February 14 – WASHINGTON — The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a new report today, Wildland Fire Management: Important Progress Has Been Made, but Challenges Remain to Completing a Cohesive Strategy (GAO-05-147). The report was produced for the Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health as a follow-up to a 1999 report. The subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) will hold an oversight hearing on the report, Thursday, February 17 at 11:00 AM in 1324 Longworth House Office Building.
“I appreciate the work of the GAO in producing a report of this depth and nature and agree with their findings. The Healthy Forests Act has been an effective tool for reducing the threat of catastrophic fire,” said Subcommittee Chairman Walden. “However, as the GAO report recognizes, there remains a significant amount of progress to be made in the future. I look forward to having GAO present the findings and recommendations of the report to the subcommittee on Thursday.”
In 1999, GAO issued a report, Western National Forests: A Cohesive Strategy is Needed to Address Catastrophic Wildfire, where they identified the over accumulation of vegetation which causes catastrophic wildfires as the number one threat to the health of our national forests. In their new report, GAO found that the implementation of the Healthy Forests Act has contributed to an upward trend in hazardous fuels reduction projects.
While noting that progress has been made through fuels reduction projects, national strategies and increased funding, wildland fires have still continued to increase in recent years.
“The GAO recognized the role of the Healthy Forest Act in addressing the conditions in our national forests,” said Resources Committee Chairman Richard W. Pombo (R-CA). “However, we all know how much work still needs to be done to correct the nation’s wildland fire problems that have been decades in the making. It is vital Congress continue to improve and expand the abilities of the Forest Service to treat hazardous fuels on national forestland if we are to continue making progress toward healthier forests.”
In the report, GAO recommends among other things that the Secretaries of Agriculture and Interior provide Congress with a plan outlining the critical steps for completing a cohesive strategy to address future wildland fire policies. Identifying long-term fuel reduction options and securing necessary funding will be critical to a comprehensive strategy.