March 08, 2005

Crapo Includes Fallen Firefighters

Washington, DC - Idaho Senator Mike Crapo paid tribute to the work of Idaho firefighters who died on the fireline in Idaho while introducing a forest health bill co-sponsored by Arkansas Senator Blanche Lincoln today. Here is the statement Crapo entered into the Senate record regarding the legislation, Americaâ??s Healthy Forests Restoration and Research Act. The Crapo-Lincoln bill will be considered tomorrow during a forest health mark-up by the Senate Agriculture Committee. AMERICAâ??S HEALTHY FOREST RESTORATION AND RESEARCH ACT Mr. CRAPO. Mr. President, Idaho faces grim news this morning as the deaths of two young wildland firefighters are reported. They were killed late Tuesday afternoon while fighting the Cramer fire in the Salmon-Challis National Forest west of the town of Salmon near the confluence of the middle fork of the Salmon River and the main Salmon. These men are heroes of battle, just as the men and women fighting overseas. They fought a faceless, terrifying enemy with bravery, heroism, and selfless dedication to the families and communities of central Idaho. Their sacrifice will be remembered for years to come as their names are added to the list of those fallen in service to their country in the capacity of wildland firefighters. I pray that those who continue to fight fires in Idaho and across the West this summer remain out of harmâ??s way as they perform their valiant and critical work to preserve homes, property, and life. The tragedy is that two more people have died. We hope it is not followed by more as we enter another fire season. The truth is that our forests are overgrown, dead and dying, and this kind of tragedy was inevitable. Legislation that I supported in the past would have made a difference. Had it been enacted last year or the year before, these senseless deaths could very well have been avoided. Idaho's wildfire season is just getting into its full swing, and we are asking our wildland firefighters in Idaho and throughout the rest of the nation to do a dangerous job. We in Congress owe it to them and to the family members of those who didn't make it to provide them with the tools necessary to get the job done as safely and quickly as possible. These deaths are a tragic reminder of the sacrifices and risks wildland firefighters make to ensure the safety of our communities. Congress must act to reduce this threat to our communities and improve the safety of our firefighters. Today, Senator Lincoln and I are introducing bipartisan legislation to address the forest health crisis facing our nation. As Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Agriculture Committeeâ??s Subcommittee on Forestry, Conservation, and Rural Revitalization, Senator Lincoln and I have learned of the similarities between the problems facing the ecosystems of eastern and western forests. We know that when Congress acts to address the health of forests in the West-forests that have been devastated by fires that garner national attention-we must also reduce the risks to our forests across the country. The threat is not just to our property and lives, but clean air, clean water, and wildlife habitat. We must take a comprehensive approach to protecting our resources, and Senator Lincoln and I attempt to do that in this bill. The Americaâ??s Healthy Forests Restoration and Research Act builds on the bipartisan legislation that passed the House of Representatives and is now under consideration in the Senate. Like the House proposal, our bill addresses the â??analysis paralysisâ?? that prevents us from taking actions to protect our lands. For lands that are at risk of catastrophic fire or that have been severely damaged by insect or disease infestations or the aftermath of severe weather events, such as windthrow or ice storms, the bill creates an expedited process to allow for treatment. For these specific projects on Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management lands-with the exception of lands that are wilderness areas or Wilderness Study Areas-the bill provides for time limits on appeals, reforms the appeals process, and provides guidance to the courts. The per-acre cost of fuels reduction projects is higher and the amount of time to consider a project is longer with each alternative the agencies are required to consider. Each of these alternatives requires a complete and thorough environmental analysis. By selecting projects through the collaborative process and requiring an in-depth analysis of the environmental impacts of the specific project, we can ensure that the impacts of the project are addressed, without the paralysis analysis caused by the examination of additional alternatives-especially when projects are most often appealed based on failure to complete adequate analysis on alternatives rather than the substance of the project. The time for action is now, we should not let fuels reduction projects be delayed or lose their effectiveness through frivolous appeals. By requiring the Forest Service to develop a new process that allows for public collaboration, by requiring substantive comments to the project, and by requiring participation in the process before allowing litigation, the bill ensures that public comment is meaningful and constructive. No longer will these important projects be stopped simply by .33 cents on a postcard. Our bill also requires that the courts balance the long term effects with the short term effects of a project. This balance of harm should be common sense, but it that has not been the case. The courts are reminded they should balance the impact of inaction in their decision making. This streamlining of the appeals and judicial review process will counter the growing use of appeals and litigation as delaying and frustrating techniques rather than the constructive recourse they were intended for. Cutting through the bureaucratic red tape and