Thinned property of Vice-Mayor Jerry Smith (copy)

A yard that has been thinned is still attractive and forested.

I have attended several meetings in recent weeks discussing the potential for wildfire in our area this year. So far, the year looks promising, but I want to caution you against complacency. We have had a wet winter, wet enough that it delayed the start of wildfire season. In recent years we have seen wildfires begin as early as February, but this year’s moisture held that off until at least now. We are beginning to see conditions more consistent with “fire season” and have already begun to see small road-side fires as well as other small wildfires.

We must understand that our problem is not a weather problem as much as it is a fuels problem. The weather has not changed significantly to increase, nor reduce, the threat of wildfire in the White Mountains. So, what has changed? In the past 20 years or so we have seen more, larger, catastrophic fires in the ponderosa pine forests of Arizona than we ever experienced in history. The primary cause of this increase in fire risk is the fuel that is available to burn; and a wet winter only means more fuel, in the form of grasses and other ground cover, to carry fire when it starts.

The high desert, ponderosa pine forests in Arizona are fire dependent ecosystems. They rely on fire to periodically remove the dead fuel, weak trees, and ground litter. Over the last 80-100 years, we have worked to eliminate fire from this ecosystem and the results have been devastating. In the pre-settlement period, when the forest thrived under natural conditions, it was common that there were as few as 80 trees per acre. Today you can find forested acreage with as many as 800-1000 trees. That means that our forests are overgrown by a factor of 10.

There are historical accounts that verify the information above. These records describe, or through pictures show, a forest with fewer trees but those trees were larger, healthier, and more fire resistant. There are accounts of being able to ride a horse at a gallop through the forest. This indicates something about the spacing of the trees and the absence of lower branches. Pictures show certain areas over the course of several decades where the earlier images show wide open spaces and abundant water. The later images show dried up water holes with trees so thick you can barely see the previous water holes.

Before we start pointing the finger at who is responsible for these conditions, I beg you to look at your own property. The facts are that the tribal lands have been treated aggressively in the past two decades. Likewise, public lands, both State and Federal, have been treated as well, though there is still much work to be done. One of the greatest concerns is a fire that starts on private lands and grows quickly to become unmanageable and destroys several homes or business and potentially results in a large loss of life. This story played out in Paradise, California last year and it could easily happen here as well.

If you are interested in having your home evaluated for wildfire safety, please contact us and we will be happy to assist you. There are several inexpensive things that can be done to reduce the risk of wildfire on your property and there are also grants available to assist you in removing overgrowth and hazardous fuels from your property. These services are available to any of our residents at any time. Call Timber Mesa Fire and Medical District at (928) 537-5100, or your local fire department, to arrange a safety inspection at your home or business.

Thank you all for your assistance in keeping our community, our residents and our firefighters safe.

Bryan Savage is chief of Timber Mesa Fire and Medical District.

Bryan Savage is chief of Timber Mesa Fire and Medical District.

(7) comments

Riser

Actually Chief the tree population on average for your. fire district was more like 5 to 20 trees with little to no juniper and oak component.

ronzim

An excellent comment on fire safety. Still, the chief is a couple of doughnuts shy of a dozen in this matter. The statement which ruins the piece is, "We must understand that our problem is not a weather problem as much as it is a fuels problem. The weather has not changed significantly to increase, nor reduce, the threat of wildfire in the White Mountains."

We must grant to the chief the presumption of extraordinary knowledge of fire sciences; however, that does not include the planetary sciences which are involved. The first quote reveals failed understanding of cause and effect. It is misleading to claim that "The weather has not changed significantly to increase, nor reduce, the threat of wildfire in the White Mountains." particularly in a discussion of long term causes and effects. Neither fuel nor oxygen cause fires. Every fire is started by heat from some source of ignition.

