The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Interior Department issued field guidelines today designed to help land-managers reduce wildfire threats on public lands. The guidance titled, “Interim Field Guide for Implementing the Healthy Forests Initiative and Healthy Forests Restoration Act,” will be used to address the issues managers will need to consider while reducing hazardous fuels and planning forest and rangeland restoration projects.
“The Bush administration is committed to protecting communities, wildlife habitats and municipal watersheds from catastrophic fires,” said Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman. “This guide will help field managers conduct fuels reduction and restoration projects in a more effective and timely process.”
The 56-page field guide will help improve analysis of certain forest and rangeland restoration projects. Specifically, projects that have already been determined to be necessary by states, tribes, and local communities will qualify for enhanced National Environmental Policy Act review if they occur on one or more of the following types of areas: at-risk communities in the wildland-urban interface; high-risk municipal watersheds; areas that provide habitat for threatened and endangered species; and areas that are susceptible to insect infestation or disease epidemics.
“Severe drought and overgrown areas have contributed to unhealthy forests, rangelands and some of the worst wildfire seasons we have ever had,” Interior Secretary Gale Norton said. “The field guide explains all the tools available to process urgently needed treatment projects that will help avoid catastrophic wildfires and save lives and property, while complying with environmental laws.”
The field guide will provide the USDA Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Indian Affairs with general direction on the implementation of hazardous fuels reduction projects under the President’s Healthy Forests Initiative and the Healthy Forests Restoration Act of 2003.
President Bush launched his Healthy Forests Initiative in August 2002, with an objective of improving administrative procedures that were delaying the preparation and implementation of needed hazardous fuels reduction and forest and rangeland restoration projects. The administration and a bipartisan majority in Congress supported the Healthy Forests Restoration legislation and were joined by a variety of environmental conservation groups.
President Bush signed into law the Healthy Forests Restoration Act of 2003 to reduce the threat of destructive wildfires while upholding environmental standards and encouraging early public input during review and planning processes.
The legislation is based on sound science and helps further the President's Healthy Forests Initiative pledge to care for America's forests and rangelands, reduce the risk of catastrophic fire to communities, help save the lives of firefighters and citizens and protect threatened and endangered species.