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The Healthy Forest Initiative:
Legislative and Regulatory Update

Page last updated 12/11/03
What is the Healthy Forest Initiative?
Legislative Action: the Healthy Forest Restoration Act of 2003
SAF's Position on the Healthy Forest Restoration Act of 2003
What's in the Healthy Forest Restoration Act of 2003?

What is the Healthy Forest Initiative?

In August 2002, President Bush announced a new initiative to reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfires, improve the health of our nation's forests, and strengthen communities. The President's plan proposed to reduce unnecessary regulatory processes that hinder active forest management and to work with Congress to provide legislation to efficiently reduce hazardous fuels and restore burned areas. The President proposed actions to:

1) Facilitate timely reviews of forest health restoration and rehabilitation projects
2) Amend rules for project appeals to hasten process of reviewing vital forest health projects
3) Improve Endangered Species Act processes to expedite decisions
4) Establish improved processes for environmental assessments

The President's initiative resulted in the following regulatory changes:

1. USFS and USDOI Categorical Exclusions for certain Wildfire Management and Restorations projects.

2. USFS Regulations on Notice, Comment, and Appeal of Projects.
3. BLM Regulations on Appeals of Wildfire Management Decisions.

4. USFS Timber Harvesting Categorical Exclusions

5. Joint Counterpart Regulations on ESA Section 7 consultation for projects that implement the National Fire Plan.
For more information on the President's initiative click here.

HFI and the National Fire Plan:

The Healthy Forest Initiative is intended to support the 10-Year Comprehensive Strategy of the National Fire Plan. Developed in 2000, The National Fire Plan is a report to the President recommending how to:

1) Respond to severe, ongoing fire activity
2) Reduce impacts of fires on rural communities and the environment
3) Ensure sufficient firefighting resources in the future

In 2001, a broad collaborative group representing federal agencies, states, local governments, conservation and commodity groups, and tribal interests gathered to determine a long-term strategy for wildland fire management developed the 10-Year Comprehensive Strategy. The strategy supports four key elements:

1) Firefighting
2) Hazardous Fuels Reduction
3) Community Assistance
4) Accountability

Implementing the 10-Year Comprehensive Strategy- Accomplishments in 2002:

  • Firefighting enhancements, including improvements to workforce development, training, and equipment.
  • Firefighters stopped 99% of the 73,000 wildfires reported.
  • Rehabilitation projects were accomplished in 20 states on 1.3 millions acres.
  • In addition, 130 burned area emergency stabilization projects were completed with over $70 million funded by the National Fire Plan.
  • The federal wildland fire management agencies treated 2.26 million acres of hazardous fuels on federal and adjacent lands.
  • Thousands of communities were assisted with a wide range of activities including training and equipping fire fighters, fire prevention and mitigation, information dissemination and education, fuel mitigation treatments, and homeowner and community hazard mitigation projects.
  • Agency staffs developed a range of joint accountability measures including budget and financial systems, reports, and oversight reviews for assessing and evaluation program accomplishments.

    To learn more about the strategy's accomplishments click here.

    To learn more about the National Fire Plan and it's 10-Year Comprehensive strategy click here.

    For SAF's position statement on Wildfire Management click here.

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    Legislative Action Update: the Healthy Forest Restoration Act of 2003 (HR 1904)

    President Bush signed the Healthy Forest Restoration Act of 2003 (HR 1904) on December 3, 2003. To read the President's remarks at the ceremony click here.

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    SAF's Position on the Healthy Forest Restoration Act of 2003

    For SAF's comments on the passage of the Healthy Forest Restoration Act click here

    To view other SAF statements on forest management and health click here.

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    What's In the Healthy Forest Restoration Act of 2003?
    Hazardous Fuels Reduction Projects
    Public Involvement, Appeals, Judicial Review
    Biomass
    Protecting and improving watersheds
    Insect and Disease Research and Assessment
    Endangered Species
    Early Warning System

    Hazardous Fuels Reduction Projects:

    • Designed to address high fuel loads on public and private lands to mitigate risks of wildfire, insects, disease, and invasive species.
    • Allows Communities to recommend where projects should take place through development of a community wildfire protection plan. Gives funding priority to those communities who have develop this plan or acted proactively to address risks.
    • Allows treatment of up to 20 million acres of federal land using the expedited procedures in the legislation.
    • Requires that 50% of the funds provided for these fuels reduction projects be expended in the WUI as defined in this bill, with local flexibility.
    • Defines WUI as an area:
      1) within or next to a community as outlined in a community wildfire protection plan,
      2) within ½ mile of an at-risk community,
      3) within 11/2 miles with certain attributes of areas at high risk, or
      4) adjacent to an evacuation route for an at-risk community
    • Contains expedited NEPA analysis for projects both within and outside the wildland-urban interface that address threats of wildfire, insect, and disease.
    • Prohibits these hazardous fuels reduction projects in Wilderness Areas, WSA, and lands on which removal of vegetation if prohibited by Congress or Administrative measures including forest plans.
    • Requires projects to "maintain or contribute towards the restoration of" old growth stands as they existed prior to fire suppression efforts This is to be done through site specific decision-making, and when necessary, site-specific plan amendments.
    • Contains provisions for the retention of large trees outside existing old growth stands to the extent that this does not interfere with meeting the goals of this legislation.
    • Includes monitoring provisions with an option for multi-party monitoring and adaptive management.
    • Authorizes $760 million for fuels reduction projects using the provisions in this bill and grants to States, local governments, Indian tribes and other eligible recipients.

    Public Involvement, Appeals, Judicial Review:

    • Includes provisions for public participation and collaboration in the preparation of a project, consistent with the 10-Year Implementation Plan.
    • Includes opportunities for public comment and public meetings.
    • Creates a pre-decisional administrative review process for Forest Service projects completed using the processes in this legislation.
    • Limits length of preliminary injunctions and stays pending appeal to 60 days, with options for renewal.
    • Requires the courts to balance the short term and the long term effects of action vs. inaction.

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    Biomass:

    • Authorizes $54 million for research related to biomass utilization.
    • Authorizes $5 million for each FY 2004-2008 for a program to accelerate the use of biomass and small diameter materials through community and small-scale business enterprises.

    Protecting and Improving Watersheds:

    • Authorizes the FS and CSREES to provide technical, financial, and related assistance to States and Extension agents at universities to apply BMPs and address watershed issues on non-federal lands.
    • Authorizes $15 million for each FY 2004-2008 for Watershed Forestry Assistance.
    • Authorizes $2.5 million for each FY 2004-2008 for Tribal Watershed Forestry Assistance. Authorizes the FS working with the tribal governments to provide technical, financial, and related assistance to apply tribal forestry BMPs and address watershed issues on tribal lands.

    Insect and Disease Research and Assessment:

    • Allows for research and assessment of insect and disease problems.
    • Allows such projects to be categorically excluded from further NEPA analysis to enable researchers to conduct timely research treatments that will test ways to address the insect and disease problems.

    Endangered Species:

    • Creates the Healthy Forests Reserve Program to protect and restore endangered species habitat, promote carbon sequestration, and improve biodiversity on up to 2 million acres of private lands.
    • Authorizes $25 million for FY 2004 and such sums as necessary for 2005-2008.

    Early Warning System:

    • Creates a Forest Stands Inventory and Monitoring Program to improve the detection of and response to environmental threats. Creates an early warning system for potential catastrophic threats to forests.
    • Authorizes $5 million for each FY 2004-2008.

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