March 24, 2023

WASHINGTON, D.C., March 24, 2023 – U.S. Senator Katie Britt (R-Ala.) on Wednesday participated in a hearing of the Senate Committee on Appropriations’ Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies. The hearing included a review of the President’s Fiscal Year 2024 budget proposal for the U.S. Forest Service, with Senator Britt directing her remarks and line of questioning to Mr. Randy Moore, Chief of the U.S. Forest Service.

Senator Britt drew attention to the fact that President Biden’s U.S. Forest Service budget proposes $60 million to install electric vehicle charging equipment on public lands, yet represents a $3 million year-over-year cut in Landscape Scale Restoration grant funding, which importantly supports efforts to reduce wildland fire risk, improve forest conditions, and mitigate disease and blight conditions facing our nation’s forests.

A video of Senator Britt’s line of questioning can be viewed here.

A transcript follows:

Britt: Thank you so much, Mr. Chairman. Thank you, Ranking Member. It is a pleasure to be with you all today. Chief Moore, appreciate you being in front of this committee and the important work that you do. I also want to say thank you for sending me a welcome letter and — and welcoming me to the Senate and to this committee. I certainly look forward to being able to work with you.

As you know, forests are incredibly important to Alabama. They are one of the main reasons our state is known by many as “Alabama the Beautiful.” Alabama is home to over 23 million forestland acres, the third most in the continental United States. The people of Alabama are hard at work putting that land to good use. In fact, forestry, contributes to over 100,000 (111,000) jobs in our state.

All of this work leads to a total economic output of about $27.7 billion. The state produces almost every wood product you could possibly imagine, from lumber to paper, to cabinetry, to pellets, to flooring, to oriented strand board. These products are used by Alabamians, by our neighbors, and all across the globe. Thankfully, we are able to export about $1.3 billion in products overseas. With an industry this productive and resource so crucial to our state, Alabama forest owners know that we have to take care of the gift that God gave us. And the greater forestry community in Alabama has demonstrated that principal incredibly well. Private landowners know that they must take care of their land if they are going to leave things better than they found them, leave things better for their kids and their grandkids.

And, as I consistently say, there are no greater stewards of our lands than our farmers, foresters, and cattlemen. I think that’s why over 91% of Alabama’s forest are privately owned, and the state still continues to add 2-2.5% of tree volume year over year.

 The Administration’s Fiscal Year 2024 budget for the Forest Service includes $60 million to install charging equipment for electric vehicles on public lands, which is clear that the Green New Deal has certainly made its way into the Forest Service budget. However, that very same budget cuts $3 million from Landscape Scale Restoration grant funding.

 I believe this funding obviously has supported efforts to reduced wildland fire risk, it has improved forest conditions and also mitigated disease and blight conditions that are facing our nation’s forests. In Alabama, we have found these funds to be useful to expand the use of drones and train drone pilots to combat and prepare for forest fires. In your experience, how effective have we been in using drones to track the spread of forest fires, to use that information to assist us as we fight forest fires and their efforts in the future?

 Moore: So, Senator Britt again, welcome and thank you for your question.

 Britt: Thank you.

 Moore: I might add too, in terms of wood innovations, you know, one of the things that we bragged about Alabama last week with that you also have a crosslaminated timber facility there as well. And so, I know Georgia would like to have their own but right now they’re borrowing from Alabama. So good — good on Alabama.

 Britt: Yeah, we’re proud to be a leader.

 Moore: Yeah, the — the other part of your question, though, I think that, I think Alabama, but as well as the South in general plays prominently in how we look at wood and how we look at the innovations of wood, but also, you know, looking at the use of drones. The Forest Service has just recently gotten into the use of drones to do a lot of different types of forest management, including wildfire suppression, prescribed burning as well. In fact, we call it the southern region is right now is leading the nation in prescribed burning, but also using drones to help with that facility.

 We know that there’s always a safety risk when we use helicopters to look at increasing the amount of prescribed burning we’re doing. And so, one of the alternatives to mitigate that safety issue is to look at drones to do prescribed burning. So, we’re moving into that arena in a really rapid way. And we have already started licensing and certifying our lot of our employees to operate the drones. And so, we’re headed in that direction. And we’re going as quick as we possibly can.

 Britt: Well, thank you, I hope that we continue to use those resources to make smart decisions moving forward. And I want to thank you for the work that you and the Forest Service continue to put into Alabama, and helping keep Alabama beautiful, and obviously protecting the many livelihoods that you just referenced yourself. I was happy to see the emphasis you placed when you wrote me that welcome letter on collaboration and working to avoid these catastrophic events, wildfires and other things in areas like Alabama, that would require robust local engagement to make good land management decisions. And so, the Forest Service received about $10 billion in FY 2023. How are you using those funds to address and mitigate threats of cross boundary fires, that start on federal lands and obviously cross over into private forest?

 Moore: You know, one of the things — one of the strategies, we have in the wildfire crisis, strategy that we develop, is to look at two pieces: we have said that we want to address 20 million acres of federal lands, of Forest Service lands as a matter of fact, but an additional 30 million acres of other federal, tribal and private lands …

 Britt: OK.

 Moore: … throughout the country. And so, when we look at addressing to scale, we looked at landscapes, and when we look at landscapes, it’s multiple jurisdictions.

Britt: OK.

Moore: And so, we want to be able to deploy the work in a way where it’s effective. So, we’d be looking at strategically placed treatments
across the landscape. In fact, our scientists are telling us that when you look at a fire shed as an example, which is about a 250,000-acre block, we only need to treat anywhere between 20% to 40% of that to have a positive effect on how that fire behaves when it moves through that fireshed.

Britt: OK.

Moore: And so, we’re looking at that. We’re using science as the foundation for making decisions on how we approach that. And we also know that the only way forward is to do it in a collaborative manner, where we invite a community of people into the decision space, to talk about what we need to do out there together. And so that’s the direction that we’re headed in. We know that we need to invite the people into the decision space, not just, you know, in the position of giving us their recommendation, but making them a part of deciding what the problem is, defining what the problem is, but also helping to pursue the solution together as well.

 Britt: No, I certainly appreciate that spirit of collaboration and letting everybody have a seat at the table.