The Healthy Forests Initiative: Protecting People, Wildlife, and Ecosystems
"Almost 750 million acres of forest stand, tall and beautiful across the 50 states. We have a responsibility to be good stewards of our forests. That’s a solemn responsibility. And the legislation I sign today carries forward this ethic of stewardship. With the Healthy Forest Restoration Act we will help to prevent catastrophic wildfires, we’ll help save lives and property, and we’ll help protect our forests from sudden and needless destruction. … This bill was passed because members of Congress looked at sound science, did the best they could to get all the politics out of the way for good legislation. Members from both parties came together, people from different regions of the country. A broad range of people who care about our forests were listened to, whether they be conservationists, or resource managers, people from the South, people from the West, people from New York. You see, we all share duties of stewardship."
President George W. Bush
Years of hazardous fuels build-up, coupled with drought conditions, insect infestation, and disease, make forests and rangelands in many areas throughout the country vulnerable to often intense and environmentally destructive fires. In 2002 and 2003, 147,049 fires burned nearly 11 million acres. In 2002, 88,458 fires burned roughly 7 million acres and resulted in the deaths of 23 firefighters. The California fires of 2003, predominantly on State and private lands, cost $157 million to contain and resulted in 24 deaths.
The Administration is responding to this challenge by proposing record levels of funding for firefighting (up 60 percent from 2000), hiring additional fire fighters, purchasing additional equipment, accomplishing record levels of fuels treatment (The estimated 2.7 million acres to be treated in 2004 is up 1.5 million acres since 2000) and by advancing the President’s Healthy Forests Initiative.
In May 2003, the Administration completed implementation of the administrative improvements President Bush called for as part of his Healthy Forests Initiative. These improvements will reduce complex procedures, provide more timely decisions and provide greater flexibility in emergency situations. These improvements include:
On December 3, 2003, the President signed the Healthy Forests Restoration Act into law, implementing key objectives outlined in his Healthy Forests Initiative. The Healthy Forests Restoration Act, which received overwhelming bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress, strengthens public participation in developing high priority forest health projects; reduces the complexity of environmental analysis allowing federal land agencies to use the best science available to actively manage land under their protection; provides a more effective appeals process encouraging early public participation in project planning; and issues clear guidance for court action against forest health projects.
The Healthy Forests Initiative and related activities are yielding results:
The Environmental Merits of Thinning Crowded Forests
Both areas below burned…
Area thinned prior to wildfire: the fire was less intense, cooler and burned lower to the ground. The forest is vibrant shortly after the fire. The trees were unscathed.
Area unthinned: the fire was intense, hot and burned even the crowns of trees. The large trees are dead, and little regeneration is occurring; the soil is sterilized.