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tv   U.S. Forest Service 2021 Budget Request  CSPAN  February 28, 2020 4:08am-5:38am EST

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good morning, everyone. the committee will come to order. okay, first budget hearing in the energy committee, so nice to get started. this morning we will consider the presidents budget request for the u.s. for us service for fy 2021. chief christiansen, it's good to welcome you back to the committee. thank you for being here. we say around here that the president's budget request is just that, it is a request. it does start the annual budget
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process. it gives us here in congress the opportunity to learn about the administration's priorities and how it would carry them out. but ultimately it's up to us to determine what programs to fund and what levels. although this year's budget request is far from pur infect, i agree that the priority must be on wild land fire management and improving the health of our forests. i'm encouraged that the administration is proposing to invest significantly in harshazardous fuel reduction and other activities. we know they pay dividends in reducing the risk of severe wildfire. hopefully we'll see this important work planned and carried out without any disruptioned disruption. the fire fix will be available for the first time in fy 2020 and this budget request would make use of it for fy 2021.
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the 2019 fire season was relatively mild in the lower 48 with few notable exceptions. but in alaska, last summer is going to be going down in the history books. we had over 600 fires that burned over 2.5 million acres. we had the nation's costliest fire of the e syear,n lake fire. thousands of firefighters from across alaska, 46 states, canada, and even puerto rico fought fires in alaska last summer. hazardous fuel reduction projects and fuel breaks provided effective help with firefighters as they beat back the fires and prevented them from spreading into the communities. but it was a tough, tough summer for us. as more and more of our forests die off due to beetle infestations across alaska and elsewhere, this work becomes more urgent. we know that we need more of it. and, chief, you certainly know
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that fires have no boundaries there, and what we can do to work together is important. i do appreciate the forest service acknowledging its cooperative work with the state of alaska on the beetle infestation and its budget justification, but i am dismayed that this request proposes to cut the overall program, the forest health management and cooperative lands in other state and private forestry programs. even with the fire fix in place, wildfire will continue to consume a large percentage of the budget, so i'm pleased they 2019 investigate in building capacity to more effectively use technology in wild land fire management. that will help ensure that we're smart as we fight the fires, always keeping firefighters'safety at the forefront. think we owe appreciation to senator gardner and senator cantwell for their work on the wildfire technology provisions in the dingell act which was signed just about a year ago. another area where i think we all know we need to do more is with recreation. recreation is the single greatest use of our national forests, but this request does
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not accurately reflect that, in my view. in alaska, i routinely hear about the demand for new recreation uses and corresponding difficulties in getting permits for them. i was just in southeast this past week and, again, heard that repeated. last year we held a hearing on recreation and heard about the need for permitting reform. i'm still hopeful that we can work together to make some meaningful progress here in congress. similar to recreation, i remain concerned that agency initiatives to create a positive workforce are not adequately articulated in this request. time and time again i've urged forest service leadership to cultivate a work environment that's free harassment and retaliation. i'm also concerned by the
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increasing rate of suicide among wide land firefighters. these issues are priority here in this community. i think they're a priority of all of us. i look forward to hearing how the forest service intends to address them. so in wrapping up, i think i would be remiss if i didn't mention the forest service work on the roadless. the agency state specific rule making for the tongas has been about reasonable access for every local stakeholder in the acc. -- 32 island communities across alaska. not just timber, barely timber if we're being honest, but also transportation, tourism, mining and renewable energy. my thanks to you as well as secretary purdue who are all working on this rule. i know it's not easy and sometimes your good work is frequently mischaracterized. i appreciate again all that
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you're doing with that. let me turn to my colleagues senator manchin for his comments. >> thank you, chairman murkowski. today on the forest service budget request for fiscal year 2021, i'd also like to welcome chief christiansen to our committee and her staff for being here. and i had a nice conversation with you yesterday and i look forward to the visit you coming back to the forest and we'll make sure see some really special areas. aside from being beautiful, the monongahela forest like most of west virginia's forest is truly working forest. it provides fish and game for sportsman, timber for our mills, recreational opportunities for the hikers, communities, and serves as a watershed for four states. forest service lands across the country are sustainable for multiple uses including supporting local economies, providing timber and conserving special areas for future generation toens joy. of course all of this can only be accomplished if the forest service has the funding that it needs. rural communities all across the country support and demand our national forests and we owe it to our constituents to make
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a good budget. i do not support the proposal to zero out funding for the land, water, and conservation fund. i appreciate the special exhibit that you included in your budget showing that in fiscal year 2019, lwcf was used to acquire 19,515 acres, specifically to enhance access for hunting, fishing, and shooting in national forests. just last year, the public plans package was signed into law securing permit authorization for lwcf. i followed that by pro introducing a bipartisan bill which many of my colleagues signed on to and 52 coresponsers is which would require permanent and full responding for lwcf and this remains one of my top priorities. i was also proud to join many of my colleagues on the committee to cosponsor restore our parks act. it would restore $6 billion to the parks systems to reduce the backlog. the backlog is over $5 billion. similar in size to the national
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park service. i wanted to note that the president's budgets request includes a nearly identical proposal except that it would direct 10% of the fund together forest service to address its forest maintenance backlog. i'm glad to see that the administration is thinking about the problem, i'm very dis disappointed to see that at the same time the same time the budget proposes a reduction in annual maintenance funding. that's something we can't have happen. reductions in maintenance funding what are caused the maintenance backlog and it will just grow worse and add -- adequate funding needs to be continued to be built into the budget or we'll find ourselves in a no end situation. i want to compliment the chief on her ambitious goal for timber har vetting. i know they will do this in a sustainable way as required by our laws and i'm pleased that you're partnering with states
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to get this work done. as a former governor, i can tell you the partnerships you're forming with states make your agency stronger and able to do more than you can do by yourself. with that, i look forward to hearing about chief christiansen's priorities and discussing the investments that we need to make in our national forests and i want to thank you, madam chairman, and look forward hearing from chief christiansen. >> thank, you senator mention. she, it's good to have you back before the committee. we welcome your presentation here this morning if you would like to proceed and then we will have an opportunity for some questions, but thank you. >> thank, you madam chairman, ranking member mansion and members of the committee. for inviting me back to testify on the president's 2021 budget for the forest service. today, i will share details on the hard choices that were made in our budget request and focus on three key areas. our progress to employ, tools
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authorities and funding to confront threats to forest and support communities. the work in front of us and the challenges that we must overcome and our steadfast efforts and progress to champion a strong workforce and healthy workplaces. we think we thank the congress for approving the 2020 budget. we are putting funds. new authorities in tools to good use, trend lines point upward as we treat more forest acres, reduce hazardous fuels and support rule economies. we are on track to meet our target and so far we are outpacing last year's work to reduce hazardous fuels. our shared stewardship approach is gaining momentum. in spirit and new agreements. we are working across boundaries to do work at the right scale, in the right
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places. we've signed 12 agreements with states and one with the western governors association. 26 agreements are in progress. we've executed 245 good neighbor agreements in 38 states and doubled timber volume. we aim to build on our progress in 2021. the president 7.38 billion dollar budget emphasizes our critical work. it focuses work to reduce wild land fire risk, improve forest conditions, increase access and contribute to local economies. and it advances our shared shoot stewardship approach, but it does reflect tough choices and trade offs. in addition, we are seeking solutions and innovations to overcome obstacles that slow our work.
