If the current drought continues as expected, this summer is on track to be one of the worst fire seasons in our state's history. Before the end of the summer, cities and towns will be threatened, homes will be burned and countless acres of beautiful land will be left charred and scarred. The plentiful rains from last year fed grasses and underbrush that will provide plentiful fuel for aggressive wildfires.
Senator Kyl and I were in Payson a few weeks ago to talk with local leaders, community members, and fire officials about the fire season. The concern in the room was evident and shared by everyone.
Our forests have suffered from decades of mismanagement and neglect due to a combination of overgrazing, logging and fire suppression. Environmentalists' objections to any effort to manage the forests led to the build up of underbrush that increases the risk of catastrophic fires. Low intensity fires regularly clear the forest floor of debris, while fires fueled by unchecked underbrush rage at heats that devastate the land for years. We need to make our forests healthy again, but a very vocal minority has made that difficult by characterizing needed projects as logging. The failure to actively manage our forests became apparent with the Rodeo-Chediski fires, which burned across 468,000 acres and cost more than $22 million to fight and caused $329 million in damages.
Fire is part of the regular natural cycle that we must face living in Arizona. The only thing as predictable as the fire season is the blame game that follows it. There certainly is blame to be had, but we all share responsibility for the problem as well as for the solution. I find it extremely unfortunate that some would seek political advantage from the situation we all face.
On Feb. 10, just days after the fire in Payson broke out, Jim Pederson started pointing the finger at Jon Kyl for the fire danger this year. Worse yet, Pederson accused Senator Kyl of "grandstanding" when Kyl wrote to the president demanding more money for Arizona to combat and fight forest fires. What Pederson calls "grandstanding" is what most of us refer to as "leadership."
Senator Jake Flake, District 5
Editor's note: This letter was cut for space considerations.