If managed wisely, America’s national forests can provide clean water, wildlife habit, recreational opportunities, and abundant domestic supplies of wood products and support thousands of jobs in the timber industry.

Unfortunately, this year’s current wildfire season like recent past wildfire seasons, has produced several catastrophic fires that have resulted in the tragic loss of life and property.  However, in many cases it’s possible to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire through proactive, healthy forest management.  While factors such as prolonged drought continue to raise the risk of wildfire, it is imperative that the federal government actively address the one issue within its control: hazardous fuels. Unnatural, overgrown, and unhealthy forests increase the risk of wildfire. Active management; e.g., thinning the forest, helps protect and restore forests while also helping local economies and creating jobs.

The inability of the Forest Service to thin forests due to overly cumbersome and lengthy environmental processes, certain environmental groups filing litigation as well as lack of sufficient agency focus on this challenge has led to a preponderance of overgrown, fire-prone stands of trees.  This condition has resulted in deadly and catastrophic forest fires that endanger communities, hurt local economies and release massive amounts of emissions into the atmosphere. 

Get the Facts:

  • The Forest Service estimates that almost one-third of the National Forest System, 58 million acres, are at high risk to catastrophic wildfire. Yet, the agency plans to thin less than three percent of those acres.
  • Since the Healthy Forests Restoration Act of 2003, 76.6 million acres have burned in wildfires.
  • In 1999, the GAO reported to Congress that, “the most extensive and serious problem related to the health of national forests in the Interior West is the over-accumulation of vegetation, which has caused an increasing number of large, intense, uncontrollable and catastrophically destructive wildfires.” 
  • On National Forest System lands, fewer than 3 to 5% of all wildfires account for about 95% of the total wildfire acres burned and 85% of total suppression expenditures.
  • Before the mid 1990’s, the Forest Service averaged 10 billion board feet of timber harvested.  The height of the harvest was in the 1980’s at 12 billion board feet.  To give a comparison, Germany, which has roughly the same forested acres as the State of Montana, harvests roughly 12.6 billion board feet a year.  Germany has 83 million residents—Montana has one million.  This past year the Forest Service harvested 2.9 billion board feet.  To get to an economically and ecologically sustainable level, the agency needs to double the acres treated and subsequently double the corresponding output (6 billion board feet) in order to sustain a woods products industry which is vital to accomplish the ecological objective of creating more fire reliant forest conditions.  

Related Videos:

Congressman Tipton Discusses Wildfire Amendment with KOA, KOA News (June 20, 2013)

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