Timber and fuels-reduction projects are being stymied by federal budget cuts and an “onslaught of litigation,” the vice president and general manager of F.H. Stoltze Land and Lumber Co. told Congress July 11, and the drain on resources is leading to more costly and catastrophic wildfires.
Chuck Roady, the Columbia Falls lumber executive, called on lawmakers to enact litigation reforms in order to foster better management on national forest lands, and invest more resources to protect national forests from dangerous and costly wildfires.
“We need to invest more resources up front to keep our forests green and healthy rather than wait until they are dead and dying, or on fire,” Roady, a board member with the Federal Forest Resource Coalition, told members of the House Committee on Natural Resources.
Roady traveled to Washington, D.C., from the Flathead Valley to address lawmakers, and was introduced by U.S. Rep. Steve Daines, R-Mont. The hearing was called in the wake of the fatal wildfire that killed 19 firefighters in Yarnell Hill, Ariz. Among the dead was Dustin DeFord, of Ekalaka, Mont.
Lawmakers have since urged federal officials from the Department of the Interior and the U.S. Forest Service to come up with a plan to prevent wildfires even as they deal with the constraints of sequestration.
In addition to budget cuts, Daines said “frivolous litigation” further hampers responsible timber projects that promote healthy forest management and reduce the buildup of forest fuels like dead trees.
“Responsible stewardship on Forest Service lands by companies like Stoltze continues to be held back by frivolous litigation by environmental groups. It is overwhelmingly evident that reforms are needed to protect the health of our forest, the safety of our communities, our watersheds, and the strength of our timber industry, which is jobs,” Daines said. “It’s of great importance to our state’s economy.”
Daines said roughly 40 percent of the 124 management projects in Region 1, which includes Forest Service land in the Flathead Valley, have been appealed or litigated.
Roady said active forest management is necessary to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires in the western United States, but sequestration and the 2014 budget proposal undermine those efforts.
“Unfortunately, the sequester and the Administration’s 2014 budget proposal both go in the wrong direction, proposing a smaller timber sale program and a reduced amount of hazardous fuels reduction treatments,” he said.
Trends in overstocking, insect mortality and large-scale, uncharacteristic wildfires have become the “new normal,” Roady said, with an average of more than 6.4 million acres burned in each of the last five years.
“As was demonstrated just over a week ago, the consequences of this new normal include the tragic loss of life, with 19 hotshots killed on the Yarnell Hill Fire in Arizona,” he said. “The thoughts and prayers of all our members go out to the families of the fallen.”
Reducing hazardous fuel loads and actively managing national forest timberlands should be a priority reflected by budgets that “invest in these activities if there is any hope of restoring our forests in the foreseeable future,” he said.
“We have been dismayed to see the administration propose reductions in the very programs needed to address these threats: the forest products, hazardous fuels reduction, and capital improvement and maintenance programs of the Forest Service. These program reductions, partially due to the sequester – but proposed again for 2014 – will lead to a worsening of the forest health and wildfire crisis on our federal lands.”
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