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Forest Service OKs massive off-road rally without review

Mexican spotted owl. Photo courtesy USFWS.

Conservation advocates may sue to block future editions of the jamboree on the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — When it comes to policing the annual Rainbow Gathering, the U.S. Forest Service can pretty harsh, but apparently that same hardline doesn’t apply to off-roaders, at least in Arizona, where the agency has apparently developed a cozy relationship with motorized users.

According the conservation groups, the Forest Service authorized a six-day off-road rally without doing any environmental studies or reviewing the impacts to rare and sensitive forest species.

Based on promotional materials for the off-road jamboree, the event is at least partly commercial and requires Forest Service review and permitting. Part of the route is through areas affected by the Wallow Fire, where new vegetation is just becoming established, and it also appears that there is some commercial photography associated with the off-road rally. Continue reading

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Whitewater-Baldy fire in New Mexico burns to record size

Southwest may see more megafires, experts warn

The Whitewater-Baldy Fire continues to burn nearly unchecked in southern New Mexico.

Firefighters inspect a burned stand of trees in the Whitewater-Baldy fire complex in New Mexico. PHOTO COURTESY STEVEN MEISTER/INCIWEB.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — The Whitewater-Baldy fire complex in New Mexico is still growing along 95 percent of its perimeter and has become the largest wildfire on record in the state during the modern era — and it may grow bigger yet, according to wildfire experts who caution that the Southwest could be facing an era of megafires due to decades of fire suppression.

Fires burning to half a million acres in the dry and crowded forests of the region could become the norm, with geography being the only limiting factor, according to Wally Covington, a forest ecology expert at Northern Arizona University.

So far, the Whitewater-Baldy fire has burned in a footprint of more than 172,000 acres, though it’s important to remember that not every square mile in that area burned severely. In some places, entire stands of trees were destroyed, in other areas, the fire may have crept along the ground, consuming dry grasses, branches and pine needles. Continue reading

Two men charged with starting Arizona’s Wallow Fire

Navajo Hotshots lining numerous spot fires in the Diamond Mountain area at the Wallow Fire in Arizona. PHOTO COURTESY KARI GREER, U.S. FOREST SERVICE. Visit the U.S. Forest Service Flickr page for more images by clicking on the image.

Unattended campfire pinpointed as cause of Arizona’s largest-ever wildfire

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Two Arizona men face potential fines of $5,000 each and up to six months in jail after being charged with starting the massive Wallow Fire in eastern Arizona at the end of May.

The fire ended up burning across a footprint of about 538,000 acres in two states and on Native American lands, destroying 32 residential structures and several other buildings and resulting in the temporary closure of the entire Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Arizona on Aug. 24 filed formal charges against rhe two cousins, Caleb Joshua Malboeuf, 26, of Benson, Ariz.; and David Wayne Malboeuf, 24, of Tucson, Ariz. Continue reading

Op-Ed: Don’t blame enviros for large fires

A map showing the boundaries of the Four Forests restoration initiative.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — It’s hard to believe that anyone would want to score political points in the aftermath of a large and destructive wildfire.

But that’s exactly what happened as the massive Wallow Fire in Arizona waned, when several members of Arizona’s congressional delegation tried to blame damage caused by the Wallow fire on lawsuits filed by environmental groups, including the Center for Biological Diversity.

Trying to place the blame externally is a typical, and in some cases understandable reaction in many situations, as it’s easier to quickly point fingers instead trying to understand somewhat complex topics like fire ecology, forest restoration and global warming science. But when it’s done cynically to win votes, it’s inexcusable.

It’s even more sad that some of the same politicians seeking to blame environmental groups are the same ones who refuse to acknowledge global climate change, and the same ones who repeatedly seek to slash public land agency budgets, further hampering efforts to restore national forests. Continue reading

Arizona’s Wallow wildfire 100 percent contained

Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest re-opened; flash flood worries remain

Firefighters make a stand along a road during the peak of the Wallow Wildfire. PHOTO BY JAYSON COIL VIA INCIWEB.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Fire officials said July 8 that the 538,000-acre Wallow Fire is 100 percent contained and have re-opened the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest to visitors.

