Do Not Wait For Disaster

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What fools! How can people be so blind?

That judgment comes easily standing in the shambles of disaster.

How could Japan line up all those nuclear reactors on a tidal-wave-prone stretch of coast?

How could New Orleans gamble so mindlessly on levees as the fill on which it was built subsided?

And how could the forested communities of Rim Country have paid so little attention to the risk of a roaring crown fire?

At least, that’s the striking lesson that emerges from two recent studies on whether forest thinning projects can save threatened communities.

One study strikes close to home: A report from the front lines of the massive Wallow Fire concluded that several thinning projects prevented the largest fire in state history from gobbling up Alpine and Springerville.

The second concerns the whole, fire-menaced West: The federal government has squandered 90 percent of the billions spent on thinning projects by not focusing on areas close to settlements.

Taken together, the studies suggest that community leaders must make it their top priority to insist the U.S. Forest Service place its chief focus on thinning projects that will save towns like Payson, Pine and Strawberry when the inevitable disaster roars out of the forest.

Fortunately, the White Mountain Stewardship Project demonstrated the crucial role that strategically placed thinning projects can play in helping firefighters save towns when disaster threatens.

For instance, a crown fire racing toward Alpine dropped to the ground where firefighters stopped it when the flames hit a half-mile-wide, thinned buffer zone. Local lumber companies turning the small trees into particle board and fuel for biofuel plants thinned that buffer zone several years ago — and saved the town.

Please note: The White Mountain Stewardship project is near death, largely because the Forest Service doesn’t have the money to continue providing an $800-per-acre subsidy for the thinning projects — and so isn’t offering the timber companies a large enough supply of wood to make the project viable long-term.

If that seems tragic but unavoidable in these hard budget times, consider the results of a second study by researchers from the University of Colorado in Boulder. These researchers examined 44,000 federally funded thinning projects to try to determine whether taxpayers are reaping a benefit from the billions spent.

Shockingly, the researchers concluded that 90 percent of the acreage in those projects was either far from settlements or focused on naturally dense, wet fir forests that didn’t need the thinning at all.

Taken together, the studies should constitute a call to action for local officials and the U.S. Forest Service.

Act now — so that we won’t find ourselves standing in the smoldering ashes, wondering how we could have been such fools.

Finding safety in neighbors

It’s easy to feel intimidated by an officer in uniform, especially when the lights of his patrol car flash in the rearview mirror or she walks down the street in her uniform.

On the other hand, put that officer in a three-legged race and we see their humanity because they make us laugh.

Better yet, we can see they don’t mind laughing at themselves, either.

The yearly National Night Out (NNO) program allows citizens to mingle with police and firemen outside of their duties. It’s a time to learn to trust each other, for without trust, neither side feels comfortable working with the other.

On the other hand, it’s easy to just lock our doors and ignore our neighbors. Research proves communities where people don’t know one another well enough to watch out for each other have higher rates of crime.

The National Night Out program gets us out of our shells, introducing us to each other, creating a community.

If your neighborhood doesn’t have a block watch right now, call the Payson Police Department and find out how to go about setting up this simple, effective protection against crime.

Then next year, when National Night Out rolls around, you can plan a block party or just turn on your yard light and sit on the porch to say “Hi” to your neighbors.

Better yet, head down to Green Valley Park and laugh with the policemen. Although it seems contradictory, once you’ve seen a laughing policeman running a race with a fireman using a walker, we guarantee you’ll feel safer..

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