From the House Floor: Discussing our forest economies and the importance of "multiple-use" land management

This evening, I joined fellow Members of Congress representing communities across the country for "leadership hour" on H.R. 1526, the Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act, a bill that would renew the federal government’s commitment to manage federal forests for the benefit of rural schools and counties, and improve forest health and “multiple-use” land practices.  It’s anticipated that this bill may be on the floor this month.

As chairman of the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation, Energy & Forestry, I used the opportunity to discuss the nation's forest economies and the importance of the U.S. Forest Service retaining its “multiple-use” mission - the most important function of which is to “properly manage forests and grasslands, in order to retain the ecological health of those resources, for sustained economic and recreational use." 

Remarks as prepared:

"Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I appreciate your leadership at the Natural Resources Committee, and especially on forestry issues.

As Chairman of the Agriculture Committee’s Forestry Subcommittee, I continually point out that the Forest Service is housed within USDA – rather than Interior - and was done so for very specific purposes.

This decision was made long ago because our national forests were intended for “multiple-use”  –  the most important function of that mission is to properly manage these forests and grasslands, in order to retain the ecological health of those resources, for sustained economic and recreational use.  

You can’t adequately manage a forest without harvesting timber.  Just look to our private and state forest lands to see how to manage a forest cost effectively and environmentally responsibly.

National Forest lands, when managed correctly, will be more ecologically healthy and economically beneficial to the local communities.

Representing a forested district and as an outdoorsman, I have been very alarmed at how precipitously our annual harvests have dropped off in the past twenty years.

Between 1960 and 1989, the Forest Service was harvesting roughly 10 to 12 billion board feet per year.

Since the early 90s, the annual harvest across Forest Service lands fell below 2 billion board feet and hit its bottom in 2002 at 1.7 billion.  This is about one fifth of what they had been harvesting in an average year.

We have seen firsthand the economic impacts of reducing our harvesting levels in national forests.

Under longtime federal law, 25% of timber receipts generated on national forests are required to be returned to the county of origin. 

The purpose of this is that since there is no tax base there for the local government, timber receipts were to provide a consistent source of revenue to the counties to be used for schools, police and local expenses.

In 2000, this lack of timber dollars plummeted so low that Congress created the now expired Secure Rural Schools program to make up for the loss of county revenue in national forest lands.

This program simply would not have been needed if the federal government was keeping its promise to these rural areas by managing and harvesting the appropriate amount of timber.

In the Allegheny National Forest, located in my district, we have slightly inched up in meeting the recommended level of harvest.  But we are still nowhere near where we need to be.

And this is especially true across most ever other national forest around the country, where they typically are generating only a few percent of the recommended level.

Too little harvesting will have significant impacts on overall forest health.

Decreased timber harvesting means more dead trees and more highly flammable biomaterials that do little more than serve as fuel for wildfires.

According to the Forest Service, the instances of wildfires each year have actually decreased in recent years.  However, fires we have been seeing recently are much more intense than they have been in past years.

Why?  The reason is because of increased flammability in the forests as a result of materials that have accumulated and not been removed through management activities.

According to the U.S. Forest Service, 65-82 million acres of Forest Service Lands are at “high risk of wildfires.”

Last year, wildfires burned 9.3 million acres, while the U.S. Forest Service only harvested approximately 200,000 acres. This means that 44 times as many acres burned as were responsibility harvested.

As an original cosponsor of H.R. 1526, I applaud Chairman Hastings for his leadership and introduction of the bill.
 
This legislation will help promote responsible timber production on Forest Service lands, and does so in areas specifically identified by the agency.

Access and retaining the “multiple-use” mission of the Forest Service is paramount to ensuring that our rural forest communities continue to flourish and be viable.

I yield back the balance of my time."