Healthy Southern Forests

Larry Harrell lhfotoware at
Fri Feb 20 09:52:21 EST 2004

February 15, 2004

Healthy Forests Initiative: Does it protect our national forests? 

Yes: It's a timely response to environmental challenges


Throughout the South, we have experienced many challenges regarding
the health and resiliency of our national forests. We've witnessed new
threats to our forests in the form of invasive insects and diseases,
urbanization, unmanaged recreational activities and the possibility of
wildfire due to the unhealthy build-up of hazardous fuels on our

Although the challenges facing our forests in the South are complex,
one thing is clear. A do-nothing approach is not the answer. We must
actively restore and manage our forests by using sound approaches that
include the best science and expertise available. The Healthy Forests
Initiative is one such answer that provides managers with critical
tools to make balanced and effective forest management decisions.

The Healthy Forests Initiative is a commonsense approach to deal with
challenges facing our nation's land. This initiative is not about
timber -- it is about the long-term health of the land. It is about
sustaining our natural resources while protecting our communities far
into the future.

One of the primary goals of the program is to reduce the threat of
catastrophic wildfires by reducing hazardous fuels build-up on our
nation's forests and grasslands, especially close to urban areas. In
the South, we have learned that active forest management dramatically
lowers our risk of catastrophic wildfires and insect and disease

In fact, the South is used as a model for decreasing the risk of
wildfire because of our continued practice of setting controlled burns
to reduce fuels buildup. This elimination of thick undergrowth not
only lowers our risk for catastrophic wildfires but also improves
southern forest ecosystems as well.

The South leads the nation in hazardous fuels reduction. Last year,
more than 935,000 acres on southern national forests were treated for
hazardous fuels reduction, effectively eliminating catastrophic risks
in those treated areas. Yet much more needs to be done, particularly
in some of our mountain forests. New procedures established by the
Healthy Forests Initiative will assist us in our continual effort to
keep our forests and surrounding communities safe from the risk of
catastrophic wildfires.

But fires are not the only threat to our forests. Across the South,
forests have experienced severe damage due to a variety of
infestations. For example, since 1999, the southern pine beetle has
killed more than 1 million acres of trees on public and private lands.
This destructive insect has caused a reduction in wildlife habitats,
recreational opportunities and timber production across the South.

In addition, the beetle-killed trees are added fuel for wild-land
fires. Addressing this situation in a timely, scientific and
cooperative manner is crucial. New administrative tools created by the
Healthy Forests Initiative will better ensure earlier detection and
containment of such infestations.

Urban sprawl is also a significant threat to the health of southern

We know there is a limited land base to support our ever-expanding
population, but we know also that people and forests can co-exist.
Approximately 50 million people live within a 30-minute drive of a
southern national forest. Nearly 30 million people in the South depend
on national forests for their clean water supply.

But the land in U.S. forests only accounts for 5 percent of forested
lands throughout the South. We must work with private landowners and
state and local jurisdictions to create positive partnerships that
will result in land conservation efforts. The Healthy Forests
Initiative strengthens public participation as it creates meaningful
opportunities for early public involvement on a variety of
environmental issues. And in those cases where some segments of
society do not agree with forest management decisions, the Healthy
Forests Initiative provides a more timely appeals process in which to

The purpose of the Healthy Forests Initiative is to improve federal
processes for more timely decisions and greater efficiency in
restoring forest health. Because of this balanced approach, forest
management decisions to restore the health of our land can be made in
a more efficient, effective and timely manner.

We owe such an approach to our land, we owe it to our people, and we
owe it to future generations who will benefit from our stewardship.


Robert T. Jacobs is regional forester with the Southern region of the
U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Service. The Southern region
is headquartered in Atlanta, Ga

Comment by poster: This is what we want to hear from our government
bigwigs. Mr. Jacobs has written a great non-political piece that shows
Americans that eco-forestry is the new path for the Forest Service. If
it doesn't stand up in court, it won't fly in the woods. I've worked
in Oklahoma, Arkansas and South Carolina on USFS projects and have
seen the problems thay have in southern forestry. It's time to fix our
forests and not to let them further slide into an unnatural condition.

Larry,       fixing the woods, ya'll

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