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Saturday, December 20, 2008

Healthy Forests Initiative,HFI

The Healthy Forests Initiative (or HFI), officially the Healthy Forests Restoration Act of 2003, is a law originally proposed by President George W. Bush in response to the widespread forest fires during the summer of 2002. The main thrusts of the law are to thin overstocked stands, clear away vegetation and trees to create shaded fuel breaks, provide funding and guidance to reduce or eliminate hazardous fuels in National Forests, improve forest fire fighting, and research new methods to halt destructive insects. Much of the basis for the law revolves around the overcrowding of forests due to the suppression of low intensity fires, which vary in their natural role of thinning small trees and clearing vegetative debris. The resulting build up of ground fuels and trees weakened by overpopulation (resource competition and spread of disease) pose a serious threat in some stands that can no longer be addressed through prescribed burnings. Disagreement exists concerning the role of private logging companies in thinning stands and clearing fire-breaks. The HFI also requires that communities within the "wildland urban interface" create "community wildfire protection plans." Community wildfire protection plans designate areas adjacent to communities that should be thinned so that crown fires will not directly burn into communities.


The Bush administration claims broad support for HFI, stating on the official website: "The Administration and a bipartisan majority in Congress supported the legislation and are joined by a variety of environmental conservation groups." This statement ignores the opposition to HFI by conservation groups such as the Sierra Club , the Natural Resources Defense Council, The Wilderness Society, and the John Muir Project. Supporters include the Society of American Foresters , local fire protection agencies, and a number of hunting and fishing advocacy groups.

In March 2006, it was reported in the news section of the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology that timber interests created a front group called Project Protect to help pass the Healthy Forests legislation.


Proponents of HFI believe that private industry can be used to thin parts of federally owned forests which are susceptible to forest fires, reducing the risk of conflagrations that endanger human lives and destroy valuable forests. It is believed that allowing private industry to log large-diameter trees will reduce the costs of otherwise removing them. This is because old trees - large diameter trees included - are significantly more susceptible to fire and insect infestation.

Anti HFI

Opponents of the nicknamed "No Tree Left Behind" Act point out that logging companies will be allowed to unnecessarily cut large diameter trees under a false pretense, while neglecting the greater issue of ladder fuels (such as brush and small trees) and possibly leaving debris that would add to extremely volatile ground fuels. Furthermore, forest fires occur naturally and are critical to the long-term survival of many forests, since many trees will only grow once they detect that a fire has occurred since this gives them access to sunlight. Some opponents also criticize the blanket prescription of thinnings to forests where low intensity fires did not historically play a pivotal role[citation needed]. In addition, some opponents consider the term, "Healthy Forests Initiative" (similarly to the Clear Skies Initiative), to be an example of administration Doublespeak, using environmentally friendly terminology as "cover" for a give-away to business interests.[9] Furthermore, some saplings only grow after forest fires have cleared away older and dead trees; if humans intervene by preventing natural forest fires from occurring for too long, the forest will eventually die and grow back very slowly.


In 2004, the Sierra Club and Sierra Forest Legacy (formerly named Sierra Nevada Forest Protection Campaign) brought a lawsuit challenging one aspect of HFI. The National Environmental Policy Act requires preparation of an environmental impact statement (EIS) for agency actions. Under HFI, the Forest Service had promulgated a "categorical exclusion" that eliminated the EIS requirement for timber sales up to 1,000 acres and prescribed burns up to 4,500 acres. On December 5, 2007, in Sierra Club v. Bosworth, the Ninth Circuit held that the Forest Service's promulgation of the categorical exclusion "was arbitrary and capricious".

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