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we are nearing the completion of reforms that will ease process burdens and reduce costs. this spring, we will finish new rules that streamline decision processes, meet our environmental responsibility and get more work done. efforts to modernize budget processes, increase efficiencies in firefighting, integrate science and improve internal systems put us in a position to better deliver our mission. we also appreciate your help in addressing challenges with the cotton would ruling. it has delayed work on the ground and unending analysis and redundant consultation. we are also seeking ways to maintain a reliable infrastructure as essential for groundwork and public access. with over 370 miles of road and 159, 000, excuse, me that is
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370,000 miles of road and 159,000 miles of trails, the forest service manages the largest transportation system of all the federal land management agencies. these roads, trails and bridges to make up the largest part of our 5.2 billion dollar maintenance backlog. we need functioning roads and bridges to treat forests, fight fires and reduce fire risks. rural americans need functioning roads and bridges for their daily, use for outdoor activities and emergency response. lastly, our mission success depends on a highly skilled, motivated workforce. we will continue our work to end sexual harassment and retaliation. we are making progress and more resolute than ever in our commitment to provide a safe, harassment free, respectful workplace. we have taken actions.
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we are improving. but we must go further to permanently change our culture to one that is based on dignity, equality and respect for all. our strong workforce is key to our aim to create a gold standard for public service and mission delivery. it ensures we make good on the investments of this congress and provide the services and sound stewardship this nation deserves. thank you. i would be happy to answer questions. >> thank, you chief. appreciate your quick review here. we will have an opportunity to fill it in with more questions. i want to start off with a couple of alaska specific issues. you have mentioned that, and my colleague senator manchin also acknowledged, that the administration is proposing its highest national timber target
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in decades here. but that goal, as you probably know, just really does not extend to us in alaska. we are at the lowest point that we have seen in our states history since we have been logging there and among, certainly among the lowest in the nation here. only 5.6 million board feet were sold in alaska in 2019. this would be 0.14% of this year's goal. again, recognizing that this is coming from our nation's largest national forest so, again, i just came from southeast. i was down in ketchikan, in juneau, obviously discussion about the road but really a broader concern about whether
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or not we're going to be able to get any reliable volume out of the tongue as given what we are seeing. what steps can you share with me is the forest service taking to reverse this trend on the timber in alaska? >> thank, you, senator i hear you loud and clear. i do have concerns and i have dug pretty deep into the uniqueness in alaska myself and took the time to come up this summer and have a look. >> which we appreciate. >> what i can assure you is that we do remain committed to a reliable and continuous supply of timber for southeast alaska. it is a part of the economy in the way of life. . we really do get that.
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i am pushing our folks to really work innovatively on how we can address some multiple challenges, quite frankly in doing business, in this island communities it often has some more logistical challenges it is more expensive and we need to really be smart and coordinated. in addition, there is significant market variability. i think you know that right now the market is very soft. the 30 million board foot sale, that sale in the state of alaska is on hold right now because of market conditions. it is compounded by some retaliatory tariffs in china and you know, there is a significant amount of controversy and lawsuits in alaska and it's not that we
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don't have those challenges other places, senator, so we've really looked hard on how we as the forest service, the stewards of, as you say, the largest national forest, we can be a convening capacity to bring multiple interests together to look at the watershed recreation but and have enough available, cleared, environmentally cleared product that we can be responsive to the different market changes. as you know, we took a large landscape approach, the first, the prince of whales large landscape project, brought a lot of collaborative capacity, a lot of common ground by many interest were brought together and unfortunately it has been enjoined, and so that is the biggest reason why we can offer
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the timber we intended to do. we are looking at the situation there and we are committed to continuing to work on this to be flexible and meet the needs of alaska. >> chief, i haven't interrupted, i've allowed you to try to give me as fulsome a response as you can but you need to know that i view this as holy unsatisfactory. instead of moving forward, instead of actually seeing some results translate on the ground, we are going backwards which i did not think possible and i don't believe it is because you don't support the work for the opportunity that remains in the
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back tongass but what is happening is exactly what those who would seek to shut tongass the down -- it is happening that the industry is unable to hold on. you will be visited by a group of alaskan's this week who will not only share with you their concern about, again, this downward trend line that has gone so low that we could not have even imagined that it would be this bad, but they've also been hit with a double whammy that you referenced with regards to the chinese tariffs. that came out of left field, but i think you have a situation here where through policies, through litigation, you have managed to eliminate
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an industry and an opportunity for people who live in the nation's largest national forest. and so, indifferent to my colleagues here and their opportunity to ask questions i will conclude my statement but know that the response that you provided, and that you are committed, committed on paper is one thing and i've got all of the materials and the statistics but it's not translating on the ground. it is not translating in these communities and that is not unacceptable solution. let me turn to senator manchin. >> thank you, madam chairman, and chief christiansen, december of last year, myself and the chairman and members of this committee, many members of
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this committee, worked diligently to enact a two-year extension on the secure role schools program. many west virginia's really depend on that and sent me letters. they were excited. but even though we provided the funding, the money has not been dispersed. what should i tell them? when will they get this money and why is it taking so long to get it out the door? >> senator manchin, we appreciate your leadership. it really does make a difference across the country in many of these rural counties with public lands. we are working top priority. >> it usually goes out in february. . >> it will be out before the end of march. i can guarantee you that and i have asked my folks to step up, top priority to get it out. >> what's loaded up? is there anything, we can prevent this? because we have a two year
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extension, so it does not repeat itself next year? >> you know in the finance part of the federal government, i am not the expert. i will be happy to get back to you. >> we'll be happy to work with you. you have to have somebody that works at omb on this. if you can give us your contact on behalf of all of us, rely on us, we'd be happy to work with you. >> we'd be happy to work with you -- >> we should tell our constituents back home for any of you all that have this type of funding that will be a month late, 30 days late probably. >> or less. >> or less, okay. second thing then, speaking about royalty. the budget proposal includes a $5 million increase for the sites program. it says the funding would be used for providing broadband access to rural communities specifically where there's little or no capability. there's not a state that's probably affected more than my state of west virginia that has rural areas that have no connectivity whatsoever.
