The Debate Around Controlled Fires in Arizona’s Forests
Forest ecologists find it increasingly challenging to manage timber in the Southwest because wildfires are out of control. Environmentalists are advocating controlled fires as a means of clearing trees that aren’t being cut. If there are no controls in place, low-income communities are at risk of experiencing higher levels of air pollution from wildfires.
Several factors contribute to the risk of uncontrolled wildfires: understaffed state agencies, aging equipment, and landowners who may not know when permits are required. Private companies also contribute to unsupervised deforestation because current logging practices don’t leave enough space between small trees and huge stumps left behind, providing fuel for future fires.
Controlled burns don’t mean fewer jobs in the lumbering industry; larger companies may still receive contracts to sell old standing trees while smaller firms could concentrate on thinning out overgrown areas through controlled burns — creating new business opportunities while creating safer forests. Environmentalists are pushing for greater use of controlled fires to burn off trees that loggers aren’t cutting. Controlling burning is also essential in restoring forests, removing diseased and dead wood to reduce forest fire risk and promote new growth.
While state officials say they’re working to improve evacuation efforts, environmental activists want a policy guaranteeing a right to shelter from wildfires regardless of where you live or how much money you make. It’s unclear what role forest management plays in these questions; currently, most land managers view wildfires as natural processes best left alone. But these forests store massive amounts of carbon and play critical roles in regulating regional climate patterns. Both factors are likely to become more vital if scientists’ predictions about climate change come true. Fire control will be at issue as forest managers work to bring ecosystems back into balance.
There is a disproportionate effect of environmental hazards on minorities, low-income residents, and other marginalized communities across Arizona. For example, those living near areas that burned between 2000 and 2012 (when drought and wildfires hit hardest) were 1.8 times more likely to live below the poverty level compared with those who lived away from fires during that time. The need for better information-sharing between public agencies, private landowners, and research institutions is also apparent; we can’t begin to address these environmental justice issues without a better understanding of them first.
“Controlled burns” will help reduce further devastation by preventing small brushfires from growing into uncontrollable infernos.