We applaud the Coconino National Forest for implementing a campfire ban in the area of Forest Roads 420, 522, and 557, which are very close to the City of Flagstaff and many structures. But we remain convinced that temporary campfire bans instituted on an area-by-area basis are not enough and the Forest Service should implement a permanent forest-wide campfire ban to protect our forest, as well as life and property, in Flagstaff and Coconino County.

The Flagstaff area saw its first wildfire of the season in May. Lightning started the Maroon Fire at a time of the year that is normally our driest. Thankfully, the wet spring meant that firefighters could let the fire burn slowly in order to reduce some of the accumulated underbrush.

The Chimney Springs fire, which was human-caused, started on July 4 just north of Flagstaff, in an area of the forest that is being thinned as part of the Flagstaff Watershed Protection Project (FWPP), a partnership between the State of Arizona, the City of Flagstaff, and the Coconino National Forest to help reduce the risk of devastating wildfire and post-fire flooding in the Rio de Flag and Lake Mary watersheds. Fortunately, it was a small fire and firefighters got it under control before it spread.

Luck was on our side in both fires. This has not always been the case, and will be so less and less in the future.

Wildfires throughout the West will only become more devastating, as recent events in northern and southern California illustrate. Climate change has begun to offset any temporary gains we make in snowpack and rainfall by creating drier ground, and a forest that more and more resembles a matchbox. As more visitors come to our forests to camp and recreate, we need to carefully consider the tradeoff between tourist dollars and the destruction of property and life — and the accompanying cost — that occur with these wildfires. The destroyed forest seared by the 2010 Schultz Fire will not recover in our lifetimes. How many more of these can we, and our forests, afford?

Flagstaff voters taxed themselves to repay the $10 million bond for the FWPP. They recognize the inherent dangers of living surrounded by forest in a semi-arid climate.

Although we cannot control lightning, we can control campfires. Completely closing the forests to visitors may not be necessary nearly as often if we place a permanent ban on campfires in the Coconino National Forest. Many of us love to have a campfire on a chilly night in the mountains. But today that is a luxury we can no longer afford — and one that unfortunately too many people have no idea how to properly execute.

We need more public education and a greater ranger presence in the forests, especially during holiday weekends, to protect people and property and to ensure that our national forests survive and thrive for future generations. The Coconino National Forest has the chance to lead on this issue. We encourage it to seize that opportunity.

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Celia Barotz is a former Flagstaff Vice-Mayor and City Councilmember. Christa Sadler is an author, geologist and river guide.


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