WASHINGTON – Drought has killed about 12 million trees in California’s national forests. In the Rocky Mountain region, an epidemic of pine beetles has damaged trees over a stretch of 32 million acres.
Altogether, up to 40 percent of the entire national forest system is in need of treatment to reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfire and disease.
As the national forests suffer from drought, density and infestation, House Republicans are resurrecting efforts to thin more quickly millions of acres and take down dead trees.
Robert Bonnie, an undersecretary who oversees the Forest Service, told The Associated Press that some of the GOP’s approaches are “interesting and we want to engage in the conversation.”
But both men emphasized that the biggest problems they face are budgetary. Fires are eating up so much of the agency’s budget that it has 39 percent fewer employees than it had nearly two decades ago.
“We’re taking people out of the field that put together the projects to reduce fire in the first place,” Bonnie said. “So even if you give the Forest Service a bunch of new tools and tool boxes, we don’t have enough people on the ground to reach the type of scale we need. So we have to fix the fire budget.”