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tv   Forest Service Officials Testify on Wildfire Management  CSPAN  April 27, 2022 9:36am-10:13am EDT

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immigration policy. that is in front of the house homeland security committee lived, at 2 pm eastern on c-span 3. online at c-span.org. or for coverage at c-span. now are free but you. officials with the interior department and forest service testify in front of lawmakers on managing wildfires.
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topics include increasing personnel to fight while ours, mitigation efforts, in climate change. this runs just under two hours. >> that was more strong than intended. the subcommittee on national parks, fourth, public land will come to order. the subcommittee meeting today to hear testimony on investing in wildfire management, ecosystem restoration, and resilient communities. so our implementation of the
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bipartisan infrastructure law. under subcommittee rule or graph subcommittee hearings are militant to the chair or the ranking subcommittee member. this will allow us to hear from our witnesses sooner, and help members keep to their schedules. before i ask unanimous consent that all of the members can be stated can be submitted to the court by 5 pm today, or closing of the hearing, whichever comes first. without objection the chair may also declare recess due to subjects of the chair. hearing objections, so ordered. notice of the statement, documents, must be submitted to the electronic repository at engine r c docks at age and.gov. members physically present here should provide a hard copy to staff to distribute by email. these -- members are responsible for all microphones. members will be muted by staff to avoid an intended background noise. those experiencing technical problems should tell can maybe
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staff as soon as possible. with that, i will now recognize myself a an opening statement. first let me say thank you to each of the witnesses to being here today and my fellow colleagues on both sides of the aisle on the so of national parks, forest, oversight -- we are happy to be back here in person in the community room to host this hybrid hearing on a topic that i certainly no merits a high level of interest from both members on both sides. it is of particular importance to my state of colorado. the infrastructure law is a historic investment in the states infrastructure, including billions of dollars for department of interior in the u.s. forced to support national infrastructure, reduce wildfire risk, support ecosystems, and build safe resilient communities. in my district in colorado, colorado second congressional
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district, communities from the front range to the continental divide have been deeply impacted by unprecedented wildfires in recent years. including the marshall fire in december of 2021, the cameron peak fire in 2020, and the east troublesome fire of that year as well. the reality we are living with throughout the rocky mountain west is that wildfires are no longer simply contained to a season. they are year-round. there are no wildfire seasons in colorado, or the rocky mountain west. there are wildfire years. these fires are now occurring in larger areas, at higher intensity, and it is only projected to increase in the coming years as a result of climate change. my community in colorado back in december, new year's eve, 1084 homes were destroyed, literally within an 18 hour time period. the most destructive wildfire
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that has ever occurred in colorado. we need more federal firefighting resources. we need to invest in our forests. ultimately, we need to take wildfire resiliency mitigation seriously. for our communities, for our families, for the many people that we represent in the western united states. that is why as chair of this subcommittee we have prioritized wildfire oversight, legislation, including hearings on build back better, natural disasters, climate change, the civilian climate court, public land management and workforce, and yes, forest management as well. for example, the joint chief landscape restoration act which i was proud to introduce alongside senator bennett was included in funded in the bipartisan infrastructure law. as with the national cohesive wild land wildfire management strategy, and more recently the force services ambitious ten-year wildfire plan. the goal is to promote more fire adapted landscapes and
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reduce the vulnerability of at risk communities. the bipartisan infrastructure law combines investments in hazardous fuels, prescribed fire, and fuel breaks alongside programs to reform the wildfire workforce and increase firefight of hay. increase community five fire defenses and support more science based monitoring and ecosystem restoration. the law also funded wildfire response and preventing workshops, burn area recovery, and significantly increased funding available through the reforestation trust fund. beyond federal lands, the b i l the infrastructure law also includes critical investments enable to an all-lands landscape approach to firefighter preparedness. this multi layered approach allows land agencies a generation opportunity to demonstrate a paradigm shift away from commercial management and emergency suppression
