MISSOULA, Mont. — U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell said his agency is depending on partnerships with states and private organizations to manage 60 million acres in need of restoration because of staff and budget cuts.

The agency plans to set priorities on where to focus their efforts to prevent disease, wildfires and drought, especially in areas where public and private lands converge.

Tidwell said there are benefits to local communities from national forests and those communities have a stake in the process.

“We need to focus on large landscapes, where we’re treating private land and national forest at the same time,” Tidwell said. “And we really need to focus on the outcomes we’re after – healthy, resilient forests that withstand disease outbreaks, fires, drought conditions that we’ll all face in the future. That’s the thing that produces economic activity that sustains communities and eliminates some of the conflict we’re seeing. That’s something we’ve been trying to address for decades in the agency.”

Tidwell said in an interview with the Missoulian (http://tinyurl.com/howvyao) there are 44 million homes near national forests and they’re at risk being destroyed by fast-moving wildfires that can be prevented.

“That’s a lot of wildland-urban interface. We’re focusing on putting our limited resources in the best places to make a difference,” he said.

Tidwell said he is concerned about proposals in Congress that might impose timber harvest requirements on all some or all national forests.

“When you focus on harvest, that sends the wrong message,” Tidwell said. “It sends the message that timber is what you’re focused on, versus improving forest health or ecological resilience. That creates more controversy and questions about what you’re really after,” he said.

Information from: Missoulian, http://www.missoulian.com