USA — Its hard to believe that anyone would want to score political points in the aftermath of a large and destructive wildfire.
But thats exactly what happened as the massive Wallow Fire in Arizona waned, when several members of Arizonas congressional delegation tried to blame damage caused by the Wallow fire on lawsuits filed by environmental groups, including the Center for Biological Diversity.
Trying to place the blame externally is a typical, and in some cases understandable reaction in many situations, as its easier to quickly point fingers instead trying to understand somewhat complex topics like fire ecology, forest restoration and global warming science. But when its done cynically to win votes, its inexcusable.
Its even more sad that some of the same politicians seeking to blame environmental groups are the same ones who refuse to acknowledge global climate change, and the same ones who repeatedly seek to slash public land agency budgets, further hampering efforts to restore national forests.
To set the record straight, one of key conservation groups that often uses lawsuits in its mission to protect the environment released a detail fact sheet on the history of litigation involving forest treatments on the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest, where the Wallow Fire burned.
The Center for Biological Diversity acknowledged that it does use lawsuits as part of its advocacy mission, but pointed out that, for the past decade, it has been working cooperatively with the the U.S. Forest Service and the small-diameter wood industry to restore ponderosa pine forests on the forest to the point of lobbying Congress to fund forest restoration projects.
Following is an outline of the recent history of the Centers involvement on green (unburned) timber sales on the Apache-Sitgreaves.
No lawsuits have been filed against green timber sale decisions on the Apache-Sitgreaves since 2000 more than a decade ago. That year the Center litigated the Baca timber sale, which sought to remove the largest, oldest trees from the forest the same fire-resistant trees that modern restoration treatments retain. Prior to this the most recent timber litigation was in 1996.
No administrative (non-court) appeals or objections have been filed in connection with green timber sale or restoration thinning decisions on the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest since 2005; the last before that was 2002. Both the only two in the past decade were quickly resolved with the Forest Service, and forest treatments ensued.
Lawsuits in the 1990s targeted old-growth logging that was neither ecologically nor economically sustainable. In contrast, todays ponderosa pine forest restoration projects and industries are designed to remove and use the smallest, fire-prone trees in the forest, allowing for the safe reintroduction of surface fires.
Since the Rodeo-Chediski fire in 2002, the Center has been working with communities, small-diameter wood businesses and forest officials to implement the White Mountains Stewardship Contract in a swath of forest that includes the area being affected by the Wallow fire. Its objective is to restore up to 150,000 acres of degraded forest over 10 years by strategically thinning small trees in overgrown ponderosa forests to safely reintroduce beneficial fires. The Center publicly supported the White Mountain Stewardship Contract creation in 2004 and has since worked with communities, the Forest Service and businesses that thin small-diameter trees to ensure the projects success. That work included lobbying Congress for adequate funding.
In the past seven years restoration work has been completed on about 49,000 acres of ponderosa pine forest. Most of the acres are located in the wildland-urban interface lands abutting towns where the work is intended to reduce fire hazards to communities including Alpine, Nutrioso, Eager and Greer that are now threatened by the Wallow fire.
In recent days, the Los Angeles Times, Associated Press, Arizona Daily Star and Environment & Energy Daily have quoted U.S. Forest Service officials including Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell saying that White Mountains Stewardship Contract projects have lessened fire severity and significantly contributed to firefighters largely successful efforts to protect the communities of Alpine, Nutrioso, Eager and Greer.
The Center and other organizations have been also working together to expand the success of the White Mountains Stewardship Contract to the rest of the Mogollon Rim. The 2.4-million-acre Four Forests Restoration Initiative (4FRI) seeks to restore the ponderosa pine forest from Flagstaff to New Mexico, focusing on strategic thinning of small trees on 1 million acres over the next 20 years in order to protect communities and reestablish self-regulating forest ecosystems maintained by beneficial natural fires.
4FRI includes a plan to develop a restoration wood industry designed specifically to thin and utilize small-diameter trees in order to eliminate costs to taxpayers and rapidly expand the amount of forest work being done.