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U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources

07/22/2021 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 07/22/2021 14:48

Congress Must Take Action to Prevent Catastrophic Wildfires, Restore Forest Health

WASHINGTON, D.C., July 22, 2021
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Today, House Committee on Natural Resources Ranking Member Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.) led a forum titled 'Preventing Catastrophic Wildfires and Restoring Forest Health and Resiliency.'

'Frankly, I am sick and tired of the pitiful lack of action taken in the face of this crisis,' Westerman said. 'If current trends continue, this year will be no different. We'll burn up millions of acres of wildlife habitat, lose lives and property and degrade the health of critical watersheds that are already suffering from severe drought conditions. We need a paradigm shift about how we manage our forests to restore health and resiliency. Until that moment, we will continue to see the tinderboxes that we call forests literally explode at the slightest spark... Our committee's Democrats believe they have checked the box by holding a single hearing and saying climate change is the only driver of wildfires. This is akin to a doctor telling you they know exactly what your illness is, but providing no treatment for you. We already know what the remedy is to our unhealthy lands, and that's science-based, active management.'

The panel of Republican members heard from five witnesses during the forum:

The Honorable Greg Gianforte, governor, Montana
The Honorable Jim Hubbard, former deputy under secretary for natural resources and environment, U.S. Department of Agriculture
The Honorable Joel Bousman, county commissioner, Sublette County, Wyoming
Tom Spezze, national director of field conservation and state policy, National Wild Turkey Federation
Jim Durglo, fire technical specialist, Inter-Tribal Timber Council

'In Montana, we are committed to working together to bring health back to our forests, to protect our communities, and to create jobs,' Gianforte said. 'Without active forest management, we cannot be successful in our forest health improvement and wildfire risk reduction goals. Thousands of first responders are currently on the front lines working to protect our communities, natural resources, and livelihoods across Montana and the western United States. The untold sacrifices of these brave men and women cannot be calculated in dollars spent, or acres burned, and we must keep them and their loved ones in our thoughts and prayers as the fire season progresses. The time to act is now. With so much at stake we simply cannot wait any longer. We must treat more acres.'

'This isn't a simple problem that'll be fixed quickly,' Hubbard said. 'It has to have a strategy with it that goes long-term, and I'm talking about a land treatment strategy. Where are you going to start, where are you going to go after you start, how far do you plan to get? That accountability is important, and I think the committee should be keeping track of it too because it helps to have more eyes on the problem.'

'I am a lifelong rancher and resident of Sublette County, a rural county in western Wyoming with a population of approximately 10,000,' Bousman said. 'Our economy is based on the wise use of natural resources on federal and non-federal lands-from oil and gas development to livestock grazing to recreational activities in federally protected wilderness areas. In other words: the multiple-use mandate is the lifeblood of our economy.'

'The NWTF [National Wild Turkey Federation] strongly encourages Congress to seek out a collaborative, bipartisan and bicameral approach to furthering a truly transformational, landscape-scaled focus to forest management though the funding already supported by Congress through the Great American Outdoors Act and now the pending Resilient Federal Forests Act and potentially through a bipartisan infrastructure bill,' Spezze said. 'Previous generations of federal agency and national leadership have attempted this and talked about current forest needs and what the future forest condition should look like for sustainable water, habitats, recreation, and resilient communities. We owe it to future generations to set aside party differences and to leave behind a conservation legacy we can be proud of. Mr. Westerman and members of this forum have much to be proud of for pressing forward with this important work for our future.'

'Tribal nations maintain a vested interest in our forest resources because they hold our first foods, medicines, and are spiritually and culturally significant to our way of life,' Durglo said. 'They also provide a valuable economic return to both tribal and surrounding communities. Countless generations of our ancestors have utilized these same lands and it is our responsibility to care for it for future generations. We should also recognize that fire, both natural and human lit are part of the natural world. We need to re-learn how to live and use fire for the benefit of our people and communities.'

Watch the full forum here.