Opening Statements

Opening Statement: Ranking Member Doug LaMalfa Subcommittee on Conservation and Forestry Public Hearing: “The National Forest System: Restoring our Forest Infrastructure”

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Washington, September 26, 2019 | comments

Remarks as prepared for delivery:

Madam Chair, thank you for holding today’s hearing to discuss the vitally important infrastructure of our National Forest System.

When Congress created the National Forest System more than one hundred years ago, it was designed so that the surrounding communities would benefit from the multiple uses. Not only are our national forests a source of immense natural beauty, but they provide us with natural resources, recreational opportunities, wildlife habitats and serve as economic engines for the surrounding local communities.

For our national forests to be able to provide and sustain these benefits the Forest Service must maintain a vast system of roads, trails, dams and bridges, administration buildings and recreational facilities, all of which are critical to the management of over 193 million acres of public land.

Much of this infrastructure is aging and so it requires regular upkeep. However, budget challenges, such as fire borrowing or the loss of revenue through declining timber harvest, has contributed to a deferred maintenance backlog of $5.2 billion.

A significant portion of this backlog, nearly 75%, is maintenance of the USFS 370,000-mile road system. California has more than a $400 million backlog just on roads in these forest lands. The importance of maintaining National Forest roads cannot be understated. Not only do these roads provide access to public lands for recreation and resources, but they also connect our communities. Most importantly, they provide access for our fire fighters.

Recently, Congress worked to provide several solutions to address the deferred maintenance backlog such as providing the fire funding fix in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018 to prevent fire borrowing from other accounts, including those accounts used for National Forest roads.

Additionally, the 2018 Farm Bill provided more tools for the Forest Service with management of forest lands and allows more partners to assist in these activities. The House-passed version of the farm bill also contained several provisions that would have strengthened these goals, including several categorical exclusions that would have addressed bureaucratic red tape that has hindered the U.S. Forest Service from addressing many of the maintenance issues we will discuss today. Unfortunately, opposition from Senate Democrats prevented these tools from being included in the conference report.

However, earlier this year, the Forest Service announced they were working on streamlining environmental analyses. I believe it is common sense that current facilities should be able to be improved without wasting significant time and money due to unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles. Additionally, the Forest Service has recently completed their Comprehensive Capital Improvement Plan that we hope can be a strategy to address the maintenance backlog and sustain a healthy and functioning forest system.

I would like to thank Associate Chief Lago for being here today. I look forward to your testimony and a productive dialogue about challenges and solutions to protecting a restoring the infrastructure of our National Forests.

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