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Sat, Feb. 22

Wildfire research is part of Forest Festival Tuesday

FLAGSTAFF – Flagstaff's Forest Festival and Southwest Fire Initiative Conference speakers will focus on varying aspects of forest health and the threat of catastrophic fire every day through Wednesday.

Gov. Janet Napolitano will welcome the public and conference participants at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday in the du Bois Center Ballroom at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. She plans to talk about the importance of using solid science and good research to solve the forest health problem.

The Southwest Fire Initiative Conference, part of the Forest Festival and hosted by the Ecological Restoration Institute at NAU, is designed for forest researchers to share their findings from projects that have been funded through ERI grants.

The Forest Festival is five days of free activities in celebration of Earth Day, Arbor Day and our forests. Major sponsors are the City of Flagstaff and NAU through the ERI, the Centennial Forest and the School of Forestry. A complete listing of festival events is available on the Web at

Research scientist Mark Finney, of the Forest Service's Fire Science Center in Missoula, Mont., will follow the governor's talk Tuesday. At 9 a.m., he will present his computer program work that helps identify at-risk forested areas.

At 12:45 p.m., Dennis Lynch, Colorado State University professor of forest economics, will share his research findings on the costs of wildfire suppression compared to the costs of restoration treatments.

Fire consultant Jim Paxon, of Rodeo-Chediski Fire fame, will be talking at 7 p.m. about how communities can live with fire-adapted ecosystems.

"One thing we really needed was a means to evaluate how successful fuel treatments will be," Finney said. "Some say forest restoration treatments are needed only in the urban interface, some say a band or strip around forest communities is needed, others say a wider area of treatment is necessary in the wildlands.

"But this debate has been taking place on the emotional level, usually without any data to help with the decision. What I'll be talking about is a quantitative method that will help land managers make and justify their decisions."

Lynch calls restoration an investment that ensures the forest still exists after wildfire. He puts a price tag of $9.9 million on the costs associated with the Bobcat Gulch Fire near Durango last June. In a Durango Herald article he is quoted, "You [might as well] take this money out in the parking lot and burn it for all the long-term benefit that comes from fires. [After the fire,] you do not have a forest here."

Paxon, who has served as Forest Service spokesperson on some of the worst wildfires in history, said Flagstaff is one of the communities that is leading the way in reducing the fire risk and restoring forest health.

"I think we'll look back in 20 years at the Rodeo-Chediski Fire and the Biscuit and the Hayman and Missionary Ridge and we'll say, 'Those were pretty big fires, but ...' I think we'll see faster, more destructive fires in the future because of the continuation of fuel buildup on the ground and nature's continuing actions to get us back in balance," he said.

For more information, call 800-842-7293 or 928-774-9541.

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