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Thursday, October 30, 2003

For Immediate Release

GAO Study: 58% of Eligible Forest Thinning Projects Appealed in 2001 and 2002

Study reinforces the need for Healthy Forests Restoration Act, streamlined appeals process to expedite forest thinning projects

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Congressman Greg Walden (R-OR) reiterated the need to pass forest management reform legislation in final form to send to the President following the release this week of a report by the General Accounting Office (GAO), the investigative arm of Congress. The GAO report, entitled, "Information on Forest Service Decisions Involving Fuels Reduction Activities," found that 58% of eligible forest thinning projects in the United States were appealed in FY 2001 and FY 2002 (194 out of 332 projects), and that 52% of eligible forest thinning projects proposed near communities in the Wildland-Urban Interface were appealed. The report also found that an overwhelming number of Forest Service appeals were found to be without merit, as 144 of the 197 appeals (73%) were rejected during the same period.

Legislation introduced by Walden and Colorado Congressman Scott McInnis, the Healthy Forests Restoration Act (HR 1904), would streamline the appeals process relating to fuels reduction projects and expedite forest thinning on 20 million acres of America’s forestland. 190 million acres of federal lands have been identified by the federal government as being at high risk of catastrophic wildfire, insect infestation and disease. The bipartisan Walden-McInnis bill passed overwhelmingly in the House on May 20 and was approved today in the Senate by a margin of 80-14.

"This report gets to the heart of what is hindering the responsible management of our forests – frivolous appeals that do not protect the environment but instead make our forests and rural communities more vulnerable to catastrophic fire by unnecessarily delaying sound projects that would reduce this very threat," said Walden. "The balance we’ve struck with the Healthy Forests Restoration Act would preserve the critical right of citizens to appeal forest thinning projects, but would require participation from the public in the initial stages of a proposed project rather than at the last possible moment. It is essential to approve a final version of this legislation quickly so we can send it to the President’s desk to give our professional foresters the tools they need to help prevent devastating wildfires and protect our communities from they pose."

The GAO report stated, "Of the 818 decisions involving fuels reduction activities, about 24 percent were appealed – affecting over 954,000 acres of fuels treatments. However, of the 818 decisions, more than half (486 decisions) are excluded from the appeals process because they involved activities with little or no environmental impact. Of the 332 appealable decisions, 194 were appealed – about 58 percent of the appealable decisions. A decision can be appealed multiple times. In addition, 25 decisions (about 3 percent) affecting about 111,000 acres were litigated."

The report also highlighted the high incidence of appeals relating to projects in the wildland-urban interface.

The report stated, "There were 462 decisions involving fuels reduction activities in the wildland-urban interface. Of these, 169 decisions were appealable and 89 decisions were appealed – 53 percent of the appealable decisions and 19 percent of all decisions."

To view the GAO report in its entirety, click on the following link: http://walden.house.gov/issues/healthyforests/octobergaoreport.pdf.

Congressman Walden represents the Second Congressional District of Oregon, which includes the 20 counties of central, southern and eastern Oregon. He is a Deputy Whip and member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the House Committee on Resources.





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