Walden, bipartisan coalition call for healthy forests in job bills

EUGENE, Ore. — Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and the bipartisan cosponsors pushing new healthy forests and job creation legislation in the House are asking that their bills receive hearings in the House of Representatives. Walden announced the request during a speech to the Association of Oregon Loggers in Eugene.

“With a bipartisan, multi-state coalition, we’ve made a good case that these bills have broad support and should receive hearings in House committees,” Walden said. “With staggering unemployment and sick national forests in Oregon, action is needed now to put Oregonians back to work taking care of the forests and habitat they provide. The first step would be a hearing, and hopefully the majority will grant that as quickly as possible.”

The letter was signed by the original cosponsors of the two pieces of legislation: Reps. Walden, Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-S.D.), Brian Baird (D-Wash.), and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) on Dec. 8, 2009. Between the five representatives, their districts represent a total of over 112.4 million acres, or 175,755 square miles of land, and have over 15.3 million acres of national forest, an area about the size of West Virginia.

The Healthy Forests Restoration Amendments Act of 2009 (HR 4233) has 21 bipartisan cosponsors and would amend the original bipartisan and successful Healthy Forests Restoration Act (HFRA), which was signed into law in 2003. Where implemented, it has reduced the incidence and severity of catastrophic wildfire.

Since the bill was signed into law, however, wildfires have burned more than 40 million acres in the United States, an area larger than North Dakota, and have devastated habitat, water sources, and communities in rural America. The new legislation would give federal foresters and scientists the clear authority to use the proven-to-work tools in HFRA to address areas of the forests at highest risk of catastrophic wildfire.

The second bill, the Incentives to Increase Use of Renewable Biomass Act of 2009 (HR 4227), has eight bipartisan cosponsors and would encourage the renewable biomass energy industry to take firm roots by encouraging universities, public schools, hospitals, local governments, and Tribes at non-gaming facilities to use clean biomass energy, heating, or cooling systems.

A copy of the letter requesting the hearings is attached.

Support for the legislation:

“The Healthy Forests Restoration Act was passed in 2003 to address catastrophic wildfire, insects and disease through forest restoration projects, but needs clarifying amendments to allow its intended implementation on the ground. To give our forests a fighting chance to adapt to a changing climate, we must restore health and resiliency. We believe this legislation will help accomplish this goal.”
— Bernard Hubbard, president, Society of American Foresters

“It’s been six years and it’s time to make a few modifications so that the HFRA truly accomplishes what was intended–namely to prevent catastrophic wildfires and insect and disease infestations.”
— Tom Thompson, former deputy chief of the USFS

“Forest managers would welcome the opportunity to plan and prescribe treatments that better match the scale of the problems that exist. Concerns about the effects of climate change and carbon losses only add to the impor¬tance of getting more effective treatments quickly underway. Forest health and fuel treatments can be very costly when most of the material removed has little or no value. Biomass fuel use would offer a great tool to help cover treatment costs while also providing low-cost energy for public buildings in local communities.”
— Dr. Paul Adams, College of Forestry, Oregon State University

“Future climate scenarios predict longer, drier, hotter, summers which will lead to greater wildfire activity and more insect outbreaks with a very real threat of regeneration failure after disturbance. Letting forests die and burn in an¬ticipation that the past forest will replicate itself in a future with large uncertainties around future climate conditions is a high risk approach. The potential for these forests to act as carbon sources instead of carbon sinks in the very near future is substantial. By thinning these forests to a level consistent with their carrying capacity, we can mitigate wildfire and insect impacts, and build resilience into the system while choosing the specimens and species that we think can survive and perpetuate on these landscapes. In effect thinning becomes both the climate mitigation and the adaptation strategy on these forests.”
— Dr. Elaine Oneil, School of Forest Resources, University of Washington

“This legislation goes a long way toward facilitating fuel reduction and restoring health and resiliency to our national forests and surrounding communities. This will help insure those forests provide environmental benefits everyone expects. Despite all the biomass that is available here in Oregon, the use of biomass for energy produc¬tion here in central Oregon has not progressed as fast as we had hoped primarily due to up-front costs.”
— Dr. Stephen Fitzgerald, Oregon State University, professor of silviculture & wildland fire specialist

“Since HFRA was passed, in Deschutes County we have completed seven community fire plans, treated 103,833 acres of national forest lands, and treated an additional 63,100 acres of private lands. All of these acres are within the designated Wildland-Urban Interface as identified by Community Wildfire Protection Plans and we have not lost one home to wildland fire. This is a classic example of where federal legislation works and works as was intended.”
— Joe Stutler, Deschutes County Forester, Oregon

Representative Greg Walden represents Oregon’s Second Congressional District, which is comprised of 20 counties in eastern, southern, and central Oregon. He is a member of the Committee on Energy and Commerce and the ranking member of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.


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