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Secretary Norton Announces New Firefighting Initiatives;
Details Locations of Five New Healthy Forest Pilot Projects

NEW ORLEANS - Coming off of one of the worst fire seasons in modern history, Interior Secretary Gale Norton today announced two memorandums of understanding to better coordinate federal, state and local forest and rangeland firefighting efforts and announced five new Healthy Forests pilot projects the Interior Department and state, tribal and local partners will perform this year.

Secretary Norton made the announcements this afternoon in New Orleans at the National Fire Plan Conference. The conference included more than 400 fire managers and land managers, representing federal, state and local organizations.

"We need to take action and leave a legacy of healthier lands and thriving communities. Together, we can fulfill this vision," Secretary Norton said. "A century of fire suppression and forest management policies have left forests with too many trees and trees that are small and unhealthy. Insect and disease damage have turned whole mountainsides from rich green to rust - and then to gray as the trees died.

Secretary Norton pointed out that more than 7.1 million acres burned last year - more than twice the annual 10-year average. These fires caused the death of 21 firefighters, drove tens of thousands of people from their homes and destroyed more than 2,000 buildings. These fires also destroyed sensitive wildlife habitat and severely damaged soils and watersheds for decades to come. Currently, 190 million acres of public land and surrounding communities are at increased risk of extreme fires.

"For the good of communities and their economies, most agree that we have to treat the forests and rangelands to prevent catastrophe. We want to leave a positive legacy on our public lands and achieve greater safety for America's communities. We are working with communities to reduce the risks of catastrophic fires and to restore health to our forests and rangelands. Success requires that we apply a healing hand to the land," Secretary Norton said.

Secretary Norton today announced two MOUs to build better partnerships to combat wildland fires. In the first MOU, the Department of the Interior, USDA Forest Service, State Foresters and National Association of Counties signed an agreement to better prioritize the annual selection of fuels treatment projects. This will be accomplished by concentrating on high priority areas: 1) in the wildland-urban interface, where the greatest risk to property and life exist and, 2) outside the wildland-urban interface, areas that are at the highest risk of catastrophic fire. Projects will be selected May 1st, so firefighting personnel can prepare fuels treatment projects before the beginning of the intense June through September fire season.

Secretary Norton also announced an MOU agreement signed with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, USDA Forest Service and State Foresters that will avoid duplication in fire-related federal grant programs. The agreement will leverage funds more effectively to assist local fire departments efforts to improve firefighter safety, suppression response and risk mitigation. Grant applications will be reviewed simultaneously by all federal agencies to avoid duplication.

Secretary Norton also announced five additional Healthy Forests pilot projects. The pilot projects include the following:


"Our proposals and pilot projects will help protect forest and rangeland for future generations. These thoughtful initiatives can make a difference in the number of fuels treatment projects we are able to move forward. They will help us restore the health of our forests and reduce risks to our communities," Secretary Norton concluded.

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