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towards fire adaptation of ecosystem services. in that regard, some of the primary implantation questions for the national resource committee include evaluating the adequacy of these investments in the context of these annual corporations. measuring success, beyond feet of acres created, and assessing if additional investments, workforce, policy changes may be necessary. while i recognize that there is genuine bipartisan interest in these issues, i would be remiss if i didn't say it is unfortunate that my friends on the other side of the aisle voted against this legislation that i have described, and the myriad benefits i think you would have for forest management. but, i hope, but they will join us in the efforts that are well underway to build on the success that we have achieved as a result of that bipartisan infrastructure law, including expanding compensation for wild
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fire firefighter pay. i expect we can expect some clarity on that wild land firefighter classification issue, i have touched on this in prior hearings, in may, from the administration. i hope that we can continue to work together on the tim's act, mileage a sleigh shun with the republican representative left cheney which establishes a federal minimum wage for firefighters, providing benefits needed to support the wild lands firefighter workforce. finally, i would like to thank our witnesses from the administration for joining us in person today. i know that there is a lot moving on with the fiscal 2023 budget. implementation of the omnibus, bipartisan infrastructure law. no shortage of pressing issues for you to grapple with. we very much appreciate you taking the time to visit with us today. as you know these investments are of utmost importance both committees on either side of the aisle. we both have a vested interest in transparent, effective, and efficient implementation of the law. with that, i look forward to
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your testimony. i will yield back the remainder of my time and recognize ranking member borrell for five minutes. >> thank you, mister speaker. sorry, i just gave you a raise. >> thank, you i appreciate the promotion. >> thank, you mister chairman. today we need to discuss the implementation of the wildfire ecosystem restoration provisions, contained in the bipartisan infrastructure law. this marks the very first time that our committee will have a chance to meaningfully weigh in on this effort. as the house was completely shut out of the regular order process in crafting the so-called bipartisan law. so, when we welcome the opportunity to provide oversight, this hearing is, at best, a half a year late. apparently, the apparent lack of anger from my friends on the other side of the aisle who were barred from giving meaningful input on it infrastructure package is baffling.
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the items we are discussing today are of profound importance for our nation as a whole, and especially our western states that have experienced historical devastation from our seemingly endless catastrophic wildfire crisis. my home state of new mexico has had over 2700 fires burned over half 1 million acres over the last five years. in the last two years, we've had record-breaking wildfire seasons that have burned a collective 17 million acres nationwide. our western communities have grown painfully accustomed to deadly and destructive blazes, wreaking havoc year after year. the wildfire and ecosystem restoration provisions that we are going to discuss today do little more than light money on fire, by throwing millions of dollars at the wildfire crisis without pairing it with meaningful regulatory reform to ensure our lands are actually managed properly. decades of consistent
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mismanagement have shown that it is not a lack of funding that has prevented us from properly tackling our wildfire crisis, but rather onerous regulations and endless litigation from activist environmentalist groups. for instance, while the forest system's overall budget has more than doubled since 2014, the amount of hazardous fuel treatments has remained frustratingly stagnant. only addressing roughly 2% of their needs annually. i'm concerned that the recently announced ten-year strategy to combat the wildfire crisis will fall short. because, not only are the tools not in place to implement the strategy, but the forest service is also relying on only five years of funding to execute a ten-year plan. this is especially concerning, considering yesterday's release of the department of interiors wildfire strategy, which is only five years. i've given the chance, committee republicans would have offered real improvements
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to the infrastructure package, to truly address the foundational obstacles that have continuously bogged down responsible management of our fire prone forests. this includes the resilient forest act, which i am proudly cosponsoring. i also introduced a wildfire prevention and drought mitigation act, which was included in that package. that would protect drought affected for his communities from catastrophic wildfire by streamlining the environmental review process for active force management projects. aimed at protecting watersheds, wildlife habitat, snow pack and improving water quality. there is elliott federal forest act also included streamlining based on fireshed ed's, which the new ten-year strategy is based on. the substantive pieces of legislation would unquestionably lead to better management of our forest and better recovery from the devastation left in the wake of past wildfires. i do look forward to hearing
