Wednesday, September 21, 2016

IG report faults Forest Service hazardous fuels priorities

An Inspector General’s report finds the U.S. Forest Service lacks a consistent way to pick high-priority wildfire fuels reduction projects, doesn’t use scientifically based risk assessments to choose them and has been over-counting the number of acres it has treated to reduce wildfire risk. The report followed up on a similar audit of the Forest Service’s Hazardous Fuels Priority Allocation System in 2006, and found that changes recommended then still weren’t being met. The report and its responses from the agency were released on Aug. 16. The Forest Service "has identified almost 100 million acres of NFS lands that have at least moderate risk for wildfire potential, of which more than 58 million of the acres are at high risk,” the IG report stated. “Due to its limited resources, FS completes hazardous fuel reduction treatments on only about 2.9 million acres annually, of which about 1.5 million acres are in wildland-urban interface areas. From fiscal years 2012 to 2014, approximately $600 million was allocated to regions for their high priority hazardous fuels projects. According to Washington Office officials, even if its hazardous fuels budget doubled, the Forest Service would still not be able to treat all of the acres most at risk for catastrophic wildfire.” The report found Forest Service officials frequently “count(ed) the same acreage multiple times when the project consisted of more than one procedure. One unidentified Forest Service region overstated its accomplishments by 16.3 percent. “Four of the six projects we reviewed were incorrectly identified as occurring completely within WUI areas when they were not actually within WUI areas at all,” the report authors wrote. “When this acreage is combined with the errors caused by (reporting software) limitations previously discussed, the total amount of treated WUI acreage over-reported by these six projects was 67 percent.”...more

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