IDAHO CITY, Idaho, May 23 /U.S. Newswire/ -- Two top Bush
Administration officials were joined by western Governors today at
a day-long conference on forest and rangeland health and reducing
the risk of wildfires, and endorsed an historic implementation plan
to aggressively manage wildland fires and reduce hazardous fuels,
protect communities and restore ecosystems over the next decade.

Following discussions with western Governors earlier this year,
President Bush directed Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman and
Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton to join with the Governors in
convening a conference with federal, state and local partners to
discuss key scientific issues and successful community efforts
concerning ecosystem health and management. Governors Dirk
Kempthorne of Idaho and John Kitzhaber of Oregon serve as co-leads
for the Western Governors' Association on wildland fire and forest
health restoration issues.

"President Bush is strongly committed to restoring forest health
in a way that benefits both communities and the environment," said
Agriculture Secretary Veneman. "The implementation plan provides
the detailed framework for reducing fire risks and rehabilitating
and restoring ecosystem health based on sound scientific research.
Through active forest management, we will reduce wildland fire
risks and improve ecosystem health while producing commercial and
value-added products and helping local economies."

"I'm pleased that Idaho once again is playing a key role in
long-term management of Western forests and fire prevention," said
Governor Kempthorne. "It was just one year ago in Coeur d'Alene
that the Governors and the Secretaries agreed to a 10-year strategy
for improving the health of our forests. This historic agreement
sets in motion a locally led process that preserves forests and
protects communities."

The implementation plan sets the performance requirements for
delivery of the 10-Year Comprehensive Strategy, signed by the
parties last August, which recognizes the need to increase our
firefighting resources and invest in long-term solutions to address
the buildup of excessive hazardous fuels. The goals of the
implementation plan are to promote community assistance, reduce
hazardous fuels, and maintain and restore fire-adapted ecosystems.
To achieve these goals, local managers will work with states,
tribes, local governments and citizens to plan the location of
firefighting resources, fuels reduction treatments and restoration
projects in previously burned areas as well as maintenance of
healthy acres.

"Intense, fast-moving fires imperil lives, homes and resources.
Those near fire-prone lands are eager to protect their families,
homes and lands. The implementation plan calls for active
management of forests and rangelands to reduce wildfire risks and
improve ecosystem health. It provides an additional set of tools
for achieving these goals," said Interior Secretary Norton. "With
this historic agreement among all levels of government, Secretary
Veneman, Governor Kempthorne, Governor Kitzhaber and I pledge
collaboration to make communities safer and ecosystems healthier."

The task at hand is enormous and requires the commitment of many
interest groups and government organizations to work together. The
core principles of the implementation plan include: collaboration
at the local, state and national levels; priority setting with
emphasis on protection of communities and watersheds at risk; and
establishing uniform and seamless reporting standards and process,
and budgeting.

"For decades we've been suppressing wildfires that used to
naturally thin many of our forests. The unfortunate result,
however, has been to raise the potential for dangerously large and
intense wildfires," said Governor Kitzhaber. "This plan guides our
restoration and fuel reduction efforts in ways that make our
forests and rangelands more resilient to fire. The plan will not
only make our forests and rangelands healthier, but also increase
the safety of our communities and cause less danger to our
firefighters."

The implementation plan was developed through collaboration
among the Department of the Interior, Department of Agriculture and
Governors. The Governors also used a collaborative stakeholder
group to provide counsel and input.

The plan, A Collaborative Approach for Reducing Wildland Fire
Risks to Communities and the Environment 10-Year Comprehensive
Strategy Implementation Plan, can be found at:
http://www.fireplan.gov and http://www.westgov.org.

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