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tv   House Agriculture Subcommitee Hearing on Wildfires  CSPAN  September 24, 2020 1:36pm-3:18pm EDT

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i don't think anyone can say that. both for these rank appearances of racial difference in the treatment of the right to bear and use arms and for the failure to give this question to the jury about whether there was an announcement, this is a very flawed decision. and i just hope there's a peaceful response to it. but i understand the anger. >> and "the wall street journal" notes today in their editorial, alan, that the police did knock and announce themselves. and they had a civilian with the tons corroborate it. >> caller: that they did not announce themselves? >> that they did announce themselves. that -- and that they had a civilian witness to corroborate that they announced themselves. >> caller: but i think that witness was disputed by others who did not hear an announcement. so once there's a disputed fact, that should have gone to a jury. >> and you say that because why?
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what would happen then? if you put that question forward to the jury? >> caller: they'd have the ability to evaluate the credibility of all of the statements that there were or not adequate announcements of the police being police. and that the announcement was sufficient -- this hearing of the subcommittee on conservation and forestry titled the 2020 wildfire year response and recovery efforts will come to order. welcome, and thank you for joining today's hearing with mr. john phipps, deputy chief for state and private forestry at usda. after brief opening remarks, the hearing will open to questions. members will be recognized in order of seniority, alternating between the majority and minority members. when you are recognized, you'll be asked to unmute your
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microphone, and you'll have five minutes to ask your question and make your comment. in order to get as many questions as possible, the timer will stay consistently visible on your screen. thank you for joining us here today in washington and online. for this critical hearing on the wildfires ravaging the western united states. we have all seen the footage from california, oregon and washington. it is surreal and it is terrifying. i want to talk today about what we can do to meet the needs and face the challenges presented by this unprecedented wildfire season out west and elsewhere. deputy chief phipps, thank you for joining us today and for this important discussion. i appreciate everything you and the forest service do and did to accommodate our request on such short notice. and i do want to take any more than a minimum of your focus away from the importance of fighting wildfires in communities across our country. the forest service recently lost
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one of its own fighting a wildfire in southern floridcali. i ask before we continue we pause for a moment of silence for him and for all of those we have lost to wildfires this year. as we speak, there are over 70 large fire, ranging over 5 million acres in the southeast, the south, the rocky mountains, the pacific northwest and california. for some perspective that is the equivalent of 5 million football fields, 1 million major league baseball fields, or 2.5 million typical city blocks that are currently burning. there are more than 31,000 firefighters and support personnel on the ground waging this battle. and we have to keep their safety and their needs foremost in our minds. we even have firefighting staff
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from canada and mexico supporting the heroic efforts of u.s. forestry staff. our communities are trying to manage wildfire evacuations during covid-19 and protect the electric grid during extreme heat and wildfire during challenges. as unprecedented as this moment is i'm reminded another moment in history when americans also faced great difficulty and hardship. during the 1930s in the bust dole that ravaged the great lands in much of the united states there was a sense that congress did not understand the severity of the problems facing america's farmers and families living in the midst of environmental crisis. and despite the demands for action for those enacted by dust storms congress failed to act in a comprehensive manner. it was not until march 1935 that lawmakers were forced to see it and experience it with their own
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eyes. that compromise could be reached on what became the first conservation bill, the soil conservation and domestic allotment act of 1936. in the three years that followed its passage, soil erosion dropped by more than 20%. i can only imagine what hardship could have been averted if congress first understood that was a crisis brewing for americans across the great plains. i want to be clear for all of those here and listening virtual today it shouldn't take the ash of wildfires and debris of floodwaters ravaging the coast and severe heat felt across the globe on a daily basis reaching the capitol steps for congress to take action on the environmental action. climate change is here, it is real. and the failure of this committee or any committee to take action will have real human costs. still, i do not mean to suggest that there are other factors that have contributed to these wildfires. we know that many factors are involved in the current
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wildfires and wildfire risk. and that certainly includes housing and development, forest management decisions, resources, fire management, weather events like the historic lightning storm that struck california in august. the actions of people. the use of pyrotechnic devices and the list unfortunately continues. i expect that after this fire year, we will look to learn from what has happened. have a robust policy discussion and debate and do everything in our power to prevent such a drastic situation from happening in the future. today, we're here to work together on the emergencies that face us right now. that is part of what i enjoy most about this subcommittee. we focus on how we can work together on behalf of our constituents. and this subcommittee is here to learn since we last spoke in july about the 2020 wildfire season. what you expect to happen as it thes could and to explore how we can work with you to protect our communities from wildfires this season. i look forward to that discussion for our continued work together on the issues related to the u.s. forest
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service. i look forward to the discussions how to important the important work with you through the farm bill and annual cycle to resolve the health and resilience which are the economic drivers in small communities across the country. thank you very much. in consultation, with the ranking member and pursuant to rule 11e, i want to make members of the subcommittee aware that other members of the full committee may join us today. i'd like to now welcome ranking member mr. lamotha for his opening statement. >> thank you, chair spanberger, i appreciate the effort it took on this very important subject. as well as the participation of the subcommittee committees and the full committee members that want to take part and weigh in. it's extremely important. before i really begin, though, i think it's important we recognize the life and legacy of
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our former chairman, chairman bob smith. and right in the back, there's a candle burning for him. and a small picture as well. his large portrait hangs in 1302. bob was a family man, a team roamer and cattle man from oregon. he loved this institution and understood working across the aisle is the best way to succeed as we all should know. bob was a politician's politician and many sought his counsel. he appreciated the hard work and was a credit to his committee and house of representatives. he faithfully served in oregon's second district from 1983 to 1995. and 1997 to '99. chairman smith, he was the chairman of the house ag committee. my prayers do out to his family
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during this time. thanks again, chair spanberger, as you mentioned, this year, person states have experienced yet another catastrophic fire season with 7 million acres burned in california. 3.6 acres burned so far. i'm afraid future fire seasons will only get worse unless we dramatically improve the management and health of our national forest system. in fact, the forest service has identified nearly 50% of the 193 million acres of the national forestry system and is currently at high risk of wildfire, or likely to be impacted by insecond and disease outbreaks. at current pace, it will take the forest service nearly 30 years to treat these acres. our national forests are facing an epidemic of declining health which is in direct correlation to the disastrous policy which have led to dramatic decrease in management. even on portions of the national
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forest outside of roadless and wilderness areas. in recent years, congress has addressed fire borrowing. and streamline forest management. while there's not a single policy decision to solving wildfires, it is clear our piecemeal approach is not nearly enough. two years ago, california experienced the most deadly wildfire on record when the camp fire in the paradise area took 85 lives and destroyed the town of paradise, as well as outlining areas of magalia and yankee hill. at that time, congress should have been reacted. and the farm bill, we had an opportunity to adapt a number of bipartisan house decisions that would have protected further life and property from wildfires. to create input from u.s. forest service under both the obama and trump administrations. however, despite good faith efforts by the republican farm
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bill conferrees, the senate democrats refused to discuss these reforms. healthy reforms require healthy management in the way of prescribed activities to make sure they don't become overdone tinderboxes as we see now. to address acres takes years and years and harm the acres we're trying to protect. for instance, the 2018 fuels reduction act had a proposed treatment area of 12,000 acres to respond to tree mortality and remove fuels along roads. to my knowledge, there was no litigation that delayed the project. yet, analysis took nearly two years to the day to complete. unfortunately, these easily identified fire-prone acres were consumed in the creek fire before the restoration work had even begun. we can address these issues with common sense approaches that benefit both our forest and
