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tv   Key Capitol Hill Hearings  CSPAN  March 9, 2016 2:00am-4:01am EST

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65 employees. for our rural and timber communities, these are very serious issues. i notice there was not a lot of detail in the proposal to reauthorize the program. i look forward to working with you and the chair woman and members of the committee, including senator widen, over the coming months to extend this crucial program. i want to thank you, chief tidwell, for last week's announcement concerning recreational permits. i completely agree that we need to be finding ways to streamline the forest service process in order to make it easier for more young people to get outdoors. i know secretary jewel announced a similar proposal across all interior lands programs. it was right here in this room that last year's budget when you and i talked about the problems with the ymca of greater seattle and the forest service and i'm delighted to hear you and second jewel are embarking on what i think is a significant process
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to make it easier for young people like the ymca to move through the current permit process and open the doors to hundreds of young people and organizations. so despite the good points, there are gaps in the budget request. we should work to address these so we can do more to work together on recreational access, small businesses in my state that rely on recreation in our economy are confused about some of the priorities in the budget. for example, the forest service is proposing to cut road maintenance and is exploring ways to close some of the major recreational routes in my state. this is -- we're going to hear loudly from people on this. i hope we can ask a question and get some details on that. in the same budget the agency is proposing significant increases in new roads. so people are trying to understand the new roads versus maintenance. without much of an explanation, we want to understand how we make sure that these priorities are met on both sides. i want to take a point of personal privilege if i could
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and conclude by recognizing the passing of my cousin, sheila cantwell. she was like many of the forest service employees dedicated to her career. she served 23 years in the forest service. like many other people in the forest service, they do their work, they love their job. so i want to thank all the people of the forest service for their hard work and dedication. i turn that back to you, senator murkowski. >> thank you, senator cantwell. know that we, too, share the support for the good people who work for us and recognize your family member as well. chief tidwell, welcome, to the committee. thank you for being here. we look forward to your testimony. i don't know, mr. dixon, if you will also be presenting comments this morning. if you are here in a supporting role, which we appreciate, as
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the director of strategic planning for budget and accountable there at the u.s. forest service. thank you for being here as well. with that, chief, if you would like to proceed. >> madam chair, members of the committee, i do appreciate the chance to be up here to be able to discuss our 2017 budget request. our request for '17 is similar to '16. which requires us to make some tough decisions about with basically a flat budget. this request will allow us to continue to increase our pace and scale to restore the nation's forests and grass lands by treating another 2.9 million acres to restore forest health, forest resiliency and improve watershed conditions. it also allows us to decommission 2,000 miles of unneeded roads, restore over 3,400 miles of streams and improve the overall function on 22 different watersheds. and with one of the key outputs from this work, 3.2 billion
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board feet of timber. it remains our cflr projects and allows us to work with the states to expand getting work done through the farm bill authorities and with the good neighbor authority. it also allows us to continue to reduce the threat to firefighters in communities by treating 1.6 million acres of the highest priority areas of the wild land urban interface to reduce hazardous fuels but another 400,000 acres that are outside of that. through our state and private programs, we're focus on using a landscape scale restoration approach that allows our state forristers to be able to look at larger landscapes and accomplish multiple objectives on that by having a combination of funds. with our research and development, we're going to continue do our work to be able to understand what we need to do to be able to restore forests, to address the invasives and insect and disease outbreak and
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continue our work to be able to find ways to expand current markets and develop new markets for wood to be able to make use of the biomass that just has to be removed from our landscapes for us to be able to restore a healthy forest. we provide for fire suppression to deal with fires and continue to suppress fires where we need to and be able to manage fires in the back country. we will have over 21 -- we will have 21 large air tankers, 300-plus helicopters, over 1,000 engines and our hot shot crews. the thing i need to stress -- i appreciate the support from this committee on finding a solution to paying for the cost of fire suppression. i appreciate the additional money that was provided in fy-16 into the flame account. but i think we all have seen what happens with the flame account. where that will help us this one year, it is not a solution.
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we just have to find a way to be able to permanently stop the transfer, the disruption of our work every fall. we need to find an i'll tur naive to the ten-year average. that just no longer is working. it's not a viable budget approach. we need to i think come to agreement, understanding that there is 1% or 2% of the fires that occur every year that really are a natural disaster. it should be funded as a natural disaster. so we are anxious to be able to work with this committee and work with the house to be able to find a solution so that once and for all we can actually stop this disruptive practice and allow us to focus on what the public needs, to be able to give the committees the appropriators some discretion so that they don't have to use all up all of their discretion to be able to pay for fires. one key note from fy-15 to fy
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und fy-17, the t fy-1 fy-17, it goes up. what drives the costs? it's homes in the wild land interface. that along with changing conditions, our fire seasons are now -- our research says 68 da s days longer. it's longer than ten years ago. those things are not going to change. we can make a difference by reducing the hazardous fuels. we can reduce the severity of fires. we can make it safer for our firefighters for our communities. it's going to take a combination of fixing the budget and allowing us to be more proactive and get out in front of this. it's one of the best job creators we have to restore our forests. i appreciate the time you have given me this morning. i look forward to your questions. >> thank you, chief. know that senator cantwell and i had hoped that march would be
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the month that we would really be able to focus on spending a lot of time both in and out of committee on wildfire piece. we are pushed back a little bit because of trying to get this energy bill across the finish line. but know that i certainly remain committed to trying to figure this out and more than just on a year by year approach. i want to begin my questions with the tongas and the issue that i raised in my opening statement about this transition to young growth without first completing a stand level inventory of the young growth. last year, forest service provided approximately 4 million from its budget for the transition framework, about 2 million has gone to start work on young groewth inventory
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studies. i understand 4 to 6 million more is likely needed for the studies and additional inventory work. and the interesting thing is, both the timber industry and the environmental groups agree that this work is needed to basically prove this out. so can you give me information this morning in terms of how much funding you are proposing to spend to support young growth transition, where the money is coming from? because we don't see it listed in the budget proposal despite this being a mandated initiative. >> madam chair, the budget fu funding we will be spending to continue the stand level inventory is part of the funding that we have allocated to the region. >> do you take it from other other parts within forest service budget allocated for alaska? >> it's part of the funding that we receive from our forest products to be able to do forest
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stand inventory. so that's part of the budget that region ten is receiving to be able do that work. with an agreement with the state of alaska working with the state, to be able to do that inventory so that we are developing information for project implementation. stand level inventory is not information that's needed to be able to man the forest plan. for us to move forward with the design -- to design projects into the future -- this transition is going to occur in the out years. it's not occurring today. we are moving forward with that. so we're going to continue to not only do the stand level inventory, but we're also doing a quality wood study from our research and development folks so we have a better understanding about where is the potential markets for the future for young growth wood. that type of wood. in addition to that, we're continuing to do our study about how to better understand how to
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thin out the forests. we have been doing a lot of commercial thinning over the years in the second growth stands. we have had a study that's been going on for ten years. we want to continue to do that so we better understand how to manage these stands as we move forward. >> let me ask then -- because i am concerned that if you haven't specifically allocated within the budget funding for these inventory studies, you are taking it out of the regions' accounts, again, where we see things short changed. we had a conversation just last year about how the recreation funding within alaska, within our region, had effectively been cut back dramatically when you put it side by side to what was going on within the rest of the country. we have asked that that be rectified. that's another question, because i can't tell it has been. again, it speaks to the issue,
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if you haven't allocated more for this inventory and you have analysis -- at least three independent analysis that say that the current young growth stands are too small, they are too few to support a local manufacturing industry, how can you make a plausible determination that we can do this transition? i'm looking at this recognizing how long it takes to do this study. the cost associated with it. not seeing it specifically in your budget. so the question this morning is whether or not the forest service will consider postponing this transition until we have a complete young growth inventory and a financial analysis that are completed in order to determine whether or not a transition is even feasible. >> senator, it's essential that we move forward and complete the amendment to the forest plan. >> don't we have to have the study and the money? >> not for a forest plan amendment, no.
