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The Healthy Forests Initiative and Healthy Forests Restoration Act
Interim Field Guide


Over the past 2 years, administrative procedures and processes governing preparation of projects to reduce hazardous fuel and restore healthy ecological condi­tions on Federal land have undergone many changes. These changes have resulted from the Healthy Forests Initiative (HFI), launched in 2002 to reduce administrative process delays to implementation of such projects, and from the Healthy Forests Restoration Act (HFRA), passed in December 2003. The HFRA provides improved statutory processes for hazardous-fuel reduction projects (figure 1) on certain types of at-risk National Forest System (NFS) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands and also provides other authorities and direction to help reduce hazardous fuel and restore healthy forest and rangeland conditions on lands of all ownerships.

Purpose of This Field Guide

This Field Guide is designed to help resource managers understand the changes in procedures and processes under the HFI and HFRA. It briefly summarizes the various HFI tools that have become available. The guide does not address all HFI tools directly. Its primary focus is on the expedited processes provided in Title I of the HFRA for hazardous-fuel treatment on NFS and BLM lands.

Photograph of a wildland fire.
Figure 1—A wildland fire creeps up a treated hillside in southern Oregon
during the peak of fire season. Forest restoration treatments funded by
the National Fire Plan substantially reduced the threat of severe
wildland fire in this area, while improving long-term forest health.

The new information is intended only to cover activities authorized by the HFRA. Previously issued guidance for other HFI authorities should be referred to when using those tools. The Field Guide should be used as a companion to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) selection tool and other resources on the Healthy Forests Web sites at http://fsweb.wo.fs.fed.us/hfra/ and http://www.doi.gov/initiatives/forest. The guide will be updated periodically. Check the Web sites for the latest version.

This Field Guide does not provide guidance on conducting strategic assessments of fuel treatment and the need for ecosystem restoration. Such assessments, conducted at appropriate landscape scales, should set priorities for reducing the risk to social and ecological values caused by uncharacteristically dense vegetation. The assessments should evaluate the potential for vegetation treatments, such as mechanical treatments and prescribed fire, to reduce the risk. A tactical schedule of priority vegetation-treatment projects should result from these strategic assessments. This Field Guide assumes that such a strategic assessment and the companion tactical schedule of treatments have been prepared.

HFI and HFRA projects must operate within the established guidelines of resource management plans and other legally applicable guidance. This guide assumes that effective interdisciplinary processes will be used to identify landscape goals and to establish stand-treatment priorities and objectives within the context of those goals. Concepts such as the emulation of natural disturbances and the range of natural variability may be useful when setting landscape and stand goals and objectives.

This guide will help managers determine whether the HFI and HFRA authorities apply to planned hazardous-fuel reduction projects or whether other authorities should be used.

The four components of using the HFI and HFRA authorities to implement projects are:

  1. On lands in or adjacent to the wildland-urban interfaces of at-risk communities and other at-risk Federal lands, work in collaboration with communities in setting priorities and, as appropriate, in developing Community Wildfire Protection Plans.

  2. Develop the project information needed to determine whether proposed projects can use the improved HFI and HFRA authorities.

  3. Use the NEPA process identified for HFI and HFRA projects.

  4. Fund, implement, and monitor the HFI and HFRA projects.

In addition, this guide briefly summarizes the provisions of Titles II through VI of the HFRA and discusses the status of implementation actions under each title. Because this legislation was enacted in December 2003, implementation actions for several of these titles remain a work in progress.

Increased Risk of Catastrophic Fire

About 190 million acres of Federal forest and rangeland in the lower forty-eight States face high risk of large-scale insect or disease epidemics and catastrophic fire due to deteriorating ecosystem health and drought.

While the increased risk of catastrophic wildland fire is often blamed on long-term drought or expansion of the wildland-urban interface in the Western United States, the underlying cause is the buildup of forest fuel and changes in vegetation composition over the last century. Unnaturally dense stands competing for limited water and nutrients are at increased risk of unnaturally intense wildland fires and insect or disease epidemics.

The severity of this problem has been recognized by many observers, including the general public, the U.S. Congress, President Bush, the Western Governors Association, the National Association of State Foresters, the Intertribal Timber Council, the National Association of Counties, and others.

In 2001, the U.S. Congress funded the National Fire Plan to reduce hazardous fuel and restore forests and rangeland. In response, the Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior, along with Western Governors and other interested parties, developed a 10-year strategy and implementation plan for protecting communities and the environment. This plan, coupled with the Federal Wildland Fire Management Policy (2001), forms a framework for Federal agencies, States, Tribes, local governments, and communities to reduce the threat of fire, improve the condition of the land, restore forest and rangeland health, and reduce risk to communities.

Delays Caused by Procedural and Administrative Processes

USDA Forest Service and U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) BLM efforts to reduce the intensity and destructiveness of wildland fires have been hampered by administrative processes that have delayed critical fuel-reduction projects (figure 2). These delays not only put communities and homes at risk, they allow the condition of key watersheds to continue to degrade. Despite actions already taken and a 98-percent success rate in suppressing fires while they are still small, wildland fires continue to damage far more land each year than Federal agencies are treating.

Aerial photograph showing a variety of community structures and vegetation types.
Figure 2—The wildland-urban interface is a mosaic of communities, structures,
and vegetation types. Fuel in this interface near Ruch, OR, was treated using
a machine that ground unwanted vegetation into mulch, reducing the risk of
catastrophic wildland fire on DOI BLM lands and adjacent private land.

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