Op Ed: Brian Head Fire long expected, how to prevent another

By Paul Cozzens
Cedar City Council

As we have watched this fire now consume over 60,000 acres of forest and debated the root cause, (which most locals knew was a ticking time bomb) I hear some call for, and demand civility and for stopping the blame game while we have firefighters in danger. 

We all appreciate our firefighters and the amazing job they have done. We would be devastated if any were hurt.

Do we appreciate the firefighters enough that we are willing to get to the root cause and fix this issue going forward?

Paul Cozzens

It will take time, but how about while emotions are high we go to our legislators (local and national) and demand change? Senator Lee has committed to doing so by pushing a bill he introduced as the Catastrophic Wildfire Prevention Act to expedite wildfire prevention projects in at-risk forests and wildlife habitats. The bill would give federal land managers firm deadlines for reviewing and approving projects and empower them to use proven wildfire prevention strategies like livestock grazing and timber harvesting. I applaud his effort.  

How about we look at simple solutions that could make even a small difference like the USFS offering free woodcutting permits to help clear the forest? Even before the fire is extinguished, how about we demand that environmental groups stand down and send loggers into the areas that are not on fire? How about we wait until the snow flies when it’s safer and do some prescribed burns to start clearing the areas not burned? Do we as a public care enough for the safety of those put in harm’s way to do what it takes to fix this?

How about we use this tragedy as a catalyst to start fixing this so we don’t put so many firefighters in harm’s way? Bottom line–these forests need to be thinned and managed. If this fire doesn’t take our whole mountain, another eventually will if we don’t act.

For years, environmentalist groups have sued the federal government and received millions of dollars in settlements using our tax dollars to push their agenda.   Citizens are being quadruple-taxed as a result of environmentalist’s actions. These are the consequences:

1. Timber resource value–up in smoke

2. Lost economic engine by shutting down job-producing industrie–not just timber but now tourism as well.

3. Having to pay federal taxes from billion-dollar payouts to these settlements

4. Health and land harm from air quality, water quality and total resource degradation i.e. wildlife, scenic, major and micro ecosystems.

These radical environmentalists don’t want the forests managed, this hands-off approach has been a complete failure and we are now paying the price.  The amount of timber destroyed so far could build every home in Cedar City three times, not to mention the wildlife that has been killed. What a waste!

Another real challenge after the fire is over is the damage to the community watersheds of Parowan, and Panguitch. I cringe to think of the damage to the Sevier, Parowan and Virgin drainages. Another sad fact is that due to environmentalist’s actions in suing on ever timber sale, the Fredonia sawmill owned by Kaibab Forest Products is now out of business. Approximately 250 individuals received pink slips, (saw Mill employees as well as supporting industries) right before Christmas in 1994. Think of the amount of lumber that could have been harvested by them and other closed Mills, that has now been destroyed.

I was given a contact number for a forestry expert in Oregon who consults with the Forest Service. I called him and had a long talk. They are making great headway in managing their forests better. They have been successful in bringing many groups and government agencies to the table and finding common ground to problems. I feel this is an approach worth trying. I recently posted a resolution our county commissioners passed in 2014 in an effort to solve this ticking time bomb. The support didn’t seem to be there at the time. Is it now? Are you in? Are we willing to stand and work for a solution? I am.

PHOTO courtesy of Paul Cozzens

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