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so i guess i would ask, how -- with the little bit of money you have there, how are you going to select the areas for which you're going to disburse this? >> yeah, i really appreciate your question and your leadership on rural broadband. as you know, this is a high priority for secretary purdue and all of usda. just to clarify what this -- on the numbers it looks like a bumpup. and it is because it's a request for the fees that are paid from these communication to establish to get permits on these communication sites for the agency to retain them so we can provide better service, better response times for those -- those communication sites. >> you don't select new sites at all? you won't be selecting new sites? >> we don't select sites, that's the private sector comes to us and asks to establish a site. >> only thing i would make you aware of, their maps are usually wrong. we have proven through fcc that the fcc maps are wrong what these providers are telling you they're covering and they're not covering.
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so please, if you will, work with us on that. we'll give you the accurate information. >> absolutely. >> we're urging fcc -- there's $20 billion going to go out the door this year. they're expediting it because of elections and there's going to be a lot of rural communities left behind because the maps have not been updated. we're going to get screwed again. >> it's a top priority for usda and we'd be glad to work with you on that. >> my final question is going to be this. according to the budget proposal, the forest service preparing to publish a revision of regulations for locatable minerals in october, the current regulations apply to hard rock mining operations, which you know had not been changed since 1872 and very little's been done. and with that being said, there's no royalties paid to the american public whatsoever for the resources they own. are you all suggesting and working towards making those changes that we should be making here in congress supporting the changes that need to be made, not only for
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the royalties, but also for how it's mined and for the environment of how it's protected? the same as we do in coal and other extractions? >> but for some reason hard rock's been left off the table. it's been protected. >> yeah, there's a rich history on the mining laws. >> it's rich for the companies that did it, it's not rich for the american taxpayer. >> sorry, wrong word i used the there's significant history on the mining laws. we'd be happy to work with you on that, senator. i really appreciate your question. >> well, i would like to know from your office and your department, basically, how many active permits we have, how many perspective permits that are in the queue, if you are would. >> we have hundreds, but we'll for sure give you -- >> because they're identified you basically submit -- they submit it to you, you give them the permit and then we get nothing in return.
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i'd like to know where we stand on that. >> well, it's complicated that, you know, the subsurface estate, most of it is bln and we manage the surface. it's split estates and most of it is blm but it's -- it depends on where we're at in the u.s. >> yeah. you all are very much involved with that i'm sure. >> yes. >> thank you. >> senator mcsally. >> thank you. good to see you again. thanks for your continued work in this position, as well as your service to the state of arizona as our state forester before you came to the forest service. when we spoke at this hearing last year you committed to working with me to update region three forestry guidelines to make sure that phase two of arizona's initiative is a success. shortly after the hearing i introduced my bill, the accelerating forest restoration act which laid out very concisely the top asks if the four phi stakeholders to make it more efficient and economical. the northern arizona university has been a leader in developing effective forestry policy and
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convening stakeholders to assure policies get implemented. thy released a progress report on modernizing implementation. it acts as both a report card on how well the forest service has done in immaterial pla meanting the reforms laid out in my bill and a guide as what needs to be done. it should be required reading for anyone involved and i want to make sure you have a copy and also chairwoman i'd ask unanimous consent this be added to the report. >> it will be included, thank you. >> thank you. sorry. i want to -- i'll be following one some questions for the record on detailed updates on the status of implementing the stakeholder requests, including branding requirements for low value timber, streamlining truck weigh-ins, and extend deck drying times, all of which you're familiar with. but i want to turn to focus on one of the most critical components of making fore fry work both in terms of the economics and improvement the forest health and that's bio mass removal. when it comes to large forest thinning projects, do you agree that the bio mass removal, that disposing of large piles of small branches of left over slash is one of the biggest challenges? >> yes, it is, senator. >> and i appreciate that the
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phase two rfp has a bio mass removal mandate in it, but these types of requirements on other projects have scared away industry due to the huge costs involved. so can you just share, what are you -- what do you think the options are for removing bio mass besides openly burning many metric tons of slash piles in arizona's forests? does the forest service intend to overcome previous challenges to bio mass remufls in theovals in the future? >> the bottom line is the aggressive work we and others are doing to find markets for that bio plas. it's not economical, as you well know, to remove it, to burn it all and put smoke in the air and we are working on multiple fronts, or our forest products lab, wood innovations work on a marketplace solution to bio mass. now, in the meantime, fore fry has been really a leader in teaching us this difficulty we have in how much of viable timber versus how much bio mass and how we bring the right proposal forward of what the requirements are. that meets a business model that's reasonable. >> is there -- i mean, as you know, the market-based solution is the challenge, right?
