Reopened Saratoga Forest Management sawmill in Wyoming is providing 'much-needed' forest management, employing 150 people, owner tells US Senate committee, says area's forest is experiencing '100% mortality' from pests, diseases, creating wildfire risk

WASHINGTON , February 6, 2014 (press release) – “Funds freed up from litigation will allow the U.S. Forest Service to devote more funds to increasing the pace and scale of forest restoration, which in turn improves our wildlife habitat, air quality and protects our watersheds."

Today, U.S. Senator John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) introduced Wyoming business owner Clint Georg, a partner of Saratoga Forest Management and a member of the Federal Forest Resource Coalition (FFRC), before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Mr. Georg testified about the importance of active forest management and why he believes Barrasso’s “National Forest Jobs and Management Act” (S. 1966) offers a meaningful step forward in restoring our national forests.

Excerpts of Clint Georg’s remarks:

“My name is Clint Georg and I am one of the owners of a sawmill located in Saratoga, Wyoming. I appreciate the opportunity to comment on the legislation before this committee today. I will direct my remarks to the bill, and share with you my insights I have gained as my partners and I have worked to restart the mill in Saratoga.

“I am also here as a member of the Federal Forest Resource Coalition. FFRC represents purchasers of Forest Service and BLM timber in 32 states. Let me start by describing my company.

“Our sawmill is located in Saratoga, Wyoming— a beautiful small town of 1,700 people, located in the southern part of the state. Saratoga is fortunate, in addition to having a gold medal trout river running through town, it also has a sawmill.

“In January of last year, we were able to reopen that sawmill after it had sat idle for more than 10 years. Our company now has more than 150 people working for it. We are the largest employer in this town. We have hired people who had previously had no work, or seasonal work and we’ve given them full-time jobs.

“We have employees and their families move into town and expanded the communities. And have noticed existing businesses growing and new businesses opening up in the town. I believe this success demonstrates the impact that an active timber industry can have on a rural economy.

“The mill now provides much needed forest management in the adjacent national forests. This need is heightened by the crisis affecting those forests and many other of our forests nationwide.

“Disease and insects are killing millions of acres of trees. The forest in our area is experiencing nearly 100% mortality. This leads to massive fires, impacts our watersheds, affects our air quality and ruins the ecology that supports our wildlife.

“It is particularly galling that this situation was in large part created by policy, not by nature. Yes— drought and climate change play a role in this crisis, but the now discounted past forest management policies are the root cause.

“Suppressing fires in these forests, a policy in place since 1908, combined with the dramatically reduced timber harvest starting in the 1990’s, created a situation in our area of too many trees—all of the same approximate age, packed too closely together and fighting for too few nutrients. A situation perfectly suited for massive outbreaks of insects, disease and fire.

“Active forest management is needed to help restore our forests. But in a cruel irony, in the midst of one an unprecedented catastrophe affecting our forests, the very companies that can use this timber to help pay to restore the woodlands are suffering from a lack of access to timber.

“As an example, in Wyoming, Colorado and South Dakota, we have a small industry comprised of private and family owned timber businesses that must rely on federal forests for their supply of logs.

“However, in this area with 7 million acres of infected forests needing critical management, the Forest Service is unable to treat even .7% of these annually—that’ s the amount needed for us as an industry to survive.

On Sen Barrasso’s National Forest Jobs and Management Act:

“Let me be clear. The Forest Service wants active forest management—they want to see our timber businesses survive and help restore the forests. But they do not have the fiscal resources to do what is needed.

“One reason for this is the financial drain to the Forest Service of administering NEPA under the current constraints of possible litigation.

“Senator Barrasso’s bill provides an opportunity to try a new approach on a limited scale. It proposes to take less than 4% of the National Forest System and allow the Forest Service to use a streamlined approach to NEPA and ESA.

“This proposed bill will preserve the ability of interested parties to file objections, but streamlines the process using binding arbitration to reduce cost which puts more resources in the management of the land, rather than litigation.

“Senator Barrasso’s bill also directs the Forest service to implement timber harvests on 7.5 million acres over a 15 year time frame. Timber harvests put money back to the Forest Service and help pay for other resource management.

“The impact of Senator Barrasso’s bill is a win-win on many levels.

“Funds freed up from litigation will allow the U.S. Forest Service to devote more funds to increasing the pace and scale of forest restoration, which in turn improves our wildlife habitat, air quality and protects our watersheds.

“And of course restoring our forests while increasing timber sales will lead to revitalizing rural economies, much like we have seen in Saratoga.

“Thank you for this opportunity to share my thoughts and experiences. When considering action on this proposed legislation, please consider that the current system is driving the decline of our national forests and is unsustainable both ecologically and economically.

“We can’t change the fact that a great deal more of our forests will die from insects and disease in the coming year. We can’t change the near term need to spend more money and time suppressing wildfire. But what we can change is this lack of active forest management.

“Senator Barrasso’s bill offers a meaningful step forward in restoring our national forests. Therefore I strongly urge and request, on behalf of my company and the FFRC, that we support this bill and move it toward passage.”

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