Highlights from the report include:
Hazardous Fuels Reduction
On May 11, 2004, a lightning-caused wind driven wildfire that threatened the town of Ortonville, Minnesota was halted at less than 350 acres because a fuels treatment on 35 acres of the Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge the week before provided an anchor point for fire fighters and stopped the spread of the fire onto private lands with homes and farms.
By the end of June, 2004 the Forest Service and the Department of the Interior had reduced hazardous fuels on over 2.3 million acres, over 300,000 acres more than accomplished by this time last year. A total of 3.7 million acres will be treated in 2004, bringing the total to over 11 million acres treated since 2001. Approximately $426 million of hazardous fuels reduction funds have been budgeted for work this year. This work and will be supplemented by other funding that enhances forest and rangeland health.
The Forest Service has issued a final rule for a special administrative review process to reduce red tape and ensure timely hazardous fuels reduction projects in national forests. The Forest Service and Department of the Interior agencies have also published an HFRA implementation guide and conducted training sessions in the field on the use of the HFRA authorities. Both the BLM and the Forest Service are using the expedited HFRA authorities to prepare projects for the next field season. . The agencies have already used expedited administrative authorities under HFI to conduct 540 individual fuel treatments. The agencies will also award 95 stewardship contracts in 2004 using new stewardship contracting authority enacted in December 2002.
The National Association of State Foresters, Society of American Foresters, National Association of Counties, Communities Committee, and Western Governors Association have prepared guidance for at-risk communities on how to prepare a Community Wildfire Protection Plan, as provided in HFRA. Many communities throughout the country are now preparing such plans.
The utilization of woody material produced from fuels reduction and forest restoration projects will help communities and businesses create economic opportunity through the sustainable use of the nations forest resources. The brush and small diameter trees can be used to produce a clean, domestic source of renewable energy. This helps sustain the forest economy, and it results in an important environmental benefit as well.
The Departments of Agriculture, the Interior, and Energy have signed a memorandum of understanding that lays the groundwork for the interagency biomass committee to implement biomass projects, and additional guidelines are being developed. The agencies have accepted grant solicitations for woody biomass proposals.
Watershed Forestry Assistance
The Watershed Forestry Assistance Program promotes use of forest and forestry practices for protecting and restoring water quality and watershed functions, including municipal drinking water supplies. The Forest Service is working with state foresters and with Indian Tribes to develop guidelines for the State Watershed Forestry Assistance Program and the Tribal Watershed Forestry Assistance Program. Through collaborative approaches in priority watersheds, States and Indian Tribes can integrate forestry practices across mixed ownerships, provide cumulative water quality benefits, and offer low cost, long term solutions to many of the nations non-point source pollution problems. Guidelines for program implementation will be in place in early fall.
Insect Infestations and Related Diseases
Landscape-scale research projects are currently underway. These projects will provide practical information on how to combat insect infestations and diseases threatening forest health. For example, in June 2004, USDA announced two applied research projects totaling 1500 acres to study methods of controlling southern pine beetle and red oak borer outbreaks in the South. Additional applied research projects are planned to study methods for controlling hemlock woolly adelgid and gypsy moth infestations.
The Healthy Forest Reserve Program
The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Services is designated to administer the Healthy Forest Reserve Program in coordination with the Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Marine Fisheries Service. The program will promote the recovery of endangered species, improve biodiversity and enhance carbon sequestration. NRCS has plans underway so that the Healthy Forest Reserve Program can be ready for implementation at the beginning of fiscal year 2005.