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June 08, 2023

As Wildfire Impacts Cover Mid-Atlantic States With Smoke, King Pushes for Proactive Forest Management

“The problem is too much junk wood,” King says as he highlights the growing risk, and severity, of wildfires

Watch or download Senator King’s questioning HERE

WASHINGTON, D.C. – As much of the country feels the impacts of Canadian wildfires, U.S. Senator Angus King today pushed top Biden administration officials to consider simple and effective methods to improve forest management across the United States. In a hearing of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, King brought attention to declining federal forest harvests and how this neglect has led to dangerous growth – known as overstock – of junk wood that has significantly expanded the chances and severity of large fires. He told Jeffrey Rupert, Director of the U.S. Department of Interior’s Office of Wildland Fire, that “there are people that want to harvest wood in the forest” and called on him to “figure out a way to let them do so in an environmentally sound manner.

“It seems to me that the key words today that I've heard over and over are overstock and drought… the overstocking is something we can address directly. Between 1965 and I think 1990, the average amount of wood taken out of the federal forest was about 12 billion board feet. Since 2001, that's 2.2 billion board feet. The problem is too much junk wood and understory [lower-height plants and trees] in the forest,” said Senator King. “Mr. Rupert, I don't want to embarrass you, but you talked very proudly about 2.1 million acres are going to be treated next year. I figured that'll get us to the full forest in 60 years. Come on – the solution is right in front of us, which is there are people that want to harvest wood in the forest and we should figure out a way to let them do so in an environmentally sound manner. I'm convinced that can be the case because the disparity between 12 to 13 billion and 2 billion, there's got to be a right number somewhere between those two. So how do we significantly increase harvesting?”

“I think as you look across the country where we're having success, where we're having success is where we're collaborating, coordinating, partnering at scale,” replied Mr. Rupert. “So we talk about landscapes, we talk about watersheds. That's a scale where individual parties on the ground, local communities, local landowners, local interested parties have a seat at the table to share in a strategy to identify shared values to protect. And I think that's the key is that scale piece.”

“Part of the shared value ought to be CO2 in the atmosphere. These fires are giving us a lot of CO2 in the atmosphere that cant’ be offset. And there are environmental issues surrounding cutting, I understand that. I'm from the most forested state in the country, and when I was governor, we passed a very strong Forest Practices Act. I get that. However, we're not taking cognizance of the big picture, which is the CO2 released by these catastrophic fires,” emphasized Senator King. “It may be that we need to have more cutting in order to prevent that CO2. Do you see? I think I can make a strong environmental case for this argument.”

Continuing to press for solutions to address wildfires, King highlighted his bill to improve the Forest Service’s ability to remove the small trees that are increasing wildfire risks.

“One of the bills I've submitted, which goes along with the list that Senator Barrasso gave about different bills addressing this, is one that says that the Forest Service can allow less than 8 inch trees to be removed for free. And it would incentivize reducing again the fuel load in the forest because a lot of this is the smaller the undergrowth and also dead and dying trees that ought to be gotten out,” said Senator King. “So I hope that the Forest Service can really look at this and come back to us and say, okay, why did we go from 13 to 2 and how do we change that in an environmentally sound manner?”

As a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Senator King has been a national leader in efforts to support forest policy that addresses climate change effectively, supports the health of ecosystems, and bolsters sustainable wood production. He recently introduced a bipartisan bill to establish a “Future of Forests” panel that would convene a federal advisory panel tasked with making recommendations to secure the health of America’s forests. Senator King has also been a fierce advocate for America’s wildland firefighters. He worked to include $600 million to raise federal wildland firefighter salaries in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, and successfully pushed the administration to implement the pay increases ahead of this year’s fire season.

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