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because/unmarketable trees can be used to generate electricity, but it's just not lucrative as far as being cost efficient compared to other modes. and so how do you address any of those market-based issues when it comes to even using it for electricity generation? >>
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yeah, electricity generation has, you know, it doesn't -- it just doesn't attract in many cases the dollar return for the mill low watts produced when you have significant haul costs. but we're looking far beyond electricity generation. torified wood is for coal. we can build car frames and put in concrete to lighten the load. there's multiple other options that we are getting near to some -- we have the technology, how we scale it up to be marketplaced is the next bridge that we're working on. >> okay, thanks. the phase two, fp has been delayed multiple times. now that it's out for review the due dates and contract award dates have been delayed also multiple times. now some of the delays are largely due to listening to stakeholders and improving the rfp, which is commendable. but it is important that we adhere to an aggressive timeline. so can you just share on the record when you expect the contract to be awarded at this point? >> yeah, you're exactly
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right. i was personally involved in the decision to extend it based on really informing the feedback with potential bidders. and the proposals are due in may, it's our top priority to evaluate in the summer months and we will award in early fall. and it's a priority stay on that timeline. >> okay. thank you. >> thank you, senator. senator heinrich. >> thank you, madam chair. chief, according to a recent usgs report about the economics and forest restoration across the west, for each million dollars that we invest in
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landscape scale forest restoration programs, communities actually see more than 2.2 million in economic output. not only do these projects bring jobs and livelihoods to rural economies, but they protect our drinking water and they decrease the risk of wildfire not only on those lands, but in the adjacent communities. yet, in this budget request, you have zeroed out the collaborative forest landscape restoration program, zero. for a little context, this program has treated roughly 55, 000 acres in recent years on the santa fe national forest alone. oftentimes several times more from two four times more acres than our timber program touches. budgets are a statement of priorities and values. and what i want to know is why this administration doesn't value this critical restoration tool more? >> senator, i really appreciate how you framed that
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question, because you're absolutely right, the multiple benefits of forest restoration, what's created in communities, this nation -- the nation's forest provides over 60% of the drinking water for the u.s. it really is profound. what with with that said, as i said in my opening statement, some difficult choices and tradeoffs were made in this budget submission. and we are committed to the collaborative spirit of shared stewardship, investing in priority work to get outcomes that are important for the particular states and communities in these forest communities. and i'd be happy to work with you, as you all move forward. >> all right. i just don't see a zero as a
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tradeoff. i would point out that businesses in the state of new mexico are now funding more of this kind of landscape scale restoration than the entire federal government proposal in your budget. that says something about priorities and values. and, in addition, i was dismayed to see the budget request yet again cuts the land and water conservation fund to nearly nothing. $14 million in total. zero for the forest service. it actually takes 8 million in existing projects away from the blm. and i can't tell you how popular that program is with the -- with the entirety, practically, of my constituents constituency. it's the one place where you get sportsman, conservationist, and outdoor rec enthusiasts all on the same page because it's the most effective program for creating access and protecting habitat. and i don't understand why access and habitat aren't priorities in this budget. >> yes, i do hear you, senator. this administration, again,
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took some really prioritized focus and acquiring new lands was not the priority because we need to take care of the lands, the roads, and the systems that we have. and that was the choices and tradeoffs that we made. >> oftentimes what that means is that there are public lands that the public cannot access. and we've heard a lot of rhetoric out of this administration about access. lwcf is the tool to move that from rhetoric to reality on the ground. i'm down to a minute here so i want to get one last question in. and this relates to what senator manchin raised around the maintenance backlog. so we have a number of campgrounds in new mexico that
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have been closed for years. one was damaged in a 2012 fire and still hasn't reopened. i don't think that is unique to my state. with the current funding structure, how long would it take the forest service to work through its maintenance backlog and get some of those campgrounds reopened? >> you know, for our roads and trails and i can get back to you specifically on the campground piece, but for our roads and trails, we would need $445 million per year for the next ten years in addition to the -- what's appropriated to clear the backlog. >> and what's the number this year in your budget? >> the number this -- i can get -- it's around -- let me get that for you. it's 453 million. >> thank you.
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>> senator gardner. >> thank you, madam chair. thank you, director christiansen for being here today and your service today. you may have addressed this already in previous questions, i apologize for repeating a question if it was already asked. about ten months ago we talked about the aerial firefighting use and effectiveness study. a year ago we said that it would be coming soon. year before that we said it would be coming soon. year before that we said it would be coming soon. is it coming soon? year before that it was coming soon. >> yes, senator, that is deserved, that question is. and i guarantee you it is coming soon. i -- i understand -- >> what's taking so long? >> yeah. you know, i'd be glad to come in and give you a really detailed briefing, but let me give you the high points.
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we completely had -- didn't know what we didn't know on the complexity of this kind of study. this was going on while we were going to the next generation of air tankers, of course we had to put the remote sensing devices on these air tankers. the questions, the performance measures, the data standards, the -- >> let me just cut -- when you say coming soon have that next year i get to ask you again? >> no, this spring. >> this spring. >> this spring, i guarantee you. >> so before june? >> yes, sir. >> okay. thank you. over last several years the forest service has seen a 40% turnover, it's my understanding, in staffing, and 40% of the nonfire workforce has been either converted to fire workforce or left the service altogether. given this current staffing situation, i'd like to have a conversation about what we're doing to fill in the gaps in non-fire staffing like law enforcement and fire prevention. and i want to talk a little bit about what's happening in my own state in summit county, colorado, a population of
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30,000 people. they have now -- they wrote a letter to me last year, they passed a tax increase on themselves in the county over a million dollars a year toward a variety of wildfire mitigation strategies including paying for -- they themselves, the people of the county are taxing themselves to pay for six seasonal forest service staff to conduct fire prevention work of the white river national forest, the busiest forest in our country. one full time year around usfs forest service employee, forest service contractors conducting mitigation, timber cuts, overtime for fire prevention controls on forest service land by summit county sheriff's office, and fire mission process on summit county open space adjacent to the forest service land. so now that we have the budget cap in place, is the forest service looking to address the situations like the one i discussed in summit county and throughout the state of
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colorado? >> we really appreciate that kind of shared services collaboration, what the community is doing to really step in and help fill those gaps. it's really significant. in regards to what we call the fire funding fix, we absolutely appreciate the work of congress that it stabilized our budget so we aren't continuing to put more into fire. but it really is the process of budget development and the appropriations process to increase the funding for those services. so we are looking forward to work with you on that. >> so will you be filling the gaps in the nonfire staffing that i talked about in both law enforcement and fire prevention? >> we'll fill the gaps to the extent that we get appropriations to do so. >> this will allow us so that we don't have to have local counties doing tax increase dots job of the forest service. >> yes, senator. >> thank you. obviously remain concerned with a number of air tankers under
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contract with guaranteed availability to support efforts around the country, i know there's a private study that's being released this week which examined the wildfire data between 2015 and 19 swhog a very large air tanker is deployed against a fire in the first four to six hours, that fire's lasted an average of less than one day. but for far too many fires in this country that's not been the case, oftentimes lasting 20 more days plus or significantly beyond that. billions of dollars are being shouldered by taxpayers, businesses and the community as a result. we don't have the study. so without that study, how are your justifying the number of air tankers you've come up with for exclusive use contracts and can you provide this committee with the data informing that decision and are you confident that during a bad fire year there's sufficient air tanker capacity available to the forest service? >> yes, i am confident to ask the last question first, we'd be glad to give you more detailed information on how we really analyze those decisions. i can guarantee you we will have the most air tankers we've
