Protect Our Forests

Below please find a recent op-ed by Len Munsil.
Arizona Must Insure Healthy Forests, Safe Communities
by Len Munsil
As a child, I camped many times with my family in the forests of northern Arizona. Retreating to the “cool pines” was a favorite family summer activity.
With summer forest fires sweeping through Arizona’s rural communities, we cannot allow prudent forest management to be eclipsed by politics. Whether human or lightning caused, the need for clearing underbrush and thinning forests to facilitate conservation and fire management is essential. After the Rodeo-Chediski fires devastated nearly a half-million acres of our state in 2002, Janet Napolitano’s “comprehensive plan” called for increased federal dollars rather than accelerating preventive actions.
Napolitano’s desire to placate the environmental fringe is entwined with rhetoric, placing forest areas at greater risk. Her steadfast support of unscientific measures to determine forest health have put her at odds with many residents of these communities, who are most knowledgeable about the issues impacting their daily lives.
As a third-generation Arizonan, I place my trust in the people and entities within the state; holding to the conviction that significant local action can be taken preemptively to address this multifaceted and difficult issue.
The Brins fire is now contained, after encompassing nearly 4500 acres as it swept through Oak Creek Canyon in Sedona’s high country, forcing evacuations. Exacerbated by hot, dry weather conditions, often accompanied by raging winds, grassland fires have imperiled Mohave County residents. Homes and cabins have been endangered near Heber, in the Apache Sitgreaves National Forest. The Chevelon communities have dealt with the enormity of ravaging blazes, with mandatory evacuations ordered. Areas outside of Winslow and Tucson faced flame-related threats. These fires have taken an enormous toll on Arizona’s rural citizens in recent weeks.
Debates have been ongoing regarding the optimum method to maintain forest health. Many forestry experts call for controlled burns, facilitating removal of dense underbrush which gives fuel to fires. Environmentalists often stand opposed to such thinning.
Since many of the fires plaguing our state are preventable, rapid response teams to deal with emergency situations and vigorous public education plans are invaluable tools. Both the Rodeo and Chediski fires were intentionally caused, resulting in untold physical destruction and emotional hardship. The impact on humans and wildlife was enormous. Although the Healthy Forests Initiative, signed into law by President George W. Bush, in 2003, addressed many of the disputed policies, there is much to be done to increase the safety of our forests and grasslands.
Federal, state, local, and tribal officials, working in conjunction with communities and the private sector, are making great strides in reducing the risk of ruinous fires; restoring forests and rangelands. Yet, such projects are often significantly disrupted by litigation. It is imperative that we reverse mismanagement of our forests with preemptive supervision and restoration projects. Local communities, desiring quick action, are restrained by procedural delays.
Costly legal appeals by environmentalists have severely hampered efforts by loggers and conservationists. As Governor I will convene a broad group of the brightest legal minds, to develop better solutions to forest planning, preventing unnecessary litigation.
Forest Service staff is often obliged to conduct unnecessary additional analysis, incurring delays which impact projects and increase the likelihood of long-term risk of resources and property damage.
Thinning of young, tinder-like, growth and prescribed burning during the cooler, wetter months when controls can be more easily enacted, are methods of ensuring forest health advocated by conservationists. Such preventative measures, I believe, are key to reining in the likelihood of future devastation to Arizona’s citizens, abundant natural resources and unique beauty.