New forest supervisor gets aggressive on fire prevention | AspenTimes.com

New forest supervisor gets aggressive on fire prevention

The new supervisor of the White River National Forest said she supports thinning trees on public lands as a way to ease the threat of catastrophic fires.Maribeth Gustafson said her current office “takes an aggressive stance” of removing hazardous fuels that can feed a wild lands fire by selective thinning and prescriptive burns. Gustafson is the forest supervisor of the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit in California.Lake Tahoe is famous for the clarity of its water, she noted. The erosion that would result from a large forest fire in the area could devastate the lake. Gustafson said she has tapped into special federal funds during her five-year tenure as forest supervisor to undertake projects to thin forest lands throughout the Lake Tahoe watershed.Gustafson’s staff treated 3,834 acres as part of its fire management plan last year. Nearly three-fourths of that amount was thinned while fires were set to reduce fuels on 1,081 acres.Prior to becoming forest supervisor in the Lake Tahoe area, Gustafson was the assistant director for fire and aviation management in California for three years. She had extensive experience fighting fires and trying to prevent them.She will take the helm at the White River National Forest headquarters in Glenwood Springs in April. She expects tough decisions to be made regarding fire management in the 2.3 million-acre White River, which surrounds the Roaring Fork Valley.”I know every forest in the West is in the same situation,” she said. “We want to make them safe from catastrophic fire.”The key, she said, is the term catastrophic. Natural fires that can be allowed to burn without threatening towns and residences can be beneficial for restoring forest health. Prescribed burns are also a useful tool, she said.President Bush’s Healthy Forest Act is designed to provide funding for logging projects in areas where civilization butts up against national forests and in the watersheds of cities and towns.Environmentalists and other critics claim the president’s initiative is a thinly disguised plan to give logging companies easier access to public timber.But Gustafson said it is necessary for the Forest Service to take action to restore forests to healthy levels “or fire and bugs are going to do it.” Fires were suppressed on public lands for so long that fuels have often built to unnaturally high levels.Gustafson said Americans must make “social choices” about what to do with their forest lands. They must decide if the long-term benefits of health and safe forests are worth short-term impacts such as burnt patches of forest and areas that are logged and thinned.A new study released by the nonpartisan U.S. Government Accountability Office concludes that the federal government has made progress in fire management in the last five years, but more needs to be done to create a cohesive strategy. That extensive report can be found at http://www.gao.gov/news.items/d05147.pdf.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com.


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