protect our forests’ diverse wildlife.”