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Four Threats - Questions and Answers

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Questions and Answers

Q: What do healthy forests have to do with the quality of life for Americans?

A: Healthy forests are conducive to the well being of Americans because forests provide our cities and townswith sparkling clean water and pure air. Forests also provide safe refuges for wildlife and some of our most endangered species of plants and animals.

Q: How do the forests do all that?

A: Think of trees and forests as giant filters for cleaning the water that runs through millions of American homes and purifying the air of polluted particles. Forest Service research shows that 80 percent of fresh groundwater in the United States originates from federal forestlands. The role of forests in sequestering carbon from the air is also well documented.

Q: Are the Four Threats the main “agenda” for the Forest Service?

A: Fuel and fires, invasive species, loss of open space, unmanaged recreation – these threats represent emphasis areas for the Forest Service. They are intended to refocus the national discussion on these significant strategic areas of work as imperatives for managing our national forests and grasslands.

Q: How are these Four Threats different from previous strategies pursued by the Forest Service?

A: Forest conditions have changed from 50 years ago. Success of the Forest Service in the 21st century will be measured by the Agency’s ability to sustain the flow of social and economic benefits to the American people while also ensuring that the capacity ofthe nation’s forests and grasslands to provide ecological benefits is undiminished.

Q: Is this a new mission for the Forest Service?

A: Yes and no. The mission of the Forest Service remains “to sustain the health, diversity, productivity of the Nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations.” What has changed is the Agency’s approach to this mission, which is described by the Four Threats.

Q: Wild fires burned nearly 9 million acres in 2006. What contributed to this catastrophe?

A: Forest managers and natural resource experts are in agreement that many decades of successful fire suppression is part of the reason, although large brush fires in Texas and Oklahoma in the winter months were also a factor. Fires can exact a heavy toll on the ecosystem and the economy of rural communities. Last year, fires disrupted hundreds of communities and forced thousands of people from their homes in the south and the western US, where the largest fires occurred.

Q: If fire suppression leads to bigger fires, why not just let them burn?

A: Where lightning fires are burning within desired parameters, those incidents can be managed for the beneficial effects of fire. However, that is not appropriate to every situation. The growth of the wildland-urban interface in the last 50 years means that lives and homes are at stake if a forest catches fire. The Forest Service does not “just let them burn”, every fire receives an appropriate management response. Fire will burn when conditions in the forest and the weather are right for it. However, fire is important part of the forest ecosystem. Some oaks and pines, for example, need fire to crack their seeds and regenerate. Suppressing fires had the unintended consequence of building up vegetation, debris, and other flammable materials on the forest floor. Add to this mix, drought and the crowded conditions in the forests. Once ignited, severe forest fires can occur. Unnaturally dense forests contribute to big fires. For instance, where 50 years ago only a few hundred trees grew on an acre, today thousands of trees are crowded in the same space. Multiply that by millions of acres of forests and you get the “combustible” picture. For another, many urban areas are being situated closer and closer to forested landscapes for their aesthetic and economic values. There is inherent danger in building homes in or near forestlands. People are not the only victims of forest fires: wildlife loses their habitat, hillsides erode into and silt up rivers, burnt mountains allow floods and floods wash away homes and businesses.

Q: What needs to be done?

A: Treatments to reduce fuels and restore ecosystems involve various techniques, including thinning, prescribed burning, and clearing the forest of debris. Post-fire rehabilitation includes restoring burned habitat and landscapes, repairing damaged roads and rivers, replanting trees, and preventing erosion.

Q: Tell me the difference between invasive species and non-native species?

A: An “invasive” is defined as “a species that is non-native (or alien) to the ecosystem” (htttp://www.invasivespecies.gov) where they are found and whose “introduction are likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health” (Executive Order 13112, App. 1). Not all non-natives are invasives, but n ative species can exhibit invasive behavior. For example, the disruption of ecological processes such as fire return intervals has allowed western junipers to invade some grassland. Junipers can act like giant wicks, sucking up the water and disrupting the ecosystem by disrupting the hydrological system. Conversely, the Caribbean National Forest in Puerto Rico has an enormous number of non-native plants, few of which exhibit invasive behaviors. Invasive species can be plants, animals, and other organisms (e.g., microbes). Human actions are the primary means of introducing invasive species. Uncontrolled proliferation of invasive species endangers ecosystems for all forms of life. The threat from invasive species is so great that an interagency, Invasive Species Council was formed in 1999 “to coordinate and ensure complementary, cost-efficient and effective Federal activities regarding invasive species.” High-level participation includes the Secretaries of the Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, State, Defense, Treasury, Transportation, Health and Human Services, as well as the Administrators of the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The Council co-chairs are the Secretaries of the Interior, Agriculture , and Commerce.

