Note to those printing: this is a very long article
Speech before U.S. Senate
by Senator Jon Kyl, R-Az
I know the discussion has greatly focused on fires and the catastrophic results of fires this year. I am going to talk about that to a great extent. But I would like to make a point at the very beginning which I hope we don't lose sight of; that is, fire is merely one component of the problem we have to deal with. What we are really talking about is the health of our forests, both for the protection of people from catastrophic wildfires and also for the ecological benefits that a healthy forest provides. It provides wonderful recreation for our citizens. It provides habitat for all of the flora and fauna we not only like to visit and like to see but to understand that it is very important for ecological balance in our country. It protects endangered species. It provides a home for all of the other fish, insects, birds, mammals, and reptiles we would like to protect, whether they are endangered or not.
In order to have this kind of healthy forest, we have come to a conclusion, I think pretty much unanimously in this country, that we are going to have to manage the forest differently than we have in the past.
What the debate is all about is how the Congress is going to respond to this emergency, not just from the catastrophic wildfires but from the other devastation of our forests that has created such an unhealthy condition that it literally threatens the health of probably somewhere between 30 and 70 million acres of forest land in the United States.
The administration has come forth with a far-reaching proposal that will begin to enable us to treat these forests in a sensible way. We have legislation pending before us an amendment by the Senator from Idaho that was put in place as a means of being able to discuss this. And we have been trying, over the course of the last week or so, to negotiate among ourselves in the Senate to be able to come to some conclusion about what amendment it might be possible to adopt as part of the Interior appropriations bill so that it will be easier for us to go in and manage these forests.
I am sad to say that so far our efforts at negotiation have not borne fruit. I think, therefore, it is necessary today to begin to recognize that unless we are able to reach agreement pretty soon, we are going to have to press forward with the kind of management approach that I believe will enable us to create healthy forests again.
Let me go back over some of the ground that has been discussed but perhaps put a little different face on it in talking about my own State of Arizona.
Some people may not think of the State of Arizona as containing forests. They may think of it as a desert State. The reality is, a great deal of my State is covered with some of the most beautiful forests in the entire United States the entire world, for that matter. We have the largest Ponderosa pine forest in the United States. Ponderosa pines are enormous, beautiful trees, with yellowing bark. It is not uncommon at all for them to have a girth of 24 inches and above in a healthy forest. They are a little bit like if you want to think of the sequoia trees in California not quite as big but coming close to that kind of magnificent tree.
One hundred years ago, the ponderosa pine forests in Arizona were healthy. These trees were huge. They were beautiful. There were not very many per acre; and that, frankly, was what enabled them to grow so well. They were not competing with a lot of small underbrush or small trees for the nutrients in the soil, the Sun, the water, which is relatively scarce in Arizona, and they grew to magnificent heights.
Several things happened to begin to change the circumstances. First of all, loggers came in and, seeing an opportunity, cut a lot of these magnificent trees. Secondly, grazing came in, and all of the grasses that grew because of the meadow-like conditions in which this forest existed were nibbled right down to the base in some cases. A lot of small trees, therefore, began to crop up and crowd out the grasses, and pretty soon there was not any grass. There was simply a dense undergrowth of little trees that began to crowd out what was left of the bigger trees, as well.
Then came the fires because these little trees were so prone to burning. It is a dry climate. They are crowded together. Instead of having maybe 200 trees per acre, for example, you might have 2,000 trees per acre or more. But they are all little, tiny diameter trees that are very susceptible to fire. And the big trees that are left, of course, are susceptible to fire as well because when the lightning strikes, it sets the small trees on fire, which then quickly crown up to the larger trees, creating a ladder effect, going right on up to the top of the very biggest trees. It explodes in fire, as you have seen on television. That kind of environment is what we are faced with today.
The old growth has come back. We have some magnificent, big trees, but they are being crowded out by all of these very small-diameter trees and other brush and other fuel that has accumulated on the forest floor. So what happens when there is a fire whether man set or lightning created is that the fuel begins to burn. It burns quickly just like a Christmas tree, if you can imagine, if you have ever seen a Christmas tree burn. It quickly burns the smaller trees and underbrush, and then catches the branches, the lower branches of the bigger trees, and then crowns out, and then you have a big fire. What is the result of the big fires in Arizona this year?
