Group critical of Lincoln’s fire management

Group critical of Lincoln’s fire management

12 October 2007

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The Lincoln National Forest says it will resume controlled burns this Monday in the Calico area. The announcement comes as an environmental group claims the Forest Service should be allowing greater use of fire as a management tool in the Southwest.

According to a news release from the Lincoln, the controlled burn is scheduled to begin Monday. Signs will be posted along highways affected by the smoke. Smoke may be visible from Holloman Air Force Base, Alamogordo, La Luz, Tularosa, High Rolls and U.S. Highway 82, the news release stated.

“The objective for this prescribed burn is part of the Southwest Region’s central priority of reintroducing fire’s natural role in the ecosystem,” the news release noted.

However, a report released Oct. 2 by the Forest Guardians claims the Forest Service isn’t relying enough on fire. The organization reviewed the fire management plans of national forests in New Mexico and Arizona, and give the Lincoln National Forest an F.

Six other national forests also got F’s and two got D’s. The group gave the Santa Fe National Forest a C, and the Gila National Forest received a B grade.

The Forest Guardians said the Lincoln’s plan does not include “the best available science, guidelines for cost containment or stipulations for public involvement.”

The organization’s report noted that between 2003 and 2004, 85 percent of fuels treatment were within what is called the “wildland urban interface” areas of national forest that border on or contain populated areas. Eighty-two percent of these treatments were prescribed burns.

In 2005 and 2006, 29 percent of fuels treatment were in the wildland urban interface, the report states, and 28 percent of these treatments involved prescribed burns.

The report notes the use of fire is far cheaper than other methods of disposing of potential forest fire fuel. The report notes that the cost of treating 26,384 acres with fire between 2003 and 2006 was $7.9 million. The cost of “mechanical” treatment of 29,947 acres over that same period was $29.9 million.

The report also claims that the Lincoln has some of the highest fire suppression costs in the Southwest. The cost of suppressing fires in 2005 was $5,637 per acre in the Lincoln, the second-highest amount of the 11 national forests reviewed. The cost last year was $54,015, putting the Lincoln at the top of the list.

The Forest Guardians note that the impact of fire on sensitive wildlife and plants is mixed. Fire suppression has limited the growth of aspen stands, the organization noted, while moderate intensity wildfires do not adversely impact the Mexican spotted owl.

“Scientists have concluded, based on 15 years of research, that spotted owls have the ability to withstand the immediate affects of fire,” the report notes. “In fact, the owl may have adapted to survive wildfires of various sizes and severities.”

The report urges the Forest Service to make greater use of prescribed burns and wildland fire use, which it describes as “the management of naturally ignited wildland fires.”

“By allowing some fires to burn, land managers can lower the cost of fire suppression, restore fire-adapted ecosystems, reduce fuel accumulations and safeguard firefighters,” the report states.

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