Opening Statements

Opening Statement: Conservation and Forestry Subcommittee Chairman Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson: Committee on Agriculture Markup on H.R. 2647, the Resilient Federal Forests Act

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Washington, DC, June 17, 2015 | comments

Remarks as prepared:

Thank you, Chairman Conaway for today’s markup.  As an original cosponsor, I remain in strong support of the “Resilient Federal Forests Act.” 

Since the inception of the national forest system in 1905, the fundamental mission of the Forest Service has been to manage our federal forests and grasslands. As a result, the Forest Service has played a critical role in rural America: partnering to produce timber, natural resources, and jobs, while sustainably managing the ecological health of the forests and surrounding watersheds. National forests have also been extremely successful in creating recreational and educational opportunities for millions of Americans.

In short, our national forests are the economic engine for many rural areas – and proper management has provided two-pronged benefits of both economic and ecological health of these regions. However, while effectively managing the nation’s national forests broadly is the primary mission of the agency, numerous challenges have grown over the past few decades which hinder the Service’s ability to adequately do so.   

Often unnecessary and prolonged processes continue to limit the Service from effectively managing the national forest system.  This also goes along with constant litigation – or even the threat of litigation in some cases. The cost of suppressing and fighting wildfires has been a growing challenge on the Forest Service’s budget over the past 15 years. Chief Tidwell mentioned last week while testifying before the Natural Resources Committee that firefighting costs have increased from 16% of the Forest Service’s budget in 1995 to approximately half of today’s annual budget.

As the Chairman mentioned earlier, our overall harvest level is considerably lower than the historical average. And it is no coincidence that a lack of harvesting, overall management and the uptick in wildfires has also occurred during this timeframe going back to the early 1990s. This legislation is an earnest attempt to give the Forest Service more authority and much needed flexibility to deal with these challenges of process, funding, litigation, necessary timber harvesting and much needed management. In my view, this legislation is the next step in the work that this Committee did on the 2014 Farm Bill which also intended to provide such authorities.

H.R. 2647 incentivizes rewards and collaborations with the private sector on management activities. It allows for state and third party funding of projects. The bill reauthorizes the Resource Advisory Committees – known as RACs – while returning county share of forest receipts for long-term Stewardship projects. And expanding on actions taken last year in the Committee, the legislation also provides commonsense categorical exclusions – or CEs – for certain Forest Service projects. 

To conclude, this is a thoughtful piece of legislation and will do much to help the Forest Service to do its job and better manage our national forests.

I urge my colleagues to vote yes and I yield back.  

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