First of all, we can talk about the size of the fires. We can talk about the size of the Rodeo-Chediski fire in Arizona. It was about 60 percent the size of Rhode Island. This is simply one fire. You can see from this map the size of the Rodeo-Chediski fire. Here is the size of the State of Rhode Island. If you add in other fires that have occurred in Arizona this year, you have a size that exceeds the size of Rhode Island. That is in my State. That is how much has burned in my State about 622,000 acres in this fire alone.
Let me show you what it looks like after that burn. And I have been there. I have walked it. I have driven through it. I have seen it from the air by helicopter. It is a devastating sight. Here it is, as shown in this photograph.
The ground is gray. It burned so hot that it created a silicone-like glaze over the soil. And, of course, it just absolutely takes all the pine needles and branches off the trees, so all you have are these sticks left standing. Some of these, by the way, are pretty good size trees. And there is salvageable timber in here if we are permitted to go in and do that salvaging.
But because of the glaze over the soil, the report from the experts in the field is that when the rains finally began to come, it did not soak into the soil; it ran off. And what you now find throughout the central and eastern part of Arizona is massive mud flow into the streams. It kills the fish. It makes the water unpalatable. It devastates the free flow of the water, so it creates new channels and erodes the soil. It goes around bridges, and there is one bridge that was very much in danger.
It flows into the largest lake in the State, Lake Roosevelt. And Roosevelt Lake is the biggest surface water source of water for the city of Phoenix and the other valley cities. There has been great concern that mud flow will affect the water quality and the water taste, as well as damaging the environment for the aquatic life in the lake and in the other streams.
There are some other sad things about this fire. Just to mention some of the devastation, the total of this fire was about 468,000 acres burned. The total in Arizona is about 622,000 acres. The structures burned in Arizona were about 423, the majority of which were homes and some commercial structures.
In the United States, this year alone, we have lost 21 lives as a result of the wildfires, and over 3,000 structures. The impacts on our forests in Arizona, the old growth trees will take 300 to 400 years to regenerate 300 to 400 years. To have a tree of any good size takes at least 100, 150 years.
We have endangered species in our forests, the Mexican spotted owl, for example. The fire burned through 20 of their protected active centers. So I think those who claim to be environmentalists, who want to protect a forest by keeping everybody out of it, and rendering it subject to this kind of wildfire have a lot of explaining to do when 20 of these protected centers for the Mexican spotted owls were ruined, devastated, burned up in this fire. The recovery time for this habitat is 300 to 400 years as well.
Twenty-five goshawk areas this is another one of our protected species and postfledging areas were impacted or destroyed. Wildlife mortalities and these are just those that were actually documented 46 elks, 2 bears, and 1 bear cub, and, of course, countless other small critters. I think it is interesting that air quality is something that is frequently overlooked when you think of these fires. I was up there. I know because I had to breathe it. But just one interesting statistic is that the greenhouse gases from the Rodeo fire emitted during 1 day just 1 day of the fire; and this thing burned for 2 to 3 weeks in a big way, and then longer than that in a smaller way but 1 day's emissions of greenhouse gases from the Rodeo fire surpassed all of the carbon dioxide emissions of all passenger cars operating in the United States on that same day.
So if we are really concerned about greenhouse gases, just stop and think, all of the emissions from all of the cars in the United States did not equal 1 day's worth of emissions from this one fire. Of course, there were a lot of other fires burning in the country as well.
Let me try to put this in perspective in terms of the amount of area of Arizona that is subject to this kind of fire.
We have about 4 million acres of forest in Arizona that is classified as condition 3. That is about one-third of all the forests in Arizona. Condition 3 is the area that is in the most danger of catastrophic wildfire. Here is a State map of Arizona. And the area in yellow is pretty much the forested area of our State, with the area depicted in red the class 3 area.
So you can see that a great deal of our ponderosa pine forest here is in very dire condition and needs to be treated as soon as possible.
The Grand Canyon is right here. You can see on the north rim, there are significant areas that need to be treated. Over here, near the Navaho Indian Reservation, there are areas that need to be treated. Flagstaff is here; you can see the mountains that rise over 12,000 feet just north of Flagstaff. Those areas are very much in danger. You have the Prescott National Forest, Coconino National Forest, the Tonto National Forest. The Apache Indian Reservation is probably the largest. This area is the watershed for Phoenix, the Gila River and its tributaries. It provides a great deal of the surface water for the city of Phoenix and surrounding areas.