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it has been two -- >> you have an amendment that isn't based on a strong, sound analysis and the science aafter it attached to it. >> two decades of controversy and litigation around old growth harvest. that's gotten us nowhere. >> i understand that. you still have to know that it is possible to get to a second growth. because we can't make those trees grow any faster. that's our problem. >> part of it is also to development new markets for the second growth. we're working together with sea alaska. >> new markets are good. but you have to have trees that are mature enough to harvest. i'm going to try to be more respectful of everybody's five minutes. last hearing, i let -- i was very generous with folks. i'm going to try to keep to five minutes so we can get to everyone's questions. i'm going to turn to senator cantwell because i will have another opportunity. >> thank you. chief, you mentioned a couple of things when you were talking about this getting at the front
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end of the problem and the costs. you are saying homes, in the urban interface and changing of conditions. i'm assuming you are talking about weather. >> yes. >> do you think that an increase in preparedness strategy, prevention, prescribed burns, fuel reduction, would yield dividends in this process? do you think that ten year stewardship contracts have been successful? do we need to look at if we looked at scoring and cancellation ceilings, looked at making them more predictable than they are? you mentioned product value. what do you think of cross laminated as something in that mix of solutions? >> senator, the work we have been doing over the years is making a difference. we have dozens to probably hundreds of examples now where we have thinned out our forests and it reduced the threat, made it easier to suppress the fires, safer for our firefighters. that combination of doing a mechanical thinning, timber
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harvests and using prescribed burns is making a difference to reduce the overall threat. in addition to the stewardship contracts, they have proven to be a very, very effective tool not only to build more trust, more support for the work, but to provide that certainty, especially the longer term seven to ten-year contracts, it provides a certainty for operators to make the investment. they can get loans. they know the work is there. it's making a difference. do we need to look to find ways to make that easier for not only the operator but for the agency? yes. i'm interested in being able to do that. our biggest challenge right now is to be able to accelerate the work, expand the work in a way. the problem that i have -- i need to go back to the chair -- madam chair's comment. i would love to be up here asking for more money. i would like to have more money. i can make a strong case to be asking for an increase in our
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forest products budget. a strong case for our recreation. but once again, any increase in the forest service in the budget, it goes into the cost of fire suppression. and that is a burden we just can no longer bear. >> if i can ask about that. i think what have i i have is 8 the treatments were effective at stopping wildfires that burned in fy-15. what i would like is to get something from the forest service as an analysis of what you think a robust program on preparedness and fuel reduction would look like in reducing what are just, again, guesty mats, because we don't know. we're not weather predictors of everything that will happen. i think with the carlton to have 100,000 acres burn up in an afternoon, basically, because of high winds, we never know when something like that is going to happen. with 88%
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reductions, why can't we look at what an aggressive program would be and come up with estimates on how if we are predicts between 2 and $4 billion cost a year to the federal government for suppression, what percentage reduction might we see in that cost? again, i know that there's a little bit of guess work here, because you don't know. but it seems to me that we need to get a better understanding of this. do you think that more than ten-year contracts are needed? >> yes. i think it's one of the best products we have. the more we can get in place, the better off we're all going to be. it's one of the things we would like to continue to expand. we're doing about 30% of our work now through stewardship contracting. i would definitely like to see more of these long-term contracts. >> did you say about clt? did you comment on that? >> on clt? >> yes.
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>> it's another one of the efforts that we have from our forest products lab to develop new markets. currently, we have four plants in the united states that are using clt. one of those plants is having to import their material. this is a great opportunity for us to be able to expand, to be able to use the small diameter material to be able to use it like for tall buildings is one of the things we're trying to encourage engineers and architects to use wood in tall buildings. it's the clt is what allows us to be able to build the tall buildings. we're moving forward with a couple of examples of those to be able to show people that wood is a good tall building material. >> thank you. >> senator brasso. >> thank you. good to see you again. i have serious concerns about the way the forest service is prioritizing its management objectives. the budget makes it clear the forest service values expansion
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of programs more than maintenance and management of current assets. increasing new road, land acquisition, funding for maintenance and timber products remains level or actually goes down a bit. it seems forest service should re-evaluate its priorities. it would lower future maintenance backlog and help improve watershed health and help decrease the severity of the catastrophic wildfires we're concerned about. i want you to explain how you justify adding this administrative staff, new land, new roads when the forest service has about a $5 billion maintenance backlog of projects and it's unable at this point to address these. >> with our request for lwcf funding, which is i think it's very close to what we have received for the last few years,
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once again, it's targeted on acquiring the key properties. a lot of of it is to provide access to the public. once again, the cases that i have personally dealt with, every time we have acquired the lands, it reduces our administrative costs. it allows us to do larger projects. we don't have to worry about boundary management. it's an investment. it's something that the public is very, very interested in us acquiring these key parcels. with our roads budget, the request is less than what we received last year. i wish we could ask for more. when we have to look at finding the additional funding in a constrained budget to put it into fire suppression, something has to give. i tell you, they are very difficult choices that we have to make. so that's one of the few areas that actually went down in our request between '16 and '17. you also see that we're asking for additional money and the
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cost of fire suppression. that's what we're up against. >> i want to switch. last september, the forest service department of interior announced federal landscape scale conservation plans in western states impacted. the plans are controversial. given the successful conservation work undertaken in wyoming with our special management plans, five months have pass since the announcement. yet to my knowledge, agency personnel on the ground in wyoming still don't have guidance documents about how or when the agency intends to implement the plans. it hasn't stopped the agency from stating that seasonal usage may change. how is it possible the agency staff can notify permittees that policy might change when they haven't yet even received guidance documents? >> senator, what we're starting now is to actually have state-wide meetings to be able
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to meet with folks throughout the state and to be able to talk about how to move forward with this. we have a two to three-year period of time. so we want to focus on, what are the changes that we can make? where can we apply the investments we want to make to improve habitat? at the same time to work with permittees about how they can modify their operations over the next three years to be able to mitigate some of the impacts. the forest service we're going to put over $7 million into habitat improvement projects. then with our fy-17 budget request, we will increase that along with all the money that bureau of land management is spending. our plan here is to be able to work with folks to be able to address these issues. your state has done an excellent job to be able to put the information together. so we're optimistic that give us a few years, we will be able to mitigate the impacts, improve
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habitat. but at the same time, ensure the ongoing uses are still there. >> that's my concern in terms of wyoming the last couple of weekends hears about that asking that you communicate more comple clearly. because you are right, wyoming has done an exceptional job. it is highlighted as a place that has done it right. we don't want to compromise the hard work being done in wyoming and other western states. thank you. >> senator heinrich. >> thank you. chief tidwell, welcome back. i want to start with the collaborative forest landscape restoration program. we have a couple of projects in new mexico have that done some great thinning work. it's a tool in the toolbox that's working for all the things we want to do in our forests. we are seven years into the program. i'm starting to get questions from collaborators about how to continue the progress that we have been able to make in the
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forests. for mills in particular, as you know, three years is just not a lot of time or certainty. so i wanted to ask you, do you support an extension of cflrp or a second round of authorization of projects? how can communities that have successfully implemented these projects make sure that the work continues after the end of the authorized collaborative project? >> senator, we're in our '17 budget request we continue funding for the 23 projects we have ongoing. then also, in our -- for out year, we want to expand that to be able to expand the program both financially but also to be able to add additional projects. we're to that point where you need to think about how to extend this beyond the original ten years. so it's something that will take legislative action to be able to add additional projects, expand the funding that's available but also to be able to extend this.
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i look forward to working with the committee to find ways to do that. >> i look forward to working with you, chief, to make sure we do extend that program. working with my colleagues, as i said. this is a program that is effectively thinning our forests, doing it right. with enormous community support. we need to use those tools that are working. on an issue more geographically specific to new mexico, in western new mexico, a trails partnership has been working for many years to build out a mountain bike and other trail system in the national forest. after several years of delays, we were expecting a final ea on this project but it was delayed until the spring. recreation is one of the growing sectors in this part of the state, particularly on this
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forest. the counties and other partners have committed to working to contribute funding to actually build trails. we just need the forest service to get a final decision in place so that this can move forward. can you commit to me today that we're going to see that final ea next month as was expected? >> senator, it's my understanding we will get it done this year. i will have to get back to you as to just how soon. i'm not sure we will have it done next month. we will get back to you with a date. i'm confident is that we will get it done this year. >> the time line on this has slipped and slipped and slipped. it's an example of where you have counties, you have businesses, you have the local forest all works together on something that has the potential to really build a lot of trust and be an example -- a successful example. so it's quite frustrating when these time lines slip for, you know -- without the facts on
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ground changing. you know, this year is -- it's a little disappointing. because this is not the first time i've heard this time line slip multiple times now. it's certainly us from frustrating for the local community. we will follow up with you on that. i had certainly hoped that this would finally be done next month. i'm aware of no reason it shouldn't be done next month. no new information, no major changes in direction. i look forward to following up with you and getting more specifics. i hope that this can happen a little sooner than that. >> i do, too. >> one last thing. there have been some ongoing efforts to address the permitting issue. that's something i've got a lot of experience with as a former outfitter guide myself. that was covered by our ranking
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member. can you talk a little bit about your efforts there? i think this is incredibly important to streamline this process and make it easier to get our constituents out in the forests whether with an outfitter guide or ymca or non-profit. >> we have been going through our process that we currently use to authorize out fitting guide. to look at how we can do a bet are job to streamline that, make it easier on our out put fitter guides. we are looking at how we can change policies to allow the non-commercial groups to be able to go out without a permit. it's one of the things that we're working on in conjunction with the department of interior to be able to make it a lot easier for the non-commercial groups, the church groups, city groups, the ys, and to be able to facilitate that to encourage more people to get out.