ensuring for robust public participation-as outlined in the widely-supported Western Governors Associationâ??s collaborative strategy-is a win-win for our forests and our communities. In addition, by streamlining the process, we get more money on the ground and in action to protect our forests. Appeals, litigation, and extensive analysis of unneeded alternatives mean less money for projects. Some estimate that only sixty percent of funds allocated for fuels reduction actually makes it to the ground. Streamlining the process should result in significantly more resources to address forest health. I have long been an advocate of better utilization of biomass and small diameter materials. This bill addresses the need for more research and more markets. Our bi-partisan bill provides grants to those who would use biomass for fuel or other beneficial purposes. Instead of leaving fuels in our forests to burn or tossing them in landfills, we can reduce the risks to our environment and create an incentive to use what has traditionally not been cost effective to use. Unlike the house bill, we expand eligible uses beyond just useful fuels. In Idaho, we have companies that can use this material for environmental restoration. We need to do more to create incentives to use this material. To that end, our bill also includes expanded research into utilization and harvesting of small diameter materials. Light on the land techniques that find more and better uses of biomass and small diameter materials can revitalize our rural communities. Research into the costs and obstacles to using these materials will go a long way toward expanded markets and rural development. The bill also provides direction for technology transfer to get this information from the universities and scientist to the communities and small businesses in rural parts of America. Our bipartisan bill makes research a central tenet. From research into biomass, forests conditions, upland hardwoods, the measure brings a new focus to forest threats. Our legislation expands the research to allow for landscape level research on forest-damaging agents. Fire, insects and disease, and weather events pose a significant threat to our forest ecosystems. The bill provides for cooperation with colleges and universities in applied research to combat these threats. The bill also focuses research on preserving upland hardwoods. Not enough is known about preserving and restoring the upland hardwood forests of the South. The creation of an upland hardwood forest research center will go a long way toward finding ways to better protect, rehabilitate, restore, and utilize these important resources. The proposal includes a watershed program that will help foresters enhance water quality in our forests. As many know, our forests serve as critical watersheds that provide drinking water to our communities. This bill provides for grants to allow for technical assistance, education, and financial assistance to enhance our efforts to ensure clean waters for our communities and wildlife. A program to maintain forested habitat for threatened and endangered species is also an important part of this legislation. By providing for short and long-term restoration agreements the program offers incentives to maintain and utilize efforts that protect species and prevent others from being listed. The legislation provides assistance to address the problem of nonnative invasive plants, trees, shrubs, and vines. Across the country, the expansion of nonnative invasive plants has changed ecosystems making them more susceptible to threats that could result in catastrophic fires. Our proposal provides assistance to landowners in addressing these invasives. Finally, the bill declares that the enhanced community fire protection program is an important program in reducing risks to communities. This program, which we enacted as part of the 2002 Farm Bill, provides assistance to communities in reducing fire threats. Providing funding for this program, coupled with the savings from streamlining the process, will provide for meaningful progress in reducing the wildlfire threat. I agree with Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth, who says we need to move the focus from what we take to what we leave. As he has identified, too many are looking at this as a zero-sum game. They seek someone to blame for forest health problems or argue that logging is inherently bad. We need to get beyond that fallacious argument and realize that what is important is restoring a healthy ecosystem: an ecosystem that allows for a natural fire regime to exist without threatening our communities and lives. I hope my colleagues will join me moving beyond the narrow focus that currently passes for forest policy, this zero-sum game, and look at the needs of our forest ecosystems. This bill is a bipartisan effort that enhances the House-passed legislation. It sets a mark that the majority of the Senate can and should support. The skies over Idaho's capitol city, Boise, are smoke-filled this afternoon, and another tiny town on the edge of Idaho's Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, Atlanta, is threatened as fire encroaches on the homes there. Firefighting resources are stretched to the limit as wildland fires are burning throughout Idaho and the West. Wildfires this year have charred some 1.46 million acres nationwide. The National Interagency Fire Center said there were 49 large fires burning in the West, with more than 350 thousand acres of active wildfires. Let us in Congress take a stand now to help protect our forests and keep them from going up in smoke every year. I look forward to working with my colleagues to garner their support for this much-needed, bipartisan legislation, and know that they join me in sending condolences to the families of the two young men who died fighting a fire that may very well have been preventable. Thank you Mr. President.# # #