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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 revised bill:

  • 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 inaction.
  • 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 Alaskans.

  • 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 in Southcentral.
  • 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 passes.
  • 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
Web Site


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