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had in over ten years. this fire season. and call when needed is -- we can put those on as we see the fire danger increasing. so it's not that we call them up and, you know, we have to wait two days. we call them up as we see the -- >> the higher rate, right, that's a more expensive contract? >> at a higher rate, but only when we use them versus we have to pay them for a guaranteed amount of time. so it's a bit of an art and a science, i will say, on how we find the right balance to be responsive to make sure we have the right resources in aerial firefighting in the uptick. but we're responsive with our budget and our spending. >> thank you. and i have some additional questions for the record. thank you, chairman. >> thank you, senator. senator wyden. >> thank you. chief, great to have you. let me start with the wildfire disaster funding act which i think most people believe is
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the biggest change in firefighting policy in decades. and in effect, for those who didn't follow it, it basically says we're going to fight the big fires from the disaster fund and then we're going to liberate all that money to focus on prevention. and we wrote it, all of us were involved in it, we wrote it in this room. so my first question is, what can you tell us, because this is the first year of implementing this transformative law, how is it going in terms of being able to liberate money to get at this backlog that senator manchin and senator heinrich and everybody else is asking you about? the backlog in my state alone is 2 point to 5 million acres of has dard discuss fuel and prescribed fire projects. my first question is is how it
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going in terms of the first year when we really ought to have new money liberated because we finally said we're not going to have this bizarre policy where we keep rating the prevention money to fight big fires. how are we doing in terms of getting that money out of the disaster fund to go after the backlog? >> thank you, senator. we do continue to appreciate very much the significance (inaudibl) it is the fire funding -- oh, thank you. fire funding fix is profound. and i do have to clarify something. so it stabilized the forest service constrain budget. so we weren't -- we didn't have to -- the ten-year average that we have to fund first with fire, that has been stabilized, as you know, to the 2015 ten-year average. so we don't have that continued erosion.
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that isn't very helpful. the second part of the fire funding fix was because we have the disaster relief account now for the big fires, the chances of having to borrow midseason are, you know, reduced practically won't happen. but the idea that we have gotten additional monies, that's what this conversation is about. that is the appropriations act. what we are doing in the forest service is to say, we're going to prioritize, we're going to be a good investment, and the funds that this budget process, this appropriation process gives us, we are we are going to put to good use and -- >> i'm very much for the good money and that's why my colleagues question were good. >> yes. >> i also believe that if you're no longer raiding prevention, you can use prevention money to hit these targets, and i'd like to ask you to provide us
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month-to-month treatment targets for reducing hazardous fuels at least in my state, but i think my colleagues are going to ask us as well. can you do that? give us month-to-month treatment targets for reducing hazardous fuels? >> yes, senator. i might ask if we could do it quarterly because there's a little bit at play. we set quarterly targets is how we do it. but if you need month we'll do it by month. >> great. i think, because this has come in the fire season, if we could say the first couple of months we need monthly targets and after that we'll do quarterly, is that agreeable to you? >> yes. >> great. >> i would like to point out that this budget does propose a $65 million increase in hazardous fuels. >> i saw that. okay. second, senator manchin and i have been very interested in finding some fresh approaches to deal with prescribed fire. and as we always do, we talk with the chair because we always try to work on these issues together.
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but, as you know, there's a lot of interest in prescribed fire streamlining the regulatory hurdles, developing prescribed fire workforce. how we doing on that? >> we are making -- well, we are making far more progress on getting more prescribed fire done on the ground, particularly in the west where we need to break through those cultural and social barriers. in the pacific northwest in particular, we increased our prescribed fire activity. as you know, in many, many of our landscapes across this country, fire is the number one treatment tool and we've got to keep increasing. >> let me do this because i'm almost out of time. if you could give me a written answer on the prescribed fire plan, senator manchin and i want to work together -- >> you bet. >> with all of our colleagues on both sides.
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last question, you might want to give this to me in writing because i'm over my time. i'm very interested, as you and i have talked about, in looking at new technologies in terms of firefighting, particularly one that i hear a lot about is the ability to fly helicopters at night or in low visibility. if you can give aus a short answerus a short answer, i can probably get another 15 seconds out of my friend the chair, but if you'll also give me a response in writing on these new technologies. >> i will. the short answer is we've had night flying operations in southern california for the last handful of years. we've learned a lot. it is an investment. but we have some known -- very known capabilities in the right place to use night flying operations. >> thank you, madam chair. >> thank you, madam chair. chief, good to have you hear and thanks for testifying on the forest service budget. it was also really good to be discussing these issues at this forestry forum when he two weeks ago and our meeting yesterday with you and your
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team and thanks for being here again today. i was encouraged to find the forest service budget prioritized wildfire suppression shared stewardship principles, increasing efficiencies, and set a very quantifiable target of timber output target of 4 billion board feet. however, if that's the good news, here's one of my major concerns. i believe it's unacceptable that the administration continues to eliminate funding for the land and water conservation fund known as lwcf. lwcf is a critical tool in montana to protect and enhance our public and recreational access to our public lands. in fact, i along with 52 other senators, have cosponsored bipartisan legislation to make the lwcf funding permanent and
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will continue pushing for full mandatory funding for lwcf in working across the aisle with my colleagues on getting our important bill across the finish line. unfortunately, there aren't too many things that unite congress anymore, as we saw earlier last year public lands do. and i think this is the only piece of legislation that will. par par 62% of montanaians stated that wildfires, threatening homes and property are a serious problem. we see the effect of that breathing the smoke in the summertime. this should come as no surprise as there's 1. 6 million acres in the wild land urban interface there at high risk of wildfire. i do appreciate the budget prioritizes public safety. by requesting robust funding for wildfire suppression, and importantly vegetation management. however, it is litigation, litigation from fringe groups that continue to delay time-sensitive wildfire risk reduction projects. there's one lawsuit currently
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jeopardizing over 130 projects in montana alone. this particular case is one of many copycat lawsuits that follow the ninth circuit's cottonwood decision. this court decision established a new procedural requirement that amounts to a mere paperwork exercise with no benefit. even the obama administration agreed that this case, and i quote, had the potential to cripple forest management. that's right out of the obama administration. we were working this when he was president. and they were spot on. the impact of this case has tied up hundreds of projects, damaging the health of our forests and threatening jobs. in fact, just last month in townsend, montana, broad water county, 70 montanans w laid off when they were forced to close
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a mill citing water supply challenges. the irony as you stand at that mill you're looking at thousands tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of acres of forested land and our public lands are national forest and we can't go into some common sense thing that reduces risk the wildfire and keeps these foengs folks employed. this the surely have a rimmed effect in community. these are not prosperous communities. these are important, good-paying jobs and the families are devastated. my question is can you explain the impacts the cottonwood and do you believe there's a conservation benefit to this new requirement? >> the consequences are severe, i will say that up front. it's -- we are committed to do our environmental and our endangered species act due diligence consultation. but this cottonwood decision is duplicative in that it requires us anytime there's any new information on a forest land management plan, that's the general plan that we lay out for every 15 to 20 years, and it requires us to consult on any new information. when we are going to consult on any project, we're going to directly do on the ground. so it's duplicative, it takes numerous resources away from getting work done on the ground. but worse, it just prevents the
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work getting done. the resiliency and the forest to protect communities and the way of life of public lands in montana. >> so how does litigation impact wildfire reduction project and overall the visitor's experience to our national forests? >> well, it just prevents us from getting the critical treatments on the ground because we're tied up in litigation. we are enjoined, we can't move forward, and recreationist have to live with snok, communities have to live with smoke, the economic prosperity of communities are compromised as you just talked about. it's a significant relationship ngimpact. and it's not just in montana anymore.
