Fires in the western United States continue to burn out of control and threaten even more residences and structures as hot weather remains in the forecast and millions of acres of dead and diseased federal timber remain ripe for burning. Colorado, which has burned over 85,000 acres and many structures, has seen the warning signs for large catastrophic wildfires building for the last few years with vast acreages
of lodgepole pine dying off to insect infestations, and virtually no action taken to protect or thin the forests. Colorado has also lost most of its sawmilling infrastructure due to litigation, appeals and the inability of the Forest Service to offer timber sales.
The fires are a direct reflection of what will happen to all of our federal forests without sustainable management. One can only hope that some sanity will prevail within Congress to ensure our forests are treated rather than being set off limits to responsible management because of special interest groups.
States are crying out for help to treat their national forest and BLM lands. Perhaps that is why we are seeing a number of legislative proposals to institute reforms, including trust management proposals for the Forest Service and BLM O&C lands. The southwestern United States is facing the hot dry weather this year which makes dead, diseased and unhealthy forests ripe for burning. As weather patterns change, every region of the United States will experience these types of dry conditions in the future and the same future for their forests.
Nationally, fires to date this year total 25,144 with 1,144,573 acres burned. The ten year average to date is 34,873 fires with 1,712,284 acres burned. The difference between this year and other years is that in the past many early season fires have occurred in Alaska which usually pose little threat to communities and the forests have little commercial value. This spring and early summer the fires have occurred more
frequently in forests adjacent to communities like Fort Collins, and have consumed not only commercial forest lands but also a number of residences and other structures. While Colorado has scorched 85,000 acres, New Mexico has been ground zero for catastrophic wildfires with nearly 350,000 acres burned—oh and by the way New Mexico has virtually no industry infrastructure left either to treat the forests (is
there perhaps a pattern here?)
Air Tanker Update
The fleet of Forest Service air tankers which started the season at 11 was reduced to nine on June 3 due to two separate incidences involving P2V tankers. One crash killed two crew members on the UtahNevada border, and another plane had to do a belly landing on a runway south of Reno, Nevada. With fire season in full force, on June 13, Congress passed legislation sponsored by Senator Ron Wyden (DOR) to speed the Forest Service’s ability to contract and acquire seven new air tankers. The makeup of the new tanker contracts include:
Two BAe-146s in 2012 from Neptune Aviation Services Inc.
One BAe-146 in 2012 and one BAe-146 in 2013 from Minden Air Corp.
Two MD87s in 2013 from Aero Air LLC.
One Avro RJ85 in 2013 from Aero Flite Inc.
The cost of this new fleet, while urgently needed for suppression activities, is in itself very staggering. The annual contract price for the seven aircraft is $30 million, not counting fuel costs estimated to be another $7.5 million, and if the aircraft isn’t used, there is also a cancellation fee. The best estimate for a 10-year expense for just these seven aircraft is $519.3 million. It should also be noted that each contract has the option, if funds are available, of bringing on an additional five aircraft for a total of 35 new planes. This would bring the total cost over a 10-year period to $3.116 billion. The Forest Service could meaningfully increase forest management activities with that amount of money while the forests are green instead of shelling out all this money to fight wildfires fueled by unhealthy forests.