These are beautiful mountain areas with a base elevation of over 7,000 feet. This area over here is 9,000 feet. The mountains rise over 11,000 feet, covered with ponderosa pines, spruce, fir, aspen, and others trees. All of this area is in grave danger of beetle kill disease, mistletoe, wildfire, and being weakened and dying from insufficient nutrients and water because of the condition of the forest.
It is a very matted, tightly packed forest with all of the little diameter trees literally squeezing out the big trees that we all want to save. It is called a dog hair thicket. It is so thick that a dog can't even run through it without leaving some of his hair behind.
Let me show you an example of what the forest used to look like and how it looks today. On the top you see a photograph of 1909. You can see these beautiful big ponderosa pine trees. There are some smaller ones back here. You have different age growths, and that is the way you like to have a forest so as the big ones grow older and die, there are others to take their place. You see a great deal of grass, sunshine, open space. You can imagine this is a very healthy forest because you don't have too much competition for what the trees need to grow. It is also a wonderful environment for elk and deer and butterflies and birds. It is open. You have plenty of grass for forage and so on.
This is the same area in the year 1992. This is the way much of our forests look today absolutely dense, crowded. I am not sure if the chart is observable here, but you can see that the forest is now very crowded. Here you have beautiful, large ponderosa pines, a couple more back here, but they are being squeezed out by all of the smaller diameter trees.
What we are talking about in management is not cutting the big trees, not logging the forest. We are talking about taking out the bulk of these smaller diameter trees that are not doing anybody or anything any good and are clogging up the forests, preventing the grass from growing. They are ruining the habitat for other animals and creating conditions for insects, disease, and catastrophic wildfire.
For those who say we don't want to go back to logging, nobody is talking about that. We are talking about saving these big trees, not cutting them down.
The problem is, a lot of the environmental community is in total concert with this general management. But you have a very loud, activist, radical minority that is so afraid commercial businesses will want to cut large trees, that they want to destroy any commercial industry. In the State of Arizona, there is essentially no logging industry left. We have two very small mills, and the Apache Indian Reservation has two mills. The Apache Reservation I will get to in a moment because that is where the Rodeo-Chediski fire occurred.
What we are talking about here is having well-designed projects, after consultation with all of the so-called stakeholders, with the Forest Service having gone through all of the environmental planning and designating projects, stewardship projects with enhanced value so that they can go to these commercial businesses and say: Can you go into this forest and clean all of this out and make it look like this? Whatever you take out of here that we mark for you to be able to take out, you can sell that. You can turn it into chipboard, fiberboard. You can turn it into biodegradable products for burning and creating electricity. You can perhaps take some of the medium-size trees and get some boards out of them, maybe some two-by-fours. Can you make enough of a profit to do this for us because there is not enough money for us to appropriate to treat 30 or 40 or 50 million acres?
We are talking about a lot of money we simply don't have. You have to rely upon the commercial businesses to do that. Some of the radicals are so concerned that when they are doing this job for us, they will say: We don't have anything more to do; we want to take the big trees. And they are concerned that we won't have the ability to tell them no. Therefore, they are going to prevent us from cleaning up the forest for making it healthy again. They will create a condition that results in the catastrophic wildfires I was talking about; in effect, cutting off our nose to spite our face.
We are not going to do what everybody recognizes needs to be done because maybe when that is all done, 40 years from now, somebody will say: We want to go after the big trees.
Does anybody believe the political environment in that setting is going to permit us to do that? None of us are going to agree to that. I don't agree to it today.
Let me tell you a story. Former Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt is a very strong supporter of what we are talking about. An area he used to hike in when he was young is called the Mt. Trumbull area on the north rim of the Grand Canyon north of Flagstaff. As Secretary of Interior, being BLM land under the jurisdiction of the Department of Interior, he was able to do the rules and regulations that enabled us to go in and do the clearing. So they hired a couple of brothers that had a small business. They brought some pieces of equipment down from Oregon. One of them was a very small caterpillar thing that could snip all these small diameter trees. They cleaned out a fairly good size area. They made enough money to be in business, and isn't that fine. What they left was a forest that looked more like this.
