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FS has new plan to speed forest cleanup, cut wildfire risk


Senator Ron Wyden, D-Ore., joined U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen on Thursday to announce a new plan for the Forest Service to address the hazardous fuels backlog contributing to devastating wildfires in Oregon and the West.

The report follows Wyden’s request during an Energy and Natural Resources hearing earlier this year that the Forest Service outline a timely plan to address the 80 million acres of hazardous fuels backlog.

The report details a proposal to streamline collaboration among local, state, and federal agencies to tackle the backlog, using the most current data collected using 21 st century science.

“Wildfires in Oregon and the West are getting bigger, hotter, and more difficult to fight,” said Wyden, a senior member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

“At a time when these blazes are threatening homes and businesses as well as generating choking smoke that’s creating clean air refugees looking for places to breathe, this innovative plan provides the urgently needed blueprint that will enable local, state, and federal entities to work more efficiently to tackle the growing backlog of hazardous fuels,” he added.

“Improving the health of our forests is a key step to reduce the risk of dangerous wildfires,” Wyden said. “And I am glad that federal officials have recognized the critical need for this step by producing this fantastic framework for meaningful and lasting progress.”

Continued failure to adequately address the cleanup of hazardous fuels has led to a reduction in overall forest health, and increases the risk of larger, more dangerous wildfires. The approach announced Thursday is based on the authority for the Forest Service to partner with states to tackle forest restoration projects and health management granted by the Wyden Amendment, passed as part of a Senate spending bill two decades ago.

U.S. Forest Service news release:

USDA Forest Service Announces New Strategy for Improving Forest Conditions

(Washington, D.C., August 16, 2018) — The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service (USFS) announced today a new strategy for managing catastrophic wildfires and the impacts of invasive species, drought, and insect and disease epidemics.

Specifically, a new report titled Toward Shared Stewardship across Landscapes: An Outcome-based investment Strategy (PDF, 3.7 MB) outlines the USFS’s plans to work more closely with states to identify landscape-scale priorities for targeted treatments in areas with the highest payoffs.

“On my trip to California this week, I saw the devastation that these unprecedented wildfires are having on our neighbors, friends and families,” said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. “We commit to work more closely with the states to reduce the frequency and severity of wildfires. We commit to strengthening the stewardship of public and private lands. This report outlines our strategy and intent to help one another prevent wildfire from reaching this level.”

Both federal and private managers of forest land face a range of urgent challenges, among them catastrophic wildfires, invasive species, degraded watersheds, and epidemics of forest insects and disease. The conditions fueling these circumstances are not improving. Of particular concern are longer fire seasons, the rising size and severity of wildfires, and the expanding risk to communities, natural resources, and firefighters.

“The challenges before us require a new approach,” said Interim USFS Chief Vicki Christiansen. “This year Congress has given us new opportunities to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with state leaders mitigate to identify land management priorities that include mitigating wildfire risks. We will use all the tools available to us to reduce hazardous fuels, including mechanical treatments, prescribed fire, and unplanned fire in the right place at the right time, to mitigate them.”

A key component of the new strategy is to prioritize investment decisions on forest treatments in direct coordination with states using the most advanced science tools. This allows the USFS to increase the scope and scale of critical forest treatments that protect communities and create resilient forests.

The USFS will also build upon the authorities created by the 2018 Omnibus Bill, including new categorical exclusions for land treatments to improve forest conditions, new road maintenance authorities, and longer stewardship contracting in strategic areas. The agency will continue streamlining its internal processes to make environmental analysis more efficient and timber sale contracts more flexible.

The Omnibus Bill also includes a long-term “fire funding fix,” starting in FY 2020, that will stop the rise of the 10-year average cost of fighting wildland fire and reduce the likelihood of the disruptive practice of transferring funds from Forest Service non-fire programs to cover firefighting costs. The product of more than a decade of hard work, this bipartisan solution will ultimately stabilize the agency’s operating environment.

Finally, because rising rates of firefighter fatalities in recent decades have shifted the USFS’s approach to fire response, the report emphasizes the agency’s commitment to a risk-based response to wildfire.

The complete strategy is available at Photographs of the event are available at:

The mission of the USFS, an agency of the USDA, is to sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations.

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