Thursday, June 30, 2011

Erosion, floods may follow severe fire season in NM & Az

An intense fire season has burned more than 1.5 million acres in two states, and for people in small communities such as this one, the ordeal is far from over. With seasonal rains anticipated in July, local leaders and federal Forest Service officials said they are beginning the first steps toward restoring national forestland, hoping to minimize severe erosion from mountainsides laid bare by fire. Corbin Newman, regional forester in charge of the national forests in Arizona and New Mexico, called the fires of recent weeks "amazingly intense" and worse than anything seen in the region in 50 to 75 years. Fires have burned more than 935,000 acres in Arizona and an additional 653,000 acres in New Mexico this year. There have been more than 1,650 fires in the region this year, the vast majority attributed to human causes. "We have never seen the scale and intensity of fires this year," Newman said. Bob Leaverton, fire and aviation director for the Forest Service in the Southwest, said the first steps will be to try to stabilize the soil damaged by fire with seeds and mulch to encourage regrowth of grasses and to keep as much material as possible from running into populated areas. Longer-term reforestation efforts will follow, including planting trees in some areas where natural regrowth is unlikely. For people here who survived the fire, the next threat is from rain runoff, which can flood homes and destroy fish habitats over the next two to three years. "It's not just fires," Vilsack said. "It's fires followed by floods."...more

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