I remember one tree that a BLM person there said: I have to show you this. Here was a tree that looked like a big California sequoia. It was a big ponderosa pine. The boughs came all the way down to the ground. And all around it were these small dog hair thicket kind of trees and brush. He said: We have to get them to clean this out because this tree is very much in danger of burning. If any spark comes within a mile or so, it will just climb up this ladder.
That beautiful tree, that was maybe 200 or 300, 400 years old, is going to go up in flames. That is the kind of tree we are trying to protect. For those who say we want to somehow do logging and so on, I simply say they are wrong; we are not. This is what we are trying to create, not this.
Let's go on to talk about some of the other aspects. In Arizona, there were about 4 million acres classified as condition 3, meaning most subject to catastrophic wildfire. Nationally, there are just under 75 million such class 3 acres. Out of this, the Forest Service identifies about 24 million as the highest risk of catastrophic fires. And this definition means they are so degraded that they require mechanical thinning before fire can be safely reintroduced.
According to the General Accounting Office, we have a very short period of time in which to treat these acres. According to a 1999 study, the GAO says we have 10 to 25 years to treat this 30 plus million acres of class 3 land if we are to prevent unstoppable fires.
This shows you what can be done when you treat the acres. This is full restoration, meaning we have gone in and cut out quite a few of the small diameter trees leaving relatively few, mostly larger trees per acre. This is exactly what this particular acre had on it when the cutting and thinning had been done, going in and cutting out the small diameter trees.
In Arizona you can introduce fire in prescribed burns during the month of October and November because it is cooler. It is moist, and the fires are not going to get out of control. Fire was introduced here in this area in October, the wet month, and you can see that it is burning along the ground, burning the fuel that has accumulated on the ground. It is not going to go through this tree here or these trees here. It may burn some of the smaller trees, but what is going to be left is a nice environment in which you have grasses that can crop up the next spring and reintroduce a lot of species and habit and protect, as well, from fire.
If lightning were to strike one of these trees and start a fire, it would return along the ground like this. In the hot summer months, once it has been treated, it is likely, with all of the fuel having burned off the previous winter, the fire will move around the ground and it will not crown out to a higher degree of fire.
The reason you cannot treat these forests with fire alone, and you have to mechanically thin and cut out some of the underbrush first, is demonstrated by the next chart. This shows you what happened when we left this many trees per acre. This shows you when you do minimal thinning. They didn't do very much thinning, and they reintroduced fire, and you can see this fire is starting to climb the trunks of these trees and is going to crown out. You see it coming up along the top of this tree. It is going to catch the crowns of a lot of these larger trees. They are at great risk of burning and a fire starting. This is during the wet month of October when you have a lot of moisture. If you don't take out very many trees, a la this particular treatment here, minimal thinning, and you introduce fire, you are going to have a risk of fire in the hot months. It is going to be a very grave risk.
Let's turn to the third chart, which shows what happens when you don't do anything at all, you only burn. This demonstrates why you have to do thinning first. No thinning was done on this particular acre. This is during the cool, wet month of October in Arizona. They introduced fire, and look at what happened. It got out of control and created a crown fire. This is the beginning of what the Rodeo-Chediski fire looked like.
So it is too late in much of our forests to introduce prescribed burning. It will go out of control. You have to go in, as I said, and thin it out first and then, that fall, you set a prescribed burn and you burn all of the fuel on the ground. Thereafter, the grasses grow and everything regenerates and you have a very nice environment.
There is another myth. I talked about cutting old-growth trees. When people talk about saving old growth, we need to be careful because the reality is that a lot of old-growth trees, particularly in Arizona, are not big trees at all. They are not the ones you necessarily want to save. If you have been on the California coast, perhaps you have seen trees over a thousand years old. Some of the oldest ones are gnarled.
Which tree here is the oldest? Interestingly, this smaller tree is 60 years old and this bigger one is 55 years old. This is the younger tree the big one. This tree was in an area that wasn't competing for a lot of nutrients, water, and sun. It was in a more open area. It grew as you would expect it to very well, very quickly, and very big.
Obviously, this is a tree we are going to want to preserve. It will get bigger and bigger. But if you have that area in which the trees are crowded together in these very dense thickets, you can have a tree no bigger than this small one after 60 years. In fact, I have another one about the same size that is 88 years old.
