Committee Reviews Plan to Prevent Catastrophic Wildfires

Oct 4, 2000

Committee Reviews Plan to Prevent Catastrophic Wildfires
New Policy Forms Partnership Between State and Federal Land Managers

Washington, D.C. — Today, Chairman Larry Combest convened the House Committee on Agriculture to review the causes of this year's catastrophic western wildfires and to examine a new plan included in the House-passed Interior Appropriations bill to prevent future disasters.

The year 2000 has been one of the worst wildfire seasons of the century.  To date seven million acres of forest land have been destroyed by wildfires -- equivalent to a one-mile wide swath of forest stretching from Washington D.C. to Los Angeles and back.  This tragedy has been made worse by the terrible loss of homes and property in Los Alamos, the suburbs of Denver, and in other places throughout the interior West.

"We have been warned by the experts that this was coming.  These same experts tell us that, unless we act now, the worst is yet to come," Combest said.  "Yet, sadly, the prevailing policy in Washington is a one of neglect.  But we cannot stand idly by and allow this tragedy to continue.  It is time for a new policy." 

Over 50 million acres of federal lands, mainly in the western United States, are now at high risk of damage due to fire.  Sixty percent of our national forests are in an unhealthy condition while one out of every three acres of national forest is dead or dying.  Currently, federal agencies rely heavily on prescribed fire for treating these areas of dangerous fuel buildup.  However, the most up-to-date science indicates that this approach will likely be unsuccessful without active treatments such as thinning, harvest, and brush removal to reduce fuel loads.

"Yesterday Congress took the first step," Combest said.  "The House overwhelmingly approved legislation providing $1.8 billion for a plan designed by the Western Governors Association.  This plan was agreed to by the Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior and will go a long way towards cleaning up the forests that have burned this year and protecting our remaining forests from burning in the future."

The plan, which will be implemented next year, contains three essential parts:

The plan creates partnerships between states and federal land managers.
It directs federal and state partners to jointly develop a comprehensive ten-year strategy for reducing fire risks.
It gives states a direct role in the planning, decision-making and implementation of the ten-year strategy.