Friday, June 29, 2012

Alamogordo Mayor: USFS could have reduced fire danger

In a response to a letter recently published by Dennis R. Clark, I wish to answer the questions that arose regarding my knowledge of the U.S. Forest Service and my regard for federal employees.

I am concerned that the basic human needs of food, water and shelter will continue to be threatened by widespread forest fires if tree thinning doesn't become a standard practice, especially in these times of drought.

The U.S. Forest Service will not allow cities or counties residing in and around the Lincoln National Forest to be the stewards or caretakers of the trees that have overgrown and lay fallen in the forest. One hundred years ago, the LNF held 50 to 100 trees per acre. Today, the Lincoln holds 1,000 to 1,400 trees per acre.

The reason I stand with Congressman Steve Pearce on this issue is because he began raising the alarm of the potential fire dangers in 1997 when he pointed out the overgrowth of forest within 10,000 acres surrounding areas of water sources. His plight at the federal level would not allow us on a local level to thin the trees within the forest.

I will not be silent while government bureaucracy destroys our water and the watersheds of many other cities. I know that the Little Bear fire could not have been prevented, but I also know that its far-reaching effects over 43,000 acres could have been limited if tree thinning had been a practice and policy of the Forest Service. The damage to the water source and recreation area of the city of Alamogordo and Holloman Air Force Base were limited because of the city's choice to exercise tree thinning on its property immediately surrounding the Bonito Lake. However, the watershed damage poses many potential dangers to the safety of drinking water.

Besides preventing widespread forest fire damage, tree thinning would create needed jobs and promote clean energy through bio-fuels. Holloman Air Force Base will soon have a biomass/waste-to-energy facility.

Tularosa makes wood pellets from wood waste. If Otero County took back some lands from BLM, they would gain $2 million per year in livestock grazing fees.

I know that the Forest Service wants to protect and preserve our ecosystems within all of the forest in the United States, and it is the reason they currently do not allow tree thinning. However, in the case of the Little Bear fire, tree thinning would have preserved many acres of trees, habitats, personal dwelling places, structures, watersheds and water sources from burning. The damage would have been greatly limited if tree thinning had become a practice and policy of the Forest Service many years ago.

I propose we move forward, and do what we can to prevent future losses.

I want to thank the Forest Service and their employees for helping the city of Alamogordo and city employees to clean up the damage at Bonito Lake and the surrounding watershed. I know that the Forest Service is working hard to repair the damages by removing the ash from the watersheds, planting new grass and many other tasks.

I am grateful to the firefighters for their many acts of bravery. The fire is now at 90 percent containment and I know that many workers have devoted up to three weeks to the effort.

I support federal employees and the working class men and women. My grandfather and father retired as federal employees, and my spouse is working toward retiring as a federal employee.

It is magnificent to see the outpouring of support for the victims and workers of the Little Bear fire. I know that Ruidoso would do the same for us.

Susie Galea is mayor of Alamogordo.

Originally posted at Alamogordo Daily News.

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