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

Setting Priorities and Collaborating

The HFRA provides expedited NEPA procedures for authorized fuel-reduction projects on NFS and BLM lands in the WUIs of at-risk communities. Under HFRA Section 101(1), an at-risk community is one that:

  • Is an interface community as defined in the Federal Register notice of January 4, 2001 (66 FR 753), or a group of homes and other structures with basic infrastructure and services (such as utilities and collectively maintained transportation routes) in or adjacent to Federal land

  • Has conditions conducive to a large-scale wildland fire

  • Faces a significant threat to human life or property as a result of a wildland fire

The HFRA is intended to build on work carrying out fuel treatments in and around communities under the National Fire Plan (http://www.fireplan.gov) and A Collaborative Approach for Reducing Wildland Fire Risks to Communities and the Environment: 10-Year Comprehensive Strategy Implementation Plan (May 2002, http://www.fireplan.gov/reports/11-23-en.pdf).

Photograph of employees at a collaboration meeting.
Figure 18—Effective collaboration at the community level is a cornerstone
of all HFRA activities. This meeting took place at the Croatan
National Forest in North Carolina.

The HFRA encourages the development of Community Wildfire Protection Plans (figure 18). Section 101(3) describes a Community Wildlfire Protection Plan as one that:

  • Is developed in the context of the collaborative agreements and guidance established by the Wildland Fire Leadership Council and agreed to by the local government, local fire department, and State agency responsible for forest management, in consultation with interested parties and the Federal land-management agencies that manage land in the vicinity of an at-risk community.

  • Identifies and sets priorities for areas needing hazardous-fuel-reduction treatments and recommends the types and methods of treatment on Federal and non-Federal lands that will protect one or more at-risk communities and their essential infrastructure.

  • Recommends measures to reduce the chance that a fire will ignite structures (figure 19) throughout an at-risk community.

Aerial photograph showing a building surrounded by a wildland area.
Figure 19—One of the keys to effective fire management is treating fuels
adjacent to structures and on private and Federal land throughout
the wildland-urban interface.

For at-risk communities that have not yet designated their WUIs as part of a Community Wildfire Protection Plan, the HFRA has a default definition of WUI (Section 101(16)(B (ii)). It is an are:

  • Extending 1/2 mile from the boundary of an at-risk community.
    OR

  • Extending 1 1/2 miles from the boundary when other criteria are met—for example, a sustained steep slope, a geographic feature that could help when creating an effective firebreak, or Condition Class 3 land.
    OR

  • Adjacent to an evacuation route. There is no distance limitation for evacuation routes.

The HFRA directs the USDA Forest Service and DOI BLM, in accordance with A Collaborative Approach for Reducing Wildland Fire Risks to Communities and the Environment: 10-Year Comprehensive Strategy Implementation Plan (May 2002), to “develop an annual program of work for Federal land that gives priority to authorized hazardous fuel reduction projects that provide for protecting at-risk communities or watersheds or that implement Community Wildfire Protection Plans” (Section 103(a)). The USDA Forest Service and DOI BLM will consider recommendations made in such plans (Section 103(b)(1)).

Additionally, Section 103(d)(2) requires that when providing financial assistance for authorized hazardous-fuel-reduction projects on non-Federal land, Federal agencies will consider recommendations made by at-risk communities that have developed Community Wildland Fire Protection Plans and give priority in allocating funding to communities that have adopted such plans or that have taken measures to encourage willing property owners to reduce fire risk on private property.

Federal involvement in planning and developing Community Wildfire Protection Plans under Section 103(b) is exempt from the Federal Advisory Committee Act and NEPA. Except as otherwise provided in Section 104 of the HFRA, NEPA requirements continue to apply when Federal actions are implemented in the WUI and elsewhere.

Identifying At-Risk Communities

Communities may identify themselves as at risk based on an analysis following the National Association of State Foresters Field Guidance on Identifying and Prioritizing Communities At Risk (June 27, 2003), or during development of their Community Wildfire Protection Plans. The State Foresters’ guide and the Federal Register notice with the current list of at-risk communities are available at: http://www.fireplan.gov/reports/351-358-en.pdf.

As communities identify themselves as at risk and approach Federal agencies to work collaboratively, joint development of plans and projects will ensure that investments in hazardous-fuel reduction are the most economical and effective ways to reduce risk (see the Interagency Memorandum of Understanding for Fuel Treatment Collaboration at: http://www.fireplan.gov/).


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