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rural communities. there are many ideas we can bring to the table and act on immediately. one example is hr 7178, the emergency wildfire safety act. i'm proud to have worked with representative panetta to introduce the bill to help protect from catastrophic wildfires and implement common sense management reforms that will help prevent the fires in the future. while this is a good start, more work will be needed. congress can consider any number of individual authorities from bipartisan legislation such as exclusions for salvage to address landscape scale mortality events caused by wildfire, insect infestation and disease and droughts. i encourage my colleagues to take action on these ideas and others without delay. we are indeed fortunate to have mr. john phipps from the forest service, he's the deputy chiefs of state and private forestry testify for us today. appreciate that. we hope to hear about his
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experience with wildfire issues. what tools the forest service has at its disposal. and what tools are needed further to prevent and suppress wildfires. before i yield back, i'd like to take a moment to thank our forest firefighters and our first responders that are currentlied arisk, and those already as mentioned have given their lives to protect our forests, homes and communities. we are, indeed, forever indebted to their service and i hope today's service makes their jobs easier in the future. thank you, madam chair. >> the chair would request that other members submit their opening statements for the record so witnesses may begin their testimony and to ensure that there is ample time for questions. i'd like to welcome our witness. thank you for being here today. mr. phipps began his role as deputy chief of state in private forestry at usda's forest service isn't 2019. he started in 1976 and since has
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held a variety of roles within the agency. prior to his current position, mr. phipps served as the station director for the rocky mountain research station from 2015 to 2019. we will proceed to hearing your testimony. you will have five minutes. when one minute is left, the light will turn yellow, signaling the time is close to expiring and you should be able to see a clock ticking down on one of these boxes on the screen before you. mr. phipps, please begin whenever you are ready. >> good afternoon, everyone. chair spanberger, ranking member, and members of the committee, i'm proud to be representing the forest service today as a career professional forester with decades of experience dedicated to our mission of stewarding america's forest and grasslands for current and future generations. i have experience as a firefighter, land manager,
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research leader, and senior executive currently leading the agency state and private forestry programs including fire and aviation management. my testimony will outline the current status of forest service response to wildfires, the efforts that we have ongoing to take care of our employees and communities, before, during and after fires occur. our nation is enduring a devastating wildfire year. one that has cut destructive swaths through states like california, oregon, washington, colorado, and arizona and made more difficult by the ongoing covid-19 pandemic. as of september 19th, there have been almost 43,000 fires that have burned more than 7.2 million acres across all jurisdictions. in addition to homes and property damage, these fires have taken lives throughout the
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country. we are morning the tragic loss of charlie morton, big bear hot shot squad boss who died last thursday in california while fighting the el dorado fire on the san bernardino national forest. charlie's memorial service is tomorrow in san bernardino. it's an understatement to say that this is an unprecedented year. numerous large fires since mid-august have been in and around very large communities and developed areas across california and the pacific northwest. smoke impacts have been horrendous and widespread across the western united states. one of the most notable challenges this year is the number of fires taking place at the same time which has stretched us thin. since august 18th through today, the demand for fire resources is exceeded supply across the
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system. as with any fire year, it takes all partners, federal, state and local government, tribal, contractors and volunteers to respond. we all work together to ensure we are making the best use of our resources to protect the public and our firefighters. as of september 19th, over 32,700 interagency firefighters were supporting wildfire operations across the country. primarily in california, oregon and washington. this is a record for most firefighters ever deployed. to bolster our capabilities, we requested assistance from the active military as well as our international partners. additionally states have requested assistance from their national guards. preventing the spread of covid among our first responders and communities is an important addition to our focus on safety
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this year. the forest service has been successful with implementing our covid prevention and mitigation measures by social distancing and mask wearing. i would conclude like recognizing the efforts of this committee that took to establish the congressional fire funding fix. as a result the forest service no longer must delay priority work that results from transfers of funding from other forest service programs to pay for ongoing fire operations. i welcome any questions you may have. >> thank you so much deputy chief phipps. thank you, again, for being here and thank you for being patient with us working around a voting schedule. thank you for your important testimony. at this time member will be recognized for questions in order of seniority. you'll be recognized for five minutes each in order to allow
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us to get as many questions as possible, keep your microphones muted until you're recognized in order to minimize background noise. when one minute is left, the light will turn yellow signaling time is close to expiring. i will begin by recognizing myself for five minutes. and i wanted to follow up on -- you said a couple noteworthy things -- many, many noteworthy things. but specific to what i wanted to follow up on, you talked about the record number of firefighters who are currently deployed fighting fires throughout the west. you talked about the social distancing and the impact that covid-19 is having on the work that you all are doing. and you talked about the funding needs. so i would like to follow up on this question of resources. of course congress appropriated $1 billion for wildfire suppression this year and in addition to this, as you mentioned, another $1.9 billion is available through the wildfire funding fix. given the current conditions, do
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you anticipate the need to utilize this new budget authority to what full extent, and can you provide the subcommittee with an update as to any transfers the department of interior has made for wildfire suppression this year? >> thank you for the question. start with the easiest one first. department of interior requested $47 million transfer which we made and earlier we had transferred to them $2 million as normal cost sharing between the departments. relative to where we are in our fire suppression funding, we're still within our appropriated amount for that and we don't anticipate going over it and the reason for that is that this
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particular fire year, all of the fires seem to happen at once later in the summer. and we just -- the agency -- the interagency community just didn't even have the capability to spend at the rate that it would of had to have taken. normally we spread -- fires are spread out across the whole year. those types of years are when we're more likely to go over the budget and dip into the reserve account. >> okay. and you mentioned interagency. and so i'm curious, you know, i have concerns and i would love your opinion about what the united states has or doesn't have currently in terms of a federal strategy to reduce the risk of destructive wildfires overall. specifically, in your opinion, could federal planning, coordination, and development of strategies for community resilient, land use planning, specifically for development
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along the wild land urban interface rueduce the risks by wildfires and what are the major risks posed by development along the wui and are there precautions that could be taken to mitigate these risks when building? >> thank you. the wild land fire system, our wild land fire problem is complex. you've mentioned several of the factors. it's development in wild areas, it's climate factors, forest management factors, for sure. and what we're seeing on the landscape now is -- we used to call them megafires. but their landscape scale fires that can go 250,000-plus. we have one in california that's 800,000 acres. and we currently operate at a
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lesser scale than that. the agency doesn't have a capacity currently. but we could. we probably need to be scaling up two to three times more at least. the other problem we have is that we tend to think about these fires as they're all occurring and as a as a result of how we manage federal forests, that's true in part. but it's really an all lands problem that we -- particularly in california, we see fires originating on private land and marching up into the forest and vice versa. and so we're going to have to start thinking more comprehensively across ownerships if we want to see a different picture. our scientists suggest these western landscapes have an incredible capability to absorb fire and keep on going.
