(BEDFORD) – Despite challenges posed by the pandemic, the USDA Forest Service announced this week it surpassed goals and set records on a national level in 2020.
In Indiana, the Hoosier National Forest relied on science, innovation and partnerships to overcome this year’s challenges as they found new solutions to serve the public during a time of unprecedented need.
In 2020, the Forest continued to serve as an invaluable outlet for a wide variety of outdoor recreation, which took on added importance and significance during the pandemic, as the American people turned to their National Forest as a healthy escape. The Forest also continued to improve wildlife habitat and forest conditions. These actions supported local jobs and economies through outdoor recreation and production of sustainable wood products. The Forest also reduced catastrophic wildfire risk on 1,880 acres, removing hazardous fuels like dead and downed trees through use of prescribed fire. Forest conditions were improved on 224 acres using timber sales as a tool to reduce density, diversify conditions, and combat disease and insect infestations. An additional 888 acres were treated for noxious weeds and invasive plants, considered one of the primary threats to healthy forest ecosystems. Watershed health was improved by the installation of two aquatic organism passages on streams in Jackson County, and 18 acres of lake habitat was restored.
Working with state and local partners, the Forest was successful in prioritizing early suppression of wildfire ignitions during red flag, or windy and low humidity, conditions in November. Over one-third of the staff assisted with wildfire suppression efforts in the west as nationally, the U.S. Forest Service faced a record-breaking wildfire year, with the most acres burned on national forests since 1910. The agency’s modeling research on how COVID-19 may spread between firefighters or in communities during response efforts led to new interagency safety protocols to better support fire camp management. The protocols not only successfully minimized the spread of COVID-19 among the agency’s 10,000 firefighters, but early learning suggests the safety measures resulted in additional health benefits to fire crews, reducing ailments common in fire camps, which translated to a healthier and more resilient firefighting workforce available to protect lives, homes, and communities threatened by wildfire.
“This year, Americans sought out their public lands in tremendous numbers, finding relief on the trails, lakes and camping areas, showing us once again how public lands unite our nation. The Hoosier National Forest welcomed far higher than normal numbers of visitors, many of whom were first time users, and we have been proud to be there as a resource for the public during trying times,” said Recreation Program Manager, Vicki Gullang-Harris.
“Next year, we will continue to build on these successes to improve conditions on Indiana’s only national forest to ensure it is accessible for safe outdoor recreation, as well as healthier, more resilient and diverse, and continues to provide a broad array of benefits for all Americans,” added Forest Supervisor, Mike Chaveas.