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i'm really excited about the project thpr progress and we will implement that this year. >> very glad to hear that. thank you, madam chair. >> thank you. welcome to, chief tidwell. i have said before that the construction and maintenance of adequate pipeline -- we were talking about pipeline. i'm talking about a different pipeline capacity in the state of west virginia. we have this shale gas boom. we want to maximize the obvious potential there. i want to ask you about the forest service involvement in the process. as you know, the forest service is a coordinating agency. thanks to chairman murkowski, the base includes my provision on streamlining the natural gas permitting which would designate the lead agency to make it hopefully the process move more quickly and more smoothly. currently i don't think the process is moving as it should. i'm hearing there are delays in
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the process and that the forest service is part of the problem. some of the problems are getting permission to survey get on ground, data to find a suitable route, getting the forest service staff to review data and provide feedback in a reasonable amount of time. then to determine if an amendment is needed to the land management and resource plan. these are some of the major areas. my question is, does the forest service have the adequate resources to complete its part of the process in a timely manner? if not, what does the forest service need? >> we have adequate resources. if we had a larger staff, similar to what we had ten years ago, we would be able to be more responsive. we would be able to work a little bit faster. but when it comes to a pipeline, the issues come from the public. the public's concern about the placement, the maintenance of pipelines. they want to be assured that it's going to be constructed in
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a way that doesn't cause unnecessary impacts to resources. it's also constructed in a way that it's safe. so we work at -- with the companies. ideally if the companies would come in and we would have the upfront discussions about where they propose to put that pipeline. so we can share the information that we have about the geology. so that we can quickly eliminate certain areas that are going to be potentially problematic, certain areas that are environmentally sensitive. that's how the process works. we're making good progress. ideally, i wish that we could just at the very start come together and put -- share all that information. that's one of the things that we're trying to do a bet ater j so when we hear a proposal is to sit down and share our information and to be able to find that right route for the pipeline so we can quickly go through the analysis and be able
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to make the decision so that they -- so they can go ahead. >> and i don't disagree with anything that you have said here. i think that you have said quickly three times. i think that's sort of the basis of my question. the timeliness of the decision. it's not disputing that there are problem or sensitive areas that you as foresters know and precisely would enumerate to the companies and the general pub c public. that's not the dispute. it's trying to steam line the process. these are difficult issues in certain areas. that's understandable. so i would just ask you if -- you know, we will follow up with you to see if there's a way to make the process actually move quickly in a time frame that works. i tried to get time lines in there but i couldn't get them all the way into the bill. my second question is as you know two-thirds of the forests is in state and private forests.
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the stewardship program is providing assistance to our state foresters. 90% of the plans are successfully implemented. i guess as a byproduct of the plans, it provides almost 50% of the nation's wood supply. my question is, why is the administration proposing to increase agency fuel management and forest management budgets for federal lands and decreasing the funding in the stewardship program? >> senator, we're not decreasing that funding. we have moved some of the funding that's been in that account into what we call our landscape scale restoration account. which allows the state foresters to be able to use those funds for forest health, for stewardship, urban and community forest st forestry. they can look at larger scale projects and not be limited to just looking at one piece of the
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problem there. we actually -- feedback we are getting when we started this program is that they liked it. they have to compete for it. but the ones that are quick to be able to see how they compete, especially to work with the neighbors, they are able to compete well for these funds and get more work done. our overall funding stayed the same. we are proposing to add additional funding into the l d landscape scale restoration. >> it's competitively build? there's no minimum amountforest? >> they compete for that. >> thank you, madam chair. chief, this effort to end fire bore roaring seems like the longest running battle since trojan war. we have been at this since before i was chair of this committee. for colleagues -- this is about raiding the prevention fund to
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fight fire. i was pleased that our chair, senator murkowski, has talked about this. senator cantwell talk about it. i think everybody knows in this room, getting to yes on forestry policy is a really heavy lift. it's a real challenge and you've got to have a bipartisan approach. and i think by way of trying to get this going this year, chief, how important is it to you to have the bipartisan leadership of this committee get with the bipartisan leadership in the house, start working with all of you, going through the regular order, we're using the committees, the bipartisan leadership, bipartisan le leadership in the house. but we're going to get out of the gate. we are at 20 co-sponsors, 145 bipartisan members of the house, 260 groups.
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i just want to find a way, working with my colleagues, with the bipartisan leadership of both bodies to get this going. how important is it to you that that start quickly? >> senator, it's essential. it's not just for me.essential. and it's not just for me. this is essential for the american public. almost every question that i get asked and they are all very good questions, i would have a different answer if we would have been able to fix this a few years ago. when i think about the additional funding we have had to keep putting into this ten-year average, and i think about what could we have done with another $237 million to be able to address the recreation needs, the roads needs, to be proactive with forest management, to address more hazardous fuels, i can understand how difficult this is, but it's essential we find a solution. when i asked our folks last year, i said what happens if we don't -- if we just let -- if this keeps going, in 2025, 67%
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of our budget. last year when i was up here we were talking 50 percent. fy '16 it's 56%. there's got to be a solution. i really appreciate all the hard work that's gone into it. i understand it's difficult because if it was easy it would have been done a long, long time ago. but it's essential that we find a way and we are committed to work with the senate, work with the house, to be able to find a solution. your bill definitely is one of those solutions. there's other good ideas out there, too. we are committed to be able to work with that to find something that's actually durable. you know, you passed the flame act a few years ago. i was up here applauding that. it looked good. it didn't work for a lot of good reasons so i appreciate the ranking member's -- excuse me, the chair's comment about this needs to be durable. we have been at it for a long
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time so let's find a way to be able to do it so that it isn't something we revisit in a couple years. >> i appreciate that answer. and you clearly indicated that you are open to a variety of approaches. as the chair noted and something i have long agreed with, we have got to have active management. there's no question about that. we also have to find a way to get this done because this makes a mockery out of the forest service budget which is probably a little bit more colorful way to say what you have been saying and other people in the forest service have been saying it for years. we will do everything we can through the leadership on both sides of the capitol to work with you and to get this done. i know senator crapo has been with me on this and feels the same way. one last point, use up the rest of my time. i want to thank you for the good work that your folks have been doing in portland. they have done some exceptional work that as you know involves tree moss. we have had some really serious
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public health questions. i live in southeast portland. it's not directly in my neighborhood but not that far away and people are really concerned about the risk of these toxic metals that relate to industrial work done in the community. it looks like there are some big gaps in epa clean air laws and they look to me like gaps the size of a lunar crater but none of it really would have come to light without the ground-breaking research that your people have done. so i'm almost out of time, but are you going to need additional funds in order to continue this research in the future? >> well, senator, it's just another example of how important our research and development branch is to be able to develop the science, to do the studies, to be able to not only identify problems but more important, to find those solutions. it's one of the things that i think it's essential that we find ways to be able to maintain our research and development budget. when i look at where we were back in the mid '80s we had over
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1100 scientists and we have much -- less than half of that today. and our scientists are doing a better job to be working with universities, et cetera, but it just shows you really the power, the benefit of science. so this is one example to identify a problem, but i can tell you it's also -- it leads us to finding the solution, to be able to use vegetation, be able to use our forests to provide that clean air, that clean water. that is the solutions that come out of science. >> thank you, madam chair. >> thank you, senator wyden. know that there is a great deal of commitment for that bipartisan effort to find the enduring and durable solution. senator finke? >> thank you, chief tidwell. the question was asked earlier are stewardship contracts and other activities we have undergone making a difference. i can tell you in arizona, as you have seen and i have seen, they have. they have made a difference.
