Center for Biological Diversity

Protecting endangered species and wild places of western North America
and the Pacific through science, policy, education, and environmental law.

November 27, 2000
CONTACT: Brian Segee, Center for Biological Diversity, (520) 623-5252 x308
Martos Hoffman and Brian Nowicki, Southwest Forest Alliance, (520) 774-6514


In an appeal resolution conference, the Coconino National Forest rejected an offer by the Center for Biological Diversity, Southwest Forest Alliance, and the Sierra Club to withdraw their November 3 appeal of the Fort Valley ecosystem restoration project in exchange for a Forest Service commitment to limit forest thinning to the "wildland-urban interface." The interface, commonly defined as the 200 feet immediately surrounding structures, is the most important area for protecting homes from fire. While the Forest Service claims Fort Valley will reduce the threat of fire to forest communities around Flagstaff, the majority of the 4,700 acres to be "thinned" under the project are outside the wildland-urban interface.

In the wake of this summer's fierce wildfires, the Forest Service has been allocated nearly $2 billion for wildfire rehabilitation and prevention, of which approximately $200 million will be used for "fuels reduction activities" such as prescribed burning and thinning. Forest Service Chief Michael Dombeck has stated that the "highest priority" for this money is protecting "homes and communities" and that the agency should avoid controversial or environmentally damaging proposals. In contrast to these goals, the Fort Valley project concentrates on wildland rather than urban areas and is an ecologically destructive project now being appealed for the third time by environmentalists. "We agree with Chief Dombeck that fuels reduction efforts should be conservative and should be focused on protecting human communities most at risk from fire," stated Martos Hoffman, director of the Forest Alliance. "Unfortunately, the Fort Valley project meets neither of these criteria," continued Hoffman.
One of the most controversial aspects of Fort Valley is its use of the "pre-settlement" model developed by Northern Arizona University professor Wallace Covington. This model attempts to re-create mid-19th century forest structure through intensive "thinning." Alarmingly, previous logging conducted under the pre-settlement model removed 80-90% of existing trees, including many large trees, severely compacted soil, and adversely affected wildlife. "Eliminating fire risk is a hollow victory if there is no forest left to burn," stated Brian Segee of the Center for Biological Diversity. "The ecological effects of this highly aggressive model should be determined before implementing it on thousands of acres of public land," he concluded.

Over 100 years of logging, fire suppression, and domestic livestock grazing have transformed much of the Southwest's majestic ponderosa pine forests into overly dense thickets prone to unnaturally intense and damaging crown fires. The Center, Sierra Club and the Forest Alliance are developing and actively testing restoration strategies on the Kaibab, Coconino, and Gila National Forests designed to improve forest health and reduce crown fire danger through prescribed burning and conservative thinning which retains all large trees and emphasizes the protection of wildlife and biodiversity. "If the Forest Service opens its eyes, it will see there is common ground on forest restoration issues," said Brian Nowicki of the Forest Alliance. He concluded, "We have long supported efforts to reduce fire danger which ensure not only the safety of human communities, but the health of the larger ecological community."


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