USDA Releases Strategy to Manage America’s Forests, Prevent Wildfires

People watch flames from the Holy Fire outside Glen Ivy Hot Springs in Corona, California, southeast of Los Angeles, on August 10, 2018. - Authorities battling massive wildfires in large swathes of California issued mandatory evacuation orders and health warnings Friday over the worsening air quality as the flames grew …
ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

The Trump administration is pushing back against decades of pressure from environmental zealots to block access and management of America’s vast forests. The USDA is developing a strategy to proactively reverse course and prevent the kind of recent massive wildfires that have claimed lives and property.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) released a report on Thursday —  “Toward Shared Stewardship Across Landscapes: An Outcome-Based Investment Strategy” — that lays out the plan designed “to work more closely with states to identify landscape-scale priorities for targeted treatments in areas with the highest payoffs.”

This includes managing invasive species, drought conditions, and insect and disease epidemics that result in dead high-fuel forest lands.

“On my trip to California this week, I saw the devastation that these unprecedented wildfires are having on our neighbors, friends, and families,” Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said in the announcement of the strategy, which follows his recent visit to the state that has been plagued by deadly wildfires for weeks.

“We commit to work more closely with the states to reduce the frequency and severity of wildfires,” Perdue said. “We commit to strengthening the stewardship of public and private lands.” 

“This report outlines our strategy and intent to help one another prevent wildfires from reaching this level,” Perdue said.

“Of particular concern are longer fire seasons, the rising size and severity of wildfires, and the expanding risk to communities, natural resources, and firefighters,” the press release announcing the strategy said.

During this fire season alone in California, six firefighters have lost their lives.

“The challenges before us require a new approach,”  Vicki Christiansen, interim United States Forest Service (USFS) chief, said. “This year Congress has given us new opportunities to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with state leaders to identify land management priorities that include mitigating wildfire risks.” 

“We will use all the tools available to us to reduce hazardous fuels, including mechanical treatments, prescribed fire, and unplanned fire in the right place at the right time,” Christiansen said. 

“A key component of the new strategy is to prioritize investment decisions on forest treatments in direct coordination with states using the most advanced science tools,” the press release announcement said. “This allows the USFS to increase the scope and scale of critical forest treatments that protect communities and create resilient forests.”

The help from Congress refers to the 2018 omnibus bill, which includes “new categorical exclusions for land treatments to improve forest conditions, new road maintenance authorities, and longer stewardship contracting in strategic areas.”

The omnibus bill also includes a long-term “fire funding fix,” starting in the fiscal year 2020 “that will stop the rise of the 10-year average cost of fighting wildland fire and reduce the likelihood of the disruptive practice of transferring funds from Forest Service non-fire programs to cover firefighting costs.”

The executive summary of the report explains that the strategy will be evolving based on input from stakeholders but will, in the end, benefit America’s forest and all Americans.

“Working with states and others, we envision stakeholders coming together across landscapes to co-manage risk, use new tools to better target investments, focus on outcomes at the right scale, and recalibrate our wildland fire environment for the benefit of people, both now and for generations to come,” the summary said.

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