Friday, May 21, 2010

Bipartisan effort needed to fight bark beetles


Bark beetles ravaging Western forests are neither Democrat nor Republican. Responding to the impacts they have created demands similar bipartisanship. That's why we have joined together to introduce legislation to help respond to the threats posed by this natural disaster.

We understand that the federal government cannot combat this threat alone. So, our proposal encourages and promotes the assistance of a viable local timber industry.

The timber industry provides jobs and helps our local rural economies. When timber cutting is done responsibly, it can promote forest health by thinning dense stands and establishing diverse age classes—conditions that help trees rebuff insects, withstand drought and reduce catastrophic wildfire. Nature itself performs this role, but for more than a century humans have affected these natural cycles.

Beetle-killed trees nevertheless provide a source of potentially useful timber for harvesting. Tax incentives can encourage the productive use of removed trees to generate heat and electricity and produce transportation fuels while reducing the costs of clearing overgrowth to reduce fire threats.

Congress helped by passing the Healthy Forest Restoration Act of 2003, which streamlined the processes for timber harvesting projects. But clearly, we can do more.

That's why we have introduced the National Forest Insect and Disease Emergency Act. This bipartisan bill would go further than the 2003 act by focusing limited resources in beetle-killed areas. Our bill would also create incentives to productively use removed trees for energy production and other non-building materials, and thereby make them more economically valuable and attractive for commercial harvesting.

The bill would also promote more effective "stewardship contracting," which reduces the costs of removing the dead trees and helps make this wood more attractive as a commodity. And as they can be written for up to 10 years, these contracts can provide more certainty and ensure a relatively stable supply of timber to support commercial operations.

The bill would also permanently authorize timber harvesters to come onto Forest Service land adjacent to nonfederal land where harvesting or other treatment work is also occurring. This so-called "good neighbor" authority further uses the private sector to reduce fire threats and protect homes, infrastructure, watersheds and other community assets.

We also signed a letter on Feb. 26 to the Senate Appropriations Committee expressing concerns about the potential funding implications of the Forest Service's 2011 proposed budget, wherein the agency proposes to combine forest product (harvesting) funding with other funding items, including wildlife and watershed management. Our letter urges that the forest product funding be maintained or even increased due to the important benefits such funding can provide for forest health, wildfire risk reduction and other needs.

In short, we need the timber industry to help us achieve our forest health objectives.

We will continue to find ways to use the commercial timber industry so that it can help respond to the insect epidemic, find productive uses of this wood and be a strong ally in protecting our communities, strengthening our economy and improving the health of our forests.

Sen. James Risch, R-Idaho, is a member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources and holds a degree in forestry from the University of Idaho.

Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., is a member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources and chair of the National Parks Subcommittee.

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