Senator Barbara Boxer (CA) explains why salvage increases fire risk
Floor Statement by Senator Barbara Boxer Regarding the Need for an Effective National Forest Fire Prevention Plan
Washington - Senator Barbara A. Boxer (D-CA) gave the following statement today on the Senate Floor during the debate over amendments to the Department of InteriorAppropriations bill. The Senator would support legislation that implements needed management practices in the most critical areas to prevent forest fires, as opposed to allowing widespread logging by timber companies, as the Administration has proposed.
"Like many of my colleagues, I have watched with frustration, anger, and sorrow as millions of acres of forest have been destroyed each year
by catastrophic wildfires. This year the fire season has been particularly severe in California, as well as a number of other western states
such as Arizona and New Mexico.
After an extremely destructive fire season in 2000, the Departments of Agriculture and Interior took the promising step of developing what is
now referred to as the National Fire Plan. Among other things, the Fire Plan clearly indicates that priority should be given to the clearance of
brush near communities and homes.
Consensus also emerged around the idea that some thinning of trees and clearing of brush were needed and should be accomplished through both mechanical methods and the reintroduction of fire.
Yet despite promising signs of agreement about what needs to be done, recent GAO reports indicate that USDA and the Department of
Interior have been ineffective and inefficient in implementing the Fire Plan.
I suspect most western Senators would share that assessment.
In fact, we agree about many things with regard to fire. We agree the problem is severe. And, we all agree that something must be done to
increase the speed and efficiency with which our agencies work to reduce fire risk.
We differ, however, on the question of how to remedy the situation.
The Craig-Domenici amendment proposes to waive the National Environmental Planning Act (orNEPA) ? which is the mechanism by which
environmental impact statements are normally developed. The amendment also restricts appeals and judicial review so that the public's ability to challenge agency decisions is limited.
This approach gives the agencies nearly complete discretion to engage in thinning and salvage log at will.
To me, this is a recipe for disaster ? one that will lead us away from the place we need to be.
The waiver of environmental safeguards and the elimination of judicial review are not steps to be taken lightly. And in this case, there is
simply no justification for it because they are not the source of the problem.
There is actually evidence to the contrary. In a recent letter to Senator Craig, GAO determined that only 1% of hazardous fuel
reduction projects were appealed in 2001 and none had been litigated.
Furthermore, although so-called "radical environmentalists" have been much maligned in this debate, GAO found that the list of appellants
included not only conservation groups, but also recreation groups, industry interests, and individuals.
The GAO finding confirmed for me that our environmental laws, the appeals process, public participation, and judicial review are not the
source of the problem. Nor can we blame our forest woes on "environmental extremists."
In fact GAO reports documenting the agencies' failures to implement the Fire Plan suggests that our environmental laws, the appeals process,
and public oversight are necessary to keep the Forest Service, BLM, and other agencies on the right track.
The truth is that fire ecology is complicated. We don't understand it all yet.
I have here two charts of the burned forest area in Oregon that President Bush visited recently.
The President tried to simplify the issue and suggest that areas that are thinned won't burn and areas that are left alone will be subject
to catastrophic fire, but that simply isn't the case.
Here's a chart showing a thinned area, with no large trees left, that was burned to cinders.
Here's a second chart showing an adjacent area that wasn't thinned , an area left in its natural state, that didn't burn at all.
The point is that these issues are complex and site specific. Such complexity argues for the kind of environmental analyses that our
environmental laws require.
In California, the Forest Service took the time to do the necessary environmental reviews and produced a plan referred to as the "Sierra
Nevada Framework." As the Secretary of NaturalResources for California recently wrote in a letter to Secretary Veneman, "the Framework is the
first landscape scale national forest management plan that balances the need for fire risk reduction through fuel treatment with
environmental protection." The fuel reduction plan in the Framework has been agreed to by most of the mainstream environmental groups. Why? Because it was done thoughtfully and with full consideration of the environmental implications.
Secretary Nichols of California goes on to explain that the President's proposal and efforts to undermine existing environmental laws will only
serve to polarize the debate, as has happened here on the Senate floor, and will unravel the good work that has happened in places like
Frankly, if the agencies had paid more attention to environmental analyses in the past, we wouldn't be in the situation we are now because
they would have realized earlier that their fire suppression policy made no ecological sense.
