Washington Outlook

Article excerpt

Congressional action on the FY 2005 Interior Appropriations bill--which funds federal land-management agencies like the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management--has disappeared into the messy, election-year federal budget process. That's business as usual; federal policy action tends to be slow in presidential election years, and it's proving true for forestry issues.

There are a few exceptions this year, however. Congress has convened several oversight hearings on implementing last year's Healthy Forests Restoration Act (HFRA). It also has begun exploring post-wildfire forest restoration, an area not covered by HFRA. The Bush administration has taken the politically controversial step of proposing major revisions to the roadless area conservation rule adopted by the Clinton administration in 2001.

AMERICAN FORESTS involved itself in these issues by preparing testimony and written comments (see www.americanforests.org) and by helping community-based partners who participated in hearings.

In testimony before a Senate Agriculture Committee oversight hearing on HFRA, we focused on the importance of local collaborative processes to plan, prioritize, and implement hazardous fuel-reduction projects around communities that face wildfire threats. For the legislation to be successful, we insisted, it must use new authorities for local collaboration, such as "community wildfire protection plans" and "multi-party monitoring." Arguing that the present funding for this is inadequate in both Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management budgets, we urged Congress to provide strong funding.

At a hearing explaining post-wildfire forest restoration, held by the House Resources Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health, many questions were asked about the environmental impacts, costs, and benefits of harvesting dead and dying trees after wildfire. Our written testimony sought to shift the focus from controversial post-fire timber harvest to critical post-fire reforestation issues.

Reforestation is an essential step toward restoring forest areas damaged by wildfire. The objective--restoring native tree species to an area--is accomplished through treatments like tree planting or natural regeneration. We believe this critical reforestation has been overlooked in policy discussions in recent years as Congress and the Administration focused on wildfire suppression and pre-fire hazardous fuel reduction. We urged Congress to direct more attention and resources to the fundamental issue of restoring functioning forest ecosystems. By not treating these areas, America risks losing the valuable ecosystem services they provide as forests rather than as brush or barren land.

The post-fire forest restoration hearing gave us an opportunity to call attention to our concerns in recent years with the reforestation process. For example, the reported level of need for post-fire reforestation has not increased as significantly as one would expect. …