WASHINGTON, D.C. – Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne announced today that the Department has reduced the threat of wildfire through hazardous fuels treatments on more than 10 million acres of land, especially in critical areas near towns and communities, and is well-positioned to respond to the 2008 wildland fire season.
“The major factors in determining the severity of this season are hazardous fuel conditions, persistent drought, and the proximity of hazardous fuels to Wildland-Urban Interface areas,” Kempthorne said in a national news teleconference. “While we cannot influence the drought, we have been very active in reducing fuels that feed wildfires, especially near homes, communities, and resources to slow or stop these fires from threatening these high-value areas.”
“This spring, we have exceeded 10 million acres treated by our four major land management agencies and have assisted their state and local partners,” Kempthorne said, calling the milestone a significant achievement. “That’s an amount of land larger than the entire state of Maryland.” The Interior agencies are the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Indian Affairs and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“From 2001 to2008, Interior has invested $1.6 billion to reduce the threat of wildland fires for communities and natural resources,” Kempthorne said. The Department has been especially active in the Wildland-Urban Interface, where $989 million supported treatments to reduce fuels accumulations. About $597 million funded fuel treatments in areas outside the Interface.”
The number of acres Interior treated annually around and near communities at risk from wildfire has increased 195 percent, from more than 164,000 in 2001, to more than 484,000 planned under the 2009 request. By 2009, Interior agencies will have treated almost four million acres of Interface areas.
Kempthorne called the Hazardous Fuels Reduction Program a land management success story that reflects Interior’s continuing commitment to protect communities and natural resources, including critical habitat for at-risk species, from wildfire. (A list of exemplary hazardous fuels treatment projects by state is attached.)
“Throughout these acres, we are reducing the density of foliage, reintroducing native species, removing low brush and clearing space,” the Secretary said. “The goal is to reduce the intensity and spread of wildfires, giving the brave men and women who battle these fires a fighting chance to get them under control early.”
Kempthorne, who visited the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area yesterday, saw first hand the effects of fuels treatment programs and talked with the men and women helping to make those programs a success. He also saw examples of how Interior agencies have been working to educate and encourage homeowners to create “defensible space” and make their homes “firewise.” This is a nationwide program that Interior and other federal and state agencies support under the National Fire Plan.
“Reaching this milestone has been a team effort, and it has prepared us for this year’s wildfire season and wildfire seasons in the future,” Kempthorne noted.
Interior agencies will continue to emphasize pre-positioning of equipment and initial attack to keep small fires from becoming large fires during the 2008 wildland fire season, which has already burned more than 1.5 million acres.
Interior’s fire preparedness budget in 2008 is about $276.4 million, an increase from 2007. Interior agencies combined have more than 4,000 primary firefighters who are well trained, effectively equipped and ready to battle wildland fires. The department has an additional primary fire support and management staff of 1,300. Thousands of additional personnel are available through the “militia” – Interior agency staffers in programs other than fire who hold firefighting or fire management qualifications.
Smokejumpers, engines and heavy equipment levels remain stable: 745 wildland fire engines are available, the same as in the previous two years; and 206 pieces of heavy equipment, the same as last year, are ready, including dozers and water tenders.
News media interested in exemplary Hazardous Fuels Reduction projects in their state can access Success Stories from around the Nation at the following url:
More information on Interior and National Interagency Fire Center preparedness can be found at www.nifc.gov. Information on the Healthy Forest Initiative and National Fire plan are at www.forestsandrangelands.gov