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we have towns that are still there that wouldn't be otherwise. but we obviously have a lot of forests to treat and i appreciate you coming to my office in january and detailing some of the plans that you have to expedite that. the new chief executive position, that's important. budget increase for region three and more acreage dedicated to existing industry is all important. can you talk a little more about the biggest of its kind in terms of projects, four forest restoration initiative, what plans do we have with the existing contracts we have there and those on the outside to expedite this forest restoration? >> well, senator, as you mentioned, it was the first of its kind to be able to do the analysis of a million acres with
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one document. so now we have 540,000 acres, ready for work under the project. so we continue to work with the contractor to be able to expand their production. they did have their best month on record in december and they indicate they will be able to continue to expand. that's good. but in addition to that, we also are moving forward to provide additional acres that need to be treated for other operators in that state so that we can build on not only the work that's being done by the good earth contractor, but also to be able to get additional work going and at the same time, we've got the rest of your state to worry about. that was a big project but it was just a piece of it. so that's the other challenge that we have. so when we look at some additional hazardous fuels funding and some changes we made in management, cost reductions we have made to be able to dedicate some additional funds,
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but it's going to take multiple operators to be able to address the work that needs to be done in your state. the changes that we're making to be able to move faster, to be able to use the farm bill authorities on other projects and also be working with the state potentially with good neighbor authority to be able to expand our current work. >> thank you. along those lines, if allocation budget priorities, the eastern arizona counties organization has discussed with you a detailed list possible next steps in terms of forest restoration on the east side. how do you plan to use the additional money for region three in that regard? will that be dedicating some of it to priorities that they have outlined? >> yes. it will also, we will look at using enterprise teams to get some work done. it's also to bring in additional people to be able to put the
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project package together and then also to be able to look at where are some areas that we can quickly get into so that we can continue to provide the wood that the east side operators need and at the same time, to also move forward on some larger scale projects so that they too can see multiple years of work in front of them versus what we'll be able to do in '16 and then have a question of well, what's happening in '17. it's just another need for these long term stewardship contracts and if we can get a few of those going on the east side, then i think you and i will be having a different discussion. >> thanks. as you know, arizona has a long history of planning for water needs. we have the colorado river that supplies a good percentage of the water that we utilize but one of the most important sources is the runoff, the watershed that we have in our northern forests. we asked the governor and others
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to put forward some of the priorities for the state. one is to make sure that we treat our watershed and are able to realize all the benefits that we can from that, all the water treating arizona's overly dense forest is a big part of that. as you know, a healthy forest yields up to 25% more water than an unhealthy forest. given the forest service experience, with narrowly tailored solutions and streamlining authorities, how can we utilize that? we have hr 2657, the resilient federal forest acts which is intended to help in terms of streamlining. how important is that to you? >> well, what's important to me is that the authorities we have are authorities that are supported across the board so we can actually successfully
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implement those. i look at the authorities that came out of the farm bill, the work that we're doing with the insect and disease, the work we're doing with neighbor authority. that is allowing us to be able to expand our work because there's support. those authorities were put together in a way that provides some assurances to those that had some questions and concerns about forest management but at the same time, allowed us to be able to reduce some of the paperwork, some of the documentation of analysis so they were very effective. so as we look forward for any authorities, for me it has to be something that provides that level of trust. so that we can actually use it, because if you don't have that it at least creates more controversy and what you'll find is that our employees will shy away from those versus to use different authorities. so that's i think our challenge as we go forward. once again, i think with the work from the 2014 farm bill, the insect and disease
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designations, those authorities are proving to be very helpful and we're implementing those now. >> thank you. thank you, madam chair. >> thank you, madam chair. in recent years the forest service budget has been dominated by one thing, the cost of fighting wildfires. two decades ago, the forest service spent about 17% of its budget on fighting fires. this year, firefighting will eat up nearly half of the agency's budget plus an additional $800 million that's been separately proposed for disaster funding. in large part the costs have increased because the number and intensity of fires has increased. fire season now lasts about two and a half months longer than it did in 1970. last year was one of the worst in decades with more than ten million acres burning across this country. the conditions that produce more wildfires are well known. chief tidwell, human activities have been driving dramatic
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changes in our climate. can you describe the impact that climate change has had on major wildfires? >> senator, the first one is the length of the fire season. it's not just because the fire season's longer. when you have a fire season that's another two and a half months longer, it first of all allows those fuels to dry out that much more because they have another 60 days under the sun so we not only see fires occurring earlier in the year but then towards the end of the fire season, our fuel moistures are much lower so the fires burn at higher intensity, cause more damage to watershed and are much, much more difficult to suppress. the other things we're seeing is just hotter and drier weather. so you got drier fuels, longer fire season and then you have this hotter, drier weather and then the extensive droughts that we're having. we have always had droughts in
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this country but what we're seeing today that the droughts are lasting longer and they are much more intense and so they are causing even more problems. we saw that through the west and we are getting some favorable moisture this year, but it will take a lot more than one year to recover from those droughts. those are the things that are contributing. there's one other key factor and that is as we have this warmer environment with less of the really harsh cold winters, especially early in the year, the insect and diseases are spreading. our invasives are spreading. emerald ashbore is a good example in the east. it's been around here for awhile. it stayed pretty much in a few states and then as we started to really see the change in the climate it's now been able to make it all the way to canada. that's the other problem we are dealing with. the environmental changes, the climate changes we're seeing, they are also creating very
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favorable environment for invasives. >> so this is very, very troubling, because the pace of climate change is now accelerating. so chief tidwell, if we can't make significant progress to address climate change, what can we expect about the cost of fires in the future? >> well, the cost of fires are definitely going to increase but what's more problematic is if we can't get out and make more changes on the landscape to reduce the fuels, to be able to do a better job to build defensible space, we are going to continue to lose thousands of homes. last year we talk about the number of acres burned. we lost 4500 homes. on average, for the last ten years, we lose 3,000 homes every year. in addition to that, the lives of our firefighters and the lives of our public.
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so we have the opportunity here to be proactive, be able to address changing the landscape so that when the fires do occur they are less severe, easier to control, safer for our firefighters, safer for our public. those are the things that we have to work on. our scientists do not see any foreseeable change in the climatic situations we are dealing with in the foreseeable future. >> thank you. you pull it all together there when you talk about the acres that we lose, talk about the homes we lose and talk about the lives that we lose. obviously, we need a real solution to fight wildfires. a solution that ensures sufficient funding, that keeps environmental protections in place and that provides certainty for all the other forest service programs, and i appreciate the hard work that others on this committee have done to try to come to that solution. but rising wildfire costs are just another example of the price we pay if we fail to take
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decisive action on climate change. unless we take this problem seriously, unless we take meaningful steps to end reliance on fossil fuels and cut back on greenhouse gas emissions, these fires will get worse, we will spend more money, we will jeopardize more lives, we will damage more critical ecosystems and communities that depend on our nation's forest. thank you, madam chair. >> thank you, madam chair. chief tidwell, good to see you again here today. i thank you for your testimony. i share your commitment as well as i know many members in this committee to solving the wildfire funding challenge and increasing active managements of our national forests. i know across many of our national forests, certainly in my home state of montana, habitual litigation from fringe groups who do not represent the majority of the people of montana have been one of the key
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barriers to moving forward with active management of our forests. i recently received updated information from your region one staff concerning litigation in montana. i was told there are 21 active timber lawsuits going on in my state. that to me is astonishing. it's unacceptable. i had some students from libby, montana in my office recently. they are called the libby loggers. we have a vibrant timber industry in northwest montana. the only folks winning today are the lawyers. i said perhaps they need to change the mascot from the libby loggers to the libby lawyers. the lawyers are winning. the loggers are losing. the communities are losing. the environment is losing. i appreciate the comments on insects and infestation certainly of the pine beetle. we can't even harvest dead trees oftentimes because we are
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getting challenged by these fringe groups. in fact, i just saw a study showed that the forest service completes more time-consuming environmental impact statements than any other federal agency. just look at the report here this morning. the forest service spends $365 million a year complying with federal laws and regulations. my question, chief tidwell, as we look at the solution to go forward here, as we need to certainly, an support changing the way that wildfires are funded as well as ensuring a move towards active forest management and i think a big part our big barrier of that is litigation, if congress provided litigation relief and regulatory relief in a way that maintains the public trust, is it fair to say the forest service would be able to get a lot more work accomplished on the ground and perhaps in a shorter time frame?