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we're going to see much more of the same. and to that, i don't think that's a desirable future and it's pretty alarming. as the ranking member suggested, we need to come together and look at this differently. it's on a scale that's hard for people to imagine. just one additional fact, again, in california. presettlement on average -- the average forest had 64 trees per acre. currently the average forest in california has 320. that's 80% more density and how did that happen? it happened because we've been trying -- for over 110 years to put out every fire we can and we've been really successful at that. but it's creating a situation
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where all across all jurisdictions we attempt to put out all of the fires. as a result we're selecting a way the good fire and the 2% that normally gets away, the catastrophic fire, when that happens under the right conditions, there's no stopping it, basically. we're there to help people get out of the way. we can -- but if there's just tragic loss of life and -- these fires burn at high severity and it's just really a bad trajectory that we're on and it's going to take a paradigm shift in thinking. thank you. >> thank you very much for your testimony and we have gone a little bit over with my questions but i want to confirm, you gave the number 64 trees per acre before settlement, now it's up to 320. just to ensure that i've under and the rest of the committee is following along, that's because
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natural fires that were coming through would have processed and would have taken out trees over time so that we were at that natural rate of 64, is that the -- is that the -- what you're stating? >> that's exactly right, chair spanberger. in a way -- the way the -- these forest evolved with fire and fire did the work. >> interesting. okay. >> routinely. >> those numbers are really, really interesting to think about in that way. i'm going to continue on and i will now recognize ranking member lamalfa for five minutes. >> thank you, again. i want to touch on a statement you made there too. i wholeheartedly agree on the idea that the density and
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population of our forest is much more than what is sustainable, especially if you're talking about brought periods we go in and out of in the west. you mentioned that private lands that are adjacent, i don't see them as being the initial cause of very many fires because private lands, they're either grazed or managed, they're logged and forested and all of those kinds of measures. unless they're unable to get the permits to do what they would like to do and is sometimes a regulatory challenge that private lands would have. i would be hesitant to say that private lands are igniting federal lands. it's the federal lands that are the scary neighbor to private lands ov lands. one family has 70,000 acres, has lost about 50,000 of their
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timber land. i think the 800,000 acre one you're speaking of. let's talk a little bit about one of the issues with prevention that -- what we're seeing -- you can see from space, you know, from satellite the amount of smoke plume coming from the western states and we see that going across the country and even felt it here in washington, d.c., to an effect on the skies here as well as massive levels of air quality, way more than the unhealthy mark, more locally. i understand it's even hitting europe in the jet stream. what hasn't happened is preventive measures including prescribed fire. fires that we intentionally set at a time of year when you can control them. and we lost out this year on the chance and in other years to have more prescribed fire to burn when we dictate at a level
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we dictate. instead, that was shut down. and some of it was because they pointed to air quality issues. i guess my contrast with that would be, what kind of air quality issue are we having versus a prescribed fire at a given amount of acre that gives you a buffer zone, a fire break, what is it we need to do more of, is it prescribed fire or to allow them to burn the way they're burning now? >> well, i think it depends on what we want. if we want to maintain forests, we need to start a prescribed -- we need to return -- safely return fire to the landscape. the way we're doing it now, it's all well intended, it's just not at a rapid enough pace or at the right scale and there's a number of papers in the science literature that would indicate
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that prescribed fire smoke, particularly given its -- to be more on our terms, is much more benign than fire at the worst time of the year in the summer heat, total consumption of forest. at this event this year, it was just horrendous. it was like record levels and the worst air quality in the world along the west coast. >> horrific, yes. let me touch on another point here in my allotted time. talking about the loss of life, loss of lands, loss of livestock and we have one particularly tragic story on the livestock side right near my home in butte county. i would like the permission to submit this for the record.
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and so it breaks your heart to read this. and what i would like to ask upon the heels of this, they're trying to recover cattle from their area. many generations of family legacy is gone there. you must read that. will the forest service make an accommodation for ranchers that still have cattle that are looking for them by extending the grazing permit for -- grazing off dates if necessary, and will they work with ranchers on replacement grazing? these are i think a couple small things we can do for these folks with the horrendous losses. can we accommodate those? >> i believe we can -- >> mic up, please.
