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Reopening the National Forest

by Connie Birkland

Editor’s Note: Birkland is a public information officer for the National Forest Service in Sedona. At deadline, there was no end in sight to the state of complete National Forest closure.

Coconino National ForestThe big question on everyone’s mind is, "What does it take to end a  forest closure here in Northern Arizona?"

One answer, according to Forest Fire Staff Bruce Greco, is that “closures will be lifted when Forest Supervisors determine that we have received an adequate amount of widespread moisture significant enough to adequately reduce the risk of wildfire to a manageable level, and that hot, dry conditions will not quickly return.”

More specifically, he said "it is going to take  at least 1/2 inch of rain, or maybe even an inch of rain" in most of the forest with "significant moisture in critical areas such as Oak Creek Canyon before we begin discussing lifting restrictions." Lifting smoking, chainsaw and campfire restrictions will be the next phase considered given the forest receives "significant" moisture over an extended period of time. Most critical is that the public "sticks with us" in complying until fire risks are reduced and the forest is re-opened.

Other key considerations that will be used to evaluate reopening the forest: 1) availability of firefighting resources; 2) anticipated weather trends and wood-fuel moisture; 3) number of daily fire starts; 4) anticipated numbers of forest visitors; and 5) socio-political considerations (heightened concern from local citizens and communities).

Extreme fire behavior, as observed with the Rodeo-Chediski Fire, has proved to be worse than anyone had expected. So far, protecting the National Forest from human-caused fires in our area has been successful. Over the fourth of July weekend, there were only three lightning fires, less than an acre in size, and no human caused fires.

With the onset of the monsoon season we are hopeful precipitation is on its way to assist us in reopening the National Forest. Forest closure is considered the last resort as a fire prevention tool, yet an extremely effective one.

What happens over the next several weeks will make a significant difference in how managers feel about re-opening the National Forest. “Everyone has been extremely supportive and cooperative,” said District Ranger Ken Anderson, “and we thank all you who have sacrificed your forest enjoyment in trade for helping to provide public safety and natural resource protection!”

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