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>> there's definitely projects that are litigated and you know, in the past we definitely had much more litigation than we're seeing today. we also, our staff and attorneys are doing a good job to work through that backlog. what's even more important is the trend. so like last year in region ten, excuse me, region one, we had seven lawsuits and three of those were for our veg management projects. we had no preliminary injunctions to have to deal with. so it's a combination of our folks, you know, doing everything they need to to be able to wsork with people to be able to move forward with that but they have significantly reduced the amount of litigation when it comes to forest management and our vegetation projects. now, the litigation in a lot of the other issues that we're
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dealing with, it's continuing -- actually, to stay the same or increase. so the solution as i look at this, and i have spent a lot of time dealing with it over my career, is that if we can find ways for folks to understand what we're trying to get done and to be able to build that trust, because so much from my view, a lot of the litigation comes from the point that people believe that we are trying to do something else versus to take care of the land. >> to that point, i have been a supporter of the collaborative process. it's working. it's working back home in montana. however, of the 21 projects under litigation, 16, 16 of the 21 were collaboratives, where these folks show up who aren't at the table working together across various stake holders, ngos, the timber industry, the
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community, county commissioners, and then these fringe groups show up and to litigate and challenge these harvests. i think we all agree collaboration should be encouraged but i strongly believe more needs to be done to protect the collaboratives from this handful of fringe obstructionists who repeatedly sue and upend the hard work and frankly demoralizing folks who are trying to find a solution as we watch the forests burn in the summertime. we see the declining revenues that support our schools and our teachers and just a vibrant economy. i just ask we continue to work together to find solutions to incentivize collaborations to find ways to de-incentivize these fringe groups that are litigating a lot of these projects. >> senator, i appreciate your support for a collaborative effort. they are making a difference and yes, it's extremely frustrating when people have worked hard
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together, come to agreement on what work needs to occur and then you have somebody come in and file a lawsuit. it is frustrating. i do think the ways to be able to incentivize collaboration and i appreciate the work of congress over the last two years, they recognize that, we see things where they want to put night sit into statute. i really appreciate that level of support. it is making a difference and it's really the answer. i think that as we build more and more support, you build stronger collaboratives, i do think it will also help more people to understand really what we're after and to be able to build that trust. because once you have that trust, that's what carries these collaboratives. that allows us to be able to get the work done. when i look at what the work that's going on in your state over the last few years, our employees are doing such an outstanding job working with the communities to be able to expand the work every year, be able to
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hit their targets even with litigation that they're still dealing with and in your state, it's one of the places we probably have as much as anyplace. but they are doing an outstanding job and appreciate once again your support for our collaborative efforts. >> thank you, chief tidwell. >> thank you, madam chair. thank you very much, chief, for making the clear connection between climate change and the continuing challenges of fighting forest fires and also, i agree with senator daines that collaboration is what we want to pursue. every state has forest resources and challenges that requires us to work very closely with the forest service and that we depend on the expertise and what the forest service brings to the table, and that's why so many of the questions from the committee are very specific to what's going on in our states and your activities in those states.
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so in that regard, i did want to take a moment to thank you for your commitment to protecting hawaii's precious landscapes in the president's 2017 budget and this includes prioritizing hawaii's island forests at risk, proposal for the land and water conservation fund as well as inclusion of both the wilderness areas in hawaii through the forest legacy program. as you know, our natural resources in hawaii are facing numerous external threats and your support in conserving these landscapes very much appreciated. i would like to of course invite you to visit hawaii some time to see all the challenges and opportunities and activities that you are very much engaged in in hawaii. there's nothing like actually visiting a place to gain a fuller i think appreciation of what's going on. i wanted to turn to one of the biggest emergencies that hawaii's native forests are facing right now which is a
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fungal pathogen and thousands of our native trees have died. it is significant because this tree makes up 80% of our native forests. it's ecologically and culturally the most important native plant in hawaii. of course, our forests have a lot to do with our watersheds. one of the ground personnel from the federal and state stake holders including the usfs personnel from the institute of pacific islands forestry in region five, the state and private grants are trying to answer several critical questions about this disease, including transmission and resistance and we still need the resources to do the proper investigations and research. what can the forest service recommend to hawaii as it relates to rapid ohia death based on lessons learned and best practices when you have been confronted with other tree
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diseases in other states and would an incident command structure be helpful to identify and direct resources to help hawaii and are there creative ways we can engage expertise across the forest service on this topic, and what other resources may be available for assistance? >> well, senator, we are working very closely with the agricultural resource service and the university of hawaii to be able to bring all our resources together to be able to first of all understand how this is being transmitted and to be able then to look at some ways to be able to reduce the spread of this and then also, we are doing work to look at genetic resistance to be able to find which trees are able to fight off this fungus. this fungus has been in hawaii for awhile but it's just recently has gone into the trees. so we need to understand what is causing that to occur and it may
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be just another one of the indicators as we see the changing climate that we are seeing things, fungus that's been in our environment for many years, all of a sudden start creating a problem. we are seeing the same thing with bats, with white nose syndrome. so what we are looking at is to be able to bring all the resources together to quickly understand what's going on and be able to figure out how we can stop this. the other thing we need to probably look at is how to stop the spread. if there are things we can do to get out in front of this. i also know there are trials that are going on with some fungicides that may prove effective. the problem is that it's such a large area and that may be very helpful in a specific area for a few trees around a person's home, et cetera, but to be able to stop this, we have to i think go beyond finding that solution. those are the things we are continuing to work on. there is urgency to be able to
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quickly get out in front of this but at the same time, it's just another example of why our research and development program is so important so that we do have the scientists, we have the capacity to be able to address these emerging issues. >> do you have enough money in your fiscal year '17 budget proposal to do the kinds of things you are doing, because it's not just happening in hawaii. these kinds of unusual occurrences are happening across the country, i would imagine, so you need to have a robust capacity for research, tests, whathave you. is there enough money in the budget? well, there's never enough. >> so i am pleased that we are able to ask for the amount of funding we do have. yes. once again, until we fix this wildfire suppression funding situation, we are not going to be able to be in a position to be able to ask.
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i do feel that we have an adequate level in research and development but it's one of the things we need to be aware of as there's going to be more and more invasives, more and more issues. research and development is definitely an area that we need to increase our investment in. >> thank you. i thank the chairwoman for her leadership in the wildfire issue. look forward working with you. we will turn to senator cassidy, then senator lee. >> minimum recommendations for environmental standards were published. recommendation for lumber defines fsc, you will know that term, the forest stewardship council certified and by including that but not including it, therefore excludes, if you will, the standard forestry initiative, sfi, and the atfs,
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american tree farm system. now, first in louisiana, about 85% of all of our lumber is either sfi or atfs. but then i also am told that from the national forest service land there's about 42,000 jobs attributed to the forest products from nfs lands and that the forest service does not allow their harvested wood to be subjected to a third party standard. so not only are 85% of my foresters excluded, but the entirety of the national forest service is excluded by these epa standards and i'm also told that both the sfi and the atfs have the same sort of standards as the fsc, all these initials, i'm sorry, but that they are just not included. thoughts on that? why should we allow the national forest service products to be
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excluded based on their own rules and epa rules? >> senator, i'm going to have to look into this. but there's no question we support the sfi, the tree farm, the sfc certifications. it's something that's in your state, the majority of the private land is certified and so we have always been supportive of that. so this is something i'm going to look into but it raises the question of potential problems. because when we think about clean air, we think about clean water, we need to be thinking about healthy forests and maintaining our forests so today, our nation's forests which is the majority of them are private land as in your state. they sequester from about 12% to 14% of the co2 that's emitted each year. if we lose those forests and if there isn't ways to be able to have viable markets for the
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wood, private landowners are going to develop their land for some other use so it's essential that we make sure that we -- things we are considering, it actually helps us to be able to maintain forests on the landscape. so this is an issue that i will look into and i will get back to you on it. but it is problematic when -- we are looking at things especially when we are concerned about clean air and clean water, we got to make sure that it allows us to be able to maintain our forests. and part of that is to be able to have strong economic markets for the wood. so it's essential that we have both. i will look into this and get back to you. >> it's interesting, you just kind of put a nice perspective that -- to which the federal government passes recommendations makes it unable for someone to have a forest. that forest would be put to its other economic uses and the federal government will actually be working against clean water,
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against having, if you will, a sump for co2 if that's the priority, and clean air. so the federal regulation that restricts the access of another federal agency to these products actually works against the stated goals of the agency. is that a fair way to put it? >> well, it could. once again, i'm not familiar with this epa regulation so i'm going to have to get back to you on that. but my point was that we need to be very careful that we need to understand the benefit of our forests and yes, we have our public land forests that are going to stay forested. but the majority of our forests in this country are private. if we lose those private forested lands, we lose the potential to be able to not only store carbon but provide that clean water, the wildlife habitat, recreational settings. so it's essential that we consider the impacts of any of
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our regulations so that what we want to be able to do is promote that and then at the same time, to be able to answer the question that yes, this is being managed in a sustainable way because some of our rnmarkets i europe, there's people that are questioning our forest management in this country because of the standards that they have in some of the european countries require that their wood products are coming from sustainable managed forests. so it's essential we be able to do that. but at the same time, be able to do it in a way that we can maintain these forests. if i think about if for no other reason just the amount of carbon that's being stored, if we lose that sink, we are going to have to find other ways to be able to deal with it. it's just another one of the benefit of forests that i'm not sure everyone recognizes. >> we will pose that as a question for the record and we look forward to your reply after you have had a chance to review.