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>> i believe we can. there's a lot of allotment management plans. it's complicated and our grazing process may be a little bit constraining. but we certainly have that interest to try to mitigate the loss. >> we would try. do you think this is an effort we can really push hard for because these losses are very real and when they've lost, you know, in a given forest unit tens of thousands of acres as well as millions across the west, they need a replacement for this. and the losses are already devastating. can you pledge that we will push for that here in upcoming weeks? >> yes, sir. >> okay. thank you. i'm over my time. there's -- the communication sometimes is a little slow too when there might be a fire impending that these folks need to know about and hear about when they should be clearing
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their cattle out of a given area. madam chair, i'll yield back. thank you. >> the chair now recognizes congressman o halleran for five minutes. >> thank you for this meeting and ranking member. i would like to thank -- i already did that. fire plays an important role in our environment. my district has all or parts of six national forests and the grand canyon. but it's not properly and managed and planned for, it causes massive devastation as we have seen in recently weeks and in addition to that, the loss of life is increasing time and time again. and i know that's not just the forest service. that's how we put our communities together and everything else, but the -- the
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urban interface area is critically important when you see whole communities be devastated like they have and the effect it has on human life, families, the impact and the natural resources and in arizona, a lot of our watershed. this fire here, arizona has seen over 700,000 acres burned. that's more than the last two years combined. working my time here is - -- in congress, i've -- we've had expanded forest service authorizations to better manage and plan for fire. i have a few questions about those authorizations and look forward to your responses today or at a later date if you cannot answer today. first question is, congress implemented the fire funding fix during the 115th congress to
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move rapidly fund suppression efforts without the need to use nonfire funding. i would like to know how well this has worked and has the ensuing budgetary stability resulted in increased efforts related to fire prevention? particularly has there been additional work done by the department in the form of treatment and controlled burns, which you mentioned a little bit ago, our wild land urban interfaces being prioritized? >> thank you for the question. the fire funding fix is -- i think it's an understatement to say it's one of the best things that we received. it really helps stabilize the forest service and it was just -- a lot of chaos every year that we had to transfer.
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so thank you so much for that. as far as -- and that's allowing us to better plan for a lot of things including getting -- focusing our treatments and implementing them. and i think that's -- in large part because of the fire funding fix, one of the things that happened prior to the fix being put in place was that pretty much systematically over quite some time, say, 15 years, the capacity to do that kind of work was reduced because all of the money was also in the budget going towards fire suppression. we were at one time 15% of the agency was fire funding related, now it's around 55%, and now just at the right time where we need to ramp up and scale up to these large landscape scales in
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our planning, we are lacking the capacity. so that -- i think that can be remedied, but it is a definite thing that we're looking forward to as now we're trying to get the -- now that we have the fire funding fix, we need to ramp up capacity to do the work. >> thank you. how have stewardship contracts and projects in my district improved forest resiliency? how is the usda supporting these large-scale projects, and we've been trying to get it up and working at a larger scale. so i would like to hear your -- >> the stewardship contracting projects is a wonderful gift for us because, like i mentioned earlier, a lot of these -- the treatments on the landscape have to be all lands and it allows us
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to pursue that -- >> deputy, i only have a couple of seconds. i guess the core of my question is, why is it taking so long to get these projects up and going and sustained? >> well, it's complex for us. we -- a lot of the environmental work we've been trying to stream -- we've been trying to do things to make life easier for the planners, but between capacity problems and environmental review problems, we haven't implemented as fast as we would like. we look forward to continuing to work with the committee to help tre streamline those. >> thank you. and i just want to say, the district has almost 700,000 acres already approved. they're all within that stewardship area. and i don't understand why we
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haven't gotten to them. thank you. >> the chair recognizes congresswoman pingree from maine. congresswoman, we cannot hear you. congresswoman pingree, we cannot hear you.
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>> as we continue to work out the technical issues, the chair now recognizes the congressman from california for five minutes. >> thank you so much, chairwoman spanberger. just before i ask my question, mr. phipps, you were saying earlier that the recommended density is, what, 64 trees and it's 320 or something like that? per acre? >> yes, that's correct. i don't know if it's -- you were saying that was 80% overcapacity, but it's really 500%, isn't it?
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>> yeah, that's -- >> it's five times, not -- >> that's correct. >> okay. great. a bit of a difference there. certainly in a year that has seen record heat waves and the coronavirus pandemic, hazardous smoke from wildfires are presenting the latest danger for the men and women who pick america's fruit and vegetable crops and health advisories have recommended individuals remain indoors to abate health impacts. farm workers don't have that option. you certainly can't pick a peach by zoom. and despite efforts to distribute masks for farm workers the reality is that many still do not have access to these masks and we as members of congress must remain vigilant in ensuring that all of our frontline workers are protected. and so i certainly support the forest service's decision to protect public health with the
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temporary forest closures in california and i was glad that this wasn't just a national decision, but one that was made with the supervisors within the region. a wildfire's path, it's not limited to just the structures or the trees that are burned. once a wildfire has been contained, communities remain at risk for a variety of impacts such as harmful air quality, mudslides, poor water quality, and all of these linger well after the flames are put out. debris runoff can enter our watersheds and have negative impacts. it could harm streams, rivers, municipal water systems. i know the agency has several programs to help this from the 2018 farm bill and the department itself has even more beyond this one agency.
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but the agency has not requested a funding increase for the water source protection program authorized by the 2018 farm bill and my worry, we're getting to the question, is that the agency will already have to stretch your budget in order to maintain these final programs. the question, why isn't the agency asked for funding increases for these programs and what can be done to mitigate these impacts on wildfires? what steps is the forest service taking to address this during the wildfire response and the recovery phases? >> thank you for the question. you're correct in the that is bear process, we've been doing that for a couple -- 15 years at least. maybe two decades. and we have our hiydroologists o an assessment and plan for
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emergency application for seed and may be creating dikes and removing wood. currently across the country, there's 7 million acres that have burned and we have teams doing the assessment. they haven't completed it yet. we think that we have enough funding because it's paid out of suppression to take care of it. and it is going -- there's probably going to be a capacity problem and we're going to have to prioritize and make sure that we implement the projects that have the most meaningful effect and it's probably going -- the effort is aimed at making sure we get that done before the winter rains come. and there may be some need to go on into the following year. >> thanks very much.
