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Healthy Forests Initiative Update

In this Healthy Forests Initiative update:
1. Healthy Forests Restoration Bill approved by House Committee Thanks to all who helped - Much more work will be needed!
2. Historical Background on the condition of our forests and how this relates to the Wilderness Designation.
3. Proposed effective stewardship solutions


The Healthy Forests Initiative is a broad program to reduce catastrophic wildfire on public forests by introducing forest management changes. Many have answered the call to send letters and comments to the various federal agencies in support of these proposed reforms. Because of this support and the realization that for too long the management of our forests has been held hostage by the environmental industry, the House Resources Committee approved the Healthy Forests Restoration Act late on Wednesday, April 30 by a bi-partisan vote of 33 to 17, with Democrats from California and Oklahoma joining all Committee Republicans in supporting the bill.

The HFRA grew out of the President's call for a Healthy Forests Initiative in August 2002 and again in the 2003 State of the Union address. The HFRA includes reforms to the Administrative appeals process and judicial review for forest health projects on public lands, and it provides incentives for forest management on private lands to enhance water quality, wildlife habitat, and provides for accelerated research on a host of forest insects.

The bill now moves to the House Agriculture Committee, most likely for full committee consideration next week. We will be reaching out to folks seeking support for the bill as it continues to move through the legislative process. This is a big first step, but it is a big win nonetheless. We must continue, when requested, to contact our representatives as this legislation moves forward.


Dr. Bonnicksen is Professor of Forest Science at Texas A&M University and author of the book America's Ancient Forests: From the Ice Age to the Age of Discovery published in 2000 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. He has also held posts as president, chair, and vice-chair of several other organizations, including the Bay Area Chapter of the Sierra Club. In his words:

"Since 1990, wildfires charred over 40 million acres, destroyed more than 4000 homes, and cost $5 billion to fight. These tragic losses are growing worse each year because of the misguided belief of many environmentalists that all fires are good and management is bad.

What went so terribly wrong? Everyone knows the simple answer: too much fuel. More than a century ago, we began protecting forests from fire. We did not know that lightning fires kept them thin. More recently, we adopted an anti-management philosophy that protects forests from people. This ignores 12,000 years of history in which Native Americans doubled the number of fires by using them as a tool to keep forests open and productive.

Environmentalists blame foresters for creating thick forests by putting out fires. However, environmentalists want thick forests. They lobbied for years to convert forests to old-growth, which they define as dense, mutilayered, and filled with dead trees and logs. Now they also want to keep 58 million acres of forest roadless and unmanaged. They are using tree hugger arguments to set up our forests to burn. Then they use fire hugger arguments to justify the infernos they create.

"In November of 2000, the General Accounting Office reported that tens of millions of acres of forest are at "moderate to high risk from catastrophic wildfire and need to be treated." In response to this and other reports, and the disastrous fires of 2000, agencies in the Departments of Agriculture and Interior created the National Fire Plan. The 10-year Cohesive Strategy to carry out the plan includes firefighting, rehabilitation of burns, hazardous fuel reduction, and community assistance.

The National Fire Plan is not working because it tries to do too much with too little money. Although all the plan's goals are important, hazardous fuel reduction is the key to success. However, only $400 million, or 13.8%, of the fiscal year 2001 budget of $2.88 billion was spent on fuel reduction. The fiscal year 2002 budget only includes $395.2 million for fuel reduction. There is no chance whatever that this funding level will achieve adequate fuel reduction to prevent fires like those that burned in 2000 or 2002.

It is naïve to believe we can have thick forests and gentle fires. Even carefully planned prescribed fire is unsafe in today's forests. Each 20,000 acres of prescribed burn is likely to produce one escaped fire. That means there could be as many as 243 escaped fires a year given the number of acres burned to carry out the National Fire Plan. This is unacceptable. There are 94,000 homes at risk in California's Sierra Nevada alone.

Environmentalists also overlook what it was like when fires burned freely. Explorers often complained in their journals about the pall of smoke hanging over mountains and valleys. Today, health hazards and air pollution restrictions make extensive burning difficult and unpalatable.