Q: What is the difference between invasive plants and noxious weeds?

A: Decades ago control programs targeted plants with adverse effects on human health, agriculture, and livestock. Those plants were called noxious weeds. In recent years, control programs have included plants with adverse ecological effects, particularly invasive habits. Today, noxious weeds and invasive weeds are both generally regarded as plants with adverse social, economic, or ecological effects.

Q: Are invasive species the same thing as invasive weeds?

A: Not all invasives are plants. There are invasive species of insects, fish, etc. For example, rainbow trout, native to the West Coast, have been introduced in the East for sport. Rainbows out-compete native brook trout, contributing to its decline in the Appalachians.

Q: Why should we worry about invasive species?

A: Invasives cost American taxpayers about $137 billion per year in total economic damages and associated costs. In ecological terms, invasive species tend to crowd out the natives. The American elm and American chestnut have largely disappeared from the American landscape due to diseases introduced from abroad. In recent years, gypsy moth, hemlock woolly adelgid, Asian longhorned beetle, sudden oak death, and other tree infestations have caused great economic and ecological stress. Given the right conditions, trees weakened by diseases tend to burn more easily; disease-weakened stands when ignited often lead to catastrophic fires.

Q: What is the Forest Service doing about invasive species?

A: Aside from providing support to the Invasive Species Council (see above), the Forest Service has launched a collaborative, intensive program with four objectives: (1) detect early, (2) prevent, (3) control and manage, and (4) rehabilitate and control invasive species in the national forests, grasslands, and waterways. Details of the program can be found in the National Strategy and Implementation Plan for Invasive Species Management.

Q: What can you tell me about this Strategy?

A: As part of the strategy, the Forest Service has established two Environmental Threat Assessment Centers: one in Prineville , Oregon and the other in Asheville , North Carolina . Various units of the Forest Service (National Forest Systems, Research and Development, State and Private Forest , etc.) have projects tiered to this national strategy.

Q: What is the Forest Service’s formula for success in the fight against invasive species?

A: Collaboration and partnerships – working with public and private organizations to tackle the invidious impact of invasive species. A good example is the agency’s partnership with The American Chestnut Foundation (TACF) to restore the American chestnut tree, one the dominant species in the eastern landscape which was decimated by chestnut blight. TACF is breeding disease-resistant chestnut trees to replace those that have been wiped out.

Q: Are you infringing on private property rights when you call for less fragmentation?

A: No. The Forest Service has always respected the rights of private property owners and will always do so. In the spirit of Aldo Leopold, the Agency believes that the future of conservation in this country depends on private landowners. The Forest Service has a long history of working closely with private landowners to reach conservation goals. For example, the Forest Service works with ranchers to conserve ecological ties all across the western rangelands and with willing landowners to keep their lands forested in perpetuity by purchasing conservation easements.

Q: Why is the Forest Service focused on managing motor vehicle use?

A: The phenomenal increase in the use of the national forest for recreational activities raises the need to manage most forms of recreation. One example of an activity that requires careful management is motor vehicle use. There has been a dramatic increase and technological advances in off-highway vehicles (OHV’s) over the last 30 years and to maintain a quality experience for all users, we must carefully manage this use.

Q: When you call for managing recreation, are you interfering with my right to go out on public land and do whatever I want, as long as I do not hurt anybody?

A: Americans have every right to use their public lands, but in responsible and sustainable ways—ways that do not diminish future use for everyone. It’s a question of impact. The goal of managing the national forests for recreational use is to allow everyone to have a pleasurable experience. Management is called for when a use threatens to damage the land or affect the experience of others.

Q: What does the Travel Management Rule say?

A: The travel management rule provides the framework for each national forest or grassland to designate those roads, trails, and areas open to motor vehicle use. The Forest Service will work collaboratively with all members of the public to determine which roads, trails and areas will be open.

Q: What types of motorized vehicles are affected by the travel management rule?

A: The travel management rule applies to all motor vehicles, including passenger cars, all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), sport utility vehicles (SUVs), off-highway motorcycles, and dirt bikes.

Q: How does the travel management rule affect user-created routes?

A: Some user-created routes are well-sited, provide excellent opportunities for outdoor recreation, and would enhance the system of designated routes and areas. Other user-create routes are poorly located and are causing unacceptable environmental impacts. User-created routes are best evaluated at the local level, by officials with first-hand knowledge of the particular circumstances, uses, and environmental impacts involved, working closely with local governments, users, and other members of the public. The agency anticipates that some user-created routes will be designated for motor vehicle use and become part of the managed system of NFS roads and trails, after site-specific evaluation and public involvement. Those not designated will be closed to motor vehicle use.

Last Update: 30 October 2006

US Forest Service
Last modified March 28, 2013

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