East Valley concerns are the focus of this paper, as they are mine. That’s why it makes sense to share what’s going on in the favorite recreation spots of many of this paper’s readers. My last column gave first-hand account on the fright of fleeing from the rage of the Willow fire, a fire that has virtually wiped out an entire forest, the Apache-Sitgreaves Forest in northeast Arizona — a fire that has cost nearly $100 million of your tax money to fight so far.
Thousands of Valley residents escape the summer heat or enjoy winter sports in what was one of the most beautiful spots on Earth. Now, few of you will venture into that scarred land due to uncertain camping and sporting conditions. Which leads to the next catastrophic event: the final collapse of that region’s economy, which has been fragile since the environmental movement forced the dismantling of the logging industry 15 years ago.
Folks, your voices are needed to turn aside an “experiment” by those who let good ideas about tending our natural resources run amok. Government — thus, your tax money — is deeply embedded in a failed system. The so-called protection of forest species has created radical laws and plays a huge role in fires that burn so hot that normal regeneration of the forests becomes impossible.
Researchers with Northern Arizona University voice their concern about the “invisible impacts of crown fires” (fires that rush through the tops of the trees and often create their own weather systems, as occurred in the Willow fire). They say, “Fires burning in unnaturally dense stands of ponderosa pine ... do not allow regeneration.” They say those “hot” fires contribute to global warming by upsetting the carbon balance and the effects continue “for years afterwards.”
These scientists conclude forests must be thinned to prevent the above. NAU professor Tom Kolb says thinned forests “photosynthesize at a much greater rate than the trees in the un-thinned situation. The thinned forest has an equal to or slighter greater rate of carbon sequestration than an un-thinned forest.”
Thus, the fight about forest use has reached another crescendo. Valley residents cannot stay out of this battle. Your air, your recreation and your money continue to suffer because a few voices have led us into tragic forest conditions.
This past week, state senators met with citizens and experts in Show Low to discuss the situation. The cry by many is to “go back to private rights in a free market.” In other words, allow private citizens to wisely harvest the forests, regenerate the economy in that area and restore your recreation centers. The work can begin now, on harvesting charred trees; some timber must come out now or become useless. However — no surprise — there is action already to block private enterprise from entering the burned areas.
To put this Arizona crisis in the terms of one senator: “This catastrophic fire will bring the next catastrophic event: The economy.” These mountain communities face sure economic collapse.
Another major issue is water. Un-thinned forests consume precious water. They also become dry quicker, thus leading to hotter fires.
To replace what commercial loggers did, the feds have developed forest-thinning programs, enough to prove thinning works in keeping fires cooler, but their budgets never go far enough, as the Wallow fire proved. One must ask, why use our tax dollars to pay for work private industry is begging for? Industry will pay for its own equipment and labor, harvest the wood and support families, communities and Arizona. It’s nuts, simply idiotic, that taxpayer money, rather than private industry, foots the bill.
Further, some say it’s past time states take control of their forests. On Aug. 10, New Mexico will join Arizona in Springerville for a hearing. If you need a cool trip out of town, you might show up and see what you can do to help those trying to save Arizona forests and our economy.
• East Valley resident Linda Turley-Hansen (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a syndicated columnist and former Phoenix veteran TV anchor.