Old growth would be something over 120 to 150 years. We have trees not much bigger than this that are designated old growth. We desire to create an environment in which you get these big beautiful trees that grow old and big and create the habitat for all of the fauna I discussed before for which we are trying to preserve the forests. This is an illustration of why you don't want to have arbitrary limits on cutting old-growth trees. The tree you want to save is this big one, not that one, the small one. That makes a much nicer environment and one that is better for the wildlife.
Let me now discuss one of the concerns that has cropped up during the discussions about the kind of legislation we want.
There are those organizations in the environmental movement that understand there is too much public opinion in favor of doing something to manage our forests now because of this wildfire season, this catastrophic fire season. They understand they have to make some concessions. They have concluded that the best thing to be for is what they call urban/wild interface management. What that is supposed to mean is that you can go in and thin the areas right around communities and right around people's expensive million-dollar summer homes, and the like, but you cannot go out into the forests themselves.
We will put up the chart that shows the class 3 lands.
The problem is, first of all, it treats very few acres. This will illustrate the point. We don't have very many communities in these forests. There are five or six little towns in this whole area here. To do urban/wild interface management alone, by going out a half mile around the city limits of those little towns, is going to do nothing to enhance the environment in the rest of the forest. It will do nothing to protect the habitat of the endangered species out there. Actually, it does very little to protect the communities themselves.
The Rodeo-Chediski fire and I will show you the chart later burned with such ferocity and intensity that the small areas that had been treated provided little or no protection. It was only the areas where there had been a larger area of treatment that were protected as a result of the fire.
I can tell you, while the fire was still burning in the eastern area, we helicoptered up to the Rodeo-Chediski lookout and we drove about another 2 miles on a road that divided between an area that had been treated that is to say, there had been thinning, and I believe prescribed burning in the area as well, and on the other side of the road it was not treated. The side that was not treated looked like a moonscape. There was no living thing. Every tree had all of the branches and pine needles burned off nothing but ghostly, ghastly sticks. On the side that was treated, you could hardly see that a fire had gone through there. It laid on the ground, and it burned itself out. It was in a large enough area that it did not burn in that area.
Unfortunately, where you had just a thin, light, little strip of a quarter mile or half mile, the fire jumped right over it. I saw that as well in different areas.
Part of the problem is a phenomenon that exists particularly in the West, where you have dry, hot conditions on the ground. The fire crowns out, as you have seen on television, and these massive spires of flame go 100, 150 feet in the air, which creates a plume of high, hot air, smoke, ashes, cinders, carried upward, and it looks like a mushroom cloud from an atomic kind of explosion because the column of hot air rises like this and it creates a mushroom effect. It gets up into the cooler atmosphere, 15,000, 20,000 feet, and it cannot rise any more because the heat doesn't sustain it. The cool air dampens it down and begins to create condensation. Eventually, the weight of the plume that has risen is greater than the capacity of the hot air to sustain it and it collapses. The firefighters call it a phenomenon of a collapsing plume. What happens then is the whole thing comes crashing down, creating a huge rush of air down on the ground, which pushes out all of the hot cinders, sparks, smoke, and ash out, like this, for 2 or 3 miles.
That happened many times in the Rodeo-Chediski fire. I witnessed the creation of one such plume in an area of Canyon Creek, where I have been hiking and camping. It was devastated by this fire. So it doesn't do you any good to create a bulldozer kind of a firebreak, or a quarter of a mile or half mile of thinning, if the fire can spread with such ferocity. That is what happened over and over in this particular fire.
Let me explain that, notwithstanding the fact that there had been some treatment around some of our communities. Just stop and think about this for a moment. About 30,000 Arizonans had to pick up everything they had within about a 6-hour I forget exactly how many hours of warning it was, but it was very few hours. They had to pick up what they could in their pickup trucks and cars and find somewhere else to live for the next 2 weeks. Show Low, AZ, is a town of over 20,000, 25,000 people, and in Pinetop and Lakeside and McNary, a few smaller towns, they had all had to leave. They could not go back in for anything. A few people tried to feed livestock and keep horses and cattle and pets alive, but a lot was lost when these people had to be gone for 2 weeks.
Just think of having to leave your home and not knowing whether it was going to burn or not. Some did burn, but the towns were saved.