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thank you. >> thank you, madam chair. thank you for being here with us today. agriculture plays a pretty significant role in my home state of utah. our state's economy is quite dependent on agriculture, especially in many of the rural communities. now, because of the fact that two-thirds of utah's land is federally controlled, thousands of utah ranchers are dependent on federal land managers and the policies they set for their own livelihood, their own ability to feed their families and keep their farms and ranches operating. unfortunately, for these ranchers and their families, federal policies have become increasingly hostile toward livestock grazing. in fact, since the 1950s, federal land managers have cut livestock grazing rights by 74%. this is quite significant,
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cutting those by 74%. this has created tremendous uncertainty for ranching families in utah and undercut rural economies throughout my state. so can you tell me, mr. tidwell, why grazing permits have declined so dramatically since the 1950s? >> it would be a combination of things, but part of it would be the impact that was occurring from the grazing. it's also the change with the multiple use and that the public's interest in these lands for a variety of uses, whether it's for recreation, whether it's for wildlife, whether it's for scenery, so when we look at how to manage these lands, we are going to continue to graze these lands and we can do it in a way so that we can maintain, be consistent, maintain the riparian areas. we have thousands of places where we can do this.
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so has there been reductions over the last 60, 70 years? sure there has. but you also have to remember the reason the forests, national forests exist in utah is that the communities petitioned congress to have them reserved from the public domain because of the lack of management that was occurring way back in the late 1800s. so over time, yes, there's been reductions, but it's been to be able to address the public's needs to provide not only multiple use but also to have sustainable grazing. when we do that, then the permittees are in a place where they have that certainty. the other problem that we deal with is that we go through drought periods of time in utah like every place else, and when we go through those periods of time, there is just less forage and less capacity on the landscape. now, the ideal situation would
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be the permittees would be able to reduce their numbers during that time and then when we do get the more favorable precip years, they could actually expand their operations. that's the place we need to be. but it's very difficult for many of our ranchers to have that flexibility. >> i understand there are a lot of considerations there. i wouldn't dispute, i don't think any utah ranchers would dispute the fact that it is necessary to restore rangelands, to allow rangelands a chance to catch up so that our grazing permitting processes remain sustainable. but what i'm hearing from a number of ranchers in utah is that even after rangeland has been restored, after being allowed to rest for awhile, that it's still not opening up, that even once range conditions have improved substantially, that the grazing rights aren't being restored. so why is that?
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can you tell me why that's not happening? is that the case, first of all, and to the extent it's the case, how do you justify that? >> well, each allotment has a management plan that basically lays out the rotation of the livestock, the duration and the intensity of grazing. permittees follow that so if there's available forage, it's available. a lot of it just depends on water. the more water distribution that we can have, then you can spread the livestock out. it also depends on the operations. so it's been my experience that we work with the permittees and we put a good plan together and it's their plan. they run the livestock. we said these are the conditions that the public wants and needs from the landscape so you have that opportunity to use that forage. so there's a variety of things that factor into it but if the
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forage is there, we are making use of it. >> okay. thank you, sir. thank you, madam chair. >> thank you, madam chair, and thank you chief tidwell for being here today. about a year ago when we were having our budget hearing last year for the appropriations cycle, we had a conversation about the forest service's work around water policies and the ski area water rule. i understand late 2015 that the service arrived at a ski area water closet, addressed the concerns of the ski industry, partners with the forest service, concerns that i shared with them and resulting in a resolution palatable to both. i just want to thank you for your work on that. i would like to briefly touch on the importance of healthy forest management practices. coloradons living near colorado springs are closely watching an incident, a species infestation of the douglas fir tussock moth. i understand from a stake holder meeting with the forest service on friday in the area in
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colorado springs that the service is now looking into the possibility of utilizing a categorical exclusion provision within the farm bill to treat the affected areas. the douglas fir trees are incredibly beautiful and certainly local economic driver, and just was hoping to get your commitment to continue to work with my office and local stake holders to come to resolution that will treat the tussock moth on the infestation on public lands which will lead to a healthier forest and obviously greater prevention for wildfires in the area. >> senator, you have our commitment to continue to work with the city and the county there to be able to address that and to make use of that farm bill authority. it's another example about the benefits of those authorities that were put together in a way that there is strong trust to be able to use those, so this is the perfect example of that. >> thank you, chief. madam chair, madam ranking member, i would like to submit to the record the memorandum of understanding among colorado stake holders for coordinated
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treatment of the tussock moth. >> without objection. >> recently the forest service prepared a supplemental environmental impact report on -- and reinstated the north fork exemption to the rule. i would like to thank you on your work on this and look forward to the final record of decision. it's important that we recognize the value of coal mining in the north fork valley and uphold the exception which is the result of years of negotiation and collaboration among the forest service, colorado and stake holders. madam ranking member, i would like to submit two letters for the record. one from governor hickenlooper and another letter i joined advocating for the exemption to be uphold in the forest service's analysis. if i can get those submitted. thank you. and. >> without objection. >> recreation is a tremendous part of colorado's economy. we are working on legislation that would focus on the economy to get a better understanding of
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its economic impact. recent studies show the ski area, the state generates about $4.8 billion annually. the vast majority of the 25 ski areas in colorado are located at least partially on national forest land. in addition, i read that the ski areas generate over $20 million in fees that go directly into the u.s. treasury. my concern is centered on reporting that the forest service is finding it increasingly challenging to keep up with the growing industry, excuse me, the growing recreational industry, including these ski areas. in fact, the most heavily used popular forest in the country is the white river national forest, generating nearly $18 million of the fees paid to the treasury each year. but we have seen the white river national forest staff steadily decline, the budget deroding over the past several years so they are struggling to uphold their end of the partnership. since 2009, i think they have seen a 40% reduction in their budget, the white river national forest. so as they take on new projects,
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as they take on improvements of expansion of summer recreation that has been such a great success over the past several years, how did we address this, the forest service level, the erosion of local capacity to serve recreation that's critical to colorado and so many other communities? >> senator, we face that problem everywhere, not just in your state. the ski areas are great partners. they are often willing to help pay for additional analysis when they are looking at expanding, especially as we are now moving into the four season resorts to make full use of these facilities. we are doing what we can to be able to be a good partner, to be able to be responsive, but the problem you mentioned with the staffing, it's just something that's occurred because of the cost of fire suppression. it occurred gradually over quite a few years, over ten plus years, to the point where we just have 33% fewer employees
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outside of fire than what we did just a few years ago. so it's just another example. now, that being said, what we are looking at is to find ways so that we can actually be more efficient with our processes so we can actually be even more responsive. it's one of the things we want to be able to sit down, especially with the ski areas, where they can bring capacity to help with the problem but we still have our role. but if we can find ways to be able to package different propopr proposals together, to be able to get the work done up front so there's strong support, the public understands what's being proposed, we will continue to be able to do a better job. but it probably isn't going to satisfy their needs. we are just going to have to find a way to stop the erosion of our staff. >> so specifically with the fire funding fix, how would that help on the staffing issue? how specifically can we make sure that that money then that's
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prevented from being drained away over here go into staffing issues? >> the first thing, it would stop the transfer so we wouldn't have to deal with that anymore. we wouldn't lose all that time and expense and funding. then the second thing is that we would be able to at least maintain our current staffing or ideally build that over time because it would provide flexibility. budget space within the constraints so that appropriators could add to our budget instead of constantly reducing it to be able to pay for fire. so the first thing is to stop the erosion. then to be able to create the space so that we can be proactive not only on forest management but also to be able to deal with recreation so we can carry out our responsibilities to be a good partner with all of our recreation users and especially the ski areas. >> chief tidwell, keeping in mind the drought maps, snow pack levels, as you are looking into
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the summer and spring, spring and the summer, what areas of the country are you concerned about from a forest fire perspective? >> well, this year with our projections, we are looking at having a less active year than we had last year. but we are also seeing areas where we are getting a very warm spring and we are seeing the snow come off the low ground, low areas, so that's becoming a concern. so that in our lettower elevati, it looks to me that we may have an early fire season. our higher country's going to be much better shape than it was last year, at least out west, so we may not have those large fires in higher elevation. but come september, it's going to dry out. one of the problems that we have is when i'm asked to predict the fire season and our scientist consist look at it and one of the things they do, they predict the cost. for fy '16 our predictions right
