Healthy Forest Act earns praise

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The Healthy Forests Restoration Act is giving federal agencies more options to improve forest health, according to a recent report.

"It is a great thrill to see a bill that we poured our heart and soul into paying such tremendous dividends on behalf of our nation's communities and the environment," said Rep. Scott McInnis, R-Colo., who has supported the act.

The Wildland Fire Leadership Council, an inter-governmental organization formed by the U.S. Forest Service and Department of Interior, recently released a report detailing some positive results of the act.

The report states the act has streamlined the process of managing federal lands that are at high risk of catastrophic wildfire and large-scale insect infestation and disease, according to McInnis' office. The new procedures give priority to managing forests near communities and sources of municipal drinking water.

According to the report, 2004 has been the most successful year for fuel treatments on federal lands. To date, hazardous fuels have been removed from 2.6 million acres, with 1.6 million of those acres in the wildland-urban interface.

In Colorado, the Forest Service expects to treat nearly 75 percent more acres than were treated in 2003, according to McInnis' office.

Benefits of the new rules have been felt by the Routt National Forest as well, said Rob Sexton, spokesman for the Routt National Forest. The rules have helped streamline the process of managing land for wildfire and insects, as well as provided some extra funding for such projects, he said.

"What they do is they provide us more options, and more options equates to more efficiencies," Sexton said. "But we still do the same level of analysis and the same level of public involvement in all of our decisions, because it's the right thing to do.

"We see it as incumbent in our stewardship role to have the same level of public involvement and the same level of analysis that we have done in the past."

So far, there has not been a "big change" in ongoing activities because of the new rules, Sexton said. And though funds are available, the Routt National Forest has to compete with more populated areas, such as national forests on the Front Range, for those funds.

McInnis said that the Healthy Forests Act would contribute to improving forest health in the long term.

"While these agencies are making excellent progress, it is important to remember that the health of our forests cannot be restored overnight," he said. "It will require a long-term commitment to ensuring long-term mitigation of the threat posed by catastrophic wildfire."

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