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>> my wife and i are backpackers, like a lot of montanans are. we're leaving d. c. and spending time in montana, we literally have to watch the fire reports to make sure we get in the areas of southwest montana to make sure they're open. that's the impact to access to public lands. thanks for your testimony. >> thank you. >> thank you, senator daines. yes, it is senator hirono. >> yay. thank you. chief, as you know, bio security is of great importance to hawaii and the pacific
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region and, of course, by predicting our forest and environment from invasive species we are also reducing likelihood that these pests make their way to the mainland. unfortunately, our current bio control facilities in hawaii that are utilized by both the state and forest service are outdated and we're in need of a new state of the art bio security research facility jointly owned and managed by the state and federal partners. including the forest service. that would allow our researchers to test different bio control methods for combating some of the world's worst pests. the state has allocated some 180, 000 for planning and scoping the possibility of a facility but federal support is currently needed. and i'd like your commitment to work with me and my staff in exploring the possibility of a new bio control research facility in hawaii. because we are the -- like the invasive species capital of the country. >> gateway, how's that? >>
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that's fine. >> we appreciate your leadership on this and hawaii's stance on this and i'd be happy to work with you to see what we can do. >> thank you. i also want to thank you for the interagency cooperation that's going into helping combat a pathogen that's been devastating the native ohia trees, called rapid ohia death. and you mentioned that our forests account for over a vast majority of the nation's drinking water and that's really the case with our ohia forests because they are part of watersheds. so money from the state and private forestry account has been critical to helping our folks on the ground in hawaii address rapid ohia death, r. o. d. and i'm disappointed to see that the president's budget makes severe cuts to our program that is so important to hawaii. and i'll work with my colleagues in congress to see that the program is funded more adequately. so along those lines, i appreciate your support for
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forest pathologist at the institute of pacific islands forestry, but hawaii is in desperate need of that position becoming permanent so they can support our state bio security plan and help address existing and emerging pests and pathogens such as rapid ohia death. and support for this position would be leverage with funds for the university of hawaii and the state of hawaii. i'd like your commitment to work with me and my staff to see about establishing a permanent, jointly funded forest pathologist in hawaii. >> we'd be happy to work with you on that. we have some great scientists out there, bio controls and other things, and there's a great multiagency effort and we are committed to be -- remain a part of that. >> good. the president's budget proposes closing the pacific southwest research station which oversees research and development in california, hawaii, and the u. s. affiliated pacific islands and merging it with the pacific northwest research station.
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and while the forest service knows this closure will not result in the cessation of research in that region, it is not clear what this proposal specifically means for the future of the institute of pacific islands forestry or ipif in hawaii. so will you have experts on your staff brief my staff on any impacts of this proposed closure on the pacific islands as well as the future that the forest service envisions for ipif? >> absolutely. i have been out to ipif and i have personally seen how integrated they are and we would be happy to work with your staff. >> thank you. you noted that you are making progress in the issue of preventing sexual harassment and retaliation in the forest
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service. and there were a number of recommendations made in the ig report. because this is an ongoing problem for the forest service, and you did say that while you're improving that it takes time to improve the culture. i was curious to know, seeing the list of the report where in january 5th, 2020, the agency closed about 88% of the 2215 cases of harassment reported since august 2017. i realize you're focusing on your hiring methods, the kinds of questions that you ask. you're really focusing on the need to report these instances, the training, and of course the investigation of this kind of misconduct. i'm curious to know, who is doing the harassing and who are the victims of the harassment? i take it they're all employees.
