18 Apr 2008, 7:12pm
Federal forest policy
by admin

Napolitano On Megafire

The U.S. House Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on the Federal Land Assistance, Management and Enhancement Act, or FLAME Act, on April 10th. Yesterday the Committee passed the FLAME Act, which will now be presented to the entire House. From the news release [here]:

The FLAME fund would be separate from budgeted and appropriated agency wildland fire suppression funding for the Forest Service and the Interior Department, and is to be used only for the suppression of catastrophic, emergency wildland fires. The annual agency budgets will continue to fund anticipated and predicted wildland fire suppressions activities. Monies for the fund will be appropriated based on the average costs incurred by these agencies to suppress catastrophic, emergency wildland fires over the preceding five fiscal years.

The FLAME Act does not guarantee good stewardship, or good fire management, or a reduction in fire suppression costs or fire losses. It merely juggles the funding. But the hearing did provide an opportunity for a select few individuals to express some sentiments to Congress.

Among those presenting testimony on April 10th was Janet Napolitano, Governor of Arizona. Her entire testimony is [here]. Some selected excerpts:

Today I will share with you examples of significant wildfires in my state and discuss some of the risks I believe we face if we do not ensure a distinct funding stream for mega-fire suppression.

Arizona’s largest wildfires have occurred within the last six years. In 2002, the Rodeo-Chediski Fire burned 467,000 acres of east-central Arizona woodland over the course of a month, requiring the evacuation of more than 30,000 people.

In June 2003, the Aspen Fire began in the Coronado National Forest, in southern Arizona, and it continued to burn for nearly a month. In spite of a Herculean firefighting effort, the fire ravaged 84,000 acres, including the popular tourist town of Summerhaven, destroying the lives and businesses connected to the 340 homes and buildings that burned. The 2005 Cave Creek Fire, ignited by a lightening strike, destroyed a quarter of a million acres and caused $17 million in damages a few miles beyond Phoenix’s city limits.

Arizona’s experiences are not unique. Last year, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, Texas, and other states across the West saw fires burn hundreds of thousands of acres of wildlands. These fires all have one thing in common – an unhealthy landscape due to poor or insufficient prevention efforts and the lack of adequate manpower and resources to fight the fires.

The West in particular is in a brutal cycle. Large fires that used to burn hundreds of acres have been supplanted with mega-fires that burn tens of thousands of acres – sometimes in just a single afternoon. These mega-fires put a massive drain on resources. One percent of wildfires account for 95 percent of the burned acres and consume 85 percent of the suppression costs.

All available data indicate that the potential for mega-fires will only increase. Fire potential indices have set new record highs each year and the “worst case” scenarios have often been exceeded. Arizona’s forests – and forests throughout the West – are now in the midst of a “perfect storm.” Decades of fuel accumulations and acres of beetle-killed timber, the rapid expansion of the wildland/urban interface, and the overarching presence of drought and climate change have now combined to dramatically increase the number and size of mega-fires. …

We cannot afford to let this dangerous trend continue. The FLAME Act will provide dedicated funding for catastrophic fire suppression, separate from the Forest Service’s base funding. In turn, this will help ensure that funding is not swept from vital restoration and prevention activities.

I would like to provide you with one example that emphasizes the importance of fire prevention work. The 2006 Woody Fire near the city of Flagstaff had the potential to be as devastating as the fires I described a few moments ago, but for one key factor: significant preventative forest thinning had been done in the area under the State Cooperative Forestry Program. As a result, the Woody Fire was halted before it reached 100 acres, dramatically minimizing its devastation. Programs like the State Cooperative Forestry Program that reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire and protect our communities are the ones most threatened by stagnation in the Forest Service budget. …

The FLAME Act will address the need for distinct funding while protecting the discretionary budget of the Forest Service so they can manage and protect our precious lands from fire. In the long run, this legislation will actually reduce overall firefighting costs. Freeing funds for preventative measures mean healthier forests that are less at risk for catastrophic fires. The same applies to treatments around communities – more funds freed for those activities means fewer structures will be put in danger by fire. Preventative steps in the long run are cost-saving measures. …

As I speak to you today, my state is entering its wildfire season, and while we can hope for the best, we all know that we have to act. If we are successfully to protect our citizens and our precious natural resources, then Congress must allocate sufficient funding to this effort. This is an urgent issue for Arizona and the West, where we have seen increased catastrophic wildland fire activity over the last decade and where most forests are on federal land. There is no time to waste.



web site

leave a comment

  • Colloquia

  • Commentary and News

  • Contact

  • Follow me on Twitter

  • Categories

  • Archives

  • Recent Posts

  • Recent Comments

  • Meta