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Arizona governor, legislators agree on effort to reduce wildfire risk in state

by Arizona Signals staff reports |

PHOENIX – Governor Doug Ducey is applauding a comprehensive effort by state lawmakers aimed at fighting the threat of wildfires in Arizona while expanding opportunities for low-risk inmates in the state’s correctional facilities.

Legislation introduced in the House and Senate align with Governor Ducey’s Arizona Healthy Forest Initiative, a $23.8 million multi-agency proposal that builds on proven methods to protect communities from the fires that rage across thousands of acres each year.

“Wildfires pose a serious threat to Arizona communities every year,” said Governor Ducey. “Our heroic and selfless firefighters put their lives on the line year after year to protect people, pets and property. Our proactive Arizona Healthy Forest Initiative is a major shift in our strategy to reduce wildfire risk and protect our communities.”

House Bill (HB) 2440, introduced by Representative Griffin, and Senate Bill (SB) 1442, introduced by Senator Kerr, support the Arizona Healthy Forest Initiative and wildfire prevention efforts. HB 2440 will be heard before the House Natural Resources, Energy, and Water Committee today and SB 1442 will be heard before the Senate Natural Resources, Energy, and Water Committee tomorrow, February 3.

Wildfires ravaged close to 980,000 acres in Arizona last year, the second most severe year for total acres burned. Two of the largest fires, the Bighorn fire north of Tucson burned 119,987 acres and the Bush fire east of Mesa burned 193,455 acres. Both threatened Arizona communities for much of the early summer.

To combat fires like these, Governor Ducey is focused on laying out a path for an at least fivefold increase in the amount of wildfire-prone lands treated to reduce wildfire risk.

“The Department is strongly focused on preventing wildfires and protecting our communities when they do occur,” said Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management (DFFM) Director David Tenney. “The Healthy Forest Initiative is an innovative and proactive program that will help protect Arizona, while creating opportunities for those serving time.”

The Arizona Healthy Forest Initiative addresses the risk of wildfires through three related components:

* Creating greater state capacity to reduce wildfire fuels around our communities;
* Making greater use of partner capacity to reduce wildfire fuels; and
* Increasing partnerships to reduce wildfire risks on federal lands neighboring our communities.

The first component is a joint program, the Arizona Healthy Forest Alliance, between DFFM and the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation & Reentry (ADCRR) that expands opportunities for state inmates to learn crucial job skills for post-sentence employment by treating our state’s land and wildlife. Over a two-year period, more than 700 ADCRR inmates will address the need to remove fire-prone vegetation from Arizona communities.

The crews will handle vegetation management, gain experience with tools and gear, engage in teamwork, and more. The skills learned through the program will help inmates find jobs upon release, reducing recidivism across the state, and helping those who served their time build better lives.

“ADCRR is committed to reducing recidivism by providing offenders serving sentences with the tools needed to find fulfilling work opportunities upon release,” said ADCRR Director David Shinn. “The Healthy Forest Initiative is an excellent addition to our existing programs which strengthens those efforts, and I look forward to seeing the benefits for our returning citizens who have served their time.”

The second component is a ten-fold increase in the amount of grants for hazardous vegetation removal available for partner organizations around the state to conduct wildfire risk reduction programs.

The third component is a change in state statute to allow broader use of Good Neighbor Authority. With this change, DFFM could partner with additional public agencies to conduct wildfire risk reduction projects on U.S. Forest Service lands neighboring, and threatening, state, and private lands.