U.S. Forest Service chief pushes for rapid clean-up after Wallow Fire in Arizona so burned timber can be used for higher-valued wood products

WASHINGTON, D.C. , August 17, 2011 (press release) – U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell today restated his agency’s commitment to an accelerated rehabilitation of the lands devastated by the Wallow fire, which occurred this spring.

This year, Arizona and New Mexico experienced the worst fires in the states’ histories. The Wallow fire in Arizona burned more than 538,000 acres. Although 38 structures burned, a system of fuel treatments developed cooperatively by federal, state and local governments, as well as private citizens, successfully reduced fire behavior and allowed firefighters to protect thousands of structures and, in many places, halt the spread of the fire.

In their commitment to rehabilitate lands in Arizona, Forest Service work crews have already:

• Seeded 99 percent of 80,000 burned acres;
• Reduced the risk of falling trees along 300 miles of roads; and
• Identified over 38 miles of power line corridors for emergency hazard tree removal.

Together, these trees could provide 162,000 tons or 26.5 million board feet of material for wood products. In addition, other recovery operations on 10,400 acres could result in the removal of an additional 150,000 tons or 24.6 million board feet of wood.

“The response to this fire must be immediate and sustained,” Tidwell said. “The Forest Service is fully committed to the recovery and rehabilitation mission in the post Wallow fire environment.”

Tidwell has directed agency personnel to proceed expeditiously so that burned timber can be used for higher valued wood products.

In eastern Arizona, fire-killed trees can only be used for lumber for about two years after they are burned. The removal of dead and fire-damaged trees before then will enable the recovery of timber and other forest products while the wood is still usable saw timber. Harvesting the wood will also protect communities, roads, power-line corridors and the public.

Roadside corridor work will be finished by the end of 2012 and other projects will be concluded as quickly as possible.

The Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest, in partnership with tribal, state, county, and local governments, as well as a group of diverse stakeholders, is aggressively identifying the necessary recovery work and opportunities for salvage. Over the next several months, after environmental analyses and administrative reviews, the forest will prepare contracts.

“The hard work of the these groups and the experience of working within the strong collaborative process that supported the White Mountain Stewardship project will help us successfully implement the recovery work and opportunities to salvage saw timber and biomass,” Tidwell said.

In addition to the ongoing rehabilitation work in Arizona and other states, the Forest Service is committed to an ambitious program for managing America’s forests, focusing on restoration and conservation by forming partnerships to help maintain the health of all forest lands, public and private, whether or not the Forest Service manages them directly. This approach is not only creating jobs and promoting healthier natural and water resources, but it will reduce the risk of large and dangerous wildfires.

This type of restoration work received a boost recently in the largest ever study of fuel treatment effectiveness by the Forest Service. Agency researchers announced in July that intense thinning treatments that leave between 50 and 100 trees per acre are the most effective in reducing the probability of crown fires in the dry forests of the western United States. The study, published in a recent issue of the Canadian Journal of Forest Research, provides a scientific basis for establishing quantitative guidelines for reducing stand densities and surface fuels.

The mission of the Forest Service is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the nation's forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. Recreational activities on National Forest System land contribute $14.5 billion annually to the U.S. economy. The agency manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners, and maintains the largest forestry research organization in the world.

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