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Manchin, Committee Question Forest Service Chief Randy Moore on President’s FY 2025 Budget Request

To watch a video of Senator Manchin’s opening remarks, please click here. 

To watch a video of Senator Manchin’s questioning, please click here.

Washington, DC – Today, U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Joe Manchin (D-WV) held a hearing to question U.S. Forest Service (USFS) Chief Randy Moore on the President’s budget request for the USFS for Fiscal year (FY) 2025. During the hearing, Chairman Manchin discussed staffing issues at the USFS, the opportunity to salvage burnt timber and the closure of 25 sawmills nationwide. 

“All signs point to an active fire year in the U.S., and I know my colleagues from Western states are on pins and needles watching for the next ignition that could devastate a community. Our Committee has considered several bills that would support an improved wildfire response network, from increasing the use of technology for wildfire detection to integrating the local community’s loggers and volunteer firefighters into wildfire suppression efforts on federal land,” said Chairman Manchin during his opening remarks. “In the meantime, Congress has tried to address this problem at the source by investing heavily in hazardous fuels reduction. Between the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), the Forest Service has been given about $12 billion on top of your annual appropriations. Now that we’re a few years into those laws, today is a good opportunity for us to take stock of how the Forest Service is implementing those historic investments, as well as the proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2025.” 

During the hearing, Chairman Manchin questioned Chief Moore about staffing costs and capacity. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the IRA included supplemental funding to cover costs for additional staff.

“Your budget indicates you’ve increased the size of your workforce by more than 3,000 employees since 2021. I understand about a month ago you instituted a thirty-day hiring pause for non-fire staff in order to conduct a strategic assessment of your staffing and get a handle on your budget, so we’d like to know what you came up with,” said Chairman Manchin. 

“We did a number of things. We had to bring in a new skillset to complement the skillsets we currently have, and we looked at the trends that are developing in this country and it’s things around working with partners, working with communities. So, we also needed to add to our skillset people that know how to work with communities, know how to bring people to the table, to facilitate and convene meetings, because what we ultimately want to do is share the decision space with local communities,” said Chief Moore. 

Chairman Manchin questioned Chief Moore about the USFS’s work manually reforesting National Forest System lands. Since 2020, the amount of National Forest System lands in need of manual reforestation has increased by more than 260 percent due to catastrophic wildfires. However, the USFS has said that only 6 percent of post-wildfire planting needs are met annually.

“Are my figures wrong here? Have you done more than six percent?” asked Chairman Manchin.

“I wouldn’t argue with your figures,” replied Chief Moore.

“This is a pretty poor performance on that, as far as getting up to speed,” said Chairman Manchin.

Chairman Manchin also asked about the opportunity to salvage burnt timber.

“Salvaging the burnt timber that we have that still has value to it, why are we not doing that?” asked Chairman Manchin.

“When we try to have large timber sale projects to recoup the salvage, many times we get litigated on that…Our challenge as we go through the litigation to defend why we are wanting to do what we want to do. Winning is not the answer, delaying these salvage sales long enough so that they begin to lose value so that they’re not worth purchasing after a period of time,” said Chief Moore. 

Chairman Manchin also asked about the shutdown of 25 mills near National Forests nationwide and the impact these closures could have on rural communities and USFS’s goals. 

“What authorities do you have to ensure consistent supply of Federal timber and give these sawmills some ability to weather the current market volatility?” asked Chairman Manchin.

“When you look at the economy in and of itself, it’s moving away from paper products. So that has a negative impact on some of the mills that produce that type of material. When you look at small diameter or low value type material, most of our facilities use the large commercial saw logs, and so a part of what we want to do is to help and work with industry to transition, to have a more diversified portfolio, and look at some of the products: biofuel, biochar, nanocellulose material, cross-laminated timber. These are the types of technologies that are emerging, but our infrastructure in general is not set up to use that material in abundance, so we are trying to work with industry to transition to that,” said Chief Moore. 

To watch the hearing in full, please click here.

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