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are funding increases for these programs warranted and something that the agency needs? >> could you repeat that? >> the funding increases, we're asking, is -- the department hasn't yet requested a funding increase for the water source protection programs. is this something that the budget is okay with? do you need additional investments and capital or what? >> we have the adequate funding for bear but i'm not familiar with that program that you just mentioned. i would be happy to get back with you. >> great. thanks so much. i yield. >> it's the chair's understanding that minority members are on their way. but in their current absence, i will continue recognizing congresswoman pingree from maine. if we can connect this time. >> can you hear me this time? >> we're having some webex
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issues. >> we'll come back to you. the chair now recognizes congresswoman -- with the continued technical difficulty, the chair recognizes mr. costa for five minutes. >> i thank the chairperson, if you give me a moment before the clock starts until i can pull out my memo on the effort. let me start on a question that
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is based upon a congressional briefing that we participated in last week with the head of cal fire, tom porter, and the head of oes from california. and he cited, mr. phillips? phipps. that based upon the incredible amount of wildfires we've had in california as well as in oregon and washington and other western states, that he thought it was necessary that we revisit the national management forest plan
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in terms of resources, in terms of forest management. we've tried to work on that over the last 18 months with some changes that have been made. clearly given the fact that the intensity and the impacts, it seems to me, in california's instance, over 60% of the fires have been on forest service land. less than 10% on state forestland. and a lot of private land, of course. could you care to comment, mr. phipps? >> yes. the interagency community has something called the cohesive wild land fire strategy and that was done maybe seven, eight years ago. has some good intentions. the federal agencies had something called the fire plan,
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they call it fire plan 1.0. and currently we're working on fire plan 2.0. it's an update to the nation's interagency fire plan specifying how much we should be putting into hazardous fuels treatment, what kind of resources do we need, how -- what do we need in communities, that kind of thing. >> well, what do you think under lessons that have been learned in the last six months are the changes you're looking at. >> i think the big lesson is, we need to think big. we have to have -- if we're going to try to get a managed landscape that is resilient to fire, we need to do much more than we're doing now and that has to be with participation of
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communities, state lands, federal lands, and private lands. >> and in that effort, the resources -- you know, the last couple years, a lot of the money that we've had for forest management has been referred over to putting fires out. and we don't -- do you have an assess o assessment of how much appropriation needs to be set aside to manage u.s. forest service lands? have you made that assessment? >> real rough. we think two to three times more in the land management area and fuels management. >> the -- and last year how much was that?
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>> we had probably about a billion total. >> you're saying somewhere between two and three? >> yes. >> over what period of time? >> annually. >> annually? >> it took us 110 years to get here. it's going to take at least ten years to get to a more desirable future. because the extent of the fuels on the landscape, it's almost everywhere you look. it's -- >> on the creek fire that i've been exposed to, went out a week ago, going -- probably go back out on saturday to survey the update on that, one of the devastating fires, a 30-year veteran from the san diego area, he's trying to deal with this, indicated to me that frankly, you know, we just don't -- we're stretched too thin.
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and in this -- this is an area that's predominantly forestland that you've given jurisdiction to cal fire to manage this particular fire here. that seems unusual. but we have 14,000 firefighters out there. we have the national guard just in california alone. and we're short. >> we had -- this year was an extraordinary year and the system was not designed -- it broke the system to try to respond to all of that amount of fire all at the same time. and it's likely the case that we need to maintain the fire suppression capability while we're working to manage the landscape better, over at least a ten-year period. >> all right. my time is expired. i finally found my memo in terms of the questions that i wanted to direct. i can do that afterwards or if you allow a second round of
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questioning, i'll be happy to stay here and take that opportunity. >> thank you for being so responsive when we needed you to take your turn. we will be happy to put you back on the list, mr. costa. >> thank you. >> the chair recognizes m mr. lamalfa for five minutes. >> it's unfortunate we have votes on the floor on a list of amendments and a bill and as well as other concurring -- or concurrent committees. we would have more of our members here, but that said, let me pick back up on -- we're talking about grazing when i left off. and, you know, you can talk to any rancher, anybody that works the land in an area that has a valley and forest interface or much more forested areas. they'll tell you that grazing is a very important tool not only to keep their livestock going,
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but it helps with the fire, helps suppress the fire, we talked about this. and you can take anecdotically photograph evidence, it burns right up to the fence line and it stops. it's been a reluctance to have grazing be a more widespread use. it's nothing new under the sun. they act like it is. what's there to prove? we know it works. it reduces the fine fuels don't there. we don't talk about grazing everything off. but there's zones where this is useful for keeping the loads down, fuel loads, as well as the type of fire break zones that would be helpful for firefighters when a fire occurs, they can have an area where they can manage. is it really ready to -- we see what's known as aums, the amount of feed that cattle and others
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can use during a given time. those numbers are decreasing of aums being put out for grazing purposes, for cattle, sheep, even goats. we have goat herds that are going out and helping in small zones. why are we seeing a downward trend when this is an effective tool? we talked about fire -- prescribed fire and you have the unpopular component of smoke coming from that, air quality issues. as you mentioned, the air quality is going to be different under a controlled fire than the masses we have here. why isn't grazing used as a much broader tool that benefits several win-win categories here? >> thank you for that question. i think, yes, there's areas where grazing can be very helpful. as i mentioned earlier a lot of
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the nation's western forests have an incredible density. it wouldn't lend itself to grazing. in the aftermath of fires, of course, that changes. so i think that range managers are always looking for opportunities to increase deanimal unit months. >> do they consult with livestock owners on what they think that density is? they turn them loose in dense stuff that you might not have every thicket be grazeable, but there's areas in between, is that a strong consult with those that own the livestock? >> yes, routinely, i would say, in my experience, i actually administered grazing permits in idaho. i believe that we're always attending to relationships with ranchers and asking them what
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they think about things and how can we better manage the grazing resource together. >> can we get a greater commitment to this as an effective tool? those who don't want to cut trees, those who don't want to have a described burns. this seems like a win-win for me. can we get a bigger push for this? >> the forest service will look into this and get back to you. >> thank you. it was alluded to and you responded, talking about readiness. of course an unprecedented amount of lightning strikes happened at one time in california and turned out a lot of fires from that. but we run into problems with viper contracts, they contract with people ahead of time and the system seems broken in such that if you don't do it exactly the perfect way on timing or what have you, they kick you out and you can't talk to them for three years. mr. mcneill in my district has
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talked about how he was working with one person in one office in sacramento as he had been for many years. he helps service heavy equipment. and he finds out he gets rejected and told after the fact, you have to talk to this other office to get your contract going. how is he supposed to know that, especially since he has a track record of working with the other. they submit the thing by fedex timely and they get rejected on that. now we have a person who has been an ace mechanic for many years, helping with these contracted pieces of equipment, helping on the fire lines, being kicked out until they decide later, we better reinstate him, that as well as many other stories you could talk about with the viper system. the emails not being returned, the website not being timely, folks not processing these. if we want to have a state of readiness, there's so much private equipment. i drove some today.
