Rep. McClintock remarks on Scientific forest management

by Placerville Newswire / Oct 26, 2018 / comments

[Bill George]
I want to begin by thanking TuCare for 30 years of work to educate policy makers on the importance of sound, scientific management of our forests.  You have been kind to invite me to address this group and to participate in its educational endeavors on many occasions, and much of what I have learned leading the House Sub-Committee on Federal Lands these last four years has come from your good work.

You have asked what Washington must do.  I can answer in three words: scientific forest management.

Over the past 45 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.  This phenomenon far predates the Western drought and was best summed up by a forester long ago who observed, “All that excess timber comes out of the forests one way or the other.  It is either CARRIED OUT or it is BURNED OUT.  But it comes OUT.”

When we carried it out, we had healthy forests and a thriving economy.  Timber sales not only thinned overgrown forests, giving trees room to grow – it provided millions of dollars to the federal government with which to manage the public lands and it generated economic activity throughout forest regions from which mountain communities prospered.

 Often timber contracts included provisions to assure that the removal of commercially viable forest products also paid for the removal of ladder fuels that ignite destructive crown fires. 

Well maintained timber roads provided access to all parts of our forests, giving the public full access to the public lands and giving firefighters an immediate way to reach the heart of a fire at its earliest stages.  And when a fire had killed timber, we quickly removed it while it still had value, using the revenues to reforest the land before it was claimed by brush.

Beginning in the 1970’s a radical and retrograde ideology began slowly to replace modern forestry science with a policy that can best be described as benign neglect.  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.  We abandoned the timber roads desperately needed by firefighters until they became impassable.  We devastated the economies of mountain communities, requiring increasingly expensive federal financial aid, such as the Secure Rural Schools program, to make up for revenues lost to these communities.  The forests are now densely overgrown, and dying trees now fight for their lives in desperate competition for crowded ground. Our forests are dying and burning and our remaining tourist economy struggles. 

Ironically, the endangered species in whose name we have imposed these misguided policies are even bigger losers than the human population.  The Sub-Committee on Federal Lands has repeatedly noted the abysmal record of species recovery under the Endangered Species Act.  One reason is forest fires that have resulted from these policies have incinerated hundreds of square miles of endangered species habitat.  For example, the Rim Fire alone incinerated 46 protected spotted owl habitats and the King Fire another 32.

Forest managers today complain that they only have a fraction of the money needed to remove ladder fuels.  Only three percent of the highest risk acreage is currently scheduled for thinning. Thirty years ago, this wasn’t a problem, because timber companies paid us to thin national forest lands.  They did so because they were allowed to remove a portion of the commercially viable trees.  Today, the commercially viable trees are largely off limits, requiring us to pay others to treat forest acreage.  And there’s not enough money to make a dent in this need.

The full impact of these neglectful policies can be seen in the contrast between privately managed forest lands and the public lands.  After each of our major fires, private landowners salvage fire-killed trees and used a portion of the proceeds to suppress brush growth and replant the forest.  On the federal lands, the scorched trees still rot in place while six feet of dry brush accumulates around them.  It will likely be an entire century before our forests naturally occupy this land again.    

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 with these restrictions.

The point was brought home to me again last month when I met with officials from the Placer County Water Agency.  Its principal watershed is on Forest Service land, and its proper management is essential to the ability of PCWA to protect its water supply.  Its current forest management plan has identified $2 million worth of commercial timber that it can sell at auction.  But instead of making $2 million from the auction, it will cost the district a net of $9 million because of the costs of meeting the environmental studies, restrictions and mitigations – all paid for by district ratepayers.

We know what works and we know what doesn’t.  The American people want our forests returned to health.  We want the growing scourge of wildfire brought back under control.  We want the destruction of mountain habitats by fire, disease and pestilence arrested and reversed.  We want the prosperity of our mountain regions restored.  And that will require a dramatic change in current policy, which Congress is now well underway toward making. 

The House has repeatedly passed major legislation to restore our forests to health by restoring sound forest management as the cornerstone of our federal lands policy.  The Resilient Federal Forests Acts passed by the House in the 114th and 115th sessions would streamline regulations that have made it cost-prohibitive to restore our forests to optimal tree densities.  Each session, it has died in the Senate because of opposition from environmental extremists.  So too has my bill to expeditiously salvage fire-killed timber while it still has commercial value.   The only reason these bills have not reached the President for his signature is the failure of Senate Democrats to provide the votes necessary to take up these bills, and the failure of Senate Republicans to reform the cloture rule so that the minority cannot obstruct the will of the elected majorities of both the House and the Senate.

