Location of protected forests and other forests in the United States

■ Protected forest □ Other forest

■ Protected forest □ Other forest

source: "Figure 4-2. Location of Protected Forests in the United States, 2001," in National Report on Sustainable Forests—2003, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Washington, DC, October 2003

(http://www.gao.gov/archive/1999/rc99065.pdf), this combination of rising population and increased fire risk poses a catastrophic threat to human health and life along the wildland/urban interface areas. In addition to the risk fires pose to nearby inhabitants, smoke from such fires contains substantial amounts of particulate matter that contaminates the air for many hundreds of miles. In addition, forest soils become subject to erosion and mud slides after fires, further threatening the ecosystem and those who live near the forests.

In 1997 the Forest Service began an attempt to improve forest health by reducing, through ''controlled burns,'' the amount of accumulated vegetation, a program to be completed by 2015. The GAO found that lack of funding and inadequate preparedness may render the program ''too little, too late.'' The National Commission on Wildfire Disasters concluded: ''Uncontrollable wildfire should be seen as a failure of land management and public policy, not as an unpredictable act of nature. The size, intensity, destructiveness and cost of . . . wildfires . . . is no accident. It is an outcome of our attitudes and priorities The fire situation will become worse rather than better unless there are changes in land management priority at all levels.''

According to annual end-of-year reports compiled by state and federal fire agencies (http://www.nifc.gov/stats/ wildlandfirestats.html), the summer of 2000 was considered the worst fire season in fifty years in the United States. Nearly 123,000 fires burned more than 8.4 million acres. Ironically, one of these fires resulted when a ''controlled burn'' near Los Alamos, New Mexico, raged out of control, sweeping across hundreds of acres of land and destroying homes and businesses for miles. In June 2002 a massive fire swept through Arizona destroying hundreds of homes and businesses and causing thirty thousand people to flee. The fire burned 375,000 acres in only a week and was called a ''tidal wave'' by fire fighters trying to contain it. Numerous other fires roared through

the American West during the summer of 2002. The summer of 2004 saw only 77,534 fires, the lowest number recorded since these statistics originated in 1960. However, the fires burned nearly 6.8 million acres, making 2004 the fourth-worst fire season on record. Figure 11.4 shows the number of acres burned by wildland fires between 1960 and 2004.

In 2004 federal agencies spent $890 million putting out destructive fires. This was far less than the $1.66 billion spent during 2002, the most expensive year on record.

Following the disastrous 2000 fire season, the Forest Service collaborated with other agencies to develop The National Fire Plan, a long-term strategy for more effectively dealing with fire threats and preventing future wildfires. In August 2002 the Bush administration presented its plan for wildfire management in Healthy Forests: An Initiative for Wildfire Prevention and Stronger Communities. The so-called Healthy Forests Initiative implements core strategies of the National Fire Plan.

According to America's Forests: 2003 Health Update, catastrophic fires are due to decades of fire suppression that have allowed forests to become overcrowded with highly combustible undergrowth. The situation is aggravated by a lingering drought in the West and trees stressed by pests and disease. The report warns that "the fire risk in many forested areas remains high.''

In July 2005 the Forest Service published an update on its progress in implementing the National Fire Plan and Healthy Forests Initiative. Healthy Forests Report

(http://www.healthyforests.gov/projects/healthy_forests_ report_08_01_2005.pdf) notes that land managers are focusing on two approaches—reducing hazardous undergrowth and other ''fuels'' for fires, particularly in the wild/urban interface, and restoring forests and grasslands to more historical conditions by eliminating pests and invasive species.

outbreaks of native insects. Native insects of concern in American forests include bark beetles and southern pine beetles. Under certain conditions these insects can infest huge areas of forests and kill thousands of trees. This is damaging by itself and exaggerates other threats to forests, such as wildfires. Wildfires are more likely to spread quickly and burn hotter when forests contain large amounts of trees that have been weakened or killed by insect damage.

The Forest Service estimates that southern pine beetles pose a moderate to high risk to more than ninety million forested acres across the Southeast. In 2001 beetle outbreaks affected tens of thousands of acres in the South, resulting in $200 million in damages. The Forest Service spent $10 million that year alone fighting the beetle outbreak. In the western United States the bark beetle known as the mountain pine beetle is a major killer of pine trees. Thousands of acres of pine forest across the West are considered at risk. The Forest Service focuses its resources on tracking, suppressing, and preventing beetle outbreaks and on replanting forests decimated by the pests.

nonnative invasive insects and pathogens (diseases). Another major threat to America's forests is the spread of nonnative invasive insects and pathogens. Nonnative (or exotic) species can be very harmful, because they do not have natural predators in their new environment. This allows them to ''invade'' their new territory and spread very quickly.

Species of major concern to forest health are as follows:

• Gypsy Moths—An insect that arrived in the United States during the 1800s from Europe and Asia. In the springtime they devour newly emerged leaves on hundreds of tree species (primarily oaks). They are concentrated in eastern forests where they are blamed for defoliating more than eighty million acres of trees.

• Hemlock Woolly Adelgid—An insect that arrived in the United States during the 1920s from China and Japan. The pest eats the leaves off of eastern hemlock trees. It has infested hemlock forests across the Northeast and South Central states from Maine to northern Georgia. Trees die within only a few years of being infested.

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