DENVER, Dec. 16 /U.S. Newswire/ — The Western Governors’ Association has sent to the Secretaries of the U.S. Departments of Interior and Agriculture a report from WGA’s forest health advisory committee on the progress made and improvements needed in implementing the 10-Year Comprehensive Wildfire Strategy. The Governors, Secretaries and a number of affected entities approved the strategy in 2001.
WGA’s advisory committee is made up of more than 50 experts on forest health policy, including timber industry representatives, state and federal land managers, rural community leaders and environmental representatives.
“WGA’s 10-Year Strategy has been the cornerstone of our efforts in the West to protect communities and the environment from the dangers of catastrophic wildfire. This report from our advisors is key to keeping the Strategy up to date and forward looking,” said Governor Dirk Kempthorne of Idaho, WGA’s co-lead for forest health issues. “Every county in Idaho now has a collaborative plan to proactively address the wildfire threat. As Governors, we must continue to work closely with our federal partners and stakeholders on the ground, to pursue smart policies and actions.”
Gov. Janet Napolitano of Arizona, WGA’s Vice Chair and co-lead for this issue said the report shows “progress is being made on the ground to address the wildfire threat, but much more needs to be done using the collaborative approach in WGA’s 10-Year Strategy. A prime example is the recently issued Apache-Sitgraves stewardship contract in Arizona, which benefits communities and focuses on the restoration of our forests.
“The advisory committee’s report makes clear that additional work is needed to fully implement the 10 strategy and that we need clarification of policy in several areas including forest restoration and promoting economic development in rural communities next to these lands. I am pleased to work with Governor Kempthorne and our colleagues to lead WGA’s efforts on these and other wildfire issues that impact Western forests and rangelands.”
The committee’s report reviews progress made for each of the goals in the 10-Year Strategy. They include improving fire prevention and suppression; reducing hazardous fuels; restoring fire-adapted ecosystems; and, promoting community assistance. The advisors noted a number of recurring themes:
— a need for information sharing and monitoring of accomplishments and forest conditions to improve transparency;
— a need for committed long-term funding of the 10-Year Strategy;
— the need for a landscape-level vision for restoration of forests;
— the importance of promoting fire as a management tool; and,
— a strong call for improved collaboration at all levels of government in all 10-Year Strategy activities.
Among the advisory committee members is Sandy Shaffer, a representative of Southern Oregon’s Applegate Partnership and project coordinator for the 2002 Applegate Fire Plan. She pointed out that “the collaborative model recognized in the WGA Strategy is being used successfully in many places like the Applegate Valley. Our joint efforts are reducing fuels on the ground to help protect communities and the surrounding lands from catastrophic wildfire. WGA’s advisors believe this collaborative approach can be strengthened and used even more widely across the West.”
Julia Altemus with the Montana Logging Association is a member of the WGA Forest Health Advisory Committee.
“To strengthen the economy of Montana’s rural areas, we need state and federal agencies to work with and fully consider the local workforce and potential community benefits when designing forest health treatments,” Altemus said. “There are a lot of overstocked trees that need to be thinned from overgrown forests and these resources can be the lifeblood of local economies.”
Advisor Todd Schulke with the Center for Biological Diversity in New Mexico credited the Governors with showing leadership in restoring our forests.
“The Governors’ 10-Year Forest Health Strategy needs to focus more on defining comprehensive forest restoration practices that will reduce the risk of large, unnatural fires, restore natural processes, and compliment community fire protection efforts,” Schulke said. “The advisory committee is calling on the Governors to continue to provide strong leadership in efforts to build agreement and clarify national policy that emphasizes ecological restoration on forested lands, including the use of fire as a restoration tool.”
The WGA letter to the Secretaries praises efforts so far: “Great progress has been made on the implementation of the 10-Year Strategy thanks in large part to your leadership and that of the professional staffs of the Forest Service and the Department of the Interior fire agencies. We believe our Western communities and environment are safer as a result of these efforts. Nonetheless, we also believe that much more remains to be accomplished to protect our communities and restore our western forest and rangeland resources. The enclosed report of the WGA Forest Health Advisory Committee details a comprehensive approach in this regard.”
WGA will seek implementation of the report by working closely with the federal Wildland Fire Leadership Council and WGA’s Forest Health Advisory Committee.
The report and other information related to WGA’s forest health initiative can be found on the Web at http://www.westgov.org.
The Western Governors’ Association is an independent, nonprofit organization representing the governors of 18 states and three U.S.-Flag islands in the Pacific. Through their Association, the Western governors identify and address key policy and governance issues in natural resources, the environment, human services, economic development, international relations and public management.