My legislation to require full public transparency of the data used to make Endangered Species Act (ESA) listing decisions passed the House Natural Resources Committee last month and I expect to see it passed out of the House when we return to session in November.  The legislation also requires the Federal Government to consider ALL best available scientific and commercial data in making its decisions, rather than picking only those points that support a pre-determined conclusion.  This, along with other ESA reforms, though likely to pass the House, are likely to die in the Senate, for the same reasons.

But I can offer one bit of good news.  The provisions of my bill on Lake Tahoe restoration were ultimately included in the WIIN Act of 2016 and signed into law.  These provisions provide for a categorical exclusion from NEPA for forest thinning projects up to 10,000 acres at a time.  Using this new authority, the Forest Service reports that their environmental assessment has gone from more than 800 pages to less than 40, and the time required to conduct these studies has gone from years to months.  Its success now dramatically strengthens our argument to extend this streamlined process across ALL of our national forests.

That’s what Washington must do.  Whether the House will be able to continue to pass these reforms will depend on the outcome of the election in eleven days.   And whether these reforms can actually get to the President to be signed depends on whether Senate Republicans will reform the cloture rule that has stopped almost all of the land management reforms passed by the House.

And this is where we need to turn our attention to voters.  I have often pointed out that the debate in Washington is merely a reflection of the real debate that occurs among the American people; it is on the outcome of this debate that the future of our nation is decided.

Much of what I know of these issues I have learned because of the tremendous job that each of you have done over the last 30 years to educate policy makers and civic leaders.  But now we need to harness this cadre of Tu-Care educated experts to go out and educate their friends and neighbors and family members and co-workers. 

I know that you’re as frustrated as I am by the by the staggering amount of sheer ignorance and deliberate misinformation published in local newspapers and on the Internet about the condition of our forests and the public policies that are responsible for their condition. TuCare is founded on two simple and self-evident principles: That there is a powerful antidote for ignorance -- it is EDUCATION; and that there is a powerful antidote for mis-information -- it is TRUTH. 

We have got to reach out to the general public to educate people on the truth of the forest crisis we are facing.  Every day we see letters to the editor, columns and editorials – not to mention countless assertions on the Internet that our forest crisis is due to lack of funds.  Yet rarely is it mentioned that proper forest management used to make us money – with 25 percent going directly into local government coffers and 75 percent funding the forest service and going back into managing our forests – not to mention the millions of dollars of commerce that drove our local economies. 

We constantly see attacks on our beleaguered timber industry as a despoiler of the environment.  Rarely does anyone mention the vital role that logging once played in removing excess timber before it could choke off and kill our forests. 

We constantly see global warming blamed for the condition of our forests.  Rarely does anyone point out that if our climate is becoming warmer and dryer, it is all the more important to match the timber density to the ability of the land to support it.  Nor is it often pointed out that a single forest fire makes a mockery of all of our expensive laws to reduce carbon emissions.

I know that I’m preaching to the choir.  But that’s precisely the point: we have to reach beyond the choir, beyond the congregation to the general public in a way we haven’t done before.  You know this stuff backwards and forwards or you wouldn’t be here today.  And each of you has done yeoman service to raise these issues among the public officials and civic leaders of our community.

Now we must take the next step and take these same issues to rank and file voters: writing letters to the editor, calling into talk shows, standing up at public meetings, posting blogs every day to counter the veritable Mt. Vesuvius of misinformation we see from the green left.

Our objective should not only be to educate policy-makers, but to educate the voters who select those policy-makers.  Once we’ve done this, policy-makers won’t need to be educated.  And until we’ve done this, our task will remain a Sisyphean effort.

What Washington must do is self-evident to anyone who has studied forest management.  What Washington CAN do depends on educating the general public, and countering the ignorance and misinformation on this subject in every public forum every day.  TuCare has led the way in public education, and now is the time to take it to the rank and file voters as they choose our policy makers.

Rep. McClintock

About TuCARE

TuCARE was established to enlighten and advise the public on conservation and the wise use of natural resources.

TuCARE believes in the multiple-use of the many natural resources on our public lands. Multiple-use policies allow for everyone to benefit. People can enjoy a wide variety of recreational opportunities. The wood products industry can provide us with needed building materials. Livestock owners can use summer pasture to produce food for us to eat. Miners can extract minerals necessary for the production of everyday goods that we all use. Everyone who uses water or power generated by the harnessing of the Sierra snow melt is a beneficiary.