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U.S. Forest Service staff cleared the air Tuesday, Aug. 23, of some concerns regarding recent burning efforts north of Sedona.

The agency hosted an open house to answer the public’s questions, present information and talk about future forest restoration efforts, which aim to reduce smoke production by combining several methods of maintenance.

While some Sedona City Council members hijacked the first half of the two-hour meeting, residents found time later to ask forest experts questions.

USFS took a beating early in the meeting when the meet and greet morphed from a public forum to council members dominating the room with question after question, interrupting USFS staff and allowing very few members of the public to chime in with questions and opinions. After members of the public asked council members to allow USFS to conduct its meeting without interference, a woman with USFS eventually intervened to get the session back on track.

I personally don’t enjoy breathing forest fire smoke any more than the next person, but I understand fire, in some form, is a necessary element of a forest’s ecology. We just need to find a balance between setting smoke detectors off in people’s homes and depriving the ecosystem of what it needs to maintain its equilibrium.

USFS went up against a tough crowd, some of whom appeared to want all burning stopped and one gentlemen who encouraged the city to explore options to sue USFS for blanketing the community with smoke. Others attended simply to gain knowledge about why the process is used to help them better understand the situation.

Those who attended heard about the history of fire in the area, which likely underwent a fire season of nearly six months each year due to lightning frequency in the area, before settlers homesteaded Sedona and the Verde Valley.

Later, USFS chose to suppress wildfires nationwide to protect lumber to be harvested and sold for a profit.

Today, the agency is attempting to bring the area back into a balance thrown off by human activity, which requires some form of burning. Many species in the forest do not regenerate without fire.

Does that mean black smoke needs to billow into the air for the mission to be accomplished? No, it doesn’t if proper management occurs prior to burning.

This is where the Four Forest Restoration Initiative comes into play. The collaborative group is working to bring the timber industry back to forested areas of Northern Arizona to thin the land prior to burning, among its various other forest-health related activities. If the forest is thinned out before USFS strikes the match, it won’t burn the way we’ve come to know fires to burn. Instead, it will burn low along the ground and produce white smoke in less quantities.

While the situation is often heated, and residents rightfully question health risks associated with the process, it’s encouraging to know USFS isn’t ignoring the community’s concern and is attempting to find middle ground.


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