US Officials Launch 10-year Plan to Reduce Wildfires

On a site in the midst of the famous 1910 blow up of Idaho and Montana the U.S. government is taking a proactive approach to fire prevention including thinning and controlled burns.

SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER

Officials launch 10-year plan to reduce wildfires

Friday, May 24, 2002 By CHUCK OXLEY ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER

IDAHO CITY, Idaho — On the outskirts of a historic mining town that has burned four times from wildfires in the past century, two Bush administration Cabinet officers joined four Western governors yesterday to launch a plan to reduce wildfires and thin forests.

The 10-year plan follows nearly two years of review of the record fire season in 2000, which burned 7 million acres nationally. Those fires destroyed enough trees to build 100,000 homes, Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne said.

“The significance of this plan is that it’s been collaborative program, not only with state officials, but you have the federal officials, local officials, environmental organizations, industry organizations all working together. This gives us a plan so that we can remain actively involved throughout,” Kempthorne said.

It includes fire prevention and suppression, reduction of hazardous fuels, restoration of fire-adapted ecosystems and community assistance.

“It’s going to be a priority-setting exercise to make sure that we’re using the resources in the areas that are most needed first,” Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman said. “We haven’t had enough of this kind of coordination in government and this kind of planning.”

Veneman and Interior Secretary Gale Norton were among 150 federal, state and local officials gathered on the Boise National Forest to compare lands treated for fire by thinning and prescribed burns with other lands that are considered wildland fire hazards.

Also attending were Govs. John Kitzhaber of Oregon, Judy Martz of Montana and Jim Geringer of Wyoming.

On one side of a dirt road, young and old ponderosa pine stood close together on a thick understory of brush.

On the other, where thinning and burning have taken place for the past 20 years, mature trees rose more than 75 feet.

The forest floor was clear except for low, small brushes.

District Ranger Dick Markley described how a prescribed burn in the early 1990s left trees charred at the base but with a full canopy of green at their tops. “Our program here is thinning to reduce the density, prescribed burning on a regular basis and an attempt to maintain the forest in a condition more like what it looked like historically,” Markley said.

Kitzhaber said the fact that timber industry and environmental groups have signed onto the plan shows opposing groups can find solutions.

But Kitzhaber expressed concern about funding. Last year, the federal government budgeted $2.8 billion for wildfire suppression and prevention. The 2002 budget is $2.3 billion.

This year, the federal government intends to use prescribed burns and mechanical thinning on 2.25 million acres.

Even so, 70 million acres will remain untreated and considered at extreme risk to wildfire.

“Implementation is key, and it’s a question of money. What we really need is increased funding to make an investment in the billion-dollar asset we have out here,” Kitzhaber said.

“If we don’t invest in it, you’re going to burn the trees down, lose homes and commercial timber value. You’re going to lose it as a resource.”

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