Forest Health Bill Compromise
Big Benefit For AK Says Murkowski
October 04, 2003
Saturday - 1:00 am
U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski on Friday said Alaska forests and Alaskans
who live in and near them will be among the biggest beneficiaries
as a result of a compromise she helped negotiate over terms for
a new forest health bill. The terms of the compromise, which
according to Murkowski likely will win final congressional approval
later this fall, formally were unveiled Friday.
The bill is designed to help
expedite hazardous fuel reduction projects on national forest
lands to protect communities and watersheds from catastrophic
wildfires and to promote other efforts to improve forest and
rangeland health, such as combating insect infestations.
Senator Murkowski said, "For
years it's been clear that federal land managers have needed
more flexibility to deal with our at-risk forests. The Spruce
bark beetle infestation on the Kenai Peninsula that has seen
more than 3 million acres of spruce consumed by the beetles points
out the urgent need for the Forest Service and also the BLM (Bureau
of Land Management) to have the ability to quickly take steps
to reduce hazardous fuel build ups from dead trees and to speed
reforestation efforts, if we are going to have healthy forests."
"This bill is a balanced
measure that will give local citizens input into the management
of their forests. It clears away the bureaucracy and expedites
the decision process so that steps can be taken quickly and efficiently
to remove diseased or damaged trees so they won't fuel forest
fires and so the timber can be removed while it still might have
enough value to help cover the costs of rehabilitation and reforestation"
said Senator Murkowski.
Quoting the news release, the
- Enhances citizens' rights
to participate in the project planning process and maintains
a right of citizens to challenge proposed agency projects.
- It provides a direction to
the courts in an expedited manner to balance the short-term risks
of a project against the long-term risks to forest health through
- Directs half of the federal
forest health funding to areas immediately adjacent to wildland
urban interface zones, while focusing the remaining funding in
areas outside such zones.
- It allows communities to develop
community wildfire protection plans to aid in prioritizing areas
to be treated under the legislation.
Murkowski said several sections
of the bill were changed in ways that will particularly help
- She said the definition of
"at-risk" communities was modified so it would more
easily include towns on the Kenai Peninsula, helping them to
benefit from funding of forest health and thinning projects in
the wildland urban interface zone.
- She said the bill's hazardous
fuel reduction projects are defined so they will be consistent
with forest plans in the 17-million-acre Tongass National Forest
in Southeast and the nearly 6-million-acre Chugach National Forest
- She said the bill's requirements
for fire condition classes were modified to make sure they accommodated
Alaska's fire concerns for the Chugach.
- She noted that under the revised
bill that authorized fuel reduction projects will be subject
to judicial review, but only in the U.S. District Court for the
district in which the federal land is located. She said that
will stop venue shopping by opponents of such plans. And the
bill will require that a final determination by the courts be
made "as soon as practicable" after the date for appeals
- And she noted that the law
allows for an expedited environmental review under the National
Environmental Policy Act, by requiring a study of the preferred
alternative for a forest project, and the "no action"
alternative. It also requires one further alternative if the
collaborative process results in support for a proposal that
is different than the preferred alternative.
"This bill should really
help the Forest Service and the BLM take practical steps to relieve
the forest fire dangers that face so many communities on the
Kenai and in Anchorage," said Murkowski.
Source of News Release:
Office of Senator Lisa Murkowski
E-mail Editor: firstname.lastname@example.org
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