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As Western Fires Burn, Focus Narrows On Forest Management. But It’s Easier Said Than Done

 November 9, 2020 at 10:22 AM PST

Speaker 1: 00:00 After decades of trying to get ahead of the problem of the West big fires, it seems we're still behind the massive fires that have burned this year. Don't just alter forests. They impact water supplies for people and the environment, but it could refocus efforts to better manage forests in the final story of our series on where water and fire meet in the West. Ron Dunkin from K J Z. He in Phoenix reports Speaker 2: 00:27 In June of 2002, nearly half a million acres burned in Arizona high country. The rodeo Chediski fire was the largest fire in Arizona history at the time. And it got everyone's attention. There was too much fuel in the forest and something needed to be done. Speaker 3: 00:40 So I think the first thing to recognize is that the Southwest and California are built to burn Speaker 2: 00:47 That's Arizona state university, professor Steven pine. Speaker 3: 00:51 We get lots of dry lightning where we're the epicenter for lightning caused fires in the United States. Speaker 2: 00:58 The forest evolved with fire. Modest sized fires would burn grasses, small trees and brush, but leave the big trees standing done over grazing and fire suppression, remove grasses and allowed small trees to grow and checked by the time foresters figured out the problem mega fires were on the way economic is with the grand Canyon trust. He remembers 10,000 acre thinning projects in the nineties, which felt like significant progress. Speaker 3: 01:20 We realized that we were not working at the scale at which wildfire was working Speaker 2: 01:26 Arizona, ranchers, conservationist, politicians, foresters, and local communities put aside their differences and came up with a plan. The four forest restoration initiative for fry for short. Um, it says the goal was to thin more than 2 million acres across the state from the grand Canyon to New Mexico. Speaker 3: 01:41 The problem is not getting smaller. The problem is only getting larger in Arizona. Same can be said across the web. Speaker 2: 01:49 There are two ways to thin the forest cutting and burning for. I did both. The target for cutting is small diameter trees. That's different from traditional logging, which takes the big fire resistant ones. LV Barton is with salt river project, which provides power and water for the Phoenix Metro area through a series of dams. She says forests. Aren't just for wildlife and hiking. They're often headwaters for crucial rivers and streams. The region's biggest cities rely on. Speaker 4: 02:13 We all have overgrown forest. We have endangered species. We have large catastrophic wildfires that are coming through and just devastating these landscapes and having these horrible impacts on communities and the water supplies. Speaker 2: 02:30 Although for, for, I seem to address the problem on paper companies hired to thin the forest failed to deliver the forest kept growing. And in 2011, the wallow fire took out another half, a million acres, Nissan Arizona climate change, drought and growing housing development have made the problem more complex, different ecosystems of different fire regimes. And today's fires can jump from one to the next fire historian Pines. As it firefighters are allowing some fires to burn within certain parameters. Speaker 3: 02:57 I'm seeing a lot of from officers on the ground that we're not going to get ahead of this in that way. We're riding the tiger. There are too many things coming at us, too fast, changing things, too rapidly. We're having to work with what we're given Speaker 2: 03:12 Prescribed burns to thin the forest is complicated, but for Fry's beginning to meet its targets, the project has also done work in Springs and watershed restoration, and not all wildfires are catastrophic. Some places at burn recover like Canyon Creek, it's burned and rodeo cedis sky. The forest service hopes to ramp up thinning in the near future. But grand Canyon trusts economic wonders. If we can correct past mistakes. Speaker 3: 03:35 On the other hand, I actually feel very optimistic sometimes foolishly, so that we can solve this problem. And I really think the question is, can we do it in time, Speaker 2: 03:47 Charlie esters with salt river project, he says, he thinks that forefront can work. If it moves forward one step at a time, Speaker 3: 03:53 We're not giving up. We're going to continue. The forest service is not giving up. They're going to continue the collaboratives not giving up. We, we all have to work together. We all have this common goal and I'm very positive about the future of our forest ecosystem. Speaker 2: 04:10 Years later, you can still see the scars from rodeo cheddar sky at Canyon Creek, but there are trees standing in clear water is flowing. You'll find trout in the stream, helping the Hills more fires are coming. The only question is how hot they will burn and how much ground they will consume. I'm Ron Dunkin in Phoenix, Arizona.

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At the time, the Rodeo-Chediski Fire was the largest wildfire in Arizona's history. Almost two decades later, those involved in responding to the Rodeo-Chediski say they’re still learning what it will take to get ahead of wildfires, and the effects they have on headwater forests.
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