More than 800 square miles were torched, 32 home were destroyed and taxpayers are on the hook for $100 million.
That’s the cost of the Wallow fire, the largest wildfire in our state’s history. Sadly, this could have been prevented.
As I watched the news reports of the fire burning in Apache County, I had flashbacks of the two weeks spent away from my home during the Rodeo-Chediski fire in 2002 that burned more than 400,000 acres of prime Ponderosa forest.
My heart aches for the people who have had to experience such a tragedy.
The Forest Health Advisory Council (FHAC), formed after the Rodeo-Chediski fire, reported that under the current forest management practices, we would have a repeat wildfire of the same magnitude or greater. They were right.
The U.S. Forest Service chose to postpone action on the FHAC’s correct recommendations because of out-of-state environmental activists, most of whom have never stepped foot in Arizona.
We are blessed to live in the beautiful, majestic state of Arizona. We are surrounded by such beauty and you can’t help but be in awe of the state’s stunning environment. We all want to protect it.
But unfortunately, these groups are pushing such an irrational and extreme political agenda that they are actually doing grave damage to the environment they claim to want to protect — not to mention our safety and our economy.
Through lawsuits and court-initiated orders, these groups have forced the mismanagement of our beautiful forests.
It’s time to reject the extremists of these groups and demand that the federal government allows us to properly manage our forests.
Now that the fires have been put out, we need a two-pronged approach to prevent such a travesty from happening again. We must clear the fire-damaged area and allow the salvage timber that was not burned to be sold.
This is why I support Senator Jon Kyl’s Arizona Wallow Fire Recovery Act (S. 1344). The bill expedites the removal of hazardous, dead and dying trees, thus quickening forest rehabilitation.
We have a short window of opportunity and must act immediately. We must allow the salvage timber to be sold, helping to pay for the loss that has already been incurred. This will provide the added benefit of cleaning the forests so as they start to regrow, they will be beautiful and inviting once again. To accomplish forest restoration as well as post-fire salvage, there will have to be a balance of economic and environmental positions. Environmental interests cannot slow down this process or the economic benefit of salvage will be permanently lost.
The Rodeo-Chediski salvage opportunities were lost due to environmental roadblocks. Now the remaining wood has no economic value to anyone. Had Arizona been able to clean or salvage the damaged and destroyed trees like the Wallow Fire Recovery Act calls for, we would have had economic growth as well as an aesthetic factor that would have paid off in tourism dollars for years to come.
Let’s not make the same mistake moving forward that was made after the Rodeo-Chediski fire and allow an even bigger fire to ravage the state of Arizona.
— Chester Crandell, a Heber Republican, is a state representative from District 5.