Walden announces plan to update healthy forest law
Walden: It's time to treat the land most susceptible to catastrophic fire to protect forests, wildlife, and our communities
Congressman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) this morning announced his plans to introduce legislation to give federal foresters and local communities the necessary tools to address areas identified by federal agencies as at the highest risk of catastrophic wildfire.
"I've heard from enough frustrated federal foresters and community leaders at this point to know that Congress needs to give them the tools to reduce the threat of wildfire on federal lands in our most at-risk areas, just as the strongly bipartisan Healthy Forests Restoration Act (HFRA) initially intended," Walden said. "Where HFRA authority has been used, it's reduced the incidence and severity of fire. However, nearly 40 million acres have burned in this country since HFRA was signed into law. Enough is enough. It's time to act and provide federal foresters the additional tools they need to maintain healthy forests."
The Healthy Forests Restoration Act, which was passed into law with very strong bipartisan support in 2003, allows foresters to act with communities to implement hazardous fuel reduction within the Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI), a 1.5-mile-wide donut-shaped strip of land surrounding communities. On the 213,000 acres where it's been implemented, it's been an effective law.
In the Northwest last year, 1,468 fires started on Forest Service and BLM lands, yet only 17 fires burned within or adjacent to WUI lands.
However, the most destructive wildfire to habitat, water sources, and communities typically originates outside the WUI, where the effective and environmentally-responsible tools of HFRA need to be implemented.
According to the National Center for Atmospheric Research at the University of Colorado at Boulder, fires in the contiguous United States and Alaska release on average about 290 million metric tons of carbon dioxide a year, which is the equivalent of 4 to 6 percent of the nation's carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel burning.
"We know HFRA works for wildlife and people where it's been implemented," Walden said. "It's time to put it to use where the most destructive wildfires originate. It is senseless to stand by as our forests burn up every year, emitting massive amounts of carbon, destroying watersheds and wildlife, and threatening our homes."
The plan would provide the federal agencies clarified authority to use the expedited tools in HFRA to address areas of hishest risk of catastrophic fire (Condition Class 3). All current environmental laws and regulations would still apply, and the agencies would still need to perform thorough site analyses already prescribed in the strongly bipartisan HFRA.
The plan would also provide the federal agencies clarified authorities to address threats outside the 1.5-mile-wide WUI but still inside the Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP) areas. HFRA gave local communities the authority to establish CWPPs through consensus. However, agency professionals indicate the need to have the authority clarified to reduce the fire threat outside the limited donut-shaped WUI.