NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Better Management Needed for Healthy, Safer Forests

August 22, 2003

There is a severe forest health crisis of raging fires and ravaging insects, say industry experts. However, national forest policies prevent federal land managers from actively manage our forests, leaving 190 million acres of federal land at high risk.

The wildfire seasons of 2000 and 2002 were among the most destructive in the last half-century:

  • In 2002, forest fires burned nearly 7 million acres at a cost to federal land management agencies of more than $1.6 billion.
  • Since 2000, South Dakota, Oregon, Arizona and Colorado have each experienced the largest wildfires in their respective histories.
  • A recent report by Forest Service Research Scientists found that "treatments to reduce fuels can significantly modify fire behavior and severity and reduce environmental damage caused by fire."
  • Furthermore, treatments to reduce surface fuels will tend to reduce damage to soil, water and air quality, and thinning designed to reduce tree crown density will reduce the probability that trees are killed or severely burned.
  • Forest management experts agree mechanical treatments, with removal of trees and brush, should be part of the solution, followed by prescribed burns.

The National Fire Plan advocates a new approach by reducing the buildup of hazardous vegetation and treating areas infested with insects and disease. However, appeals from treatment plans delay needed work. According to the General Accounting Office's recent review, appeals held up treatment on nearly 1 million acres in the 2001 and 2002 fiscal years, including 52 percent of the thinning projects proposed near communities.

The Healthy Forests Restoration Act, recently passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, provides a strategy to restore the health of our forests, say supporters.

Source: Tom Nelson (American Forest & Paper Association), "Forest health-care crisis," Washington Times, August 22, 2003.


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