Forest Restoration: The Best Defense Against Wildfires

As wildfires rage across the western United States, firefighting crews work tirelessly to contain the blazes while costs to control the fires skyrocket. During these tough times, which now seem to occur without fail year after year, it becomes increasingly evident that our nation’s forests are in dire need of extensive restoration.wildfire2

A recent Forest Service article explains that properly managed forests – those free of underbrush and ladder fuels – serve as the best defense against the ravaging effects of wildfire, especially in an era of longer and more severe fire seasons associated with climate change.

Accelerated forest restoration activities promote forest health and reduce wildfire intensity by removing hazardous fuels.

FPL research demonstrates that low-value materials thinned from overgrown forests can be converted into products such as biocomposites, engineered wood products, bioenergy feedstocks, and cellulosic nanomaterials. The high value of these advanced materials can help offset the cost of restoration activities and promote economic growth.

U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell has made accelerated restoration a cornerstone of his priorities during his tenure.

“Accelerated restoration efforts demonstrate a shared vision where environmentalists, forest industry and local communities are working together to build healthier forests and contribute to local economies,” said Tidwell. “The increased restoration work will benefit the environment and people, with more resilient ecosystems, improved watersheds and wildlife habitat, hazardous fuel reduction, and outputs of forest products. We hope accelerated restoration activities will bring all of our partners together, working as allies for forest conservation.”

Capabilities and Challenges of Wildfire Response FS Chief Testifies Before Senate Committee

U.S. Forest Service capabilities and challenges in the face of increasingly extreme wildfires were the focus of Chief Tom Tidwell’s recent statement before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

“On average, wildfires burn twice as many acres each year as compared to 40 years ago. Last year, the fires were massive in size, coinciding with increased temperatures and early snow melt in the West,” said Tidwell. “The largest issue we now face is how to adapt our management to anticipate climate change impacts and to mitigate their potential effects.”

The Forest Service estimates a total of almost 400 million acres of all vegetated lands are at moderate to high risk from uncharacteristically large wildfires. (Credit: www.shutterstock.com)

Nearly 400 million acres are at moderate to high risk from uncharacteristically large wildfires. (Photo: www.shutterstock.com)

Tidwell highlighted the development of a National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy, which focuses on restoring fire-adapted ecosystems, building fire-adapted human communities, and responding appropriately to wildfire.

The Chief spoke about the impact of increased fire suppression costs, now nearly half of the entire Forest Service budget, as well as the Agency’s ability to protect life, property, and natural resources in the face of continuing budget challenges.

The Forest Service’s ecosystem restoration projects were also addressed, including the Woody Biomass Utilization Grant program, which has contributed to the treatment of over 500,000 acres and removed and used nearly 5 million green tons of biomass at an average cost of just $66 per acre. The grant program is administered through FPL’s Technology Marketing Unit.

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