Thompson’s Committee Investigates Cost of Wildfires

Oct 9, 2015 Issues: Allegheny National Forest

Washington, DC – Congressman Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson (PA-05), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Conservation and Forestry, on Thursday led a House Agriculture hearing to review the 2015 fire season and long-term trends in forestry across the nation.  Appearing before the panel was U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell, followed by several expert witnesses from the private sector.

“Since the 1990s, the average number of national forest acres burned every year has doubled, reaching nine million acres this year alone.  It is no coincidence that during the same time period, the timber harvested from federal lands has gone from more than 10 billion board feet to less than two billion board feet per year,” Thompson said. 

“The loss of forested lands, combined with the high cost of fighting wildfires upon human life and capital, will continue to increase unless we develop comprehensive solutions on how to best manage forests.  In order to reverse the growing trend of devastating fires and unhealthy forests, the Forest Service needs to harvest more timber, better manage these assets and utilize all the tools Congress has given them,” Thompson continued. 

In 2015, the U.S. Forest Service has spent $1.7 billion fighting wildfires, which includes $450 million transferred from other budgeted items.  These transfers deprive accounts reserved for timber harvesting and salvage logging, recreational activities, grants to states, and even funding for fire prevention and suppression activities.

“Adequate timber harvests are necessary to healthy national forests, including the Allegheny National Forest,” Thompson added.  “In addition to harvesting timber, mechanical thinning and prescribed fires are active management practices that will prevent our national forests from further becoming fire-prone tinder boxes.”

Witnesses before the Subcommittee provided testimony, which supported an variety of legislative solutions:

  • The Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2015, (H.R. 2647), which passed the House and will address the consequences of catastrophic wildfire, invasive species and disease infestation.  In addition, the legislation will return resilience and proper management to overgrown, fire-prone forested lands.
  • The 2014 Farm Bill, (H.R. 2642), which includes funding for projects including forest thinning and efforts to combat invasive insects which leave forests susceptible to wildfires.
  • The Wildfire Disaster Funding Act, (H.R. 167), which would end the cycle of borrowing from important forestry programs by the U.S. Forest Service.  The legislation would treat wildfires as natural disasters, funded through the normal budgeting and appropriations process.