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there's still about water tender trucks sitting along the freeway there that had not been contracted because of break down in the ability to process them. so what can we see an improvement in that area for, you know -- in this case, this mechanic, mr. mcneill, and others just trying to be a part of a solution. where we're overwhelmed with forest services and other agencies, the personnel and the equipment they have. >> thank you for that. we acknowledge that we had problems in california not with the viper system, per se, but how it was staffed. there was technical and administrative issues and we brought in more people and i understand that the contracting issues have pretty much subsided. >> okay. because there needs to be a makeup opportunity for that, if it's a three-year term, then that needs to be waved so people can get signed up back into the
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system. we're still not out of the fire woods yet, so to speak, in the north and probably in the south year-round. i'll yield back. good to see you here. thank you, madam chair. i yield back. >> the chair recognizes congresswoman pingree for five minutes. >> deputy chief phipps, thank
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you for bearing with us through these technical challenges. we truly appreciate it. >> while we're working out the technical challenges, the chair recognizes congressman costa for five minutes. >> i thank the chairperson, again, for allowing me to -- a second round on the questioning. i wanted to follow up on the comments that were made by my colleague from california as it relates to some of the health issues. but as you know, these fires are not only major issues for western states but for our constituents.
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even if you're not directly in the fire, the smoke has been like a nuclear winter. when you've been able to see the sun, it's been orange, and ash coming from 30, 40 miles away. and they obviously impact air quality as well as water quality in an area that is a closed-in basin that already is a nonattainment area. i know the forest service are working with federal and state leaders to improve the use of satellites modeling to predict things like smoke movement. these smoke -- these smoke impacts in terms of smoke maps are critical for public health efforts. have you folks looked at doing more in that area so you can provide efforts so we have a lot
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of people are asthmatic, a lot of people who have, you know -- other health issues, pre-existing conditions, and that would be -- of course we have the pandemic, covid-19. >> yeah, thank you for that question. were very concerned about that because we know that smoke does have quite an impact on the american public. this last event friends out on the west coast, even -- quite some distance from the fire, just like you said, had less than a quarter of a mile visibility -- >> we had three category 1 fires -- >> people had to stay inside and even the -- i had heard that people that stayed inside were coughing and it was quite an impact. the best option for us, i believe, is to manage the
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landscapes to prevent that. but until we do, the best thing we can do is give notification in advance. we have a lot of modeling and efforts that we've been working with noaa and others on these different models to try to give as much notice as we can so people who are particularly sensitive to smoke can get out of harm's way. >> i want to make a suggestion to the chairperson in the subcommittee and working with the full committee, the impacts of this throughout the country, but certainly in the west, are such that i would hope that the subcommittee would -- and congress member panetta has had his own fire in his constituency, and so it's important that we try to i think
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focus on this -- not only the end of this year, but next year in termination of providing the support necessary for the u.s. forest service. and i know both congresswoman spanberger are concerned as well as others. but i think, deputy chief, you ought to come back recommendations to us as we look at the two -- what did you call them? plan 1 and plan 2? what did you call them? what was the technical term? >> yeah, updated fire plan. >> the updated fire plan and i think this ought to be the subject because i know of your concern as we try to reassess next year with the budget, the appropriations process. while you were gone, they estimated if they're to try to manage this, it's somewhere between 2 to $3 billion to do
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the forest management service and that's nowhere near where we provided budget for management of the forests, is that right? >> that's correct. >> let me close on this note. i gave a speech last week after i was taken through the creek fire and i learned a lot. and i'm going to go back i think saturday. one, we've got to better manage our forests from every element that is contained therein and that's from thinning to clearing brush to dealing with the forest and the country, that's different in different regions of the country and different regions of california. number two, we've got to re-examine land use policy. we've got hundreds and thousands of people living where they did not live before 30 years ago. and, three, climate change is a part of this. and we're going to have to focus on all of the above. the climate change is a little longer term. the other issues are more media. but i think we have to have a
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strategy that employs all of the above both with long-term efforts as well as the short-term efforts that we can apply in the next congress. there will be some other points, questions i want to raise and i'll submit them to the subcommittee afterwards and i thank you for giving me this second round. >> thank you, jim. i appreciate that. the gentleman's time has expired. i now yield five minutes to the gentleman from ohio. >> thank you, chairman. changed on me back there. thank you. thank you for being here today, mr. phipps, and in your role as the deputy chief for state and private forestry within usda, i look forward to your comments and i've missed most of them, obviously. but thank you. in your testimony you describe the unprecedented challenges millions of americans have faced this year. you say that as of last week over 7 million acres of land have burned. this has devastating impacts to
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those who have lost their loved ones, their homes and livelihoods. these fires have even impacted the state of ohio through changes to the air quality and stretched resources in the middle of a pandemic . what's the breakdown of federal versus nonfederal land? >> i don't have the exact figures. roughly half of it, maybe a little bit more, was on federal lands. >> okay. thank you. in your testimony also you talk about the steps being taken by the white house to reduce the risk of wildfire. specifically, i'm referring to the president trump's executive order 13855. i support these actions but i also believe congress should be more active. what tools can we provide to the forest service to better prevent these fires? >> i think it's not only the authorities, i think we have a
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lot of them. and right now it's an organizational capacity and funding problem to ramp up to the scale of the problem. that's probably the biggest one and i think we need incentives for private landowners to contribute and be part of the solution. it doesn't do any good to manage forest on one side of the line when you have nonfire resilient private land on the other. >> all right. thank you very much. mr. chairman, i yield back my remaining time. >> thank you. >> thank you. >> appreciate that. at this point, i yield myself five minutes. not just because it's my prerogative as chair, but i guess i'm in order. i will do that. chief, good afternoon. and thank you for being here. i appreciate you -- not only your expertise, but i appreciate you being able to talk about
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such a relevant and topical topic, especially concerning this type of issue with the 2020 wildfire response efforts, and especially for me who actually had to be evacuated because of the caramel fire that was coming up over the hill about a half mile from my house in which i saw the flames. that being said, i was one of the fortunate many thanks to the good work of cal fire and our firemen and first responders who did a good job battling that blaze and we were able to return to our home. obviously this is something that is not just relevant, it's something that's important to all of us in california and i echo what the congressman was saying in regards to how we have to address this. with you, i want to hit on four areas in my questions, just to let you know, forest management,
