Ag committee approves Forest Restoration Act

The House Agriculture Committee has approved the Healthy Forest Restoration Act of 2003. The legislation, designed to protect the nation's forests from wildfires, will now move to the House floor.

“This legislation will promote the utilization of the sound science at our disposal to create healthy, sustainable forests. It will also do much to eliminate the maddening bureaucracy which impedes forest planners from doing their job,” says Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., committee chairman.

Goodlatte says the threat that catastrophic wildfires pose to forest ecosystems is “tremendous.”

“The passage of this legislation out of the committee is particularly timely given the fact that the fire season is rapidly approaching, and long-term drought conditions persist throughout much of the interior West. The need for meaningful action has never been greater,” he says. “As stewards of the land, we must be vigilant in sorting through the rhetoric to develop sound environmental policy.”

Rep. Gil Gutknecht, chairman of the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Department Operations Oversight, Nutrition and Forestry, says he, too, is pleased the committee is moving the legislation forward.

Given priority status by the Bush administration, the healthy forests initiative seeks to better manage national forests to prevent wildfires, and restore their long-term health.

Mark Rey, agriculture undersecretary for natural resources and the environment, says the initiative is based on a common-sense approach to reducing the threat of catastrophic wildfires. “Our goal is to insure the long-term safety and health of communities and ecosystems in our care.”

At a recent congressional hearing on the initiative, John Helms, professor emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley, said, “A healthy forest is a sustainable forest.”

“It has been demonstrated that prudent forest management and stewardship can lower the risk of unacceptable loss of property and resource assets through judicious thinning and prescribed burning,” Helms says. “Changes are also needed in a number of regulatory measures that often cause unnecessary delays that can be detrimental to time-sensitive forest management projects.”

According to statistics presented to the Agriculture Committee, 8.4 million acres of land burned in 2000, costing approximately $1.3 billion in suppression costs. In 2001, 3.6 million acres burned, costing approximately $918 million in suppression costs, and in 2002, 6.9 million acres burned with estimated suppression costs of $1.6 billion. The 2003 season in expected to again experience an above-normal number of wildfires in many areas of the country.

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