Washington—Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) called on Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to increase efforts to remove dead and dying trees in California’s national forests to decrease the risk of catastrophic wildfire.
“Despite heavy rains last winter, California is still recovering from a historic and prolonged drought that killed 129 million trees across 8.9 million acres of the state,” Senator Feinstein wrote. “That number will continue to rise, particularly in national forests under the jurisdiction of your department, and contribute to increased wildfire risks, especially in or around local communities, power lines and commercial structures.”
Full text of the letter follows:
January 8, 2018
The Honorable Sonny Perdue
Secretary of Agriculture
United States Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, D.C. 20250
Dear Secretary Perdue:
I write to follow up on my attached June 1, 2017 letter as well as regarding several issues related to California’s growing tree mortality crisis. In light of California’s recent catastrophic wildfires, additional steps that can be taken by your Department are necessary now more than ever.
This year’s wildfire season is already one of the worst in California history, and the ongoing Thomas wildfire in Southern California is now the largest ever. Thousands of homes, businesses, and farms have burned down, and 45 civilians and 1 firefighter have died this year. I toured the Northern California areas of Sonoma County and Napa County in November, and it was the worst fire disaster I have ever seen.
Despite heavy rains last winter, California is still recovering from a historic and prolonged drought that killed 129 million trees across 8.9 million acres of the state. That number will continue to rise, particularly in National Forests under the jurisdiction of your department, and contribute to increased wildfire risks, especially in or around local communities, power lines, and commercial structures.
While I continue to work with my Senate colleagues to provide a long-term fix to the Forest Service budget, I respectfully request the following (detailed in Attachment 1):
- Use existing Forest Service authorities to increase the pace and scale of hazardous dead tree removal, including existing agency authority to lift the export ban on “surplus species” or trees not commercially viable in the US
- Redirect $156 million in additional funds for removal of dead trees in California
- Provide transportation subsidies to help remove dead/dying trees from forests and send them to mills or biomass facilities
- Incentivize biomass in rural areas to better utilize dead/dying timber
Thank you for the recently announced Regional Conservation Partnership Program projects in California, especially the $10 million to address tree mortality in the Sierra Nevada. However, much more work and funding needs to be prioritized, given the scale of the tree mortality crisis.
Forest Service Chief Tooke recently stated in an interview with E&E News on November 30, 2017, that “We want to do more”, noting that additional funding is essential to increasing the pace of treatment: “The more resources we have, the more we’ll be able to do.” I agree with Chief Tooke, and I hope we can continue to work together to tackle these critical issues.
Please let me know your availability to discuss these matters. I look forward to meeting with you and working together to find solutions to the challenges facing California and the nation.
United States Senator