Video of Murray's Remarks

(Washington, D.C.) – Today Senator Patty Murray offered an amendment to the Healthy Forests bill to better protect Old Growth forests. Specifically, Murray’s amendment would have closed two loopholes in the bill to ensure that all old growth forests are protected by a new national standard.

Murray’s proposal would still allow forests that pose a danger to be treated, but would ensure that old growth forests are treated in ways that protect their unique characteristics.

Unfortunately, Murray’s amendment failed 62-32.

Senator Murray’s Remarks Follow:

Mr. President, right now the Senate is debating the Healthy Forests bill. I believe we need to do more in this bill to protect America’s Old Growth forests. These stands of trees have great historic and cultural value. We need to clarify a few parts of this bill so that federal agencies don’t misinterpret Congressional intent to protect these historic and ecologically important resources.

So today, I’m offering a perfecting amendment to close two loopholes in the bill to ensure our Old Growth forests get the protection they deserve.

Before I turn to the details of my amendment, I want to comment on the horrible devastation we’re seeing every day in California from wildfires.

California Wildfires

Like all Americans, I’ve been watching the shocking news coverage, and my thoughts and prayers are with everyone who has been affected.

My brother is a firefighter, and I appreciate the sacrifices made by these brave men and women. In Washington state, we’ve been touched by terrible losses in recent years, including four young firefighters who died in the Thirtymile fire on July 10, 2001 in Okanogan County. It’s clear that we’ve got to take smart, responsible steps in this bill to reduce the dangerous fuel loads in our forests.

While it’s too soon to draw any final conclusions about the fires in California, I do think that the fires highlight two challenges that should be part of this debate.

Lesson: Need More Funding for Firefighting and Fire Prevention

First, it’s clear that we don’t have enough money in the budget to address our firefighting and fire prevention needs. In fact, today the Forest Service is borrowing from its fuel-reduction accounts to pay for firefighting operations. They’re robbing Peter to pay Paul. The money reserved for fuel-reduction -- if used wisely -- helps prevent fires in the first place. So the current budget is inadequate, and we’re going to pay a greater price down the road if we don’t address the resources.

Lesson: Need to Focus our Resources on the Urban-Wild Intersection

Second, because funds are limited, we’ve got to do a better job of prioritizing how we spend the money that we do have. Specifically, we need to give a higher priority to those vulnerable areas where wild lands and urban lands intersect. Those are the spots where people and property are threatened.

If we address the hazards there – and if we educate homeowners -- we’ll have a bigger impact with our limited funds. So I’m looking for an aggressive plan to reduce the fuel load in our forests, especially in the urban-wild land areas where people and property are endangered.

My Amendment to Protect Old Growth Forests

Now, Mr. President, I’d like to turn to my amendment. Old growth forests are important for many reasons. First, they represent ecosystems that are unique in nature.

These forests are made up of a complex web of plants, animals, climate, and ecological conditions that are extremely different from what’s found in younger or plantation forests. Certain animals and plants only live within these old growth ecosystems. If we are going to maintain diverse species, we must protect their habitat.

Old growth forests also have the cleanest drinking water, provide structures that make good salmon habitat, and mitigate the effects of flooding and global warming.

Finally, these forests have great historic, recreational, and spiritual value. Hiking through an old growth forest is a truly remarkable experience. It’s perhaps the only place where you can feel transported back hundreds of years and see what the first explorers saw when they encountered these cathedral forests. They are a part of our history that we cannot afford to lose.

Unfortunately, we’ve already lost many of these unique lands. Old growth used to sweep across the Pacific Northwest, but recent studies estimate that old growth makes up between 10 - 18% of the lands in the Pacific Northwest and a mere 3% of lands nationwide. There is very little left today, and we must ensure its survival.

I want to recognize my colleagues from Oregon and California who have made this bill better by including an Old Growth section in Title One. As a result, this bill is now much better than what the President and the House first proposed. But as I read the provisions, I see two loopholes that we need to close to meet the intent the authors have spelled out.

First Loophole: Does Not Protect Old Growth Forests that are Subject to Wind, Insects, Ice, & Disease

The bill lets the Forest Service and BLM treat dangerous forests, and it provides protection for old growth stands. Old growth can still be treated. It just has to be treated in a way that protects its unique character.

But if an area has insect infestations or is subject to trees being blown over, then those old growth stands lose all of their protection.

That’s a big loophole.

  • Any forest could be subject to strong winds that knock down trees.
  • Any forest could experience insect infestations.
  • Any forest could be subject to disease.
  • And almost any forest could be damaged by an ice storm.

If just one of those things happen, an old growth forest could be drastically altered in ways that destroy its unique characteristics. The underlying bill has a massive loophole in it that threatens old growth forests and subjects them to unrestrained thinning.

My amendment would close that loophole by making those lands subject to the old growth protections as well. My amendment still allows treatment of old growth – it just must protect the characteristics that we all recognize are important.

Second Loophole: This Standard Is Not Implemented in All Forests

There is a second loophole that my amendment would correct. This bill has a fine directive to protect the integrity of old growth stands. It’s Section 102, subparagraph (e) (2). I think we can all accept that standard.

But I’m concerned that it won’t be carried out because it relies on forest management plans to be implemented. And here’s the problem with that: If a forest has a management plan that is less than 11 years old, that plan will not need to be updated to meet this new standard. That’s a big loophole.

It could mean that forests with relatively recent management plans don’t have to enact the protections we’re calling for in the bill.

Fortunately, there’s an easy way to close this loophole. It involves changing just 4 words of the bill.

So my amendment does two things. First, it ensures that all hazardous fuel reduction projects on Federal lands will protect old growth forests. Second, my amendment ensures that the old growth standard in the bill applies to all Federal forests -- not just those with older management plans.

Mr. President, I want thank all my colleagues and their staff who have worked so hard on this legislation. The chairmen and ranking members of the Energy Committee and Agriculture Committee have been tireless on this bill. My western colleagues from Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and California have all been looking after the best interests of their states and constituents. I thank them all and appreciate their consideration of my amendment.

Mr. President, old growth makes it up just a fraction of our remaining public lands today. Many of these stands of trees are: older than our Union; older than the settlement of the West; and some are older than Columbus’ arrival in the New World. We need to protect them for future generations, and this amendment will strengthen the protections in the underlying bill.