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 Home > News & Policies > August 2002

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
August 21, 2002

Fact Sheet: The Healthy Forests Initiative

Today's Presidential Action

  • President Bush traveled to Oregon today to announce his new Healthy Forests Initiative. The Bush Administration will:

    • Significantly step up efforts to prevent the damage caused by catastrophic wildfires by reducing unnecessary regulatory obstacles that hinder active forest management;

    • Work with Congress to pass legislation that addresses the unhealthy forest crisis by expediting procedures for forest thinning and restoration projects; and

    • Fulfill the promise of the 1994 Northwest Forest Plan to ensure the sustainable forest management and appropriate timber production.

    Background on Today's Presidential Action

  • The 2002 fire season is already one of the worst in modern history. More than 5.9 million acres have burned this year -- an area the size of New Hampshire and twice the annual average. This year's fires have driven tens of thousands of people from their homes, destroyed more than 2,000 homes and structures, and caused the deaths of 20 firefighters. These fires have also killed hundreds of millions of trees, devastated habitat, and severely damaged forest soils and watersheds for decades to come.

  • 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. In healthy forests, low-intensity fires help rejuvenate habitat by clearing out underbrush and small trees, leaving an open forest with strong, fire-resistant, mature trees. Today, the forests and rangelands of the West have become unnaturally dense, and ecosystems have suffered.

  • When coupled with seasonal droughts, these unhealthy forests are vulnerable to unnaturally severe wildfires. They are overloaded with the fuels for fires -- underbrush and small trees. A large, catastrophic fire can release the energy equivalent of an atomic bomb and destroy, rather than renew, our forests.

  • Currently, 190 million acres of public land and surrounding communities are at increased risk of extreme fires. In May, the federal government reached agreement with 17 western governors, tribal, and local officials on a comprehensive 10-year Fire Plan implementation strategy to reduce the threat of severe fires and promote healthy forests. This strategy calls for active forest management, through thinning and prescribed burns, to reduce the unnatural buildup of fuels.

  • Current firefighting techniques are often successful, but land managers must do more to prevent these catastrophic fires. The federal government has provided record levels of support for firefighting, but efforts to tackle the root cause of these fires through active forest management are too often hindered by unnecessary procedural delays and litigation.

  • For example, in Oregon, federal officials identified the Squires Peak area as a high fire risk in 1996, and began planning a project to thin crowded trees and dense underbrush on 24,000 acres. After six years of analysis and documentation, administrative appeals and two lawsuits, work was allowed to begin on 430 acres of the original 24,000-acre project. When lightning ignited the Squires Peak fire on July 13, 2002, with only a fraction of the area thinned, the fire quickly spread to 2,800 acres. The thinned area was unharmed by the fire. In unthinned areas, the fire killed most trees, sterilized soils and destroyed the habitat of threatened spotted owls. The fire cost $2 million to suppress, and $1 million will be needed to rehabilitate the devastated area.

  • The 1994 Northwest Forest Plan, which was designed to produce a healthy and sustainable forest economy while providing needed habitat protection, has failed to live up to its promise due to costly delays and unnecessary litigation. The Bush Administration will work with all interested parties, including Congress, to resolve the legal and procedural problems that have undermined the promise of the Northwest Forest Plan.

    For more information on the President's initiatives, please visit