For more infformation: Prelude to Catastrophie: Recent and Historic Land Management within the Rodeo-Chedeski Fire Area
The Rodeo/Chediski Fires have burned over 450,000 acres since the Rodeo Fire began on June 18, 2002. Part of the area burned by the fires overlaps with the proposed Baca Timber Sale, a proposal to cut up to 30 million board feet on 12 square miles of the Sitgreaves National Forest. The Baca timber sale has been halted for the past two years by agreement between the Forest Service and the Center for Biological Diversity. Some politicians have blamed the Center for stopping the timber sale, alleging that stopping the timber sale delay may have permitted the Rodeo/Chediski Fires to rage out of control. The facts do not support these allegations.
The Center for Biological Diversity, along with many other environmental groups in Arizona, supports thinning in the wildland urban interface around houses and communities. The Center for Biological Diversity, as well as other environmental groups such as the Sierra Club and Southwest Forest Alliance, has for years supported forest thinning in the immediate vicinity of houses. Public agencies and fire researchers (including Forest Service researchers) agree that only by thinning around houses and treating the houses themselves can houses ever be protected from forest fires.
The Center for Biological Diversity, along with many other environmental groups in Arizona, supports true forest restoration projects that focus on thinning small trees. The Center for Biological Diversity, as well as other environmental groups such as the Sierra Club and Southwest Forest Alliance, has for years supported thinning of the small diameter trees and undergrowth that make up the vast majority of the fire risk in the forest. However, we oppose projects that cut the large, old trees that are so rare and important to the forest, and are relatively fire-resistant.
The Center for Biological Diversity agreed to allow 1306 acres of thinning in the wildland-urban interface around the community of Forest Lakes. The Center agreed in September 2000 to allow 306 acres to be thinned as the Burro Tank Project, and in November 2000 to another 1000 acres as the Canyon Point Project. The Forest Service apparently had not conducted the Canyon Point project when the Rodeo-Chediski fires hit.
Full implementation of the Baca timber sale would NOT have stopped the Rodeo/Chediski Fires. Both the Rodeo and Chediski fires started on the Fort Apache reservation, and reached incredible size and intensity before burning onto National Forest lands. The fires did not reach the Baca timber sale area until the fifth day of the Rodeo Fire, and the third day of the Chediski Fire, after the fires had already burned over 300,000 acres. The Baca timber sale area constitutes less than 2% of the area covered by the Rodeo/Chediski Fires. Furthermore, firefighters were able to hold the fireline outside of the community of Forest Lakes, adjacent to the Baca timber sale area.
The proposed Baca timber sale was a logging project that cut large trees and left the vast majority of small trees in the forest. Even though the Forest Service report shows that 96% of the trees in the area are smaller than 12 inches in diameter, the Forest Service proposed to cut large and old trees in the Baca timber sale. In fact, 25% of the timber was to come from trees larger than 16 inches in diameter. This ignores the vast majority of the small trees in favor of the larger, more fire-resistant ones.
A large portion of the Baca timber sale area and Rodeo-Chediski fire area have very recently been logged in other timber sales. The Jersey Horse timber sale cut one million board feet from within the boundaries of the Baca timber sale and was still being actively logged three years ago. As many as 10 other timber sales have been approved and logged in the Rodeo-Chediski fire area since 1990.
Commercial timber sales that remove large trees are NOT effective at reducing fire risk. Forest thinning forests opens the canopy and creates large amounts of slash, leading to conditions that significantly increase fire hazard until the surface fuels are removed. Furthermore, the vast majority of the fire risk is due to the high density of small trees, trees that are most often left in place by timber sales.