Fed Wildfire Mis-management Burdens States

June 1, 2015

Feds will likely ‘borrow’ to combat wildfires

WASHINGTON – Forest Service Director Tom Tidwell presented a discouragingly familiar picture of this year’s wildfire season in Arizona and across the country during a Senate hearing Tuesday.

Wildfire activity is going to be above average again this year, Tidwell told members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Also, the cost of fighting those fires is again likely to exceed the amount appropriated, forcing the agency to “borrow” money from projects that would clean up vegetation-choked forests and help to lessen the number and severity of fires.

And while several bills have been introduced that would attempt to break this cycle of “fire borrowing,” there seems to be little momentum yet for legislative action.

“We need a paradigm shift from fire control at all costs to actual fire management,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowsi, R-Alaska, chairwoman of the committee.

Two Arizona witnesses provided some perspective on how the change may take place.

MAP: See the wildfire potential across Arizona

Bruce Hallin, director of water rights and contracts for the Salt River Project, discussed several collaborative efforts going on in the state to clean up forests and reduce the wildfire threat and the damage those fires cause to the quality of water Salt River provides to the Phoenix area.

Among the projects Hallin cited were:

Restoration of the C.C. Cragin Reservoir Watershed. The town of Payson, the Forest Service, the Bureau of Reclamation, National Forest Foundation and the Salt River Project signed an agreement in July and are working on a five-year plan to restore the health of the forest.

Northern Arizona Forest Fund. Last year, the Salt River Project and National Forest Foundation created the Northern Arizona Forest Fund, which allows businesses and individuals to donate to projects to improve the forest and the water supply. The first two projects are in the Verde River watershed in the Coconino National Forest about 30 miles south of Flagstaff. They involve thinning about 150 acres and using controlled fire on about 1,000 acres and controlling erosion along 20 miles of forest road.

Stephen Pyne, professor in the School of Life Sciences at Arizona State University, provided some historical context to the debate over wildfire policy.

He said the country started with a policy of “resistance”: the desire to eliminate every fire, even ones that turned out to be needed to maintain forest health. In the 1960s the new strategy he dubs as “restoration” emerged, involving prescribed fires and integrating land management into fire protection.

The current model, which he dubs “resilience,” acknowledges that “we cannot get ahead of the problems coming at us” and instead calls for reliance on confining and containing fires.

Pyne said all three elements are needed for a successful wildfire policy.

Read the full article here!

Reposted by  6/1/15


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