Department Of Interior

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Department of the Secretary
Contact: Mark Pfeifle or John Wright:
For Immediate Release: Sept. 9, 2003

Secretary Norton Announces Signing of Environmentally-Sensitive Pilot Projects, Encourages Passage of Healthy Forests Initiative

-- Utah, Nevada and Idaho plans are on deck to improve forest health --

(WASHINGTON) - Interior Secretary Gale Norton today announced three Healthy Forests Initiative pilot projects to reduce the threat of wildland fire are ready for implementation. Secretary Norton announced the signing of decisions to implement the Pahvant Interagency Fuels Reduction Project in central Utah, the Interagency Portneuf Fuels Management Project in southeast Idaho, and the Mesquite Hazardous Fuel Reduction project in southeast Nevada.

Secretary Norton made the announcement today at the Citizens for a Sound Economy annual Liberty Summit at the Washington Plaza Hotel.

"We're making substantial progress towards implementing these much-needed projects. This is an extraordinary effort by land management agencies to end unnecessary delays associated with routine land management analyses and to create better tools to reduce hazardous fuels in an environmentally-sensitive way. These pilot projects ensure compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act and collaboration with interested citizens during the project environmental analysis process," Secretary Norton said.

Today's projects are the latest of Interior's 10 environmental assessment pilot projects implementing guidance issued by the Council on Environmental Quality as part of the President's Healthy Forests Initiative. The guidance provides a framework for administratively improving the EA process to allow for more efficient management of fuels reduction efforts to improve forest, woodland and rangeland health.

Utah's Pahvant Interagency Fuels Reduction Project is a joint effort by the BLM Fillmore Field Office and the Fishlake National Forest Fillmore Ranger District. These offices, working closely with state and local partners will reduce hazardous fuels on approximately 14,300 acres along the west side of the Pahvant Mountain Range, in the vicinity of Scipio, Holden, Fillmore and Meadow, Utah. The fuels treatments will benefit these communities by reducing the risk of uncharacteristically intense and severe wildfire and lessening the impact of secondary effects such as flooding. The treatments also increase firefighter safety. Treatments will begin in the fall of 2003 and are anticipated to be completed by 2008.

The Interagency Portneuf Fuels Management Project is located directly adjacent to Pocatello, Idaho. The Pocatello Field Office, Bureau of Land Management and the Westside Ranger District, Caribou-Targee National Forest collaborate with state, county, and city departments to remove hazardous fuels and suppress wild fires under the umbrella of the Gateway Interagency Fire Front. Beginning the week of September 15, this project will remove fuels from 2,740 acres of federal, state, county, and private land strategically located within a broader 27,000 acre zone to create shaded fuel breaks that will protect the community. Managers expect the project will be competed within eight years.

The Mesquite Hazardous Fuel Reduction project is located along the Virgin River in southern Nevada near Bunkerville and Mesquite, Nevada. The project will treat invasive tamarisk along a 10-mile stretch of Virgin River corridor within the wildland urban interface. The 1,500 acre project will reduce the density of tamarisk thereby lessening the threat wildland fire poses to these rapidly growing communities while restoring native riparian vegetation. Treatments will begin in the fall of 2003 and will be completed by 2013.

Secretary Norton also encouraged the U.S. Senate to pass the President's Healthy Forests Initiative. "Decades of poor forest and rangeland management have caused 190 million acres of federal land in the United States to face high risk of catastrophic fire," Secretary Norton said. "Congress must act soon to end the long-term neglect of our nation's forests and rangelands. Continued neglect means wildfires will burn more rapidly, with more intensity and more destructively - destroying sensitive habitat, jeopardizing firefighter safety, and devastating homes and communities."

Last year, wildfires burned about 7 million acres of land and cost the federal government approximately $1.7 billion to put them out. Also, last year over 800 homes and other structures burned and, tragically, 23 firefighters lost their lives.

President Bush responded by launching the Healthy Forests Initiative. The Initiative was designed to implement core components of the National Fire Plan's 10-year Comprehensive Strategy and Implementation Plan.

The National Fire Plan and its components were endorsed by seventeen western governors, and were developed in collaboration with county commissioners, state foresters, tribal leaders, and nongovernmental organizations. The plan establishes a framework for protecting communities and the environment through local collaboration on thinning, planned burns and forest restoration projects.


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