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from the administration today, and i want to thank the witnesses for being here. and, while the so-called bipartisan infrastructure bill undeniably fall short on truly unleashing the kind of wildfire treatments and restoration work necessary to respond to this historic crisis, it is vital that we do everything we can to ensure that the increased funding is being used as widely as possible. ultimately, we must rise to the unprecedented threat facing our western lands and any notion that the provisions contained in the infrastructure law fully address the enormity of these dangers must be rejected. as we speak, over 100 million acres of our federal lands remain at high risk for wildfire, and over a billion acres are at risk nationwide. even if the forest service can fully achieve the increased targets they have set, which is a big if, it would still not fully tackle the backlog of treatments needed on our federal lands. we simply must do better. with that, i yield back the
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balance of my time. >> gentleman yields back, the chair now recognizes the ranking member of the full committee, mr. westerman for five minutes. i suspect we're going to hear about trillion trees, but i'm not sure. we'll see. >> no trillion trees today, thank you, mister chairman. we need to talk about what we're going to do with the trees that we've got before we talk about planting more of them. we're doing a miserable job with the trees that we've got. mister chairman, i want to first express my gratitude that today's hearing is a hybrid format. gives us a chance to meet in person to discuss a very important wildfire crisis. as you, know committee republicans have committee consistently oppose the decision to conduct committee business virtually. and we -- welcome this return, it's great to see you. mister chairman, you rightly said that we need to take wildfire mitigation and
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resiliency seriously. i've been saying that since i first came to congress. unfortunately, i don't think we've taken it seriously yet. hopefully we can keep working on that and someday we will take it seriously, and we'll see the results of it. i do want to echo representative herrell concerns that the so-called bipartisan infrastructure law reflects yet another example of congress showing throwing money at a problem. trying to put a band-aid on the symptoms instead of actually getting to the root problem of the problem. and blocking the scientifically supported forest management that is so desperately needed. with this, with the wildfire ecosystem restoration projects in this infrastructure package, it sadly just the latest installment and increased funds to a system that's clearly broken. just four years ago, congress deliver the fire funding fakes which gave the for service and
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deal i 2.5 billion dollars of new budget authority. we are promised that this was the primary obstacle to increasing the pace and scale of forest management, yet hazardous fuel treatments have remained stagnant. like representative herrell mentioned, the forest service budget has more than doubled in ten years, and yet that is still not enough. maybe we should look at changing the name of the forest service to the fire service. even the forest testimony today called the 5.5 billion dollars provided a mere down payment on the actual funding that is needed. if we were serious about wildfire mitigation and resiliency, and if the bill was an attempt to fix that you would think we'd have had at least one hearing in the house about the so-called bipartisan infrastructure bill. the largest infrastructure spending in the history of the world, and not only did it not go through this committee, it didn't go through the
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transportation and infrastructure committee. the truth is, even as the budgets have continued to climb -- agencies, we are not seeing the paradigm shift that we all know needs to happen if we are ever going to truly tackle this historic crisis. the primary culprits bogging down responsible management and recovery of our overgrown, fire prone forest have been and remained onerous regulatory burdens and the continued weaponization of our courts by activist environmental groups that litigate even the smallest management projects. i've said many times before, and i'll keep saying it over and over, that the forest and nature could care less what we say in this room. they could care less how much money the federal government sends to an agency. they just keep growing and the fires keep burning and, as long as we're talking and throwing money at it and addressing the root problem, that's what they're going to do. we are to the point that we've been for quite some time, but we need a lot less time or a
