Thursday, August 7, 2014

Chamber Active on Wildfire Prevention Legislation

A Message from the President

Last week the Greater Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce sat in on a conference call with Senator John McCain, representatives from his office, and the offices of Senator Jeff Flake and Senator John Barasso of Wyoming, to hear about S.2593, FLAME Act Amendments Act of 2014. Senator McCain began his conversation stating what an incredible challenge we have in the Southwest regarding fire and water.

The FLAME Act Amendments are tweaking the original legislation passed in 2009. Senator McCain bases his sponsoring of the legislation on the 2.4 million acres needing thinning in the Four Forest Restoration Initiative. Forest thinning can reduce the severity of a fire and the associated suppression
costs. But forest thinning cannot be successful without commercial enterprise to do it since the associated costs would be an enormous burden on the federal government.

Very high temperature fires are created when thinning isn’t done, which ultimately cause more catastrophic effects than if a burn reaches a thinned out area. This summer we watched the San Juan fire near Show Low torch over 7,000 acres of the White Mountain Apache Reservation and the Apache-
Sitgreaves National Forests. That number could have easily been multiplied if not for the decade-long White Mountain Stewardship Project. In S.2593 there is a requirement for the Forest Service and the Department of the Interior to dedicate appropriate funding to hazardous fuel reduction. There is also a discussion about categorizing catastrophic fires as FEMA national disasters; ditching the 10 year average cost of fire suppression to truly document what we have been spending in the past 3 years to better understand actual costs associated with suppression today and what budgetary measures should change to meet current drought conditions; requesting the Department of Defense to transfer newer aircraft to suppression efforts, versus outdated military aircraft which cannot meet our demands; and lastly to consider taking 50% of the $1.9 billion that is dedicated to suppression and dedicate it to hazardous fuel reduction or simply – forest thinning.

We applaud our Senators McCain, Flake, and Barsso for taking a lead on an issue so near and dear to all of us in Flagstaff and across the state. The bottom line is that we can’t continue to put more dollars into emergency fire situations and maintain the status quo while ignoring the excess fuel loads in our national forests that cause the catastrophic fires. Your chamber remains actively involved in many issues that affect our livelihood and local economy. Thank you for your membership investment; you allow the Greater Flagstaff Chamber to remain active affecting good policy decisions on many fronts as a catalyst for community and economic prosperity throughout our region. You are valued!

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