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is it your male employees who are harassing the female employees? is that the usual circumstance? >> we can get you more specific demographics. harassment knows no boundaries. i would say the preponderances between gender, but not only that. we have specific demographics on what kind of lines of work and we're studying that and looking at the trend lines. and it is a bigger conversation. i'll be glad to get back to you with more information. >> so i am interested in how, who is actually doing the harassing. what you're doing in terms of diversifying your employees and all of those. >> i would really love to come visit with you. >> thank you. >> thank you. obviously no one can argue that nationally and internationally,
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the fire seasons are with us. from australia to alaska. one of the things i'm pleased to see, there's $15 million to implementing the technology advancement act that senator gardner gardner, myself pushed through. everything from gps locators to real-time fire information. we did a great demonstration of this in spokane that i loved. we were at a fire station and literally we were in the garage in the fire station and they lit a can outside. but you couldn't see it because the fire was going, but you couldn't see it. but the heat detection sensor that we had in an aerial sense could detect it. showed it on our monitor. ooh my gosh, there's a hot spot. we have to get right on it. so we're just such a firm believer in this technology. what can we do now to speed up the deployment of this
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technology? cbo estimated, like you can do the whole wildfire management technology act for just $8 million. so we feel like a lot can go forward this fire season. so what can we get done with that money? >> yeah. the money is really appreciated and it, to whatever levels congress does choose to fund, we stand ready to be able to implement. now, you know, funding it is the highest priority on being able to have the resources. but we have to make sure that we invest in the right way. so we are moving out now regardless of whether these funds come forward or not. on doing some pilot tests around these resource trackers. the technology is changing. weekly. and so we're working
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interagency, we had three different scopes of questions in these three major pilots across the country with a command team to 100% of the fire personnel and another across agencies. there are different test types so we can stand ready should we get the funding to deploy. we know the best investment and the best operating procedures. and we're going to use existing funds to move that forward. >> i appreciate that. i would think that then when you look at the maps for what we get in a few months here, and further into the early summer, you will look at that and make temperature and make technology use projections based on where you think hot spots are, or the biggest threats. >> well, the resource trackers, that's more where we are considering what kind of fire activity we think we'll have in those areas. but its capability, the
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readiness of the cross -- the multiple agencies affected. so we're deploying that now because it is a little more of a test that we need to get stood up now. >> what about the gps trackers for firefighters? that seems very easy to deploy. >> that's what i'm talking about. the tracker. the resource tracker. the gps trackers. >> so just that resource. >> yes, yes. and then we've been working -- >> that's very low cost, right? >> i wouldn't call it low cost with the amount of infrastructure that you have to put in place and the training and the capacity. maybe, if we're talking interagency, we're talking 15, 000 fire personnel. and we put it on our, what i call our militia that do fire. there's another 10, 000. it's not low cost.
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>> right, but obviously we're looking for people when they're deployed. we have enough other problems. right? so we're just looking for the deployed individuals. >> absolutely and tracking them. >> absolutely. but in a high fire season interagency, we can have 26, 000, 27, 000 folks deployed. >> okay. >> all at the same time? >> in peak parts of seasons, oh, yes. that's getting up there. depending on what kind of fire activity, we're usually anywhere from 5, 000 to 20, 000 in the height of the fire season but it has pressed close to 30, 000. >> i would hope obviously we've lost northwest people in some significant fires over the last two decades. and we definitely would also like to see the weather
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forecaster, smoke forecasters on the ground in those situations. we think that is critical as well. >> yeah. senator, if i could quickly interrupt on the wildfire monitorization piece. our researchers are ready to deploy an app that will, every firefighter has a smartphone that would give real-time he is came routes and safety zones on their app as they move about. so there is all kinds of other capacities that we're growing. >> we'll look forward to obviously being large and vocal advocates for this budget and doing everything we can to help you get these things deployed. we think the challenge just grows every fire season. so we definitely want you to have every tool and glad you're and clearly we want to get you those resources. going to embrace the thank you, madam chair. modernization, with or without this 15. >> and thank you, senator cantwell for what you've been doing on that technology. senator? >> chief, welcome.
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good to see you and your team here and thank you for all the good work that you do. i want to echo the comments made by the chairman i know what my colleagues and senator cantwell. a big issue for us as well. what i would like to talk to you about is local cooperative fire agreements. so i've had conversations on wildfires, talking with state and local folks. the agreements between forest service and our state and local governments are to aid and mutual assistance and research transfer for local and regional wildfires. with the intensity of the fires, we see no longer fire seasons, literally in nevada, a fire every month now that we're seeing unfortunately that happening. i guess my question to you is, i'm understanding there's some limitations now with respect to that. can you talk and discuss the limitations you're seeing with these cooperative fire protection agreements and what
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long term solutions should we be considering to improve the relationships? and let me give you an example. i know, i think the forest service staff wrote in april 2019 an issue summary noting the limits current law provides these agreements and the potential need to reassess how these are implemented. maybe i'm catching you off guard. if you can't respond now, tell me if there is something we need to do to address these local agreements. >> i can address it gentle -- generally. i want to make sure what part of limitations you're referring to. so we would be happy to follow up on the particular. there could be a couple ways these limitations are. let me say that even the u.s. who is coveted around this globe, that we have the world's
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best wildfire response, we cannot do it unless we have capacity at the local, the state and the federal level. with my background, 30 years in state government, tending to the local arrangements, i am steadfast and that's how we have built this system. so all parts need to function. the limitations, i believe, are in how we deploy the local resources way outside of their jurisdiction. how we help each other within their jurisdictions or close to their jurisdictions is solid. but there's interpretations about the federal government being the banker to send people all over is what we are getting audits about.
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and so we would be glad to do some more briefing about that, understanding, and would love to have your help on how we look at, how we keep a continuous firefighting effort across this nation. >> thank you. so what we'll do is look forward to a follow-up with you or your staff. thank you. i appreciate that. in nevada we have our air national guard is one of the, i guess lack of a better word, mafs. modular airborne fighting systems. they come and talk regularly. i've been there, toured it, i've seen not only what they bring to the wildfire suppression, not just in nevada but the region. so i guess, what i am hearing, i have concerns about this. i would love for to you address this. one, can you comment on the
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impact that the national guard's current aircraft has had on firefighting efforts. then i'm hearing there is a potential, as you know, our air national guard is looking to migrate to the c-130 j. they're very excited about it but we're hearing funding for that aircraft may be diverted to the border wall and not go to the newer aircraft with the newer technology that will help with firefighting throughout the region. so could you address that and what you're hearing and the concerns that we're hearing from our air national guard in northern nevada? >> yes. thank you. i can say that the mafs capability, the mobile air frames, are absolutely important. we call it the surge capacity. when we max out the private sector and need additional capacity, mafs have time and time again been the critical resources that we call on. we love the partnership.
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i cannot speak to the d.o.d. funding but i can say the hs, the 130 hs are capable. the 130 js are a more modern platform that give us more options and effectiveness in fire response. >> thank you. i look forward to following up with your staff as well. >> you bet. >> thank you. >> chief, i mentioned in my opening statement that while i appreciate the good efforts that forest services is doing as you're working through this roadless rule and its application in alaska. i mentioned that the effects of lifting it, i believe, have been misconstrued. so i would ask you to speak specifically to what you believe the effect of lifting the roadless rule actually projected, will actually be projected to have on the timber program.