Weather is a local phenomenon which changes from day to day. Over time, it is driven by long term changes in the prevailing climate in the area under discussion.
In this matter, man-caused global warming has brought major adverse changes to the area which include record heat levels, causing sustained draughts and increases in deadly insect infestations such as the Pine
Bark Beetle. This factor(man-caused global warming)results in the accumulation of increased fuels which is aggravated by bad forest management sustained over time. By focusing on fuel, the chief places his attention on a symptom of catastrophic fires, not the cause.

Tracing cause and effect we have a chain of events: fuel is increased by draught and infestation; draught and infestation are accelerated by atmospheric evaporative demand; atmospheric evaporative demand is intensified by global warming; global warming is escalated by human depositions of GHG's; these in turn are caused by burning fossil fuels, which is the major cause of the increases in wildfires.

A major research paper on this topic was published in this very organ following its release in 2013. A team of scientists from various institutions published their findings in the journal 'Nature Climate Change' which documented the disastrous impact of man-caused global warming on wild fires of increasing size and intensity.

Informed Consent

How about changing our out dated log export laws?

Riser

Funny thing is the head of the dendrology lab at UofA who studies tree rings have concluded that every 500 years the southwest experiences a 40 year drought. It had been 700 years since the last 40 year drought the one that coincided with the disappearance of many native Americans settlements. Our current drought started some 23 years ago. Shoots the hell out of that human caused global warming theory all those grant and government dollar chasing scientists.

ArizAl

I wonder why my comment never got posted? I wonder if WMI is now in the business of censoring free speech?

ronzim

Riser: Untrue. Both the California mega-droughts and the Great Drought (which was part of a larger pattern of increased aridity in the Colorado Plateau) occurred during a period of elevated global temperatures known as the Medieval Climate Anomaly. In both cases, the droughts were caused by persistent, anomalously cold sea surface temperatures in the eastern Pacific consistent with the La Niña phase of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO). As I pointed out, heretofore, the great anomalies which led to paleo-climate cycles of draught were just that--anomalies. They have not recurred since that time and the apparent cycles which then prevailed are not now in existence and have virtually no impact on the climate changes we have been experiencing for the past couple of centuries.
The sum of all natural variability in climate is far short of being the cause of the global increases in temperature now occurring. Only when man-caused changes are factored in can we arrive at today's increases.

che guevara

The decline and subsequent disappearance of the Anasazi civilization was indeed caused by , or at least exacerbated by widespread drought in the southwest some 700 - 800 years ago . Riser is quite correct on this . Especially when one considers that the dry farming techniques implemented by the Anasazi relied upon predictable rainfall regardless of how intensive irrigation ditches may have been . Further , the ability to practice water retention must have been severely impacted by the prolonged drought cycle which resulted in elevated evaporation rates . If anyone has ever been to any major Anasazi sites such as Chaco Canyon , they will immediately ask themselves how so many inhabitants in such an expansive settlement ever managed to find sufficient water to meet basic human hydration and sanitation needs , and how any crops were ever able to grow there to help feed the large population as there exist no year - round water sources in the entirety of Chaco Canyon . Much the same can be said about Wupatki , Walnut Canyon or any number of high desert Anasazi sites ( this is why the early Spanish explorers called these folks the Sin Agua , or the Without Water peoples , as their civilization was practically devoid of meaningful permanent terrestrial water sources and almost totally dependent upon either liquid or frozen precipitation .

Nevertheless , man - caused pollution by way of emissions from the internal combustion engine , coal burning , industrial gasses and a whole spectrum of waste directly related to human activity remains a source of major concern as our species persists in destroying the planet . To what extent mankind's activities have impacted the weather and drought cycles which are part of the earth's natural rhythm is debatable . In am not a scientist , so I can only speculate on the matter . I however would rather err on the side of planet earth and seek to mitigate the witches brew of toxins that have unfortunately become synonymous with human activity , based simply upon principles of good earth stewardship and a cultivating a healthier environment .

Perhaps when the earth experiences it's next cyclical polar shift , and what is now dry land becomes inundated with water and remains submerged for another 6000 - 8000 year cycle , we will be known as the antediluvian civilization by future archeologists and the story of Noah will again be resurrected .

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