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Sunday, November 30, 2003
Officials welcome 'Healthy Forest' Act

Staff Writer

VICTORVILLE — Local forests have been mismanaged for years, Rep. Jerry Lewis said, and a forestry advocate said environmental lawsuits have prevented officials from properly managing the woodlands.

"We've been mismanaging our forests for all too long — all one has to do is look at the recent, devastating fires in Southern California to see the disastrous result," Lewis said in a statement.

Lewis' comments came on the heels of the passage of the Healthy Forest Restoration Act, authorizing $340 million a year for management of America's national forests.

The bill, co-sponsored by Lewis, R-Redlands, and approved Friday, funds hazardous forest-fuels reduction projects in the national forests and on land managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

San Bernardino County fire officials hailed the funding.

Forest management practices have widely been blamed for last month's voracious, nearly unstoppable wildfires in Southern California. Many criticize the U.S. Forest Service for allowing tree density and excessive undergrowth to accumulate up to double or triple what would occur naturally.

But David Caine of the Arrowhead Communities Fire Safe Council said lawsuits by environmental extremists have hamstrung the Forest Service in a misguided attempt to protect federal lands from all logging — even selective thinning — and human encroachment.

"The Healthy Forest Act will relax some environmental code sections that were more of an obstacle than a benefit" to the forests, Caine said. "They were encumbered with environmental reporting and surveys ... in a prolonged process that actually obstructed forest management."

Caine said prudent forest management is especially critical in an "intermixed" environment, where wildlands coexist intimately with human dwellings.

The San Bernardino National Forest is the most densely populated such intermixed community in the United States, Caine said, with more than 43,000 structures in the mountain communities.

"Healthy Forests does not bring funding in to the intermix itself," as it is applicable only to federal land, Caine said. "But it will help manage the perimeter areas, to diminish the likelihood of more intense, rapidly spreading fires like we've seen."

Gary Scott of Mountain Disaster Preparedness in Mountain Center said today's forest conditions are the product of 15 or

20 years of human suppression of natural fires, and won't be solved overnight.

"It'll take 10 years, maybe 20 years, of work, but I think it's a great idea to start thinning the forest out," Scott said. "And I think after the last couple (of) months, there's probably more support for that than there's ever been."

Nikki Cobb can be reached at [email protected] or

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