NEWS RELEASE: June 28, 2002
FOREST SERVICE MISSED OPPORTUNITY TO THIN FOREST WITHIN RODEO-CHEDISKI FIRE
TUCSON, AZ- After raging across tribal and federal lands for several days and reaching nearly 300,000 acres in size, the Rodeo-Chediski fire burned into the Baca timber sale area on the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest this week. The sale is currently under litigation by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD). This litigation could easily have been avoided had the Forest Service simply limited its efforts to thinning of small trees.
According to Forest Service estimates, greater than 95% of the trees on Baca are smaller than 12 inches in diameter. These small, densely spaced trees create the "ladder fuels" which scientists say need to be thinned to avoid the crown fire conditions seen in many areas of the Rodeo-Chediski fires. Instead of focusing on thinning of these small, fire-prone trees, the Forest Service would instead log a huge number of mature, fire-resistant ponderosa pine larger than 16 inches in diameter. 26% of the sale's volume would consist of these large trees.
"The logging proposed on the Baca timber sale is the exact opposite of what the Forest Service needs to be doing to reduce fire danger and protect communities within our National Forests," stated Brian Segee with CBD. "Instead of thinning small, fire-prone trees, the Forest Service would take out what little remains of the large, fire-resistant trees. They couldn't keep their hands out of the cookie jar."
Under a negotiated agreement, the Forest Service has committed to not undertaking logging on the sale until the litigation has been resolved. However, after receiving funds appropriated under the National Fire Plan in 2000, the agency has twice requested that it be allowed to utilize this funding to conduct a total of 1,300 acres of small-diameter, wildland-urban interface treatments around the community of Forest Lakes. We have readily agreed to both of these requests, and strongly support these types of community protection measures.
National Forests in Arizona and New Mexico have consistently demonstrated their unwillingness to limit forest treatments to needed small-diameter thinning, even when presented with community collaboration efforts that strongly support this approach. For example, in a recent decision on the Sheep Basin restoration project in the Gila National Forest in southern New Mexico, the Forest Service at the last moment backed away from a diameter limit supported by environmentalists, local residents, and local industry. The decision to permit the logging of large trees has not only engendered controversy, but may endanger the ability of local groups to use grant money directed toward small-diameter treatments.
Contradicting many politician's claims that Arizona's forests have not been actively managed, nearly all of the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest where the fires have burned has been logged and is heavily roaded. In fact, much of the land within the Baca timber sale area has been logged within the last five years by the separate Jersey Horse timber sale. Yet, the fire has clearly swept through both areas. Baca comprises less than 2% of the total burn area.
"While politicians may attempt to use the Baca timber sale as the latest attempt to exploit this tragedy for their own political ends, they will fail to mention that the Rodeo-Chediski fires have burned through areas that have been intensively logged," stated Segee. "If Senator Kyl and others are serious about the need to reduce fire danger and restore our forests, they won't use timber sales that would log some of the few remaining large trees in an area choked by millions of small, fire-prone trees as a model of what needs to be done."
The Baca timber sale is the only Arizona timber sale litigated by the Center for Biological Diversity in the past five years. Litigation would have been avoided had the Forest Service made it a thinning project of small trees.