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Forests:
Now: forest health management

Our Position: no position
Bill Number: HB2343
Sponsor: Barton, Thorpe, Crandell
Legislative Session: 2014 Legislative Session

North Kaibab by Sandy Bahr 
HB2343 Now: forest health management  focuses on removing vegetation and fire suppression rather than on restoring forests and grasslands. Focusing on vegetation removal in areas where invasive plants such as buffelgrass have created unnatural fire regimes is appropriate. Vegetation removal alone in areas such as in a ponderosa pine forest or in one of our state’s grassland areas would not. Fire in these areas is part of the natural processes that keep the lands, the watershed, healthy. 

The striker language that granted blanket immunity to the State Land Department was withdrawn. 

Arizona’s lands, including State Trust Lands, are at risk due to climate disruption, extensive drought, invasive species, and the continuation of land management practices that have created unhealthy conditions – logging of the larger fire-resistant trees, fire suppression, and overgrazing, to name a few. This bill could be used for restoration to thin smaller diameter trees, where needed, and to restore fire to grassland and other fire-adapted systems, but instead it is focused on fire suppression and vegetation removal.

Status

05/05/2014 - It was signed by the Governor.

Action Needed

With the removal of the immunity language, we were neutral on the bill. No action is needed.

More information

To read the bill, click on HB2343.

Contact

Sandy Bahr at sandy.bahr@sierraclub.org.

Background

The last 12 years have been a period of unusually intense drought. Much of Arizona is still in drought, and some areas are in extreme drought. Dry forests and large patches of buffelgrass are tinder waiting to go up in flames when careless individuals’ abandoned campfires get out of control, which has been the cause of many of Arizona’s larger fires, including the largest fire in Arizona history. 

Under these conditions it is impossible to “fireproof” our forests, but there are ways to minimize the damage and to protect people and their homes. Restoration of a healthy forest is key.

Such restoration is why conservation groups have found much common ground with fire districts, the wood products industry, local governments, and forest experts. Thinning the forest of decades’ worth of small tree and brush buildup is needed, and the best place to start is near vulnerable communities. Thinning smaller trees while preserving the large trees also benefits wildlife, recreation, and watersheds. To restore healthy forests, thinning must also be coupled with the restoration of fire.

Large diameter trees of any age have become a rare forest component. Less than three percent of the trees on Forest Service lands in Arizona and New Mexico are larger than 16 inches in diameter, according to Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) data.[1] It is critical for those remaining large trees to be retained. Certain species such as the northern goshawk and Kaibab squirrel[2] prefer a matrix of heterogeneous habitat patches that includes large trees and relatively dense canopy. Those species are threatened not only by the very real risk of large scale catastrophic fires, but also by habitat degradation that can be associated with active vegetation management that removes larger trees and opens up canopy.[3]

Another important impetus for protecting these larger, more fire resistant trees; thinning to protect communities; and facilitating the reintroduction of natural processes, such as fire, is that scientists, including those at the University of Arizona, predict that the Southwest will likely become hotter and drier in the coming years due to the impacts of climate disruption. 

We recommend that the Arizona Legislature help fund community wildfire protection plans and assist private land owners with clearing their own property as the most effective means of protecting homes and communities from fire. Such aid could include providing funding for local fire departments to assist with thinning and other Firewise activities.

The Legislature should also consider fund thinning and prescribed burning on state trust lands, particularly focusing on the wildland-urban interface areas to minimize risk and to create better defensible space. Providing funding for removal of invasive species such as buffelgrass in at risk areas is also appropriate.



[1] USDA Forest Service. 2007a. Forest Inventory and Analysis National Program—Forest Inventory Data Online (FIDO). http://www.fia.fs.fed.us/tools-data/

 1999. Forest Inventory and Analysis National Program—Forest Inventory Data Online (FIDO). http://www.fia.fs.fed.us/tools-data/

[2] Dodd, N.L., J.S. States, and S.S. Rosenstock. 2003. Tassel-eared squirrel population, habitat conditions, and dietary relationships in north-central ArizonaJournal of Wildlife Management 67:622-633.

[3] Beier, P., and J. Maschinski. 2003. Threatened, endangered, and sensitive species. Pp. 206-327 in: P. Friederici (Ed.). Ecological Restoration of Southwestern Ponderosa Pine Forests. Island Press:WashingtonD.C.

 

     
     

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