Representative Barton Questions Failed Federal Forest Management Policy

CONTACT: Paul Boyer

Representative Brenda BartonRepresentative Brenda Barton is questioning whether or not nonfeasance is the true root cause of the Wallow Fire, now the 3rd most catastrophic fire in Arizona’s history.

“My heart is broken for the loss Arizona is suffering today,” Representative Brenda Barton said. “And I am filled with righteous anger at those responsible for this terrible disaster. This did not have to be.”

In 2010, Barton and Senator Sylvia Allen specifically toured the region of Big Lake to see first hand the forest conditions in the area. What they saw was lands managed by the Apache Tribe and the State of Arizona were properly cleaned and cleared, thus one did not need a fence or a sign to know when they had crossed into federally managed lands because the conditions were so deplorable.

An over crowded forest not only is a significant fire hazard, but it chokes the water-shed, and makes hunting by native predators such as the owl nearly impossible.

“One thing is for sure, who needs a spotted owl management program after this fire,” Barton said.

It has been over a decade since the last timber mills closed in Arizona’s mountains, and in that time under the management of the United States Forest Service (USFS) over 1,700 square miles of the state’s forests have burned. “I thought we’d learned our lessons in 2002 after the devastating Rodeo-Chedeski fire that destroyed over 730 square miles of Arizona’s forests, taking homes and lives with it. But I guess its business as usual for the USFS,” Barton said.

For over a decade, residents and civic leaders in Arizona’s mountain communities have been imploring the USFS to adopt a more pro-active approach to forest management; one that allows for an aggressive program to clean and clear the forest floor. It’s here in what is called the “fire load” that otherwise healthy lightning strike fires become catastrophic and devastate hundreds of thousands of acres in a relatively short period of time. Such intense and large fire events have an effect of searing the ground, which in turn makes it relatively difficult for the forest to regenerate.

Compounding this management problem is the refusal of the USFS to allow previously burned lands, such as those remaining from the 2004 Willow fire near Payson, to be cleared and cleaned. Current practice now simply allows this debris to build up and become dry and fuel for future wildfires.

In contrast, Sweden, arguably one of the most progressive environmental nations in Europe has in the past six years turned away from the US practice of au natural forests and has aggressively begun a forest management program which grooms and utilizes the timber while cleaning the forest floor. This program has created over 7,500 new jobs in Sweden’s northern regions while providing timber for the domestic construction industry. Germany has also begun a program of managed harvesting of their famous Black Forest in Bavaria.

Meanwhile, the jobs and economy of northern Arizona has languished as the USFS has pursued a “hands off” approach to forest management, culminating in recent years with entire areas of Arizona’s forests being gated off and locked to recreational use.

In the past, well managed timber harvesting combined with prudent cattle management has kept Arizona’s forests clean, which minimizes the opportunities for catastrophic wildfires, such as we have experienced since the late 1990’s.

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  1. Something MUST be done…it is time that we stand up against this insanity! I think Representative Barton is correct…this must be looked into and followed up on.

  2. Let’s put the blame where it should really go. The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), Forest Guardians, ( or whatever they call themselves now) and groups of that ilk are the ones to blame. They have used their litigious activities to totally shutdown all the sound science that the US Forest Service had used in the past to protect our forests and keep them healthy. The Forest Service used to be one of the few self supporting agencies in the Federal Government, and they did it by maintaining healthy forests while providing resources for all us to use as well as providing jobs to keep the economy growing. Politics and lawsuits by these radical environmental groups have ruined our national forests and ecosystems while we taxpayers pay millions of dollars for their lawyers and lawsuits. Sadly, we continue to allow and support these radicals to ruin more federal lands throughout the United States. It is past time to awake folks.

  3. We’ve been to a number of African game parks over the years. The size of the herds is incredible, thousands of animals spread over vast open savannahs. With expectations like that, it’s a shock to come to the US and find massive swaths of land, practically empty of animals, especially the big herds.
    We visited Rocky Mountain National Park and saw how pathetic it was, thousands of square miles of forest that can hardly support any big animals at all. The forest was so dense it could hardly be moved through, stands of tall thin aspens competing for sunlight, and below their crowns, what looked like pick-up sticks – dead trees jumbled around the live trees, hardly a thing growing underneath – no sunlight, no space.
    Not only a firetrap, it’s incredibly hostile to animals, and made into bad parody with overweight ranger mommies pompously holding up traffic, radioing back and forth to allow one small group of mountain sheep to cross the road. A tiny handful of elk – literally specks to the unaided eye – could be watched through high-powered telescope stations at the topside lodge. Talk about a let down after being used to driving through herds of zebra, wildebeest and have lions flop down literally beside the front tires, elephants crossing in front.
    The big joke was that the animals fled the highly nannifed EMPTY National Park. After a very disappointing drive through the park, we returned to our motel outside the park and found four elk dumpster-diving the hotel dumpster. We parked the car next to them, got some chips, a few drinks and sat on the balcony and watched them for over an hour as they puttered about occasionally peering our way with interest when they got whiffs of the tortilla chips, as close and personal as an African game park.
    The next morning we found them languidly munching on the saplings at Taco Bell. Downtown, on pavement, navigated through city streets without a mommy ranger and radio to help them out.

    A change is LONG overdue in forest management. The forest service hasn’t a CLUE, they are fixated on a museum don’t touch, don’t disturb model that is idiotic, doesn’t allow a natural mix of old and young trees, doesn’t allow for clearing or logging to take out dead wood and doesn’t allow for growth of ground cover that is preferred by grazing herding animals.
    Today, instead of bursting with animals of all kinds, the parks are sterile, dead lands waiting for a fire to ignite them. They’ve become hazards to humans and animals both..

  4. Frances Clark says

    We will never be able to regain the forest that is being lost now. However, when this is eventually over we MUST clean what is left of the forest. Our government is so top heavy with ppl who have never even seen what real life it like! A few ignorant people are ruining this land. We must clean the forest! Use the wood and keep our forest healthy. If you think logging creates environmental problems just look at what is happening now with this out uncontrollable fire. Loggers, ranchers, those who live in these areas have a much greater stake in what the future of the forest is than politicians or so called “environmentalist! Our forest creates clean air for all of us too. Wake up Washington!

  5. Rep. Brenda Barton says

    @Marie … I couldn’t agree with you more. Let me, however suggest another dimension to this issue: That the ‘environmental mindset’ was taking root among the newer employees of the USFS – those who had recently graduated from college and taken classes from environmental radical professors – so that a relationship began between forest service personnel and those radical environmental groups you speak of.

    What could the outcome of such a shared set of environmental values be? Consider that perhaps the forest service was not dragged kicking and screaming into those lawsuits of the 1990s in which our forests were shut down. Perhaps based on a growing similarity of mind-set, those lawsuits were tacitly encouraged. One would have to carefully review all documentation before drawing this as a firm conclusion; however, circumstantial evidence suggests that such a relationship might exist.

    I have over the years been acquainted with former members of the forest service, several who have retired after 20 or more years of service and there is a commonality they share with me: The newer members of the service are more environmentalist and less conservationist then previous generations of USFS members.

    Here’s a challenge: see if, through your various networks, you can make the acquaintance of a forest service retiree who retired about 8 or more years ago after 20 or more years in the service. Over coffee or whatever your beverage happens to be, informally interview them as to the changes they saw happening in the forest service.

    I realize this may be anecdotal, but I think you’ll find the history and discussions will enhance your perspective on what has happened to our forests over the past two decades.

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