In addition, most forests require thinning before prescribed burning, and 73 million acres need treatment. Therefore, the initial treatment would cost about $60 billion during the first 15 years. Maintenance costs of about $31 billion for subsequent 15-year periods would last forever since fuels continue to accumulate. This does not include money spent to fight escaped fires, rebuild destroyed homes, control erosion and plant trees to replace burned forests.

Taxpayers will not pay this enormous cost. Likewise, the public will not stand for smoky skies from prescribed fires and burned homes from inevitable escapes. We must find a better solution."

Way back in June, 2002 the Society of American Foresters (SAF) offered an olive branch to the Sierra Club. In order to keep dialogue going the SAF offered space in the Journal of Forestry to defend the Sierra Club position of ending scientific management of public lands. In exchange, the SAF would submit an article to the Sierra Club magazine defending timber harvesting as a management tool. To date there is no response.


Rather than allow the membership to be exposed to sound science the leadership of the Sierra Club has ignored SAF offer.

The text of the letter is posted on the SAF website

How does the Healthy Forests Initiative relate to the current wilderness bill?

As we have stated in previous Healthy Forests Updates, Senator Barbara Boxer, the Sierra Club and the rest of the environmental industry would rather prevent the necessary management and instead designate many of these areas as wilderness. Senator Feinstein has so far withheld her endorsement of Boxer's wilderness bill based on these concerns and others.

Their alternative would let millions of acres and species burn in catastrophic fires rather than use management techniques that would disqualify an area for the wilderness designation. A wilderness designation prevents the use of many management techniques needed to prevent catastrophic fires, some of which require mechanical assistance.

And remember, the devastation does not stop with the fire. Erosion caused by lack of ground cover and the resulting silting of streams, lakes and rivers increases the damage. Millions of acres of the forest will be sterilized due to the intense heat caused by excessive fuel buildup.

In March of this year California Gov. Gray Davis declared an emergency in three Southern California counties whose forests have been left prone to fire by the ravages of beetles preying on drought-weakened trees. This condition exists in many of our forests outside of California. The Healthy Forests Initiative hopes to address this in much the same manner Gov. Davis has.

Gov. Davis' action smoothes the way for residents in Riverside, San Bernardino and San Diego counties to clear trees lost to the bark beetle epidemic, Davis said. Normally, residents face permit requirements as well as limits in clearing dead, dying or diseased trees.

"My action cuts the red tape and provides landowners with the regulatory relief necessary to quickly remove dead and dying trees from their property," Davis said. The state is also seeking $3.3 million in federal aid for the region.


What effective stewardship proposals does Dr. Bonnicksen suggest?

"Restoration provides the best hope for returning health to our forests because it uses forest history as a model for management. The forests that explorers found were beautiful, diverse, filled with wildlife, and resistant to monster fires.

Restoring historic forests is easy, but success requires working with the private sector. People who make their living from forests have the skill and desire to help. It would take little public funding since restored forests would come close to supporting themselves from the sale of wood products. Restoration is a cost-effective and safe way to protect our forests and solve the wildfire crisis."

The current Wildlands Project view promoted by the environmental industry calls for a "dense canopy from coast to coast". The fact that the historical "natural" look of our forests was a mosaic pattern with many open spaces and varying sizes of trees leading to the open spaces is ignored. Species need open spaces in order to survive. The Spotted Owl feeds off mice; which require meadows for seeds as their food source.

Deer and elk are animals that cannot exist in dense forests. They need the grasses and shrubs of open meadows for their food. Dense forests are impassible as their antlers hang up in the trees and they are unable to move over, under or around the fallen logs.

The nation's Forest Service retirees, stating that public policy may be built upon a host of misconceptions regarding the causes and solutions to wildfires, are urging policy makers to rethink some common assumptions about regaining forest health and resistance to wildfire.

In a new report entitled "Forest Health and Fire: An Overview and Evaluation," the National Association of Forest Service Retirees (NAFSR), Sacramento, California, USA, states that resistance to proven, professionally applied forest management practices is harming the very forestland their members spent their careers caring for.

