U.S. Department of Agriculture — Strategy is key component of Presidents Healthy Forests Initiative to reduce the risks severe wildfires pose to people, communities and the environment
WASHINGTONThe U.S. Department of the Interior and the U.S. Department of Agriculture today released a new joint strategy for addressing hazardous fuels to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires on more than 180 million acres of public forests, woodlands and rangelands.
“Fires in public forests and rangelands threaten people, communities and natural resources in ways never before seen in the nations history, with estimates of millions of acres of federal lands at risk from unusually severe fires,” said Tom Weimer, assistant secretary of the Interior for policy, management and budget. “Because the geographic scope of the potential fire-fuels problem is enormous, a coordinated federal approach is absolutely essential for reducing and combating this threat.”
“The past five years have highlighted the importance of addressing wildland fire effects on people and natural resources. We have joined with our federal and state partners and local communities to increase fire suppression capacity, treat hazardous fuels and help communities increase their capacity to reduce losses from wildfires,” said Under Secretary of Agriculture Mark Rey. “The cohesive fuels strategy is an integral part of that approach by addressing the long term need to reduce decades of hazardous fuels buildup and restore our forests and rangelands.”
Many of todays forests have unprecedented levels of flammable materials, including underbrush, needles and leaves. Trees in tightly-packed forests are also smaller, weaker, and more susceptible to insects and diseases. These forests form huge reservoirs of fuel awaiting ignition, and pose an even more significant threat when drought is a factor. Removing hazardous fuels, either through prescribed burning or mechanical treatments, make them unavailable for fires inevitable appearance. For example, firefighters were able to contain this years February wildfire in Arizona because it burned into an area that had been treated to reduce hazardous fuels.
The 60-page report, Protecting People and Natural Resources: A Cohesive Fuels Treatment Strategy ( www.fireplan.gov), outlines a coordinated approach to fuels treatment adopted by the five major federal land management agencies: DOIs Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service and National Park Service; and USDAs Forest Service.
The report describes practices that have worked since the agencies began collaborating on the strategy and establishes a framework for future priority-setting, accountability and partnership to reduce the fuel buildup that leads to fires. It provides for even more coordination among federal agencies, tribes, state and local governments to effectively and efficiently accomplish fuels treatments through a collaborative process using the latest science and data collection.
The strategy calls for first priority to be given to the wildland urban interface areas where there is the greatest threat to human life and property. These are areas where there has been a rapid increase in the number of people building homes and communities in and near forests, woodlands, shrub lands and grasslands. Outside these areas, priority is given to reducing fuels in areas where dense, over-grown vegetation is most likely to support catastrophic fires, especially where important watersheds or wildlife habitat is at risk.
The strategy also provides details of the areas at risk, local priority setting, fire regimes and classes, and how federal and local agencies can integrate their fuels plans in the wildland interface areas.
Since the late 1990s, federal agencies have more than doubled their annual efforts to reduce hazardous fuels and more than 60 percent of that program is focused in and around communities at risk to wildland fire. From 2001-2005, federal land management agencies treated a total of 15 million acres for hazardous fuels. By the end of FY 2006, that total will approach 20 million acres.