Guest Commentary: Millions of acres are now more resilient to wildfire

Posted: November 4, 2012

Source: Denver Post

Beetle kill trees burn faster than live treesAs we continue to respond to this challenging year for wildfire, I want to clarify the U.S. Forest Service fire and restoration policy. Restoring the health of our nation’s forests has been, and will continue to be, a cornerstone of this agency’s overall practices. Despite some recent reports, our fire-management policy has not changed. It remains to restore and maintain resilient ecosystems, create fire-adapted communities, and respond to wildland fire while keeping communitiessafe.

The Forest Service has the personnel and equipment to continue our policy of restoring the health of our nation’s forests, and we remain steadfast in our dedication to managing fire where it is a restoration tool. We will continue to suppress fire where it is a danger to life, property and resources.

The Forest Service stops nearly 98 percent of wildfires on initial attack, and a national guidance memo by Deputy Chief Jim Hubbard’s in no way represents a departure from our standard fire-response policy. Decisions at each wildfire incident continue to be made based on weather conditions, the amount of fuel, the dryness of the area, and the wildfire’s proximity to homes and other property.

With the predicted severity of this fire season, we recognized that we needed to be conservative when committing teams to manage long duration fires for resource benefits. So for this year, we wanted those decisions to involve our regional foresters to better coordinate commitment of resources.

I made the commitment earlier this year to increase our restoration activities by 20 percent. We are right on track to hit this mark, which represents an increase of 300,000 acres from 2011. Overall, the Forest Service will restore the health of some 4 million acres of national forest system land this year alone.

I am tremendously proud of the work that our 15,000 firefighters have been able to accomplish this year, in many cases against extreme odds. Their skill and dedication to duty severely limited the damage that could have been caused by the 46,600 wildfires that have started in 2012.

I am equally proud of the Herculean efforts of our forest restoration crews. As a result of these efforts, the Forest Service is accomplishing critical restoration objectives, including improved conditions for municipal water supplies, forest health and community safety.

We also continue to work with our partners, providing expertise and the financial assistance to jointly treat millions of acres beyond the borders of the national forests. The Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program, in its first year alone, treated more than 150,000 acres and created 1,550 jobs on 10 projects across the country.

In its second year of funding, these programs contributed $21 million to local economies, and produced 121 million board feet of lumber and 267,000 tons of woody biomass.

Earlier this year, as part of our accelerated restoration strategy, we announced an additional $40 million to continue funding those original 10 projects, as well as 10 new restoration projects.

We know we have an uphill climb as we tackle the challenges facing our nation’s forests. With a science-based, collaborative approach, the U.S. Forest Service is diligently increasing the pace at which we restore the health of our nation’s forests.

Tom Tidwell is chief of the U.S. Forest Service.