Mr. SHADEGG. Mr. Chairman, this amendment is designed to address a problem with the Endangered Species Act and the fires that are raging across the West at the present time. Right now citizens' suits are being brought to prevent the clearing of these forests by thinning out the dead wood and thinning out the smaller trees. As a result of the fact that we are not doing this removal of smaller trees, we are encouraging crown fires which destroy entire areas.
In my State of Arizona, we have just had a fire that has destroyed 500,000 areas. If you look at areas that have been treated, it appears as though the fire never even went through those areas. If you look at areas where they were not treated, there has been absolute, total devastation. This simply says that a regional forest ranger could make a determination that a wildfire in the area of the project to thin out the fire load was likely to cause extreme harm to the forest ecosystem and destroy
human life and dwellings and that the project was necessary to prevent these occurrences. Once that finding had been made and had been certified to the United States Congress, then the thinning could occur without there being a citizen lawsuit to block the thinning from occurring.
Mr. Chairman, I yield to the gentleman from Utah to discuss the issue as well.
Mr. HANSEN. I thank the gentleman for yielding.
Mr. Chairman, let me point out as the chairman of the Committee on Resources, one of the biggest problems we have in America and the West at this particular time is called fuel load. Fuel load is when we have dead trees and we have all kinds of trash and no one is allowing prescription, to go in and take these out on prescribed fires. We have case after case all over America where forests are burning to the ground. Last year I went with staff and we went to about four Western States. You have
got fuel load up to your armpits. All you need is one strike of lightning and you have got a fire. Never have we had fires like this. Last year I asked all of the forest supervisors, are we going to have more fires? They said, ``Count on it. You'll never have as many fires as you have.''
Why is this? It is because we cannot go in and we cannot seem to find a position that we can clear it out like we have since 1905. In one committee we had one of the large environmental groups there. She said, ``We don't believe in this. We shouldn't do it that way. It's not nature's way.''
I think this amendment is an excellent amendment. Somebody has got to wake up, be honest, and have guts enough to look some of these guys in the face and say, we have to clean the forests or we are going to burn the West down, and we are well on the way to doing it.
Mr. NETHERCUTT. Mr. Chairman, I rise in support of the gentleman's amendment and in opposition to the point of order.
The gentleman's amendment allows the management of the forest by thinning and protection of life and health of the forest by local control, that is, the Forest Service regional forester. I think it is a commonsense amendment, I cannot imagine anybody would be against it, and so I support the gentleman's amendment.
Mr. SHADEGG. Mr. Chairman, it seems to me this is, in fact, a commonsense amendment. It does not say that you can never bring such a lawsuit. It is limited to certain circumstances where they are cutting small diameter trees, trees of less than 12 inches. It would not allow commercial logging. It simply allows a reasonable thinning of the forest to stop the kind of devastating crown fires that have destroyed Arizona recently and have stricken California and Colorado and [Page: H4850]
other States. It is, I believe, an absolute essential requirement that we allow this thinning to occur so that we do not burn our forests down. When you look at the language of the amendment, which requires a rather extreme certification that the wildfire is likely to cause extreme harm to the forest ecosystem, destroy human life and dwellings, and that the project is necessary to prevent
these occurrences, I believe it is a very, very reasonable amendment. It is designed to protect our forests and strike a balance, because this would not block a citizen lawsuit if they wanted to thin larger trees. It would not block a citizen lawsuit under other circumstances where these certifications were not made. It is a middle ground that I think makes a great deal of sense.
I would urge that the point of order be withdrawn so that the Members can at least look at this policy. Our forests are burning to the ground. We lost over 460 homes of people that live in those forests in Arizona in the absence of being able to strike a reasonable policy, and I think this does. This requires a certification. It requires that the certification be that there be extreme harm and that it is going to destroy human life and dwellings and that the thinning project is necessary. In
Arizona, the environmental groups have agreed that they support thinning so long as it does not go to large-diameter, old-growth trees. Indeed they have rushed to say we are willing to support this kind of policy as long as it is limited.
I was urged not to put a diameter limit in this because I was told, look, if you put a diameter limit in it, we may need to cut some larger trees. I said, no, I want a bright line so that those who oppose allowing timber harvesting to go forward under this policy will not be able to see this as a ruse. It is not a ruse. It is a genuine effort by us to strike a reasoned policy that will allow thinning to go forward without extended legal battles where the thinning is not a commercial logging effort
but is, rather, necessary to save the forest and to prevent these kind of crown fires.
The evidence is absolutely clear that these crown fires take off and occur only when there is the underlying load, fuel load, which has not been removed. In the strongest possible terms, it seems to me that this is a reasonable compromise which I would urge upon this Congress and upon our colleagues that they withdraw the point of order.
POINT OF ORDER
Mr. GEORGE MILLER of California. Mr. Chairman, I insist upon my point of order. I make a point of order against the amendment because it proposes to change existing law and imposes new duties and constitutes legislation on an appropriation bill and therefore violates clause 2 of rule XXI. The rule states, in pertinent part, ``No amendment to a general appropriation bill shall be in order if changing existing law.'' The amendment imposes additional duties.
Therefore, I ask for a ruling of the Chair.
Mr. KINGSTON. Mr. Chairman, I ask to speak on the point.
I just want to say I have read this amendment and listened to a lot of testimony over the past several years about the need to do this sort of thing in our forests. When you look at the common sense of preserving the life of the forest, the ecosystem and helping save human lives and dwellings, this is a reasonable, commonsense approach. I would ask my friend from California to reconsider the point of order simply because I do think this is something in the interest of forest management that our
agencies need. I regret that the gentleman from Arizona did not have it in the committee because I think that we would certainly try to work with you on the committee. But I hope the gentleman will withdraw the point of order because I think this is common
sense, and I am an Easterner, but I have lots of forests, tree farms, as we would call them in my district, and forest management is part of the responsibility and it is a great, I would say, intercourse between man and nature and great involvement.
I think this is a good amendment. I hope that we can keep it in the bill and that the gentleman would withdraw his point.