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forestation, forest certification staffing and prescribed burns. i want to start with projects and wildfire risk reduction. in your testimony, you highlighted the importance of proactively conducting forest management projects to create healthy conditions on our forestlands. can you provide your vision of what i just said, proactive forest management and does it include wildfire risk reduction projects? if so, how should we best implement those types of projects? >> thank you, great question. my vision of this is that we have these large landscapes that we have to plan across the entire landscape, all lands. and, yes, a lot of the work has to be done on national forest and we have to strategically street these landscapes -- if
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they're too dense, we'll have to thin them out. but ultimately, we have to do prescribed fire. that's the only thing that's going to get a large landscape, particularly in california, back into a fire resilient condition. it takes a lot of cooperation and imagination, by the way, to make that happen. and particularly in a state like california with so much population. >> yeah. understood. and i appreciate that. and obviously i believe, as you heard the congressman talk about, one of the first steps is through the wildfire and public safety act. and i know i'm running short on time and i want to remind you about the replant act when it comes to forest restoration. but then i also want to hit on another topic that is important, near and dear to my district, forest service staffing. i've spoke with chief
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christianson about the shortages that are not just affecting, but are plaguing our national forests and so i want to basically talk to you, let you know that i understand the 2020 fire funding fix will kick in soon. i've gotten mixed reviews on whether this funding fix will actually help address the shortages of staffing. in your opinion, chief, will the fire fix -- what will it do in terms of filling the vacancies of nonfire positions and what can we do in congress to help you? >> it does provide the opportunity we think because it's putting some of the fire suppression off the books, if you will. there's an amount of money if it were to be reinvested into staffing, it could make an incredible difference because on average, everything other than fires is about 60% less than what it used to be. >> understood. understood. and just going back, actually,
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to forest restoration. when it comes to reforestation, would lifting the spending cap on the trust fund help address the issue post disaster? >> reforestation post disaster? >> i think there's a number of other constraints. but the forest service could use that, i'm sure. >> great. in regards to prescribed burns, i know we had a pretty good discussion on this during the time you have been here, can you talk to me about forest service plans to better utilize prescribed burns in the state moving forward as compared to the past 50 years. would a prescribed fire center that trains individuals and prescribes fire methods, would that help as well? >> i believe it would. in the southeast, that's quite a fire culture there, both on private and federal lands, and they are burning through their
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acreages in quite a frequent basis, and it's a skill as well. >> i yield five minutes to the gentleman from south dakota, mr. johnson. >> appreciate it. of course there has been a lot of attention and rightfully so given all the wildfires, and the data is tragic, and we don't see as much news conference how fuels management can reduce that risk. there are not anywhere near as many projects on forest service land to make it all the way through the implementation. sometimes the mitigation stories are fewer in between, and i would like to highlight for my colleagues, some of the examples from south dakota where the
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proactive forest management worked. we can break the management by by fuel loads and the critical habitat, we can protect. so one example is just three weeks ago, it was a hot and dry, windy day, and the bear fire started on the black hills national forest. this was southwest of deer field lake. that's a highly popular recreation area. the fire started by lightning strike, which obviously is not that uncommon. even though the weather conditions were critical, this fire only burned for five acres. a large part of that is because the fire burned in an area that recently had been thinned because of timber sales, and another timber sale was active
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nearby, and that harvest, it reduced the fuel and cleared the roads and that made for a quick response for our firefighters, and having that fuel out of there meant what did burn, it didn't burn as hot, and i am telling you anything you don't know, because you are the professionals, and i just want to highlight some of the successes. i brought pictures from 2015 where we had a similar situation happen, the north pole fire started. you know, here we can see this has been actively managed, and you see a relative thinning of the trees, and the burn area was far more modest than you would expect. because we had the access roads that had been improved for the timber sales, the men and women whose job it is to go out and fight the fires were able to get there so much more quickly and able to put the fire out so much
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more effectively than they otherwise would have. so that framework, the prep, it really creates the jumping off point for my questions. i would, mr. chairman, i would like to -- madam chairman, i would like to enter into the photos, smaller versions, as well as an article from 2015 that rounds this story out as well. >> without objection. >> thank you. deputy chief, the 2014 farm bill and in response from individual states, the forest service designated 46.7 million acres as eligible to use expedited nipa authorities, and in the farm bill we made tweaks to that. what is the status of the 46.7 million acres? this is all about treatment for
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infection for bugs. to what extent has that treatment works or is ongoing? >> thank you for your question, and i think your model that you laid out, it works. thinning and then doing prescribed fire really makes a difference particularly if it's at an adequate scale. thank you for those authorities that allowed us to increase our pace and scale. i don't have the exact figures about that, but i know that we have been actively treating fuels and harvesting timber to reduce density, so we can do a prescribed fire. >> i understand you don't have the exact number, but if you could follow-up with my office, sir, i would be interested to know the status of the 46.7 million acres, because if the forest has not been able to
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grant that, we would like to know if there's something more we can do to help you do your job better. >> okay. >> i will just note that i have an interest in making sure we continue to have a vibrant forest products industry, i think a managed forest is a healthy forest. that has absolutely been the case in south dakota although we are falling short with our targets for the number of hundred cubic feet that has been harvested so i will follow-up with your office and agency so we can talk about the size of that gap and the most appropriate way to deal with it. thank you very much. thank you for your indulgence, madam chair. >> and thank you madam chair woman for allowing me to speak at this sub committee today, and thank you, chief, for taking our
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questions. when our chair woman spoke she said it was terrifying, and i would wholeheartedly agree, coming if washington state, many parts of my district were on fire, in my own home we were locked in the house for a week with hazardous air quality for over a week. one of the scariest and more terrifying parts is this could be the new normal, and i think it should lend an urgency and seriousness to how we manage climate change and how we manage the forest and forestry. one of the areas in my district that was on fire was the evans canyon fire. it was big enough that it spanned two big counties. most of it was in the neighboring county, and much was in my district, and all the
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firefighters contributed to the effort to put it out. but because of rules about grants, only one of the counties got assistance and the one in my district didn't. we are working with fema to get that assistance, and i may need at some point i can call on you to lend your weight to that discussion. my question, and we have spoke before about covid, and i will get to that in a moment if i have time, but i wanted to talk about what happens after a fire, the landslides and the erosion and the lack of habitat. i know there's something called the burn area emergency response teams, and i wanted to talk about the fact that just like the evans creek fire, the canyon fire spanned different areas, and it's not just confined to the national forest, and the same thing happens everywhere in the state of washington, community forest state forest, and they feed to the same place.