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little less talk and a lot more action. that's the only thing that's going to fix this wildfire crisis. representative herrell is correct and talking about the bills that we've introduced on the republican side. the resilient federal forest act and other bills that look at the real problems that our forest land managers face. with all this money, i'm waiting to see some action. it's not going to happen with the environmentalists that come in and stop the projects. until they quit suing, until we quit giving them the ability to hold of the management, there is no amount of money and no number of staff that are going to be able to fix the problems with our forests. the people want to truly understand how bad are catastrophic wildfire crisis has gotten, look no further than our giant sequoias. over a 15 month period from
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2020 to 2021, we lost nearly one fifth of the world's giant sequoias. let me say that again. these iconic trees, that are thousands of years old, only grow in about 30,000 acres in california. and we lost 20% of them in a short period of time. these trees are the most fire resilient species, probably, on the planet. their bark is two feet thick at the base. they used to get 31 fires per century, but we started putting the fires out and they were only getting three fires on the 20th century. now, the fires get in the crowns and wipe them out. that is unacceptable. if we don't act, we're going to lose all of our giant sequoias. now, they'll go back, we'll have spindly giant sequoia seedlings growing out there. but these iconic trees, we've got to do something about that. i want to thank the witnesses
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for being here today, appreciate your patience and letting me go over a little bit. and i yield back. >> ranking member yields back. the chair now recognizes the distinguished chairman of the full committee, mr. ferebee for a few minutes. >> thank you chairman and ranking member for having me on the subcommittee today. i appreciate the biden administration witnesses joining us. as you work to implement the priorities of the bipartisan infrastructure law, that is an important and historic investment. not only in the nation's infrastructure but in the natural world. and the systems that are most impacted by climate change. that is why it is i decided to vote for. like any member that voted for it, i didn't like everything in it. wasn't crazy about the process.
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some of my colleagues have legitimate concerns about passing it while so much was still up in the air and off the table. but, at the end of the day, i voted to support it. and i did so because it was a tremendous benefit to my constituents. with that, and acknowledgment that mueller has to be done, we know that. that's why this committee has been considerable time and effort on a legislative and oversight agenda that may be, just maybe, will be enough to have begun to address our climate jobs, justice and public lands needs. that is why i also voted for the bipartisan infrastructure law when i had a chance. unfortunately, not a single republican on this committee can say the same. except, of course, for the late dean of the house from alaska,
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representative don young. who, in all his wisdom, recognize that it was an important historic vote and that it would benefit directly his people. in alaska. i expect we'll hear the usual complaints that the bedrock environmental laws or endangered species protections are the real problem. or outside environmental extremists who are clogging up the court day after day and not allowing anything to be done. but we'll also know what is really deeply needed, federal leadership and support of long term investments. working with states and other partners as fruitful as possible and to meaningfully address climate change, wildfires and biodiversity. that's why this bipartisan infrastructure law does, that's what's the protecting americas
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wilderness activists. that's what we'll continue to do, by any means that are available to us to promote that. without continued action on climate, change communities that rely on forests and public lands for their clean water, recreation, wildlife habitat now, will continue to be at risk from climate impacts like drought in my state and wildfires in my state. the record of the natural resource committee, i think, speaks for itself. the hearing today is about making sure the department of interior and the u.s. force service are transparent, accountable and guided by science in implementing what needs to be the historic down payment and our attempts to address climate change, wildfire, restoration, reforestation and the very critical work workforce needs.
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again, mister chair, ranking member, thank you and the witnesses. and i look forward to the testimony, i yield back. thank you, mister chairman. the chair yields back. now i would like to turn to our witness panel. let me remind the witnesses that our committee rules they must win at their own statements to five minutes. their entire statement will appear in the hearing record. when you begin the timer will begin. the lights in front of you will turn yellow when there is one minute left, and then read when the time has expired. for any members of witnesses joining remotely it will turn orange when you have one minute remaining. i recommended you pin the timer so remains visible. after testimony is complete, please remember to mute yourself on the microphone in front of you. we will also allow the entire panel to testify before we proceed with questions. the chair will now recognize our first witness, mr. jeff rupert, director of wild land fire in the u.s. department of the interior.
