STATE PRESSURED FOREST SERVICE TO HALT FUELS
As Arizona faces its largest wildfire in history with hundreds of homes destroyed and thousands of people evacuated from their homes, Governor Jane Hull has seized upon the tragedy to advance her own anti-environmental agenda: On Sunday, June 23rd, Hull appeared on television to blame environmentalists for the fire.
The Governor predictably failed to explain how environmentalists were to blame for the fires. Additionally, the Governor failed to mention 1) that a prescribed fire set by the U.S. Forest Service to reduce fuel loads within the burned area was stopped by state intervention, 2) the vast majority of the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests have been previously logged by the U.S. Forest Service, 3) a recent report by the Government Accounting Office (GAO) found that only 1% of Forest Service fuel reduction projects were challenged with appeals or lawsuits, and 4) a second recent report by the GAO found that the Forest Service has misdirected funds from its massive fuels reduction budget away from the protection of rural communities threatened by fire.
The Los Angeles Times recently reported that a prescribed fire set by the U.S. Forest Service to reduce fuels in what is now the Rodeo-Chediski fire was stopped by unwarranted intervention by state agencies:
"When controlled burns were set recently in the Apache Sitgreaves National Forest, where the Rodeo fire now rages, nearby residents complained to state air quality officials about the smoke. The state pressured Forest Service officials to extinguish the blazes prematurely, Anderson (planner on the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest) said. "Other plans to start controlled burns have been blocked by litigation, he said." (17 Blazes Charring the West, Los Angeles Times, 6-23-02).
The Governor's scapegoating of environmentalists is fundamentally inaccurate. The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), Sierra Club, Southwest Forest Alliance and other environmental organizations have long supported the use of both prescribed fire and thinning of small-diameter trees as the most effective methods to reduce fire danger within Southwestern ponderosa pine forests. Ironically, CBD sits on Governor's Forest Health/Fire Plan Advisory Committee, a group appointed by Jane Hull to advise governor on community protection and forest restoration issues and to make recommendations on where to spend National Fire Plan funds. We also are on Senator Bingaman's (D-NM) Community Forest Restoration Program Advisory Committee, which is charged with distribution of $ 5 million annually to rural communities for forest restoration and community protection.
"The Governor is opportunistically and cynically using this on-going tragedy to further an anti-environmental agenda," stated Brian Segee with CBD. "Not only do we strongly support community protection efforts such as wildland-urban interface treatments, prescribed burning and small-diameter thinning, we are deeply involved in on-going collaborative and governmental efforts to make such goals a reality."
Independent studies conducted by the federal government also directly contradict charges that environmental organizations are preventing needed fuels reduction projects from being completed. As stated in an August 2001 report by the Government Accounting Office (GAO), an independent investigative branch of Congress:
"In summary, as of July 18, 2001, the Forest Service has completed the necessary environmental analysis and had decided to implement 1,671 hazardous fuel reduction projects in fiscal year 2001. Of these projects, 20 (about 1 percent) had been appealed and none had been litigated. Appellants included environmental groups, recreation groups, private industry interests, and individuals."
Under the National Fire Plan, passed in the wake of 2000's intense fire season, the Forest Service and other federal agencies were given over $2 billion to thin brush and small-diameter trees, with an emphasis on community protection. GAO research has concluded that the Forest Service could not account for how this money was being spent. In a January 2002 GAO report entitled "Severe Wildland Fires: Leadership and Accountability Needed to Reduce Risks to Communities and Resources," it is stated:
"Over a year after the Congress substantially increased funds to reduce hazardous fuels, the federal effort still lacks clearly defined and effective leadership . . .it is not possible to determine if the $796 million appropriated for hazardous fuels reduction in fiscal years 2001 and 2002 is targeted to the communities and other areas at highest risk of severe wildland fires."
Finally, forgotten in the Governor's continued and escalating attack against environmentalists is the fact that almost all of the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests where the two fires are burning has been intensively logged. Almost no area along the relatively flat and easily accessible Mogollon Rim has been spared from logging.
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