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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
August 24, 2002

Radio Address by the President to the Nation

THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. While visiting the west coast this week, I saw the destructive effects of one of the worst wildfire seasons in history. The catastrophic blazes we have seen this summer, and which I saw firsthand in Oregon, threaten the safety of forest communities and firefighters; destroy homes, businesses, farms and critical wildlife habitat; and leave behind long-last environmental damage. I join all Americans in thanking the brave firefighters for their service.

As we work to put out the fires and bring relief to their victims, we also have a responsibility to prevent the devastation that can be caused by future fires. For too long, America's fire prevention strategy has been shortsighted. Forest policies have not focused on thinning, the clearing of the forest floor of built-up brush and densely packed trees that create the fuel for extremely large fires like those experienced this year.

This hands-off approach to forest management has been devastating to our environment, and it can take more than a century for forests to recover from these fires. One forest ranger said of this year's fire season, "In the next few years to come, it won't be the exception, it will be norm because of how we have managed our forests."

We need a different approach. People who fight fires and study forests agree that we must strengthen the health of our forests through a combination of thinning and quickly restoring areas damaged by fires. By actively managing our forests in this way, we'll help our environment by reducing the number of acres of forest land that catastrophic fires burn each year.

On Thursday, I announced important new steps to restore the health of America's forests and help prevent the kind of devastating fires we have seen this year. We will guard against excessive red tape and endless litigation that stand in the way of sensible forest management decisions.

I have directed Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman and Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton to reduce bureaucracy and speed up the process of thinning on public lands. And I urge Congress to pass legislation that will ensure that vital forest restoration projects are not tied up in courts forever. Some members of Congress have already gotten important forest reform passed for their states because they know it is the fastest and most effective way to get forests thinned. We should pass this important reform to help protect all of America's forests.

My administration will work with Congress to deliver on the unfulfilled promises of the 1994 Northwest Forest Plan. The plan was crafted to protect wildlife habitat and recreational areas, while employing more than 100,000 people through sustainable timber harvesting in a small portion of the forests. My proposals will reduce the threat of wildfires that have destroyed people's homes and livelihoods. They will restore the health of America's forests, provide greater safety to our citizens and protect our environment for generations to come.

Thank you for listening.