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mr. robert, you are recognized for five minutes. chairman neguse, members of the subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to provide testimony on the department of the interiors investment in wildfire management, ecosystem restoration, and resilient communities. the investments made in the bipartisan infrastructure law provide an unprecedented opportunity to reduce the impact of wildfire on ecosystems and communities as well as modernizing our wildfire workforce. we appreciate the subcommittees content -- we look forward to continuing working together. climate change continues to drive the devastating intersection of extreme heat, drought, and while and fire danger across the united states. creating wildfires that move with the speed and intensity previously unseat. climate change created and continuous fire year for our nation. american communities continue to bear the brunt of the resulting cycle of intensifying
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droughts, wildfires, and poor air quality. funding provided by the bipartisan infrastructure law allows communities to mitigate the impacts of these -- current drought conditions and the drought outlook for the united states is very concerning. the new climate prediction center seasonal drought outlook shows continued drought across nearly all of the west. even in areas that have seen above normal rainfall this past winter, we may expect them to experience increased spurring vegetation grows and then fast-moving wildfires doing it dry hot summer the united states has over 1 million portable acres that are at some level of risk of wildfires. more than 250 million acres of those acres are very high wildfire potential. 7.1 million of those high very high wildfire acres are administered by the interior. but part of --
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allows our department to dramatically increase our efforts to reduce wildfire risk, improve community resiliency in support postfire recovery in these areas. the initial investment in the ecosystem amplifies the support, with efforts to support ecological health, surprised -- millions of health for national reeducation efforts. including a seed strategy. today i am happy to announce that yesterday interior now just five-year monitoring and maintenance treatment plan, as required by the bipartisan infrastructure law. the plan provides a roadmap for increasing the pace and scale of fuels management, rehabilitation, in management of lands damage why wildfires with a focus on fire prone interior and tribal lands. it directly aligns with the wildfire crisis strategy and identifies needed movements in science, technology, and tools which will empower our
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stakeholders to work collaboratively. including a multi jurisdictional approach to reducing wildfire risk over broad landscapes. the bipartisan infrastructure law also finds the department accelerating plans initiated in 2021 to transform the firefighting workforce. recent challenging seasons, fire seasons, have focused attention on the increasing threat to the wildfire people, communities, and the natural environment. yesterday's fire season is today's fire year. shifting the firework for us to a more permanent full-time appointment supports career growth and increases retention of more knowledgeable firefighters. in turn this will have a substantial long term effect on a more robust sound decision-making for the safety of firefighters and the public. the department maintains a strong relationship with states, tribal nations, other federal agencies, local governments and
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stakeholders. we remain committed to work in partnership to address wild land fire issues and manage firefighter risk. our work with elected officials, tribes, and organizations such as a western governors association, national so ca shun of counties, are key to implementing sound principles to wildfire management before, after, and during wildfires. -- establishment of the wild and fire administration commission, announced in december of 2021. it will play a key role in recommending federal policy, strategies, to morph actively prevent, mitigate, suppress, and manage wildfires. including the rehabilitation of burned areas. the committee is in the process of reviewing applications for membership those with a broad knowledge base of how wildfires affect our nation. thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today to
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discuss these management of the -- this concludes my statement, i am happy to answer any questions. >> thank you mr. rupert. the chair now recognizes miss jaelith hall-rivera, deputy chief of state and private force of the united states wildfire service. miss hall rivera, you have five minutes. >> thank you so much. members of the subcommittee thank you for the invitation to close to four before you today. i deeply appreciate congresses passage of the bipartisan infrastructure law, or. bill which provides a significant down payment on the work to for service intends to accomplish over the tenure strategy of confronting the wildfire crisis. the agency recognizes that the american people depend on the nation's forest and grassland for their social, economic, and personal well-being. all benefits of the nations force provide are at risk. a quarter of the continuous