Interestingly, one of the reasons Show Low was saved was that a canyon to the southwest had been treated. It had been thinned, and there had been prescribed burning in that area I believe 2 or 3 years before; I have forgotten exactly how long before.
When the fire hit that area, the combination of that plus the backfire they lit in this particular canyon prevented the fire from reaching the outskirts it reached the outskirts but prevented the fire from burning the town of Show Low.
Think about that. What we need to do is not treat quarter-mile or half-mile or even mile-long strips of property around fancy summer homes or small communities but, rather, treat the forest itself as much as we can treat, as quickly as we can treat it. Only in that way will we get the environment back to the healthy state it was.
Only by treating large areas of the forest will we be able to return it to the status shown on this chart, where the small mammals will have a place to graze, really small animals will have a place to hide from the hawks, which will have a place to get the small mammals. We will have the birds, the butterflies, and more introduced as a result of this kind of treatment.
I mentioned before the issue of salvage timber. There is objection even to going in and cutting down the trees. I will show a chart of these trees. This is a huge amount of timber that could be salvaged as a result of the fire. In this kind of landscape, we need to cut some of the trees to lay it down and stop some of the erosion which inevitably occurs because of this kind of fire. It will enhance the regrowth of that area. Even seeding and planting does not do any good because the water washes all that material into the streambeds and it does not take.
This is timber that has a huge amount of value if it is able to be removed quickly, but disease will set in and deterioration will occur within a few months. If it is not removed in a 12-to-18 month period, it is lost. This is one way to help pay for what we are trying to do. Rabid, radical environmentalists do not want to even salvage that timber. Why? Again, because it will actually provide some jobs for the commercial timber industry and the mills that would mill the trees into lumber. They do not want them to be in existence because they then pose a threat to the rest of the forest. That is their logic. It is amazing logic.
Most of the Rodeo-Chediski fire was not on Forest Service land. Sixty-some percent was on the White Mountain Apache Indian Reservation. One can see on this chart the area of the fire. The green area is the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest, and the yellow area is the Fort Apache Indian Reservation.
The White Mountain Apache Tribe relies a great deal on the revenues of its timber operations to sustain its tribal operations. In fact, it is the tribe's biggest source of revenue.
Also significant to the tribe is the revenue it derives from the hunting that it permits on its land. The White Mountain Apache Tribe for decades has been very smart about how they have managed their forests. They understand that if you are going to have wild turkey, if you are going to have bear, if you are going to have wildcat, huge elk that people are willing to pay $10,000 to hunt, if you are going to have that kind of wildlife that will bring in these kinds of trophy hunters who will pay the tribe a lot of money to hunt on the reservation, then you have to do a couple of things. First, you can only take out the number of animals necessary to keep healthy herds, a healthy group of bear or lion, or whatever it might be. So they take out very few of those animals, just enough to keep the forest ecosystem in balance.
Second, you have to have a healthy forest. You have to have a forest that is not all grown over in this dog-hair thicket environment but, rather, the more open forest that I showed before. The reason is that these elk have to have grass on which to graze, as I said. You are not going to have an environment where the lions are going to be able to go after the smaller critters because there will not be any small critters if they do not have places to forage and places to hide.
The White Mountain Apache Tribe has been very smart about the way they have managed the forests. They have not been subject to the same restrictions as has the Forest Service. They have been able to do more prescribed burns. They have been able to do thinning and utilize that small-diameter timber in their mills, and they have taken out modest amounts of medium- and a little bit of larger diameter timber as well.
Some environmentalists say: You cannot do that; there has to be a diameter cap of 20 inches, 16 inches, or some number. The tribe has not been subjected to that. It has asked itself the question it is the type of question experts, such as Wally Covington from Northern Arizona University, ask: Not to define old growth or diameter cap, but take a look at the area and determine its carrying capacity. What will this particular area carry? What did it carry 100 years ago in terms of the kinds of trees, and other growth, and the number of trees?
When one determines that, then one knows what kind of treatment is called for. In some areas, you are going to cut all but 150 trees, leaving mostly large trees with a few more intermediate-size trees. In other areas, you may cut less. It may be that an area is so full of medium-size growth trees, let's say 20-inch diameter trees you may be taking several of those out or maybe quite a few of those out. It does not mean you are harming the environment. It means you are reducing the number of stems to the carrying capacity of the land so it can rejuvenate, so it can grow back, and the trees left will be the magnificent trees we are trying to preserve. We will have grass and all the rest that is necessary for healthy flora and fauna.
