Center for Biological Diversity
Protecting endangered species and wild
places of western North America
November 27, 2000
FOREST SERVICE REJECTS SETTLEMENT OFFER ON FORT VALLEY APPEAL
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.
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."