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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