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Senator Cantwell speaks out on RIDER! (finally(

Congressional Record
9/19/02
Senate
Ms. CANTWELL. I thank the Chair.

Madam President, I rise today to speak about the need for a national debate on how best to manage wildfires and improve forest health. I thank my colleague from California for being here this morning to articulate a vision about how we can move forward to protect old growth while being mindful about how much work really needs to be done before we can come up with a solid proposal.
That is why I am here to speak this morning. I believe the amendment we will offer today does not further the debate in the direction we need to go but instead focuses on the controversial issues of weakening our environmental protection laws and limiting meaningful public participation.
While I appreciate the sense of urgency that this year's fire season has brought us_and I believe the fire seasons in last several years have made all of us anxious_I believe the reasonable way of dealing with this situation is through the legislative committee process.
I applaud my colleagues who are on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee who have had much discussion about this problem and are very anxious to take the Governors' report that was done on the national fire plan and efforts to better implement it. We need to do that through the legislative committee process where we can hold hearings and talk to the experts and concerned members of our communities.
Trying to solve this important issue with a rider to an appropriations bill is unwise. It would be wrong to think that we could reverse hundreds of years of misguided forest fire management suppression policy with a rider on an appropriations bill.
One of the most significant concerns I have about the amendment, as my colleague from California mentioned, is that it does waive important environmental laws. Under this amendment, the agencies will no longer be required to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act. Furthermore, the amendment eliminates the administrative appeals process and limits judicial review.
We do need to move forward, and I applaud my colleague from Idaho for wanting to take this issue to the next level and for the focus that he has given to the issue. But I believe critical to this debate is the central issue of trust because after decades of documented problems with forest management by the Forest Service, it is no wonder that citizens are now skeptical about the plan before us today, which would allow timber companies to thin on ten million acres might really be motivated more by economics than improving healthy forests.
If we go so far as to restrict a citizen's legal right, that is the wrong approach, but I believe working within the existing framework of environmental laws and allowing for the appropriate process for projects in areas near communities is the right approach.
This basic step needs to be taken_to prevent the catastrophic wildfires that we have all experienced. This step has already been laid out in the laws of this country. In the 10-year comprehensive strategy on collaborative approach for reducing wild land fire risk to communities and the environment which was issued in May, this strategy was the highest priority.
We need to make sure we are treating fires in communities that could be most effective in protecting lives and in protecting homes. -->
The work done in a community in Roslyn, which is in my home State, demonstrates that protecting our forests has little to do with cutting big trees far away from homes but, rather, treating areas adjacent to communities.
Now that is not to say we do not have to look at fuel reduction and that fuel reduction is not critically important in other parts of our national forests, but the key thing we have seen in this fire season is the loss of homes and loss of areas that I think are the interfaces on which we need to focus.
The joint efforts of local citizens, the local fire department, the Washington Department of Natural Resources, and the U.S. Forest Service produced a plan in our State to clear brush and other fuel materials from a buffer zone around this town of Roslyn. I support more funding to do thinning, prescribed burns, and hazardous fuel reduction in our efforts to manage our forests.
I think all of those need more discussion and more time and energy put into them and, as we will see with the Byrd amendment, more resources financially to obtain that goal since those funds have been subverted in the past.
I also support providing the Forest Service and BLM with adequate funding to do the hazardous fuel reduction projects so each year we do not find ourselves in the same situation where the Forest Service diverts the funds from fire accounts in order to pay for fire suppression.
So let us make that clear. Let us divide the accounts. Let us make sure we are doing work both for suppression and for the prevention efforts we need.
The point is clear, we can protect our communities from fire, and we do not need to waive environmental protection laws or limit public participation to do so. In closing, I would like to urge my colleagues to support Senator Byrd's amendment to provide more funding for fire suppression efforts. However, I add a note of caution, that if we take this approach with the rider my colleague from Idaho is offering, I do not think it is in the best interest of the forests or the American public. This rider is too overreaching to be put on this legislation. Let us go back to the committee process, let us have the hearings, and let us push forward together.
I ask unanimous consent to print in the Record an editorial from the Seattle Times that talks about the need to move ahead but that we cannot have, as this article says: This administration's attempt to confuse and cloud the issue of fire suppression by laughably proposing timber thinning can only mean a return to unregulated clear-cutting on our Nation's forestlands. -->
There being no objection, the article was ordered to be printed in the Record

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