Instead, blame should be placed at the feet of the agencies that are unwilling or unable to change their ways, agencies that can't get
beyond the idea that the primary purpose of our forests is to "get out the cut" and as a result, refuse to implement fuel reduction practices
their own scientists recommend.
There is a great deal of scientific evidence that thinning and clearing activities should be concentrated in the areas immediately adjacent
to communities. A recent study completed by the U.S. Forest Service's Fire Sciences Laboratory in Missoula Montana, found that the only
thinning needed to protect houses was within the "red zone" of 150- 200 feet around the building.
Jack Cohen, a Forest Service researcher noted that, "Regardless of how intense the fire is, the principle determinant is based on the home and
the exterior characteristics." In terms of protecting houses and other community structures, the immediate vicinity is what's relevant and
it does not matter what happens to the forest 200 feet away.
Yet the Forest Service continues to direct thinning activities to remote areas of our forests where the risk to people and property is
minimal. Less than 40% of the forest areas that have been thinned are in the so-called wildland-urban interface, which is the buffer zone between communities and forests.
There is also abundant scientific evidence that thinning should target small diameter trees and underbrush to most effectively reduce fire
Aggressive logging of big fire-resistant trees, while appealing to the timber industry, actually increases the risk of fire. The LA Times
published a story yesterday, which I will submit for the record, that explains this well. In general, logging leaves behind highly flammable brush
materials; it leads to dense new growth that poses a fire hazard; and the removal of large trees causes soils to dry out leading to increased
A scientific assessment completed in the Sierra Nevada in 1996, for instance, found that, "Timber harvest, through its effects on forest
structure, local microclimate and fuel accumulation, has increased fire severity more than any other human activity."
Yet the Forest Service continues to give high priority to thinning projects that involve large valuable trees. These large trees are fire
resistant, and therefore should be the last ones to be removed. But, repeatedly they are removed because they are economically valuable in
commercial timber sales.
In November 2001, the Inspector General at USDA completed an audit of the Forest Service's implementation of the National Fire Plan. The
USDA audit "questioned the propriety of using approximately $2.5 million of National Fire Plan Rehabilitation and Restoration Program funds
to prepare and administer projects involving commercial timber sales."
I want to show you a picture of a Forest Service "thinning." What's left is a few trees and absolutely nothing on the ground. The area
looks like a tree orchard. While this may be good for the promotion of new timber stands, it hardly preserves any of the ecological values
normally associated with a natural forest.
The reality is that we have federal agencies implementing fire projects that make sense if the primary goal is increasing timber volume, but
make no sense if the primary goal is reducing the risk of fire while preserving the ecological integrity of our forests.
Given the agencies' apparent inability to overcome their timber bias, we would be guaranteeing a future filled with fires if we gave them the
broad discretion the Republican amendment would allow.
What's needed is language that provides the agencies with specific guidelines and priorities about where thinning and salvage activities
should take place.
While we have been unable to reach agreement with our Republican colleagues on this matter, I'm pleased to say I have been working
constructively with my colleagues Senators Daschle, Bingaman, Reid and Cantwell to try to craft an alternative proposal.
I can support an alternative that will encourage aggressive and focused forest management in the buffer zone areas between communities and
forests. This buffer zone, which should be defined in any amendment to be within one half mile of community structures, is the area where the Forest Service has said the most aggressive thinning should be done.
Such specificity will insure that the Forest Service and BLM make the protection of Californians and others the highest priority.
Because of the agencies' propensity to turn thinning and salvage projects into timber sales, any amendment should direct the agencies to
protect large trees and prohibit the development of new roads, which are generally associated with the removal of commercial timber.
It is unfortunate that we need to be this prescriptive. However, as I've noted, there is good reason to be skeptical that the Forest Service
and BLM can be left to their own devices.
Without the public watching over them, and without any mechanism for challenging agency actions, the Republican amendment will
exacerbate the problem. The agencies will continue to engage in senseless thinning and salvage logging in the middle of remote roadless areas, driven more by a thirst for commercial timber than by the need to protect homes and communities.
To me, that is an intolerable outcome and it is the reason I oppose this proposal and have been working with others to craft an alternative."
BARBARA BOXER IS A VOICE OF REASON FOR OUR FORESTS!
Please e:mail, or phone to thank her for her strong courageous speech today on the Senate floor!
(Senators are still negotiating a bad forest compromise, and will continue on Monday..the battle
isn't over to save our forests.)
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