Agricultural Aspects of Homeland Security Proposal Examined

Jun 13, 2002

National Fire Plan and Wildfire Outlook Examined
Over 1.4 million acres burned so far this year

June 13, 2002 — The 2002 fire season has produced fires that are burning earlier, growing faster and spreading with greater intensity than expected due to the combination of drought, fuel loads, and the increasing size of the wildlife-urban interface, members of the Department Operations, Oversight, Nutrition, and Forestry were told Thursday during a hearing to review the National Fire Plan and the outlook for the 2002 fire season.

"The campaign to keep people out of the forest with a hands-off philosophy is dangerous to the very existence of our forests," Subcommittee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va) said. "There are fires burning in my State of Virginia. The Marbleyard Complex fire burning in the George-Jefferson National Forest is burning in standing dead timber in and around a wilderness area. Stands that fell victim to the Gypsy Moth and Southern Pine Beetle are left to act as fuel for the fire because 'analysis paralysis' has successfully stopped management."

"Wildfires do not know arbitrary or political boundaries," Goodlatte continued. "They burn where there is fuel and where the fuels and wind take them. Managing for healthy forests is the only way to stop these fires from consuming our nations; forested treasures and threatening neighboring communities. No line drawn in the sand will stop the devastation from catastrophic wildfires. Only good stewardship will create sustainable forests that we can proudly leave for our children and grandchildren."

Appearing on behalf of the National Association of State Foresters, Mr. James B. Hull, of the Texas Forest Service noted, "the 2002 fire season has burned more acres with significantly fewer fires than both the 10-year average and the 2000 fire season." Hull cited statistics from the National Interagency Fire Center that showed that 29 fires remain active in 12 states as well as numerous small fires that are causing significant damage.

"Fires like this are not a natural part of our ecosystem," Goodlatte explained. "They are not cleansing, or beneficial to the forest, they are dangerous and destructive." Goodlatte continued, "these fires leave behind bare mineral soil, dead trees and vegetation, hot running streams and rivers, and the threat of more devastation from massive mudslides. This is not how we take care of our forests. This is not nature taking its course. This is anything but natural. We must actively work to prevent these types of fires from occurring"

Mark Rey, Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment of USDA, as a result of fuel and weather conditions, "the areas of greatest fire potential today include the Southwest, Colorado, Southern California, and the Southern Great Basin." Additionally, the "fire potential is high in Northern Florida, Northwest Minnesota and the Southern Alaskan Panhandle."

"Our combined goal is to have in place a Federal wildland fire workforce of over 17,800 personnel," Rey said. "This is an increase of 6,326 personnel from FY2000. When we realized the severity of the wildland fire outlook, we ban to hire seasonal firefighters early and we are working to place firefighting crews and equipment in locations where they can be mobilized quickly and effectively."

As Director Hull discussed implementation priorities, he explained, "regardless of the region, state, or property ownership, suppression must remain a priority because the protection of life and property must never be ignored. Where fuel reduction is needed and the restoration of fire adapted ecosystems is critical to reducing the risk of catastrophic fire, we must recognize that it will take a long term effort to accomplish these goals."

The 10-year Implementation Plan for the 10-year Comprehensive Wildland Fire Strategy was endorsed by the Secretaries of Agriculture and Interior along with the nation's Governors on May 23, 2002. The Implementation plan sets for an agenda that will aggressively manage wildland fires, reduce hazardous fuels, protect communities, and restore ecosystems over the next decade. The Plan aims to build collaboration at all levels of government to help reduce the risk of wildfire to communities and the environment.

A key component of the Implementation plan is the newly formed Wildlife Fire Leadership Council. The Council is a cooperative, interagency organization dedicated to achieving consistent implementation of the Implementation Plan, the National Fire Plan, and the Federal Wildland Fire Management Policy.

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