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The Arizona Republic - Wildfire Policy Must Shift from Reactive to Proactive


Location: Unknown

By Rep Paul Gosar

In recent years, Arizona has suffered some of the largest wildfires in its recorded history.

Ponderosa-pine country went up in flames, as the more than 800-square-mile Wallow Fire set the Arizona landscape and forests ablaze. Last year, the Gladiator Fire had residents fleeing for their lives.

Unfortunately, we are reactive instead of proactive in handling these destructive fires. This mismanagement has led to tragic consequences for our nation's economy, natural resources and wildlife.

We have seen larger, fiercer wildfires throughout the West. Every year, it's the same story -- Arizonans play victim to avoidable wildfire conditions. It is time for this to end.

So what is the solution? A proactive approach to preventing wildfires is the way we break this cycle.

I have been leading the charge to establish policies that would protect the environment, improve public safety and put people back to work in our forests.

This includes legislation I recently reintroduced in Congress, the Catastrophic Wildfire Prevention Act. My bill eliminates red-tape, streamlines wildfire-prevention projects, improves local coordination and brings more accountability to the process.

Our forests are suffocating, making them susceptible to the fires we continue to see. Where we once had 10 to 25 trees per acre, we now have hundreds. This means roughly 80 million acres of forest across the West are overgrown and susceptible for catastrophic wildfire. Yet, rather than work to address this increasing problem and prevent fires, the current federal system is reactionary and continues to prioritize fighting fires instead.

My legislation will expedite the review and approval process for thinning and grazing projects, so that wildfire-prevention projects can move forward quickly when the public is at risk. It also gets the government out of the way and empowers the private sector to create rural jobs, resurrecting the timber industry as loggers thin millions of acres of badly overgrown Arizona forests.

As we anticipate another dangerous fire season, with minor fires in northern Arizona and Colorado already taking place, Congress must act swiftly to reduce the chances of future catastrophic wildfires.

My legislation serves as an invaluable tool to restore the environment, protect communities, save taxpayer dollars and put people back to work. We can, and we must, embrace this common-sense approach.

Paul Gosar, a Republican, represents District 4 in the U.S. House of Representatives.

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