Testimony

 

Statement of Dick Smith

Supervisor, Boise National Forest

USDA Forest Service

United States Senate Committee on Agriculture

Subcommittee on Forestry/Rural Development

March 16, 2004

Cascade, Idaho

            Thank you, Senator Crapo for the opportunity to present this statement on behalf of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service.  At the outset, I want to let you know that actions taking place back in Washington, D.C. are of great interest to us here in the Intermountain West.  The President’s Healthy Forests Initiative (HFI) and the Healthy Forests Restoration Act of 2003 (HFRA) will help us to improve the health and vitality of the National Forests and may also provide economic benefits to many rural communities.  We know that in your role as Subcommittee Chairman, you played a major role in crafting many of the provisions that are part of HFRA and we thank you and your staff for your efforts.

            Here in Idaho, the Forest Service manages more than 20 million acres of National Forest for a broad array of multiple uses.

            For the past year, Chief Dale Bosworth has identified four threats that confront the National Forests and Grasslands of America: fire and fuel build-up; invasive species; the loss of open spaces; and unmanaged outdoor recreation.  The Healthy Forests Restoration Act provides the tools for the Forest Service to address the problems where our forests have become overgrown and unhealthy and to address the threat of fire and fuel build-up in order to reduce the risk of private property losses to wild fire in the Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI).

            It will take active management and lots of hard work to treat lands that currently need help.  Mechanical treatment and prescribed burning are the two primary tools we have at our disposal.  In addition, the appropriate use of wildland fire use can lead to significant reductions of hazardous fuels and the risks they pose to life and improved property.

            Prescribed burning is a valuable tool but cannot be used in all situations.  Factors such as high fuel loadings, air quality restrictions, weather, and risk of fire near communities can limit its use.  Mechanical treatment, such as thinning crowded stands, is also a valuable tool.  However, like prescribed burning, this tool has limitations, including high costs and the need to develop uses for much of the material removed from the land.  In order to fully implement this tool we need to overcome not only the higher costs associated with its use compared to prescribed burns or wildland fire use but also the dilemma of how to utilize and/or dispose of significant quantities of trees that are too small to be considered merchantable saw timber.  In addition to the existing authorities already available to the Forest Service, HFRA fortunately also addresses the economic and community development implications and challenges of handling small diameter trees.  

Mr. Chairman, as you know, the focus of the Administration’s efforts in implementing HFRA has been, to this point, on Title I of the legislation.  Plans are being developed for other authorities. 

            Importantly, the resources addressed by this legislation may provide a foundation for rural community development opportunities.  Most important is a sustainable reliable supply of forest by-products.  If we can make progress to add value to and find markets for this small diameter material, we can off-set the high cost of mechanical treatments, dispose of small diameter material and assist communities that are dependent on natural resources to become sustainable.

Section 201 of HFRA amends the Biomass Research and Development Act of 2000 to provide research focus on overcoming barriers to the use of small diameter biomass.   Forest Service Research and Development has a comprehensive research program in the major areas of forest biomass assessment, management, harvesting, utilization, processing, and marketing. 

The Forest Service’s utilization research efforts are focused at its Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, Wisconsin, supported by a network of units across the United States.  The Forest Products Lab, a world leader in developing new technology and uses for wood products, is actively exploring new opportunities to utilize small diameter material.  These research programs are exploring new opportunities for utilizing small diameter material and technologies to help business operators become more efficient and friendly to the environment.

A local example of Forest Service research occurred with the demonstration on the Idaho City Ranger District in July 2003 of technology currently used in Scandinavia to recover biomass for energy production.  A “slash bundler,” was brought to Idaho City through a partnership of the Forest Service, John Deere/Timberjack, and the Southwest Idaho Resource Advisory Committee.  The slash bundler acts like a giant trash compactor for the tree limbs and tops typically piled and burned during logging and fuels reduction. The bundler moves through the forest, picks up this “slash,” compresses it and rolls it into “logs” bound with twine, which can be fed into a chipper to make wood chips for heat or energy generation.

Section 202 of HFRA, Rural Revitalization through Forestry, will help communities and businesses create economic opportunity through the sustainable use of the nation’s forest resources.  While the key to this will be the actions of the private sector, the likelihood of success can be increased through the participation of State Foresters; Forest Service Technology Marketing specialists, such as at the Forest Products Lab; and federal and state economic development assistance agencies in collective efforts with local non-profit and for-profit businesses to build community-based forest enterprises. 

We have experienced initial work in this area on the Boise National Forest.  You will hear today from Mike Stewart with the Cascade Forest Resource Center, a business incubator that city officials hope will develop a cluster of small businesses centered on the use of biomass and small-diameter trees. 

            Through the Cascade Forest Resource Center we have been able to support in part the utilization of small diameter wood.  The Boise National Forest has purchased approximately $50,000 of flowcheck erosion control divides for wildfire restoration and watershed work.  Thanks to the Southwest Idaho Resource Advisory Committee and the Cascade Forest Resource Center, additional supplies were purchased to supplement erosion control work on the South Fork Salmon River and for a mine land reclamation demonstration project near Stibnite.  We have utilized the product locally.

Another promising development for the use of biomass is the Fuels for Schools Program.  The Fuels for Schools Program is a cooperative effort involving the Forest Products Lab, Forest Service State & Private Forestry, state foresters, and local communities.  The aim of the Fuels for Schools Program is to promote and encourage the use of wood biomass as a renewable, natural resource to provide a clean, readily available energy source suitable for use in heating systems in public and private buildings. Removing hazardous fuels from our forests by development of viable commercial uses of this small diameter material is a necessary component to implement HFRA.  Using wood biomass as a renewable energy source for heating schools and/or other public buildings makes good sense.  The first Fuels for Schools project is in operation in Darby, Montana. 

Section 203 of HFRA authorizes grants to persons who own or operate a facility that uses biomass as a raw material for specific processes and products.  The Forest Service now has grant authority for businesses, units of state and local government, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and other entities with legal status.  This Title expands authority to “persons” or “individuals” owning or operating facilities that use biomass as a raw material in producing energy, sensible heat, transportation fuels, and biobased products.  Grants are limited to costs related to the purchase of biomass. 

Conclusion

            In closing let me say that we are working hard to address threats to the health of our forests and rangelands.  The President’s HFI and Congressional passage of the HFRA have provided us with new and valuable tools to accomplish this work. 

In Idaho we are making good progress on developing community-based County Hazard Mitigation Plans across the entire state that will identify activities and treatment needs for reducing wild land fire threats to homes and communities across all ownerships.  The Idaho State Fire Plan Working Group, under the direction of the Idaho Department of Lands, is bringing all the federal, state, and local fire management agencies together to help prioritize and align fuel treatments and fire suppression activities throughout the State.

While there is much that still needs to be done, we are working with Governor Kempthorne’s Idaho Rural Partnership to find additional solutions that will benefit rural Idaho.  We feel that the treatment and use of this thinned material presents both a management challenge and a potential economic opportunity for rural America.

This concludes my prepared remarks.  I will be happy to answer any questions you may have.