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i was wondering how the bear teams coordinate the national or the federal and some of the more local efforts because when there's a landslide it brushes through all of it and affects all of the surrounding water areas. can you help me understand that? >> yeah, bear teams are quite resourceful. a lot of them are out there even sometimes before the fire's totally out working to do assessments. they do coordinate with local interests and other governments and within usda and the nrcs, for example, to try and bring to bear everything that is needed to prevent further tragedy once rains come, basically. try to do seeding, re-establishing drainage, and they are quite effective at it and we do have funding to do
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that. it's going to be a challenge because doing that over 7 million acres this year will require prioritization to make sure we go after the most potentially impactful areas first. >> do you do that also in community forest and state land, or do you just confine those efforts to federal lands? >> well, the bear teams would coordinate -- there's probably not any large -- let me put it this way. all these large fires include private lands, and if they happen to be state lands they would coordinate with them to make sure they get the best outcome. >> we spoke back in july about covid plans, and you had a phenomenal plan, keeping fires mall and doing whatever you could to prevent the spread within a cohort and prevent mingling, and all the best laid
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plan, i won't say went up in smoke, but it became challenging when the forest fires are all too big, and mingling of groups and people coming from out of state and out of the country, and how are you doing with people testing and converting to coronavirus positive, how are you handling the pandemic? >> we actually have done a lot. thank you for that question. before the fire season really got going we did an assessment on a state by state basis about state testing. we had a number of teams developing protocols. we decided that if somebody tested positive we would pay for the test, if it was not free we would pay for lodging for quarantine, and trying to manage the incentive system of that, and the social distancing and the fire camps spread out. you know, i was quite turned
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particularly after this big fire siege that we had. we are not seeing the rate of infections, in fact, we're not yet -- i think people have been mar marginalizing and trying to stay away. they did a good job this year. >> congratulations. that's great news. thank you. >> thank you. >> again, deputy chief, thank you for being here today. thank you for your testimony. how we come together to help our western states respond to and recover from and rebuild stronger can be a defining act in these times. in addition to our important conversation today, there's so much more work to be done beyond the jurisdiction of this sub committee, for emergency management and responsible needs
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in areas devastated by wildfires. in taking meaningful action to reduce our carbon footprint across all sectors of the economy, and work to build a more sustainable and resilient economy. there's more to be done on this committee and the sub committee, and i stand ready to continue this work and as i said at the top of this hearing we should not have to wait for the ash of the wildfires to reach the capitol steps to take action. we look forward to our work together. i a like to thank the usd staff and our witness for being here, and thank you for being patient with our technological challenges and thank you for being patient during our vote timeframe. the chair woman recognizes the ranking member for the closing
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statements. >> it's too bad on the votes today, and i think we covered a lot of good ground during our time here. i would like to submit another letter as well from the federal forest resource. >> so ordered. >> thank you. that is speaking about a lot of these issues with critical habitat designations, and the demands that have failed us for so long, so i will submit that. thank you again for your attention to these important issues, because our fires are still burning and it's going to take an incredible amount of effort, as you mentioned. we have a 110-year problem that we hope we can catch up with in only ten or less, but it with will require known as what is a pace and scale much higher than
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what we have seen in the past. we need to be able to work through restrictions that are caused by nepa. that is well intended, but a lot of times we are plowing the same ground on that. we don't need a nepa document for doing the types of practices we already know are good practices. we can do it on a one pager instead of 18 months of study and lawsuits and all that. i talked about the ranch fire from a couple years ago on the west side of the northern part of california, 400,000 acres. after two years of wrangling, they wanted to put in a process to do some accelerated work along roadways and other key areas. 7,000 out of 400,000 that had been burned, of salvage and
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revitalization along roadways, as a strategic area to recover and make more fireproof, make more hardened from fire. so a lawsuit and the courts froze out all that work and that caused delay, and so help us help you with the u.s. forest service, and bring to us please legislative ideas to help with the roadblocks you face so we can get the projects done as a pace and scale that is going to be realistically helpful in the short term so we have a better long term. my constituents are very tired of it, they are tired of the roadblocks to the work, and they are tired of the hurdles to getting contracts to be part of the solution there for equipment. they are tired of constantly being in danger and the air
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quality problems are right there in their backyard, ten times on the scale of what would be deemed unhealthy in some cases. we are all feeling it. when we see our urban friends even feeling it, not only in the bay area and in california and here on the east coast, but i hope that sounds the alarm that we have to do something, something more dramatic. some of it might on its surface be unpopular, when we are talking about prescribed burning. on those burn days it will not be popular, but we need to educate people and say, you know, this is necessary, because when we don't do it we have a scale of fire that is multiple times worse for air quality and, of course, for habitat, for wildlife, the forest asset on public lands that belongs to all of us. we will have to be bold and step over hraoeupblines, and say, not
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do this, because after 110 years of putting the fire out without the other akwaequation, and nat used to do that, and it would go all year until then, and that's how nature used to be. we could have a winning equation here. that's what the public demands and that's what they cry out for in the letter that mr. daily and others, many others wrote or could write to us. thank you again for your appearance and for taking this back to the surfaervice there. i appreciate you putting this together and having this opportunity before congress
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might adjourn for the year. we will see. thank you so much. >> thank you so much. thank you for always advocating for the sub committee's strong work in the area of forestry, and my heart is with your constituents as i know they continue to face challenges. under the rules of the committee the record will stay open for ten calendar days, to accept subpoe supplementary material, and this hearing is adjourned.
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a live look outside the u.s. supreme court where the late justice ruth bader ginsburg is laying in repose. the public is able to pay tribute until 10:00 p.m. eastern. on friday, she will lie in state at the u.s. capitol.
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you're watching c-span 3, as a bpublic service and brought t you today by your television provider. now the house veterans affair sub committee on oversight and investigations looks at how the coronavirus pandemic has provided insight into improving the va's medical supply chain. they discuss challenges the va has faced before and during the pandemic from


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