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now is that we are 90% confident that the cost of this fire season is going to be between somewhere around $700 million and $1.72 billion. that's today. then we are talking about fy '17 budget. the idea that we can actually predict, we have great scientists, but it is just so difficult and so even for this year, i will be able to give you a good projection in may, but probably not until may can i really answer your question. >> thanks. >> thank you, senator gardner. chief tidwell, let me go back again to the tsongas and the transition issue. i mentioned in my opening comments, my concern that this transition only works if you have those that are able to stay in the business. we have had this conversation
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before and i appreciate that the forest service has stuck with the big thorn sale. that's going to hopefully keep enough timber out there to keep things alive into next year but i do remain concerned about the future. in 2015, you sold no old growth at all. so far this year in '16, you are planning to sell just 51 million board-feet unless some kind of revised sale comes out of this. but looking out to 2017 and beyond, old growth sale planning is pretty much nonexistent with the focus entirely on preparing for young growth sale. so every year when we sit down in this public forum, i raise the question to you what do i say to people back home, what can i tell the folks at viking about how the forest service
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intends to keep them alive and other mills alive given that really the source of timber that they could count on and to pay for any investment, much less encouraging the people who are working, whether at viking or others, encourage them to stay there. what can you tell me that will be encouraging to the men and women in southeast that continue to depend on a supply of timber? >> senator, i think our transition to young growth over time is the solution to be able to provide that certainty, to provide that bridge timber to reach agreement that yes, there will be bridge timber made available -- >> what do we do in the short term? you say over time and i'm saying okay, we can talk about over time but how do we keep them alive until then? the outline i have given you is
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we have got timber that we can look to this year, that keeps us alive through next, but how do you see their future after that? >> well, we are continuing to move forward with our annual timber program while we are doing this. in fy '16 the target is 62 million board-feet. it's my understanding they are committed to get that done. >> are you aware, chief, though, that in order to keep this transition alive, we have got to rely not only on what's coming off of the forest service lands but also off of non-federal and what i understand see alaska has told you as recently as just last week is they are going to have a difficult time continuing economic operations and that they are going to be seeking to supplement their timber supply
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with sales. they tell me that they are going to need to buy 20 million board-feet annually for perhaps 30 years. so how did you make this all work? how do you make this all work not just for this year and not just for '17, but if see alaska is saying that they are going to need 30 years and you're suggesting that you are going to be able to have 62 million board-feet, how does this all pencil out? >> well, it starts by there is -- the folks in alaska are working together, the state see alaska, the folks on the tsongas and folks from the mental health trust to be able to look at how we can have really an all hands approach so that there is going to be x amount that's available for the industry and actually
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work together and this is something that you could say we should have been doing a better job in the past. however, we are looking at how we can do a better job as we move forward. then based on that, to be able to have the coordination between the programs. but it's essential that we are able to produce and i wouldn't be up here telling you that without any question, i believe this approach that over time to transition to the young growth is the solution to be able for us to continue to provide the integrated wood products industry in southeast alaska. yes, we are going to have to continue to have the bridge timber. we are also going to have to be moving forward with some young growth to be able to start giving operators the chance to be able to explore markets with that young growth. so that is our course. that is our plan over time to be able to do this. >> i understand that it is a plan over time and again, i am
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trying to make something that works beyond the paper plan, because on paper, it might be possible but again, you can't push this young growth timber to grow any quicker. you cannot be a fantasy plan. it has to be based on accurate analysis and assessment and a reality on the ground. and i continue to have the same concerns that i have had. i will continue to express them and it's not because i'm sitting back here in washington reading some talking points. it's because i'm talking to the people that are on the ground that are out in the communities, that are on prince of wales island who do not believe that they have the capacity to hang on much longer.
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and they hear the good plans and they believe it's nothing but pie in the sky. and the effort again from these families that have worked it so hard for so many decades and are not asking for the timber industry that was around 20 years ago, 30 years ago. they are asking to just be working with the facts. i'm going to ask one more quick question, then turn to my colleague here and this is regarding the new -- the proposed new forest-wide standards and guidelines to address the renewable energy development within the tsongas and the transition plan. you know that i had pushed for this last year, continue to do so, but what we are seeing is guidelines that appear to be pretty simplistic looking,
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pretty vague, and therefore, it causes me to question how effective they can be. does the forest service plan to utilize an approach that would give greater clarity, more consistent enforceable guidelines through an approach that has been considered to provide for renewable energy because the issue that i'm hearing is that what the forest service is proposing just doesn't provide enough clarity, that there is ambiguity that is not going to be helpful to folks. >> are you referring to the alternatives in the forest plan amendment? >> yes. >> one of the benefits for the comments that we received, i
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wanted to thank you for your letter, that very well-written letter -- >> it was a good letter. thank you. >> it's part of the comments and as we go through those, those are the things we are going to be addressing. but those are the things that the feedback this at we need one plan. if there's things we need to change. that being said, i know that we have at least five projects that are proved or under construction. there's another seven projects we are working to try to get through, plus another -- i think another dozen that we are still, you know, looking to start the analysis on. so we are moving forward. we are not waiting for the forest plan amendment. we are going to continue to be able to work with folks to be able to move forward to be able to implement those hydro projects. >> well, i would ask you to look to making sure that the standards, these guidelines, really do do what we are hoping, which is to help facilitate the renewable energy development
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projects that we are talking about. let me turn to senator cantwell. >> thank you, madam chair. chief tidwell, i wanted to ask you about the ascot mine. the ascot resources canadian mining company is proposing to conduct an exploratory drilling adjacent to mount st. helen's, a national volcanic development which could impact 900 acres. 165 of those acres of the proposed 900 acre development were purchased by the land and water conservation fund. so you can see where i'm going here. why would the forest service allow for this proposal to move forward if you had already previously helped make purchase of the land and water conservation fund. i want to understand how those two things can co-exist together. i shouldn't say that that way. i don't believe they can. so i'm interested in this process that you are moving through.
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>> senator, i share your concern and i'm not certain on the timing of this, but i understand we acquired that property using lwcf a few years ago, then we have this mine proposal. so when we acquire properties, they then become part of that national forest and the management is then covered under their forest plan. so it raises the question for us to be thinking about this as we move forward to, if there are areas depending on why this land was acquired, was it just to block up ownership, was it to provide public access, what was the key reason, that the forest plan should assure that the purpose for acquiring the land should still exist. but when we do have a mining proposal that comes in on top of that, it raises the question about do we need to do a better job to be thinking out on these
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key partials that are being acquired so that if it's what the public is okay with, then we are okay with it. but if it raises those raises it's something we need to be considering. this is somewhat unusual. it's happened at least once that i'm aware of before, but we acquired lands and then had someone come in and stake a mining claim on it. >> i'm having a hard time understanding how we would use that and not think it was for public use. it's about protecting the public's access and interest. it's hard for me to believe a document would say there's no recreational impact when literally it is about preserving areas for recreational and public access for the future. that's why we're doing it because we don't want the development. >> well, mining is also part of the use that occurs on national forest too. so it's one of the challenges
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that we have to be able to balance. i agree. it's one of the thicks i want to look at how to avoid these problems from having in the future, but once the lands are acquired and they are managed as part of the national forest and open for mining and there's a mining claim, that proponent has the ability to propose an operation. >> i'm sure you'll hear from people who believe that it has recreational value and should be stated so in a document. but we'll leave for now. i want to ask you about road maintenance. the forest service is proposing to close a number of roads in the mount baker forest. i can understand closing roads that endangering water shed, but there are a number of roads proposed for lack of maintenance funding. i want to understand how to propose new roads when we have this backlog of maintenance.
