U.S. Rep. Doug LaMalfa pushes for hearings on U.S. Forest Service ‘inaction’

U.S. Rep. Doug LaMalfa pushes for hearings on U.S. Forest Service ‘inaction’

13 March 2015

published by www.theunion.com

USA —  The U.S. Forest Service is not meeting its goals on forest management to prevent wildfires, or to quickly salvage burned timber after fires take place, according to U.S. Rep. Doug LaMalfa.

“We’re looking at having hearings this year on the U.S. Forest Service’s forest management action or inaction — ‘inaction’ being the key word,” LaMalfa said this week. “We need to be doing a lot more if we’re not going to have the catastrophic fires that we’ve had.”

LaMalfa, R-Richvale, vice chair of the public lands subcommittee of Congress’s Natural Resources Committee, said the hearings date has not yet been scheduled but that he is pushing for it to happen sometime this year.

At the same time, he is planning to reintroduce a bill that would create a separate emergency fund for fire suppression, apart from the “green” fund budget for forest thinning, permitting, planning and maintenance.

Currently the two funds are “blended,” LaMalfa said.

“We’re looking at having hearings this year on the U.S. Forest Service’s forest management action or inaction — ‘inaction’ being the key word. We need to be doing a lot more if we’re not going to have the catastrophic fires that we’ve had.”U.S. Rep. Doug LaMalfa

“As the fires get worse and worse, a larger portion of their one-pot budget is going to suppression,” he said. “We need to have more left for planning, thinning, maintenance.”

LaMalfa, who represents California’s 1st Congressional District, made his remarks as part of a congressional update at The Union offices during his monthly “work week” in the district, which includes all of Nevada County except for Truckee.

LaMalfa will return to Washington D.C. next week for three weeks in the Capitol before returning again to California for a district work week.

Michael Woodbridge, public affairs officer for the Tahoe National Forest, said his office could not comment on Forest Service budget issues, because they are handled regionally or nationally.

He said, however, that his office meets regularly with staff from LaMalfa’s office and those from U.S. Rep. Tom McClintock’s office, both of whom represent portions of the Tahoe National Forest.

“We feel we have a good relationship with them,” Woodbridge said. “There is good communication between them and our office.”

LaMalfa, meanwhile, also touched on several drought concerns, including the need to thin forests so that the remaining trees will be healthy and have enough groundwater.

Other drought issues include LaMalfa’s support for desalination plants to deliver water along California’s coastal towns, and his leadership on H.R. 1060 to move forward with building the Sites Reservoir and dam in the western part of Colusa County.

“It’s been discussed for at least 20 years,” LaMalfa said of Sites, which he said has bipartisan support in the House and Senate. “It seems to be the most feasible, the one project about which people have the most consensus.”

LaMalfa also addressed his desire to push for more scrutiny at the Veterans Administration medical center in Oakland.

He said he is appalled at the file of 14,000 missed or lost cases uncovered in an investigation at the center last year.

He said he would like to find out the truth as to what happened with the cases.

“There’s still much to do because the stories aren’t straight about what’s happening,” LaMalfa said. “I want to get Oakland an oversight hearing so that the (Congressional Veterans Affairs) committee sees and understands what veterans are telling us.

“I don’t care about the personalities or anything like that,” LaMalfa added. “The bottom line is, I just want to get the veterans processed for the help they should be receiving.”

LaMalfa said he is not a member of the Veterans Affairs Committee, but that he has sat in as a guest and is allowed to ask questions of his fellow Congress members.

As to desalination, LaMalfa said the process is becoming more feasible as technology improves and the cost of electricity to power the plants is lowered.

“They’re saying now that it would cost $800 per acre-foot of water,” LaMalfa said, adding that cost does not include delivery of the water. “If one household uses half an acre-foot, then $400 is a pretty good cost for guaranteed water supply.”

Regarding thinning the forests, LaMalfa said the lack of water weakens trees and makes them susceptible to invasion by insects or other disease.

“Sap is the trees’ defense, but they don’t make sap if they don’t have enough water,” he said.

“If the bugs get hold, the tree is on the way to dying,” LaMalfa added. “Then you’re going to see all that brown, and the forest becomes a hot tinder box.”

In addition to a push for more thinning during the drought, LaMalfa wants to expedite the timber salvage process so that the Forest Service can recoup money for burned timber instead of losing money to remove the wood that has lost its value.

“You only have about a year (after a fire),” he said. “After that, the salvage turns into unusable wood without value that then costs you to haul it away.”

He said environmental regulations often “gum up the works” of the salvage process unnecessarily.

He recommends that Congress push the Forest Service to draft a “blueprint” for what needs to be done during salvage efforts so that the actions are spelled out in advance.

“After a fire, we already know what we need to do here,” he said. “We don’t need to study it more.”

He said although the East Coast Congress members don’t understand the severity of the forest fire threat in the West, he is hopeful that the Natural Resources Committee leaders will appropriate more money for forest management.

“If a stream needs a buffer zone, build it in (to the salvage blueprint),” he said. “If old growth needs to be saved, build that in.”

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