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Bush Signs Healthy Forest Act

Premise: Thinning forests will prevent wildfires


After months of debate and controversy, President Bush has signed into law the Healthy Forests Restoration Act of 2003 designed to reduce the risk of wild fires by thinning dense undergrowth and brush in forested areas.

Implementing Bush's Healthy Forest Initiative, the new law did not come without controversy and debate. Environmental groups argued that the easing of federal logging restrictions required to promote the thinning of lush forest undergrowth will ultimately allow timber companies to harvest older, larger trees of higher economic value. The plan, they said, would result in an economic windfall for the timber industry, while having no positive effect in preventing forest fires.

Even some of its opponents in Congress were prompted to vote for the Healthy Forests Restoration Act after seeing the U.S. suffer through two of the most devastating years of wildfire damage in the nation's history.

  • In the past two years alone, 147,049 fires burned nearly 11 million acres

  • In 2002, 88,458 fires burned roughly 7 million acres and caused the deaths of 23 firefighters

  • In 2003 (thus far) 59,149 fires have burned 3.8 million acres and caused the deaths of 28 firefighters

  • Nearly 6,800 structures have been destroyed in 2003 (approximately 4,800 in California)

  • The California fires alone cost $250 million to contain and 22 civilians have died as a result

    "Today, about 190 million acres of forest and woodlands around the country are vulnerable to destruction," said President Bush at the bill signing ceremony. "Overgrown brush and trees can serve as kindling, turning small fires into large, raging blazes that burn with such intensity that the trees literally explode."

    Major Provisions of the Health Forests Act of 2003

  • Reduce dense undergrowth that fuels catastrophic fires through thinning and prescribed burns

  • Improve the public involvement in the review process by providing opportunities for earlier participation, thus accomplishing projects in a more timely fashion

  • Select projects on a collaborative basis involving local, tribal, state, Federal and non-governmental entities

  • Focus projects on Federal lands that meet strict criteria for risk of wildfire damage to communities, water supply systems and the environment

  • Authorize the Healthy Forests Reserve Program, to protect, restore and enhance degraded forest ecosystems on private lands to promote the recovery of threatened and endangered species

  • Encourage biomass energy production through grants and assistance to local communities creating market incentives for removal of otherwise valueless forest material

  • and Develop an accelerated program on certain Federal lands to combat insect infestations

    "The bill expedites the environmental review process so we can move forward more quickly on projects that restore forests to good health," said President Bush. "We don't want our intentions bogged down by regulations. We want to get moving. When we see a problem, this government needs to be able to move. Congress wisely enabled a review process to go forward, but also wisely recognizes sometimes review process bogs us down and things just don't get done."

    The new law also directs federal courts to consider the risk of forest fires when deciding cases that could result in delays to forest thinning projects. "You see, no longer will essential forest health projects be delayed by lawsuits that drag on year after year after year," said the President.

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