Washington, D.C. — Today, Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, Chair of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry’s Subcommittee on Conservation, Climate, Forestry, and Natural Resources, released his opening statement ahead of the subcommittee’s hearing, “Forestry in the Farm Bill: The Importance of America’s Forests.”
Bennet’s opening statement as prepared is available below. A livestream of the hearing starting at 8:30 a.m. MT/10:30 a.m. ET is available HERE.
Good morning everybody. I am pleased to call this Subcommittee Meeting on Conservation, Climate, Forestry, and Natural Resources to order.
I’m grateful to Ranking Member Marshall for partnering with me on this hearing, and to all of our colleagues who join us this morning.
We have three goals in mind for this hearing:
To shed light on the critical importance of forests to America.
To underscore the threats to our forests from a changing climate and shortsighted federal policy.
And finally, to start an urgent conversation about how we might correct course and provide our forests the investment and responsible management they deserve.
To help us, we’re joined by several expert witnesses this morning — a scientist, a conservationist, a state forester, a private landowner, and the owner of a timber mill. I am deeply grateful to each of you for being here.
In my travels across Colorado and the country, virtually everyone I’ve met appreciates our forests. But very few people understand their full contribution — or their scale.
Over a third of American land is forests — over 822 million acres.
Forests cover every region of the country — from the maple stands of New England to the tropical rainforests of Hawaii to the aspen groves of Colorado.
Most Americans associate forests with wildlife habitat and stunning natural beauty. But their value goes far beyond that.
Forests are responsible for the air we breathe and the water we drink.
My state is the headwaters of the Colorado River, which starts in Rocky Mountain National Park. When the snow melts and the rains fall, the pine, spruce, and aspen trees filter the water, removing pollutants and excess nutrients.
The trees also regulate water levels — absorbing more during heavy rains to limit floods.
Forests perform this service every day all across the country, acting as guardians of America’s rivers, streams, and lakes. In fact, National Forests are America’s largest source of freshwater and provide drinking water to 180 million people every day.
So every time you turn on the tap, or water your garden, or eat anything grown on a U.S. farm — or take a breath — you should thank America’s forests.
There was a time when the country didn’t fully appreciate their importance. In the late 19th and early 20th century, rampant logging, mining, and clear-cutting threatened this essential resource, prompting Teddy Roosevelt to create the Forest Service in 1905.
Almost 120 years later, forests have only become more important to America.
The forest-products industry alone generates over $200 billion a year in sales and employs over 900,000 people.
In the West, forests drive our outdoor economy. In Colorado, people from around the world visit our forests to hike, bike, ski, and enjoy the solitude of nature. Across the country, National Forests contribute $13 billion a year to the economy.
They also protect our communities. Forests limit erosion, reducing the risk of floods and mudslides. And they fight climate change by storing almost 15 percent of America’s carbon emissions from fossil fuels.
But today, America’s forests are under terrible strain.
In Colorado, rising temperatures have created an infestation of pine and spruce beetles that have turned entire valleys of green forest into expanses of dull and brittle gray.
Across the West, a changing climate has also set our forests ablaze, incinerating homes and blanketing communities in smoke.
My words can never capture the devastation from these blazes, so I want to play a brief clip of two of the largest fires we’ve had in my state – the East Troublesome Fire and Cameron Peak Fire in 2020.
Today, there’s no “season” for these fires — they burn year-round. And they leave behind a wake of devastation for communities and ecosystems.
And after fires blaze through the landscape, they often leave burn scars that put our communities at risk of flooding and mudslides.
Here’s a mudslide in Glenwood Canyon from 2021. It severed I-70 for weeks, a major east-west artery for people and freight traversing America.
I raise all of this because Washington bears some responsibility for the poor condition of our forests due to short-sighted federal policy. For decades, we’ve underinvested in forest health.
The West suffers the consequences with devastating fires, and America foots the bill by spending $67 billion in the last five years on suppression and recovery.
It costs $1,500 an acre to invest in forest health and reduce wildfire risk, while it costs $50,000 an acre to fight a fire after it’s caught. There’s nothing fiscally responsible about that.
Let me end with this.
Here is a grove of old growth, ponderosa pines in the San Juan National Forest. Across our history, America changed the landscape so much, we don’t even know what a healthy forest looks like anymore. And it’s time we reacquaint ourselves with the idea once again.
It’s time we recognize that the health of forests in one state affects many states.
Consider the Arkansas River — or as the Ranking Member would say, the Ar-Kansas River. (I cannot even believe those words came out of my mouth.) Its headwaters start in the Pike San Isabel National Forest near Leadville, Colorado.
The River flows nearly 1,500 miles from my state through Kansas to Oklahoma, and Arkansas, before flowing into the Mississippi River.
The health of Colorado’s forests affects the water in every one of those states. It affects whether ranchers in Oklahoma can raise their cattle; whether families in Arkansas can water their gardens; and whether farmers in Kansas can feed America.
And the health of Colorado’s forests — and America’s forests — turn on the decisions we make in this Committee, for better or worse.
I don’t arrive at this hearing pretending to have all the answers — far from it. But I do come with a sense of urgency to treat America’s forests as the essential national infrastructure they are, and I am prepared to work with every member of this Committee to achieve it.