"Because misconceptions so often influence public policy, we must challenge some of these that hinder understanding the problem and steer discussion toward more productive courses of action," the report states. "Our forests are a treasure-trove of untold spiritual and economic value. They are dynamic and diverse, requiring our best science and adaptive management for their perpetuation."

Arguing that forestry policy must be built upon both professional experience and sound science, the retirees' association identifies what it says are some common misconceptions about wildfires and forest health. They propose constructive remedies for attaining healthy, resilient forests. While many urge policy makers to leave forests undisturbed, the retired foresters say that the complexity of our forests requires a complete spectrum of active management practices to attain sustainable forest conditions.

"The report concludes, "The recent widespread wildfire events dramatically demonstrate the impossibility of maintaining the forest as it is. Humans can use their knowledge of forest dynamics and act in ways to maintain the biological processes necessary for the health of the forest."

While some commonly attribute fuel buildup to past fire suppression efforts, the growth-to-removal ratio is the major cause of the fuel buildup in western forests. In the Sierra Nevada national forests alone, there is a net growth of more than 2 billion board feet of wood per year. The retired foresters recommend that forestry officials and managers:


Aggressively attack fires to keep them from becoming uncontrollable, but allow fires that fit an approved fire plan to burn under prescribed conditions as long as they don't pose a threat to forest health or human communities;


Work with nature by replicating natural processes leading to a mosaic of age classes of trees, including openings, which will assure "both sustainability of all components of the forest," and discourage disastrous fires;


Conduct better accounting of the lost resources as well as the cost of fire suppression and destroyed man-made structures. Destruction of watersheds and water delivery infrastructure can be a major cost of fires.


Determine "the cost of management inaction to restore forests and reduce unusual risks of fire, insect infestation and disease." Without such analysis, says the NAFSR report, "we are hiding the true cost" of these disasters;


Compare the short-term risk involved in not protecting an endangered species against the long-term risk to that same or other species by not taking steps to maintain a healthy forest;


Encourage communities and individuals to use the self-help fire protection program "Firewise Communities" to assess fire risk and design protection programs for local areas.

"The huge job of designing, establishing and maintaining a healthy forest may be the largest, most complex program ever undertaken by agencies managing our public forests," the report stated. "With science providing the understanding of the local conditions and the limitations they impose, we can engage in serious public discussions about what cluster of values society wants in its forests. We can then have the forest managers apply the art."

Note: The new report, "Forest Health and Fire: An Overview and Evaluation," can be read and downloaded at www.fsx.org/NAFSRforesthealth.pdf. If you would like a hard copy, contact Cheryl Rubin, +1 530 823-2363 or cr@calforests.org

The information contained in this update was taken from the following sources:





For more information on Dr. Bonnicksen and Restoration Forestry visit the following web sites:


2. Commentary - Tree-Huggers or Fire-Huggers?: The Environmental Movement's Confused Forest Policy by Thomas M. Bonnicksen, Ph.D. published in 2002.

3. State declares emergency in three beetle-ravaged California Counties - The Associated Press - (Published March 7, 2003)

4. "Forest Health and Fire: An Overview and Evaluation," the National Association of Forest Service Retirees (NAFSR), Sacramento, California www.fsx.org/NAFSRforesthealth.pdf Email: cr@calforests.org

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, any copyrighted work in this message is distributed under fair use without profit or payment for non-profit research and educational purposes only. [Ref. www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml]

All wilderness proposals are part of the Wildlands Project which was initiated by Reed Noss and Dave Forman, the founder of Earth first.

The California Wilderness Campaign touts its support of the Wildlands Project on its web site

This site provides information on the Wildlands Project using the words of the founders of the movement, including Dave Forman, one of the founders of Earth First!

Wilderness bills, as well as the movement to remove dams and reservoirs, are just a fraction of the agenda to bring the Wildlands Project to fruition. Earth First! describes this campaign on their web site.

Click here for a list of all the Healthy Forests Initiative updates

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