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and i'll put it into context. we recognize the d.e.i.s. rejects that a full exemption would add approximately 185, 000 acres to the timber base for future timber production. there are some who again are opposed to any level of timber harvest and they're saying, this is what will be open and available. and yet forest service projections are that just 18, 000 of those acres would be harvested over the next 100 years. so i'm trying to put it into context. i have been with folks in the southeast this past week, i was reminding them that with the designations already in place, you have a full 80% that will never, ever, ever be available for harvest. can you speak to what the effect will be on the tongass timber program?
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>> it provides many, many serves. >> that's the context. timber is a piece of it. what the impact statement looks at is where it is available, it doesn't project what would happen in a harvest. it provides the amount of harvest and each particular activity needs to be analyzed. >> the access to all of the stake holders. >> of course. yes. >> so the roadless rule itself does not dictate timber harvest. it dictates availability only. and there is forest land
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management plan and then specific project proposals that would come after that. >> and i think this is part of the confusion. for timber, this is about the flexibility to make economic sales rather handle the increase harvest. is that correct? >> yeah. >> you want to have the flexibility so you can have the sales. we spoke earlier. you recognizeder the prince of wales project and the fact that a great deal of time and commitment had been made for that project. then it gets stalled out. now we're seeing the situation we have on the ground. which again, is the lowest timber harvested in, since we have been harvesting timber at
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just 5. 6 million board fees. so i think it is important to put in the context what we're really talking about here with the proposal to lift the roadless rule. you raised as well the impact of the china timber tariffs. retaliatory tariff rates on spruce were as high as 25% last year. we're the only national forest. allowed to on import whole logs. the irony is that those who were told by forest service that you need to move away to that second harvest. that young growth, that market, it went out to build. it just happened to be a chinese market. so they did everything that they were encouraged to do. go find new markets. move to a different, away from old growth and yet, now they're in a situation where they are being left without a market at all.
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is it being offset by the chinese tariffs? >> yes. i'm very well aware of this major dilemma. we are looking at everything within our law, our authorities of how we can do adjustments to accommodate.
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we are continuously looking at this. >> this is a real challenge for us. it's not something that we perhaps could have anticipated. but again, just the height of irony that those who felt they were being pushed out of one area did, as was proposed, and now they're sitting here perhaps in a more desperate situation than anybody else. last question for you. and again, i think this just reflects on so many of the issues that we have as we're dealing with the forest service. they say, okay. move away from old growth. we move away from old growth to young growth. the market gets shut down in china. they say well, focus on tourism. focus on that aspect of our forest. which we are all about. we've got extraordinary opportunities. the complaints we're hearing from recreation groups who have to wait months, sometimes years, to obtain a permit from the
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forest service to really enjoy them is again yet part of the continuing frustration. when i was up in the state last week, a constituent informed my staff that he's been waiting three years. three years for a permit to guide tourists on a hike to a scenic spot on admiralty island. it is a mere 20 steps from a state owned beach. so the frustration here is, you say you can't harvest. we don't harvest. long to tourism opportunities. but we are waiting years for permits. now, i know that in the past, we've been able to blame some of the lack of staffing to move these permits through because of what was going on. we're beyond that now. i am still told that we have not recovered in the state in terms of the budget cuts that
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had moved forward some years back. there was agreement that alaska took a heavier hit than most other areas, and we included language in the appropriations bill to try to rectify and adjust some of that. but we still continue to have challenges. and being able to meet the staffing needs met with earl stewart when i was up there. and we're looking to perhaps utilizing the local hire a little better. it is a challenge for us. and as forest service has struggled to meet this challenge, alaska has been on the short end of the stick when it comes to processes that work for not only the local people
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but those who are coming up from outside who want to avail themselves to tourists and recreational opportunities within the tongus. >> do i hear your concern. we are making progress. we've reduced the backlog of waiting permits. we've set a priority. we are doing the hiring, the local hire, and thanks to the fix that did you a found years back, that really makes it viable and resourceful for us. we're doing centers of excellence around growing the capacity and special use permits. we're stream lining our processes. there are several things we're doing. i'll leave it there.
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americans want to use these forests and we need to give them access. and it is, through some kind of, these are usually outfitting guides. we have over 8, 000 outfittering guys across the system. it is really important that we be responsive to give them access. we are prioritizing the permits. we've made progress. we're doing additional hires. there's some places there's conflict between big game hunting and the cruise industry. we've obtained capacity to figure out who is where, what. we're investing. we were at the wildlife observatory and mendenhall and the critical infrastructure. we do try to stick with our
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commitment that enjoying the tongass and other national forests is part of our duty of delivering our mission. i would like the hear about that. >> maybe what i can suggest is that you and i have an opportunity for a more detailed conversation. >> i would be happy to. >> with that, did you have any follow-up? >> i did. just to address this issue. i do agree as we have the largest national forest in the lower 48. very proud of it. i notice there's an 18% decrease in the forest and range land research account and it proposes to eliminate for wildlife fish and recreation. how does that impact, that decrease, how does it impact what the chair woman was just talking about? the outdoor recreation we want to promote and continue to support in our forest land? >> yeah.
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thank you for that question. the reduction and the research, it would impact our ability to do the capacity studies. the interface, the social trends, and the biophysical capacity that the landscape has for the right kind of use on the right kind of land. we wouldn't have those resources available to manage forward. >> okay. thank you. >> thank you. >> chief, thank you for being here this morning. i know folks will probably have follow-on questions. we would appreciate your responses and i look forward to my meeting as well. with that, the committee stands ajourned.
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>> c-span, your unfiltered view of government, created by cable in 1979 and brought to you today by your television provider. >> next, highlights from the latest sitting of australia's house and senate during a session of australia's parliament. prime minister scott morrison along with members of his cabinet answered questions on the coronavirus outbreak, middle east security, combating climate change, and the recent australia wildfires. this is half an hour. >> hello and welcome to question time where we play the highlights of question time in australia's parliament. wildfires ravaged the east coast of australia over the summer have died down, the political fallout is just beginning. question time and parliament began with a bipartisan day honoring those fire victims and thanking the volunteers who helped fight the fires. it did not take long before the conversat


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