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Highlights

Increases in the number and intensity of wildland fires have led the Department of Agriculture's Forest Service to place greater emphasis on thinning forests and rangelands to reduce the buildup of potentially hazardous vegetation that can fuel wildland fires. The public generally has an opportunity to challenge agency hazardous fuel reduction decisions with which it disagrees. Depending on the type of project being undertaken, the public can file a formal objection to a proposed decision, or can appeal a decision the agency has already made. Appeals and objections must be reviewed by the Forest Service within prescribed time frames. Final decisions may also generally be challenged in federal court. GAO was asked, among other things, to determine, for fiscal years 2006-2008, (1) the number of Forest Service fuel reduction decisions and the associated acreage; (2) the number of decisions subject to appeal and objection, the number appealed, objected to, and litigated, and the associated acreage; and (3) the outcomes of appeals, objections, and litigation, and the extent to which appeals and objections were processed within prescribed time frames. In doing so, GAO conducted a nationwide survey of forest managers and staff, interviewed officials in the Forest Service's regional offices, and reviewed documentation to corroborate agency responses. GAO requested, but did not receive, comments from the Forest Service on a draft of this report.

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