The fire started May 29 and quickly grew to become Arizona’s largest ever wildfire, even spreading across 15,000 acres in New Mexico. The size of the fire footprint can be misleading, because the fire didn’t burn every single acre within that perimeter. In some areas, it burned around stands of trees, but in other places it left nothing but scorched earth and blackened stumps.

A recent article and discussion thread on NewWest.net addressed the way the size of wildfires is reported by the media, as writer George Wuerthner claimed that the acreage totals are often cited without context about the pattern of wildfires and their role in forest ecology.

The fire was human-caused but the exact ignition source remains under investigation. The fire destroyed 32 residences and four commercial properties, while many more structures were saved by firefighters. Sixteen were injured during the month-long campaign. Fire information is updated continuously at Inciweb.org. Continue reading

Floods, mudslides a concern in Wallow Fire area

Monsoons could bring unprecedented flows in scarred areas

Boise Hotshots do a burnout along Highway 260 at the Wallow Fire in east-central Arizona. Click for more photos. PHOTO COURTESY U.S. FOREST SERVICE.

Wallow Fire, Arizona.

SUMMIT COUNTY — Arizona’s massive Wallow Fire, the largest in the state’s recorded history, is now 77 percent contained, and while hundreds of structures were threatened, firefighters managed to protect all but 32 of the residences and businesses within the 538,000-acre footprint.

Officials say some of their biggest concerns are about flash flooding and debris flows when the monsoon rains start to fall in the rugged terrain of the White Mountains. According to the latest update from Inciweb, even moderate rains storms could trigger intense runoff in the scarred terrain.

From the update:

“Some area streams and rivers are likely to see flows beyond anything seen in decades if typical or above average rains occur. This summer, all residents near streams, rivers, or steep burned hillsides should be alert to flooding and debris flows. Residents should be aware that area roadways may become impassible due to mud, rock and debris slides or due to streams and washes overwhelming existing culverts and bridges.”

More info and numerous links online at Inciweb. Continue reading

Summit Voice: Weekend headlines

Republican budget cuts threaten voluntary habitat conservation programs.

Environment: House Republicans slash $1 billion from USDA’s voluntary conservation and wildlife habitat programs

The U.S. House of Representatives this week cut almost  $1 billion from U.S. Department of Agriculture conservation programs for Fiscal Year 2012, spurring criticism from environmental groups.

“We realize that Congress faces tough budget choices, but making draconian cuts to voluntary conservation programs that help farmers and ranchers provide all Americans with cleaner air and water, more productive soils and habitat for wildlife is penny-wise and dollar-foolish,” said Sara Hopper, agricultural policy director for Environmental Defense Fund and a former staff member of the Senate Agriculture Committee. “The Senate needs to restore reasonable funding levels for conservation programs for the benefit of our environment and taxpayers.”

John Hiatt in Breckenridge.

Photoblog: Lovett and Hiatt in Breckenridge

BRECKENRIDGE — Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt wowed the crowd at the Riverwalk Center Thursday night. Their personalities, humor, style, great singing voices and beautiful guitar work made the show a rare pleasure. Anyone in the audience not already a fan walked away as one by the end of the evening.

The stage presence and synergy between the two is mesmerizing. They clearly love what they do, and the audience loved watching them do it.

Nesting pelicans.

Pelicans rescued from gulf oil spill nesting in Georgia

SUMMIT COUNTY — In the months during and after the BP oil spill that began April 2010, more than 7,000 birds were collected dead, or died soon after, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. An unknown number of additional birds were most likely exposed to oil and never recovered, either because they died at sea or in remote locations on the coast.

More than 1,200 birds were rehabilitated and released in Georgia, Florida, Texas and upstate Louisiana. Of those, 699 were brown pelicans, 140 of which were released in Georgia last June and July. Some of those pelicans not only returned this spring, they are nesting and raising young.

Learn more about the inventor of the ice machine.

Travel: Shrimp, oysters, cotton and … the ice machine

APALACHICOLA, FLA. — After passing through the heavily developed strip resorts around Destin, it was a relief to pull into the pet-friendly Rancho Inn, in Apalachicola, a historic fishing and  harbor village in the heart of what locals call the forgotten coast. We decide to linger an extra day, if only to learn the correct pronunciation of the six-syllable town.

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