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united states is currently at high to moderate wildfire conditions. over the last two decades we have witnessed what has become a now familiar pattern. bigger and more destructive wildfires that are extremely challenging and costly to suppress. we have experience catastrophic fire seasons over the last two years alone. devastating industry and resources in their wake. they threaten human health, water quality, homes, jobs, local economies, communities, and infrastructure. they also threatened key ecological values including cabin storage, species habitat, soil stability, and watershed function. in some cases even resulting in long term deforestation. we are experiencing, and are prepared for, another long and arduous fire year in 2022. in fact, as we know there are already significant fire activity occurring in the south. nationally we went to level two in preparedness last week. much of the country remains in drought. the expanding wild land urban
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interface indicates we will face a very disturbing fire year. our priority, first and foremost, is protect the health, safety, and while being at the five minute meant community and the public that we serve. the bill supports the forestry effort to confront these crisis by investing in had the fuel reduction, administration across boundaries, technological advancement, and firefighter compensation. we are currently working on sending this money out of the field to begin work on a high party landscape to reduce wire -- the over a billion dollars in funding targeted towards house is fuel reduction in section 803 of the bill will allow us to begin implementing the tenure wildfire crisis strategy. this funding also helps us to build new markets, but providing financial assistance to communities by power -- from the $4 million that was authorized under section 40804 of the law. the community wildfire grant
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program will provide financial assistance providing billions of dollars under section 4080 have to focus on at risk communities to help them develop wildfire community plans and to help them implement those plans throughout their communities. hiring and retaining firefighters, and increasingly long complex firefighting years is a increasingly difficult challenge that we all take seriously. section three d of the bill calls for complications of a new and unique wild land firefighters series, provides funding for short term salary increases. provides the ability for us, the apartment of the interior to convert 1000 seasonal firefighters to permanent fire managers. it allows the ability to increase investment in programs of mental health, resiliency, and well-being. the usda in collaboration of the partners in the interior is working to implement these classification pays and staffing commercial provisions. the infrastructure law was a
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significant step in the right direction in terms of wild land firefighter computation. once again, i thank you for your work on that. we need to continue to work together to find a permanent solution to increasing our wild land firefighters pay and making other system changes that ensure we can continue to support our firefighters and ensure that this is a career that others will pursue in the future. >> the infrastructure bill also made investments and wildfire protection in sensors, cameras, and satellite platform. the forestry service has strong partnership with noaa, nasa, and department of defense to continue using the best remote technology to detect firefighters on the landscape. once again, i thank you for your investments and your interest in wildfire management, ecosystem restoration, and resilient communities. thank you for the opportunity to be here today. i look forward to answering your questions. >> thank you miss hall rivera. the chair now recognizes mr.
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brian ferebee, chief executive of inter gun governmental regulations at the forestry service. mr. vero beach, you have five minutes. >> thank you, members of the subcommittee thank you for the information -- testifying in front of you today. the bipartisan infrastructure law, our bill, is a critical first up and helping the forest service to confronting the juan fire crisis. as outlined by deputy chief hall rivera, the benefits that the american -- are at risk from wildfire. unless we do something about the wildfire crisis, it will only get worse. to protect communities and natural resources, we need to restore health in our firefighting. it will take a paragraph i'm schiff to confront the wildfire confronting the nation. our funds and capacity to scatter treatment randomly across the landscape to the best of our limited ability,
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the new paradigm is to step up the pace and scale of our treatment to match the actual scale of the wildfire crisis across the landscape, while using seeing science as an underpinning to assist where we treat. we work with scientists, tribes and state governments, and partner organizations in preparing a ten-year strategy to confront the wildfire crisis -- while we sustain current treatment levels in the south and midwest and northeast, we plan to dramatically increase fuels and fourth helps treatment by up to four times between the levels in the west. wild fires lead to homes, -- we are going to leave this reported program and take you live to capitol hill where this is live coverage, on c-span 3.

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