Senate panel reviews Healthy Forests implementation

Larry Harrell lhfotoware at
Mon Jun 21 16:12:00 EST 2004

June 21, 2004 Environment & Energy

Senate panel to review Healthy Forests implementation
by Dan Berman

As the Western wildfire season begins to heat up, a Senate Agriculture
subcommittee will meet Wednesday to see how the Bush administration is
implementing last year's Healthy Forests Restoration Act.

Wildfires have burned 675,000 acres in 2004, well above the total
acres burned this time last year, according to the National
Interagency Fire Center, and Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth has
said as many as 7 million acres could burn this year. Healthy Forests
was designed to help streamline hazardous fuel reduction projects on
20 million acres of federal land in order to quell the wildfire risk.
Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey has told Congress it will take
over a decade using the tools provided agencies under Healthy Forests
and the National Fire Plan to reduce the threat of catastrophic
wildfires on federal lands nationwide.

The bill includes limits on administrative appeals, legal challenges
and environmental reviews of thinning projects, which supporters said
is necessary to block actions by environmental groups that delay
projects in the field.
Specifically, no environmental analysis for fuel-reduction projects
within 1.5 miles of an at-risk community will be required, and
temporary injunctions against projects are limited to 60 days.
Administrative appeals will be limited to individuals and groups that
file written comments during the planning stages of projects. In
addition, federal judges will be directed to consider the short- and
long-term effects of inaction on fuel-reduction projects and give
weight to agency scientists when making those determinations.
Funding has been a key issue this spring as the Bush administration
only requested $476 million for hazardous fuel reduction in FY '05,
well below the $760 million authorized in the Healthy Forests Act. The
House stayed with the $476 million figure when it approved H.R. 4568 

the FY' 05 Interior appropriations bill, last week. 
One of the problems with fuels reduction is what to do with the
leftover materials, especially small diameter trees and brush that is
generally worth less to timber companies but makes up a large part of
the wildfire threat. To remedy the situation, the agencies are looking
to utilize biomass as an energy source as a way to increase the
commercial value of the smaller trees. The House Forests Subcommittee
will take up the biomass issue at a hearing Wednesday afternoon.
The Healthy Forests law authorizes $15 million annually for five years
in grants and research money to help improve the commercial value of
biomass. And last year, the Agriculture, Energy and Interior
departments signed a memorandum of understanding encouraging the
sustainable development of woody biomass uses.

Comment by poster: Well, we haven't seen the wholesale mass
destruction that the "preservationists" warned against. I'm thinking
that instead of blanket appeals of every project that involves cutting
trees, the eco-community is having to pick their spots now. There's
also a big court case coming up involving the Sierra Nevada Framework
amendment that will include all the big names in "preservationism".

You can bet, this being an election year, that the review of "Healthy
Forests" will generate maximum spin from both political machines. The
Democrats will say that not enough is being done to reduce the fire
threat. The Republicans will say that their hands are still tied by
the legal system. The finger pointing will escalate as the fire season
gets into full swing. Also, expect funds to be taken from project
money by fire suppression....AGAIN.

Larry,     healthy forestry technician

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