Flagstaff mayoral and city council candidates have been given the chance to answer a weekly question in no more than 150 words. This week's question: What should northern Arizona do to best prepare for future wildfires and flooding?
For Council, Austin Aslan and Lori Matthews qualified for the ballot; the others are official write-in candidates. Sydney Shevat did not respond in time for publication.
First, let’s acknowledge the loss and anxiety so many of our neighbors are experiencing. The Flagstaff region has been repeatedly hit by fires and flooding and yet has shown amazing resilience. Moving forward, we can all better prepare by implementing Firewise concepts on our properties, purchasing flood insurance, and continuing to support forest health-based investments on the surrounding public lands. There are multiple projects underway, including over 1500 acres within the priority upper Rio de Flag and upper Lake Mary watersheds. The City plays a leadership role in these projects due to over 25 years of local wildland fire management and the 2012 voter-approved Flagstaff Watershed Protection Project bond. The City has leveraged these investments and secured over $25M in federal funds, and we must continue partnering with state and federal government officials to secure necessary resources and work in mitigating climate change.
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We need massive investment into forest health. We’ve lobbied heavily for additional funding to thin US Forest Service lands, and have just received another $3.5 million. I’ve been advocating strongly for Stage 1 Fire Restrictions to be placed year-round in city limits. Post-wildfire floods are 6-10 times more powerful than they otherwise would be. Our stormwater infrastructure was not designed for this, nor the intensity of rains we are experiencing now. Most of Flagstaff’s infrastructure was for what used to be 100-year floods. Well, we have experienced 8 100-year+ floods in the last 10 years alone. Our environment is changing, and this is why we must change with it. Prop 441 will be on the ballot this fall that provides a $26 million investment into stormwater infrastructure, and we have recently secured $2.4 million in federal funds to create detention basins for the Pipeline Fire flood mitigation.
Climatic changes after a century of fire suppression have turned Flagstaff’s monsoon season from a yearly blessing into a recurring nightmare. I feel profoundly for residents impacted by wildfires and post-fire flooding. When elected in 2018, buttressed by a degree in Natural Resource Management, I ran on these issues. I joined a delegation to DC in December of 2019 to secure $52million in funding for the critical Rio de Flag project. I took flak for supporting an expensive endeavor that many saw as unnecessary. Museum Fire flooding wouldn’t impact neighborhoods for another eighteen months. But we secured those funds with difficulty by sounding the alarm in advance. I have prioritized wildfire mitigation and adaptation for Flagstaff and will continue to do so, especially as funding opportunities increase. More needs to be done. I will always prioritize and champion immediate and long-term investments in forest health and watershed infrastructure improvements.
We need to work toward becoming more resilient to wildfires and flooding, adding retention basins, right sizing culverts, etc. as well as participating in forest thinning initiatives. We need to be better stewards of our natural resources and elevate forest management and flood mitigation efforts as a top priority. Forest health and stewardship should be part of the city’s climate action initiative. We need to break down the silos between city government and partnering agencies and work together to provide future coordinated mitigation efforts. I support duplicating the framework of the 2012 “Forest Health and Water Supply Protection Project” in upcoming bond initiatives.
Short-term, we need to take care of our neighborhoods negatively impacted by fires and flooding responding quicker to flooding incidences and doing everything we can to support these areas until more permanent solutions are instituted.
Programs like Flagstaff’s Watershed Protection Project and FFD’s Prescribed Fire Training Exchange remind us that we are a community that is proud of our innovations; we need to increasingly become a community that is proud of our adaptations, especially when it comes to forest restoration, fire adapted landscape development, etc. As climate change leads to longer fire seasons and we consider the impacts of historic forest health and land development, we must continue lobbying for federal funding for pre-fire treatment and mitigation—including trail maintenance, prescribed burns/mechanical treatments, etc.—and flood mitigation including increased staffing for debris clearance, mitigating erosion, developing artificial watersheds through the forest, etc. We need increased partnerships countywide for community education, preparedness, and mitigation, federally with NFS to mitigate local risks and ensure timely forest closures, and most importantly among ourselves to safeguard our community through stewardship and safe use of our precious forest lands.
As a resident of the Flagstaff area since 1991 and working for a local fire department for more than 20 years, I have seen changes in the forest first hand. To prepare, we need to be proactive and work with the USFS and local fire agencies to make the forest healthy again. They have been working hard to reduce the potential of catastrophic fire through thinning and controlled burn operations. Again, this year, it is not just fire that we have to worry about but flooding while the burn area heals. Proper mitigation will reduce the risk of fire and subsequent potential flooding. Preparation by appropriate harvesting of trees will make it possible to stop the devastating fires. Let’s allow those who understand the forests and fires to direct the management of this resource. Forest fires are a fact of life in Northern Arizona, healthy forests will make them manageable.
I asked this question to our voter base, they replied: forest management and stricter fire restrictions.
In 2012, the voters approved a $10 million bond, Flagstaff Watershed Protection Project, to reduce wildfire risk and post fire flooding.
In 2021, the Infrastructure and Jobs Act granted the Forest Service $5.5 billion. $54 million will go to forest restoration annually. $10 million is set aside for roadwork in the national forest.
The Museum Fire Sediment Reduction Project is working on restoration in the Museum Fire Burn Scar. The City of Flagstaff is also working on flood mitigation.
Renewing and expanding the $10 million bond for FWPP will help the most with wildfire and flood prevention. We need more funding to complete this work sooner, think completion in 10 years instead of 20 years. Additionally, we need to increase fire-safe education and consider closing forest land/restricting access from May until the Monsoon arrives.
For Forest Fires, I would expand and make a more robust forest management with Fire Breaks and removal of any Hazards like wind generators that are known to overload and also make perfect lightning rods. When those generators go up they explodes and melt all over the place. The issue of flooding in historical flood plains I would evaluate what the city is trying to accomplish then expand upon it. Some of what I would look into would be to add a canal system with both under and above ground man made water reservoirs. Divert the water down specific paths then stored for a dry day. Excess can be used to irrigate fields and whatever else we want. Let us also address inflation, food and energy costs, snow removal, downtown parking, library books and other dinner table issues. We need innovative, sustainable, feasible rational common-sense solutions that follow Arizona Law.
During my first summer in Flagstaff after moving from the Midwest almost 30 years ago I learned about the dangers of wildfires and flooding. Growing up in the Midwest I was very familiar with how to prepare and respond to hurricanes and tornados, but wildfires and flooding were new to me.
The best way to prepare for any impeding disaster is to educate community on prevention and response. We know to clear the brush from around our homes, to be careful in the forests and to have an evacuation plan. As a community we need to be aware of our vulnerable populations and insure we have plans in place to assist them. We need to listen to our wildfire and flooding experts and follow their recommendations for mediating and responding to these events.