USA — Today, the Subcommittee on Federal Lands held an oversight hearing on the devastating impacts of wildfire and the need to significantly increase forest management efforts on the National Forest System.
Over the past thirty years, we have seen an 80 percent reduction in timber harvested from our national forests and in the same period a concomitant increase in acreage destroyed by fire, Subcommittee Chairman Tom McClintock (CA-04) stated. In the name of protecting endangered species, we placed increasing tracts of land off limits to forest management, allowing our forests to become dangerously overcrowded and overgrown.
The full impact of these neglectful policies can be seen in the contrast between privately managed forest lands and public Time and again, we see vivid boundaries between the young, healthy, growing forests managed without these restrictions, and the choked, dying or burned public forests managed under them, McClintock added.
Full Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (UT-01) highlighted the impact of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Endangered Species Act (ESA) on the current forest management practices. Chairman Bishop moved the oversight of NEPA and the ESA to the jurisdiction of the Full Committee at the beginning of the 114th Congress.
One common theme with this hearing and others: we are discussing laws that were passed several decades ago, stated Bishop. The testimony today underscores no one seems to be satisfied with national forest management and in many cases, it is the laws that Congress passed decades ago that are the problem.
There was bipartisan agreement that more work needs to be done to improve the health of federal forests. To read the witness testimony, click here.
National forests are increasingly becoming overgrown, fire-prone thickets due in part, to a lack of active management such as thinning forests to reduce fire danger. As a result, catastrophic wildfires are growing in number, size and intensity with devastating impacts to the environment.
The Forest Service recently identified 58 million acres as high risk for catastrophic wildfire or almost a third of the 193 million acre National Forest System. Due in part to increasing and lengthy regulatory processes and legal challenges, this year the agency plans thinning on less than three percent of that acreage.
From the mid 1950s through the mid 1990s, the average amount of timber harvested from the national forests averaged ten to twelve billion board feet. During the same period, the average annual amount of acres burned due to catastrophic wildfire, was 3.6 million acres per year.
Since 1996, the average amount of timber harvested annually was between 1.5 and 3.3 billion board feet. Also since 1996, the average annual amount of acres burned due to catastrophic wildfire was over six million acres per year.