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Forestry policy could change

| Wednesday, July 3, 2013, 7:39 p.m.

WASHINGTON — Congressional Republicans, who have long tangled with Democrats and environmentalists over how aggressively to remove trees and other vegetation from national forests, will renew their push for stepped-up thinning as a result of the deaths of 19 firefighters in Yarnell, Ariz.

They have called a hearing of the House natural resources subcommittee on public lands and environmental regulation next Thursday to examine how “excessive growth” in forests may be adding to the risk of wildfire.

The hearing will focus on how “unnatural, unhealthy forests increase the risk of wildfire,” according to a news release from the panel.

“For years federal bureaucrats, heavily influenced by environmentalists, have failed to actively manage our national forests, which can lead to out-of-control wildfires, and threaten life and property in our Western states,” Rep. Doug Lamborn a Colorado Republican and committee member, said in a statement. “We need the federal government to work more closely with state and local governments to better manage the forest lands and protect the surrounding communities.”

Another committee member, Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., said an abundance of “beetle-killed timber” and dry conditions have complicated efforts of firefighters in his state to suppress the 97,000-acre West Fork blaze.

“The fire has acted in a way that defies computer models and has been incredibly devastating,” Tipton said in a statement. “This is a Western emergency, and this hearing will be about what needs to be done to address it and save our forests.”

Environmental groups have been wary of past GOP plans to more aggressively thin forests, saying the efforts are driven by logging companies seeking to loosen protections in national forests.

Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden, chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, has long criticized the White House's plan to slash funding for a program that pays to remove “hazardous fuels — brush, diseased trees and dead vegetation — before the fire season starts.

The administration's 2014 budget request to Congress seeks $296 million for hazardous-fuels reduction — sharply lower than the $502 million Congress set aside in fiscal 2012.

That's bad policy, Wyden said, especially when a long-running drought and extreme heat have heightened the fire risk in the West.

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