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Press Release, Senator Gordon Smith's office 5/11/04

Smith Secures Commitment from USDA to Complete Oregon Forest Health Projects
Suggests Possible Legislation to Speed Rehabilitation of Wildlife
Habitat Destroyed by Fire

            Washington, DC - Today, at a hearing of the Senate Energy
and Natural Resources Committee, Senator Gordon Smith received
assurances from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) of its
continued commitment to rehabilitating habitat and restoring forest
health to areas in Oregon devastated by wildfire.
            "I have great hopes for projects authorized under the
Healthy Forests Act," said Smith.  "But we can't ignore the fact that
millions of acres of forests have already been destroyed by fire in
Oregon and are not covered by the Act."
            In 2002, the Biscuit fire burned 500,000 acres in southern
Oregon and cost taxpayers more than $150 million to fight.  The largest
fire in recorded Oregon history, it left 200,000 acres of old conifer
forest habitats susceptible to being overtaken by brush for decades if
left untouched.  Currently, competing vegetation is becoming thick,
blocking the next generation of forest from growing, while federal
agencies face imminent lawsuits blocking their work at restoring the
            Smith also referenced a recent letter he wrote to the U.S.
Attorney General regarding the Metolius Basin Forest Management Project.
He noted that for several years, the U.S. Forest Service worked with
local environmentalists, foresters, and residents to reach an agreement
to move the forest thinning project forward.  The Project has been
delayed by lawsuits and activists seeking to prevent Metolius'
rehabilitation even as wildfire burned into the area, forcing the
complete evacuation of Camp Sherman last summer.  In his letter, Smith
urged the U.S. Department of Justice to work expeditiously to ensure
that the continued, but as yet unsuccessful, litigation does not
compromise the integrity of the Project.
            USDA Undersecretary for Natural Resources and the
Environment Mark Rey assured Smith that the Forest Service and the other
relevant federal agencies remain committed to restoring habitat and
returning Oregon's forests to health.  Rey further noted that while the
appeals process is indeed delaying the projects, the Forest Service has
been successful in each of the court battles waged this year.
            "I'm optimistic that the Healthy Forests Act will be a great
success in dealing with future fires," Smith said after the hearing.
"At the same time, I will be monitoring the fire rehabilitation projects
closely to decide whether we need to pass additional legislation that
will address the needs of forests and habitats that have already been






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