WASHINGTON - July 19 - The controversial Healthy Forests Restoration Act (HFRA), a 2003 law being scrutinized at a Senate Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests’ oversight hearing today, has not been proven either effective or necessary to protect communities at risk from wildfires, say conservationists.
The Healthy Forests law does not appear to be heavily used by the land management agencies. At a June 29 House oversight hearing on HFRA, administration witnesses lumped together the accomplishments of several other fuel reduction programs to hide the meager progress made to date under the HFRA.
"Limiting public participation and weakening environmental laws are not the solutions to increasing community wildfire protection efforts," said Matthew Koehler, executive director of the Missoula Montana based WildWest Institute and a witness at the hearing. "Certainly, it’s hard to make the case that the 103 acres of total fuel reduction by the Forest Service under the Healthy Forest Restoration Act in 2006 – in the states of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming -- is much of an accomplishment."
Koehler’s complete testimony is available at http://forestpress.mediatools.org/objects/view.acs?object_id=9657
"The Forest Service Healthy Forests budget does not provide adequate support for community wildfire protection efforts on non-federal lands where it would be most effective," said Michael Francis, forest program director of The Wilderness Society. "A greater portion of the Forest Service "Healthy Forests" budget should be dedicated to non-federal lands in the wildland-urban interface. In FY 2007 the administration proposes to spend only 4% of the funding in this area that makes up to 85% of the risk."
Conservation groups have been closely monitoring implementation of the law and projects the agency is working on using its authorities. A summary of these findings and a sampling of HFRA projects is available at http://forestpress.mediatools.org/objects/view.acs?object_id=9656
"The required local collaborative process is in some cases being ignored by the Forest Service," said Randi Spivak, executive director of American Lands Alliance. "The agency should allow the collaborative process to work and let local citizens help design authentic community wildfire protection and restoration projects."
"The agencies number one priority should be to protect homes and communities," said Sean Cosgrove, forest policy specialist for the Sierra Club. "In the debate on HFRA it was claimed that old growth forests would be conserved. Instead, the Forest Service has used the HFRA to create controversial logging projects that target old growth and roadless forests."
A recent comedy skit on The Colbert Report about preventing wildfires and the "Healthy Forests" concept and is viewable at http://www.comedycentral.com/sitewide/media_player/play.jhtml?itemId=71500.