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Healthy Forest : An Initiative for Wildfire Prevention and Stronger Communities

Executive Summary

The American people, their property, and our environment, particularly the forests and rangelands of the West, are threatened by catastrophic fires and environmental degradation. Hundreds of millions of trees and invaluable habitat are destroyed each year by these severe wildfires. These unnaturally extreme fires are caused by a crisis of deteriorating forest and rangeland health, the result of a century of well-intentioned but misguided land management. Renewed efforts to restore our public lands to healthy conditions are needed.

This fire season is already one of the worst in modern history.

Catastrophic fires are caused by deteriorating forest and rangeland health.

America's public lands have undergone radical changes during the last century due to the suppression of fires and a lack of active forest and rangeland management. Frequent, low-intensity fires play an important role in healthy forest and rangeland ecosystems, maintaining natural plant conditions and reducing the buildup of fuels. Natural, low-intensity fires burn smaller trees and undergrowth while leaving large trees generally intact. Natural fires also maintain natural plant succession cycles, preventing the spread of invasive plant species in forests and rangelands. This produces forests that are open and resistant to disease, drought, and severe wildfires.

Today, the forests and rangelands of the West have become unnaturally dense, and ecosystem health has suffered significantly. When coupled with seasonal droughts, these unhealthy forests, overloaded with fuels, are vulnerable to unnaturally severe wildfires. Currently, 190 million acres of public land are at increased risk of catastrophic wildfires.

These deteriorated forest and rangeland conditions significantly affect people, property, and ecosystem health.

Enhanced measures are needed to restore forest and rangeland health to reduce the risk of these catastrophic wildfires.

Federal, state, tribal and local governments are making unprecedented efforts to reduce the buildup of fuels and restore forests and rangelands to healthy conditions. Yet, needless red tape and lawsuits delay effective implementation of forest health projects. This year's crisis compels more timely decisions, greater efficiency, and better results to reduce catastrophic wildfire threats to communities and the environment.

The Healthy Forests Initiative will implement core components of the National Fire Plan's 10-year Comprehensive Strategy and Implementation Plan. This historic plan, which was adopted this spring by federal agencies and western governors, in collaboration with county commissioners, state foresters, and tribal officials, calls for more active forest and rangeland management. It establishes a framework for protecting communities and the environment through local collaboration on thinning, planned burns and forest restoration projects.

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