That is the idea of this treatment. Over the years, the Apache Tribe has done a good job managing their forests. As a result, they have had less of a problem with fire. There are several different areas that have been treated, and in the bear report that followed the devastating fire, there is quite a bit of discussion about the kind of timber that was lost, the areas that were not as heavily damaged, and a discussion of the areas preserved, by and large, because they had been treated in the past.
I find it interesting, by the way, and I am going to digress here let me make this point. We need to help the Fort Apache Tribe salvage the timber that is salvageable in this area. They do not have the capacity in their mills to do it, but they can mill some of it and then sell some of it to others. They have to get to it right away. They are making plans to do that. They need about $6.7 million to complete this project. I hope we will be able to provide that to them and it will help sustain the reservation.
As to the Forest Service, there are objections already to salvaging the same timber. We do not know where this boundary is when we are on the ground. It is all the same. Why the Apache area can be salvaged but not the Forest Service area I cannot explain. Nobody can rationally explain it. We need to salvage there as well. Yet there are those who object to any opportunity to salvage this timber.
One of the ideas for legislation was to have an opportunity to complete some stewardship projects or enhanced value projects that would in a temporary way maybe over a 3-year-period of time, for example treat areas of the forest that have not burned to see how well this kind of management worked.
This has been tried in the past. One of the cases is the so-called Baca timber sale. When we talk about timber sales, some of the more radical environmentalists get all upset because we are actually going to sell some timber to a mill that can mill it into lumber and build homes and lower the price of homes, by the way, so we do not have to buy all the timber from Canada at higher prices.
This Baca timber sale was proposed in 1994 to reduce hazardous fuels both in the interface and to improve forest health. It followed 5 years of planning and public participation. All the stakeholders were involved. But environmentalists appealed and litigated the case for 3 years.
The Baca timber sale was in this area. When the Rodeo fire went through that area, it burned about 90 percent of the proposed area. An area that could have been treated, that could have been made healthy, that the fire would largely have skipped around, was left to be ravaged by this catastrophic fire. The same environmental groups currently threaten lawsuits that would prevent the restoration of this area, which is why I mention that.
I ask my colleagues, when are we going to say we are no longer going to be jerked around by the radical environmentalists' agenda to destroy the commercial timber industry so they never have to worry about any big trees being cut, in the process permitting the forests to burn, destroying the habitat, endangering lives, burning homes, and burning up the same trees they want to save, as well as the environment for the species? I mentioned before some of the species. The goshawk is an example. In 1996, the Forest Service proposed a project to thin near the nest of the goshawk, partly to reduce the fire hazards that were presented to the goshawk. These radical environmentalists appealed. That year the fire burned through the forests, including the goshawk nest. That is what happens when irresponsible environmentalists have control.
What does the control result from? It results from the fact we have a legal system that was designed to provide the maximum environmental input into decisions about abuse by some of the radical environmental groups. Let me cite some statistics from a report released in July by the Forest Service that covered the appeal and litigation activities on the mechanical treatment projects during the last 2-year period. Out of 326 Forest Service decisions during this study period, 155 were appealed, more than half; 21 decisions that were administratively appealed ultimately led to Federal lawsuits.
What happens with the lawsuits? You get an injunction which prevents you from moving forward with the project. In many cases either it burns while the project is pending or the Forest Service decided to move on rather than fight the appeal. The appeal, therefore, goes away, the work never having been done.
In the southwestern region of Arizona and New Mexico, 73 percent of all treatment decisions were appealed. Nationwide it was almost half 48 percent of the project decisions in fiscal year 2001 and 2002. Again, 73 percent in our area were appealed.
We cannot operate that way. The Forest Service is spending half of its budget preparing for these projects and fighting them and doing the work in litigation and on appeals to respond to the environmental community activity. About half of their budget is spent directly fighting the appeals, dealing with the injunctions, or preparing the projects in such a way as to be immune from this kind of litigation, which almost inevitably appears anyway.
On administrative appeals alone in 1999 through 2001, in Arizona just one State environmental groups filed 287 administrative appeals; 75 of these were filed by two groups that are very active. In litigation in the last 5 years, the Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity litigated 11 projects in Arizona and in 10 years litigated 17 projects, including the Baca timber sale which was 90 percent burned while on appeal because of the litigation that ensued.
