Healthy Forests Initiative
The Healthy Forests Initiative (HFI) was originally proposed by President George W. Bush following the widespread forest fires of 2002 and became law as the Healthy Forests Restoration Act of 2003. Utilizing the hype of the 2002 fire season, the Bush administration proposed a series of drastic administrative changes to the way our National Forests are managed. The primary effect of the HFI was to decrease public involvement, reduce environmental protection, and increase access to our National Forests and other federal lands for timber companies. Combined, these proposals did more to give free reign to the timber industry than to enact the proposed benefits to fuels reduction efforts on our National Forests.
The HFI was based on the false assumption that landscape-wide logging would decrease forest fires. General scientific consensus has found that logging actually increases fire risk. While the primary objectives of the law were to thin overstocked stands, to create shaded fuel breaks, improve forest firefighting, and to eliminate hazardous fuels, the true impact of the proposal was to rewrite forest management, circumvent public participation and focus attention on large, remote, fire-resistant trees instead of protecting communities closer to home.
The HFI also called for the creation of community wildfire protection plans or CWPP’s for communities in the wildland-urban interface. These plans when produced and enacted responsibly help a community designate areas that should be thinned so that crown fires will not directly burn into communities. There has been a risk that logging interests would enter these discussions and promote the removal of large diameter trees while neglecting the greater issue of ladder fuels (such as brush and small trees), but Sierra Forest Legacy has worked hard to thwart such a possibility by taking an active role in this process by creating spearheading the creation of the Sierra Nevada Conservation Community Wildfire Protection Plan Guidebook which helps communities develop an effective plan which treats the dangerous fuels that are threatening the community while maintaining the ecological integrity of the surrounding forests and keeping the most fire resistant trees in the forest.
While true public protection requires fuel reduction efforts within a quarter-mile of forest communities and involving the public and community leaders in long-term education and planning, the HFI instead promoted the logging of large, commercially valuable trees miles from at-risk communities. The HFI was initially met with widespread public skepticism and when Congress adjourned in late 2002 without passing Bush's legislation, the President decided to act by decree, pushing parts of his plan through administratively. The administration then began a series of new National Forest management proposals to limit the analysis of environmental impacts, repeal the ability of the public to appeal bad projects and increase the degradation of wild forests.
The Healthy Forests Restoration Act
- Limited environmental analysis for any site-specific project the Forest Service and BLM claim will reduce hazardous fuels, including post-fire salvage projects.
- Limiting public participation by allowing hazardous fuels reduction projects to be categorically excluded and suspended citizen's rights to appeal projects.
- Accelerated aggressive thinning across millions of acres of backcountry forests miles away from communities at risk to forest fires.
- Allowed the Forest Service to give away trees to logging companies as payment for any management activity, including logging on public lands.
- Failed to provide increased protections or funding for homes or communities at risk of wildfire, and defined community protection so broadly that it can justify back-country logging.
- Created loopholes that would allow the logging of old-growth trees, including a two-year window for the Forest Service to adjust its rules, and exemptions for insect and storm damage that mean virtually every stand of old growth could legally be cut.
- Failed to ensure that fuel reduction projects would actually target the unprofitable underbrush, very small trees, and logging slash that create the greatest risk of destructive fires, while allowing logging that will dry out forests and promote more underbrush.
- Cut the heart out of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by restricting the alternatives analysis to a few choices defined by the agency's agenda.
- Deprived the public of its right to participate in public lands decisions by shielding many decisions from public review and restricting citizen input and appeals rights on many others.
- Interfered with the judicial process by instructing federal courts to give even greater weight to agency positions, and restricting the duration of injunctions on logging projects.