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>> senator, each year we build a very few number of roads. and often those to replace existing roads be able to move a road out of the longest stream to reduce environmental impacts and then there's a few places where we do build a few roads and some are in the state of alaska that for many years the number of new roads that we're building is always in a small number of maybe 10 or 15 miles per year. it is an issue and we have a tremendous amount of backlog and deferred road maintenance that is contributing to not only the erosion but impacting the quality of our streams and fisheries and it continues to be an outstanding problem for us. as we look at which roads need to be closed, we go through a public involvement process to
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identify those roads so that we can reduce some of the backlog of our deferred maintenance, reduce the impact to streams and at the same time still provide for a level of public access. >> so i think you have something like a 13% decrease in the road maintenance funding, but have an existi existing 3 billion backlog. i don't know where you were talking about specifically building the new roads, but trying to understand the value because as recreation support so many jobs, we want to make sure that people are having access to the recreational businesses. what i'm saying is i am sure every day you have to make decisions about these issues backlog versus new roads, but i'm asking whether you consider the impact that that maintenance
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backlog has on recreational areas when it's such a big part of an area in an economy. >> it's one of the reasons we sit down with the communities and local officials to be able to find solutions to this problem. so the majority of our budget goes to maintenance. and we are proposing to spend $6 million on some new roads and i will be glad to provide for the record where those roads will be located and the purpose of those roads to be able to reduce environmental impacts and provide needed access for the public. >> thank you, i appreciate that. if we can dialogue, that would be so helpful, thank you. >> thank you, senator. i just have a couple quick questions for you. first relates to aviation resources and coordination with the states. back in december we received
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testimony from national association of state foresters that during the 2015 fire season because of some new federal rules, you had u.s. forest service dispatchers decline to call up state aircraft for fires on federal land even when it might have been closest to the fire start. we talked a lot about the issue of carting and different standards for aircraft used in fire suppression. can you give me a quick update and progress on the coordination than between forest service department of interior and the states so we know we have one carting system out there that recognizes aviation standards as being equal and accepted by all. >> madame chair, we're working with the states to be able to come up with that one standard. we operate about 300 to maybe
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400 helicopters and dozens of contracted aircraft. that means a standard that the forest service has. that being said, not all the states do. we want to get to a point where there's just one standard so that it makes it easier for us to be able to use resources and also ensures that level of safety that our pilots are looking for. >> do you think you can do that relatively quickly or how long of a process is this because, again, as we heard in the committee here, there's nothing that frustrates people more than knowing you've got an immediate issue right there. you know exactly what has to happen and yet you're stuck because somebody doesn't have the proper authorization. >> it's going to take some time. >> like years? >> it may. a lot of it will depend on our partners on the states and their willingness to come together on one standard.
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>> if there's anything we can do to help facilitate those conversations so we can make that happen more rapidly, i think there would clearly be interest in doing that. let me go to an issue in southeastern alaska. this relates to the land deal. this is a situation where holdings for native corporation and what has been going on is there's been a long protracted situation, an effort for an appraisal of the lands. that was accomplished last october. it was accepted by forest service. that appraisal expires in october unless there's a purchase option agreement that's signed and locking in the appraisal price. what we have recently learned is there's new staff at forest
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service that think that an environmental site assessment that was conducted prior to the appraisal is no longer valid. so that would completely pull the rug out from under all the progress made and the effort to get this conclude. so i would ask you to look into this issue and determine whether it needs to be redone or whether it can be updalted. we'd like some assistance in just making sure there's a process smooth on this and if you can look into the issue of the split owner shship of the ls with regards to see alaska. again, local issue, but it's one that's been outstanding and it seems there's no reason we can't get this resolved. >> senator, we are going to move forward. we need to update that
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environmental study assessment, which is regulartively quick and easy thing to do. we'll be able to move forward and get a purchase option. it's my expectation that i'll be asking for your help for us to be able to quickly complete that purchase that we've been working on this for many years. so we want to make sure we get it locked in this year so we can quickly move forward to be able to complete that purchase. >> and recognizing that appra e appraisal expires in october, we have a pretty tight time line. >> that's why we have to gets the purchase option in place, get the study completed and move forward to start acquiring the lands with the money that we currently have. plus we're requesting. >> let's work closely with you on that. two very quick ones here. what are the forest service plans for offering new opportunities for tourism firms and wildlife bids to gain new or
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additional days for services in region 10? we have received so many complaints in my office about the lack of new opportunities, no solicitation open periods and so you've got new operators that would love to come in and gain some use days. can you tell me whether or not there's going to be new solicitation in either '16 or '17? >> ul have to get back to you. i know we're going to move forward with some, but your point is well take than this is the sort of thing we need to find ways to make it easier and to be able to expand those operations so many people can get out there and it greats more jobs. >> if you can look into that and goes back to a point i made earlier with regards to our request to forest service last
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year. on the recreational dollars that come from forest service, alaska has taken disproportionate reductions in funding over the years. you were directed to correct and address that. we haven't seen where that's been remedied and i'd like an update on that as well. my final question for you this morning is secure rural schools. we were told that the payment through the extension that we did last year was supposed to go out for distribution and i'm hearing now that the payments may be delayed. can you give me any update as to when communities might expect to see their payments? >> the payments should go out no later than next week. >> okay, okay. and it will be as advertised? if you will? >> yes, we did have some discussion on whether this
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payment would be subject to sequestration and the determination was that they are not. >> that will be welcome news. >> took awhile to get there, but that did delay a few weeks. now we're ready to move forward. q . senator and i have looked to  . deal with srs and making sure these communities that are so reliant on these dollars are able to provide for some planning. >> that's so important to these communities. i'm sure they will be very anxious to hear that news this morning in getting this revenue out to them. there's many counties so dependent on that. i'm also eagerly awaiting your outcome on the rule making. i'm not asking you to make comment other than we're looking forward to seeing your comments on that. your colleagues asked about why
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the permit skpros you're in the stages of finalizing. that will be important to us. i appreciate how much you have worked with them in the interim time since we first brought this up in the committee. look forward to the details of how that process works. >> thank you for bringing up that last point. you and i had worked that letter some time ago. we're still weight on that. it's not just a response to that letter. it was back in '13 that we had assurances that we would see something to correct the problem. congress urged the forest service to address this in a probe spill. in 15 we directed forest service to act within our interior approach. so i would hope we would have
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some form of communication back from you. >> we'll provide the committee on progress we're working through with small business administration on that. >> thank you. and chief, thank you for being here this morning. thank you for your responses to the questions from all of us. and thank you for your work. we appreciate it.
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budget season continues on capitol hill this month. wednesday we take you to two
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hearings in the senate. first attorney general loretta lynch takes questions on the justice department budget. that's live at 10:00 a.m. eastern. then tom vilsack talks about the president's request for the usda. that's at 2:00 p.m. eastern. the most important thing in this election is education. i'm looking at the candidates closely for their programs in education. i'm not happy in the last 15 years or so with all the core standards that's been happening. i'd like to see that change around so i'm going to vote for bernie sanders or hillary clinton. i'm happy with both of those choices. i'm interested to see what their education plans would turn out to be if elected. >> i've decided i'm voting for ted cruz for the candidacy because he is a constitutional
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scholar. he's eloquent and he's principled. >> secretary of state for management and resources was on capitol hill today to talk about u.s. diplomatic efforts. members of the senate foreign relations committee questioned her on sexual exploitation during peace keeping missions and concerns over the department's allocation of $500 million to the u.n. green climate fund. this is an hour and a half.

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