This is what has to stop. The administration, President Bush, has visited these areas and has concluded that the best way to try to deal with this problem is to keep the environmental laws in place so there is never any question about the application of the proper standards for the projects that are developed but to make it more difficult for those who are appealing for the sake of delay, to delay projects to the point they are no longer worth proceeding. In other words, move the process along.
The President's idea is you still have to have sales or projects that comply with the NEPA process where there is environmental review by the State holders, but you cannot get a temporary restraining order or preliminary permanent injunction in court unless the court decided the case and imposed a permanent injunction on the sale, but you could not go in advance and get that injunction, which is frequently what happens today.
In addition to that, the administrative appeals would be reduced or eliminated for certain sales. If you want to file suit, you can file suit and go directly to the judge. The hope would be that the judge would decide the case quickly and therefore either the project moves forward or it doesn't, but everyone knows they can move forward with alternative plans if the project cannot move forward. It seems to me on a trial basis, a limited basis, that would make sense.
What we proposed was we limit this proposal to class 3 areas in my State of Arizona it would be only the red areas that we limit it in time to maybe a 3-year authorization so we see how it works. If people do not think it works, we do not have to continue it. And that we limit the amount of acres that would be treated maybe 5, 7, or 10 million acres per year, something like that. That, obviously, could be negotiated. And you would limit the way in which the appeals could be brought and have no temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction to be able to stop a particular sale. There would also be no limitation on the salvage projects I mentioned before.
Now, would these projects be logging? Would they be clearcut, et cetera? Of course not. First, they would have to be pursuant to the plans that have been developed by the forests. All of these regional plans have long ago discarded any kind of clearcut cutting. They have basically adopted the management theory of reducing the small diameter underbrush and small diameter trees, leaving, by and large, the larger older trees that we want to preserve.
Those are the plans in place now. They are the plans that would be proposed. If there is any plan that is not consistent with that, obviously, people could file a lawsuit and they could go to court and say, judge, this is not consistent with what we had in mind. And the court, of course, could say, that is right. If the proper environmental analysis had not been done or was inconsistent with the plan, the project could be stopped. That is what we are proposing.
As I said before, we have been in negotiations with our friends on the other side of the aisle. I mention in particular Senator Feinstein from California has been very helpful in trying to find some middle ground, to craft a plan to permit us, over a very short period of time, to be able to treat a small amount of acreage and see how well it works. If it works well, perhaps we could go on from that. We got to the point of having a 1-year authorization, with 5 or 7 million acres maximum to be treated. It would be limited to this class 3 area. And a high priority would be given to urban wildland interface and to municipal watershed areas. Even that has not been accepted.
The question is whether or not we are going to be able to reach an agreement that permits us to fairly quickly pass an amendment, have it adopted and sent to the other body so we can begin negotiation for a conference report that enables us to send something to the President and begin treating these forests or whether we are basically going to be in a stalemate or gridlock with the two different camps in the Senate, neither one having the votes to prevail, with the result that nothing comes out of this legislative session and we will be left with an opportunity missed, and a heightened risk for the forests that we want to preserve.
That is the choice before the Senate. I call upon my colleagues who have been working on this to try to find a way to enable us to be able to treat some of the acres in good faith, and see how it works, and if it does work well, as we predict it will, to enable us to expand that to the roughly 30 million acres that the General Accounting Office said we need to treat or else see burned.
Those are the stakes. I call upon my environmental friends, who are mostly concerned about protecting these areas of the forests, to think about the priorities.
Do we want to protect the habitat for those endangered species that we all would like to preserve? Do we want to protect the habitat for all the other flora and fauna? Do we want to have a healthy forest or do we want, in effect, to let it go to seed, risking catastrophic fire, disease, and insect devastation which will not protect the environment but will destroy it for all the purposes I mentioned before?
That is the choice before us. It seems to me there is no better time to act and, in fact, this may be the last opportunity to act this year in order to achieve this result. I urge my colleagues to find this compromise; if not, to support the kind of effort I propose that is a limited project with very tight constraints in effect, a pilot or demonstration project to see if we can make this kind of forest management work.
I thank my colleagues for their indulgence.
28 sep 2002