We must break away from the status quo forestry policies of the last 30 years
Since its establishment 90 years ago, the farm bill’s primary focuses have been to secure an adequate supply of domestic food, keep food prices fair for farmers and consumers, and promote conservation practices on our nation’s farmlands. Created in response to the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl that impacted much of the Midwest, an official Forestry title wasn’t even included until the year 1990 and even then, proper management of our forested land came second fiddle to conservation initiatives and concerns over climate change. Meanwhile in the West, the forestry industry has been the backbone of our economy since pioneers first settled in. Even today, as the timber industry has declined and logging restrictions have increased, forest management is essential to our way of life in the West.
This Congress, I am leading forestry policy initiatives in the upcoming farm bill and serving as the chairman of the first-ever Forestry Subcommittee. We have a lot to do; across the West we are continuing to face a wildfire and forest health crisis. In the past five years alone, we’ve seen some of the most destructive wildfires on record, especially in California. In my district, we have seen catastrophic damage. The 2018 Camp Fire in Paradise was the deadliest in California’s history. The million-acre Dixie Fire in 2021 was the largest single source wildfire in California history. Millions of acres of forested land has been scorched, billions of dollars’ worth of infrastructure destroyed, and countless lives put at risk. In my state of California, the most “green” state in the Union, one single fire season wiped out nearly 20 years of carbon emission efforts. It’s clear that the current policies aren’t working for anyone on either side of the aisle; we need to overhaul current forest management policies.
Wildfires occur naturally in the West and were used to manage wildlands for a millennia by Native Americans. Unfortunately, environmentalists have confused protecting forested lands with preserving them as is, no matter how rough of a state they’re in. Suppressing naturally occurring wildfires and adding barriers to land management tools like grazing and logging have enabled our forested lands to turn into dried out, overgrown tinderboxes. The Forest Service advises that healthy forests average between 40-60 trees per acre, but current forestry policies have allowed our forests to overgrow to approximately 500-600 trees per acre. We have fallen way behind with our forest health and management goals, as well as timber harvests needed to promote health. Better forest management policies, which help forests return to a healthier state, will result in smaller, less intense wildfires. The pace and scale of active management of these forests and landscapes must be drastically increased, and this must happen right now.
Even more concerning is radical environmentalist’s efforts to restrict one of the best tools wildland firefighters have to combat forest fires: fire retardant. An extremist environmentalist group is suing the Forest Service under the Clean Water Act to require a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit to use fire retardant, which could take years to obtain. The group has requested an injunction on the use of fire retardant until the Forest Service receives this permit, and if that is granted, every single person living in or near forested land will be in greater danger. We must be able to fight wildfires with everything we have, and limiting firefighting agencies’ ability to do so flies in the face of forest conservation and our mission to protect nearby residents.
As Congress works through programs and priorities for the upcoming farm bill I am urging my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to break away from the status quo forestry policies of the last 30 years. Risk to human life and environmental destruction should be a concern to every single lawmaker. Preservation of old, decaying trees is standing in the way of progress and protection. This farm bill, I am working to implement real solutions and forest management reforms that will mark the end of this devastating period, instead of continuing policies that have failed us repeatedly.
LaMalfa represents California’s 1st District and is chairman of Agriculture Subcommittee on Forestry.
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