Department Of Interior

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Office of the Secretary
CONTACT:Joan Moody
For Immediate Release: Aug. 13, 2004
Residents of Louisiana's St. Tammany Parish to Enjoy Insurance Premium Savings Resulting from Healthy Forest Initiative Partnership

(NEW ORLEANS, LA.) - Homeowners in the St. Tammany Fire District will enjoy a potential savings of 5 to 10 percent on insurance premiums as a result of wildland fire prevention actions taken by Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge just north of New Orleans. Assistant Secretary of the Interior P. Lynn Scarlett and St Tammany Fire Protection District #3 Chief Chuck Flynn announced the fire prevention efforts during a tour of St. Tammany Parish today.

"We have improved habitat for wildlife using prescribed fire and mechanical fuels reduction and we have helped reduce fire risk, resulting in potential insurance savings for Lacombe residents," said Scarlett, who addressed the International Association of Fire Chiefs meeting in New Orleans earlier today. "This underscores the importance of partnerships in tackling tough problems. Working together, we are making a difference."

Scarlett, who is Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Policy, Management and Budget, addressed the chiefs during the opening session of their conference at Fire-Rescue International at the Morial Convention Center. She later conducted a tour of the parish including St.Tammany Fire Station and the Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge.

The Departments of Agriculture and Interior are jointly working to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildland fire under the Healthy Forests Initiative implemented by President Bush and the Healthy Forest Restoration Act signed into law by the President in 2003.

The effort gives fire agencies and communities additional tools to address wildland fire risks. Over the past two years, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has provided the St.Tammany Fire District #3 with $10,000 in Rural Fire Assistance grants to equip and train the professional and volunteer fire fighters in wildland firefighting techniques. St. Tammany Parish historically has been one of the two parishes in Louisiana with the largest incidence of wildfire, according to the State of Louisiana Office of Forestry.

A recent review of the community's Insurance Service Office (ISO) fire rating, which provides the insurance industry with information about fire risk, demonstrated that the community assistance provided by the USFWS has significantly reduced the risk of devastating wildland fires in the community.

This reduced risk resulted in a drop of the ISO rating in Lacombe's St.Tammany Fire District #3 from 5 to 3, with the possible savings of 5 to 10 percent on insurance premiums for homeowners within the fire district. The ISO insurance rating uses a 1-10 scale, and is based on equipment, volunteer or paid firefighters, response time, water availability, and other factors. A local insurance agent's quote on a $100,000 house indicated that the owner could see savings of $110.00 a year. The median home price in Lacombe is $107,000 according to the St. Tammany Economic Development Office. The population of the fire district is 7,518, with 3,119 households and 180 businesses. District-wide, the cumulative savings in insurance premiums for the estimated 3,000 households within the fire district totals $330,000.

Wildland-Urban Interface projects such as prescribed burning and mechanical treatments help protect the community from hazardous fuels buildup. Prescribed burning is a management tool to help restore forests and endangered species habitat, as well as reduce fuel loads that could encourage wildfires. While maintaining wildland firefighting staff and equipment to manage wildland fire on a complex of seven refuges, the USFWS also helps protect nearby communities such as Lacombe, La.

Last year, Sami Gray, Fire Control Officer for Southeast Louisiana Refuges, received a National Fire Plan award in the "Implementation of the National Fire Plan" category. In 2002 more than 4,000 acres of the refuge complex were successfully and safely treated (prescribed burned) - restoring the largest acreage ever for the refuge. The Southeast Louisiana Refuges Complex is located in an urban area where 100-acre parcels or 400-acre parcels are burned at a time.

The Healthy Forests Initiative, initiated by Pres Bush in 2002, enhances the ability of federal land managers and communities to reduce risks of catstropohic wildfires and improve forest and rangeland health. When fires strike, visibility and air quality are reduced, even threatening the health of many who do not live near the fires. The habitat for endangered species and other wildlife is also destroyed. Federal forests and rangelands also face threats from the spread of invasive species and insect attacks following catastrophic wildfires.

The United States Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting, and enhancing fish and wildlife and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 95-million acre National Wildlife Refuge System, which is comprised of 544 national wildlife refuges, thousands of wetlands, and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 64 fish and wildlife management offices, and 81 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces Federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program, which distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.
More information on fires can be found at National Wildfire Coordinating Group.

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Release #: R04-00x
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