The state is losing nearly 1 million acres of forestland each year, with more than 1.3 million acres burned in the last decade.
Wildfires also scorched the forest landscape in Arizona, but the state’s loss is a fraction of the overall forest loss, according to the Arizona Natural History Survey (ANHS).
The ANHS reported in a 2012 study that only 13% of the state is currently protected from forest fires.
The ANH surveyed nearly 400 million acres across the state in 2012.
A 2015 study by the American Forest Institute found that wildfires burned more than 4 million acres during the 2014-15 fire season.
“There is a huge amount of fire damage to our state and our region, and that’s one of the reasons that we’re seeing so much loss of habitat,” says Julie Flanders, ANHS forest program director.
“We are losing habitat every year.”
In 2013, the state saw nearly half a million acres burn in wildfire, according the ANHS.
In the years since, Arizona has seen nearly 300,000 acres burned and more than 15 million acres lost.
Flanders says the problem is not just the fire season, but also the rate of wildfires that have swept through the state.
“You’ve got fires that are getting bigger, faster and more destructive,” Flanders said.
“And then you have fires that get started, you’ve got more people living on those fires, and the cost of fighting that fire can add up.”
Flanders’ research shows that wildfires are increasing and damaging the landscape in some areas, especially the state of Arizonas southern border.
Foes in northern Arizona have been doing this for a while, and are responsible for a large chunk of the forest loss there.
“They’re taking out the trees, and they’re burning everything that they can, and then they are destroying it,” Flander said.
The Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (ADFWP) estimates that the forest losses are in excess of $30 billion dollars in the state, with $30.4 billion dollars lost from the wildfire season alone.
“I think the problem with fire is we are losing forests because of the climate change, because of habitat loss, because we are having these big fires,” Fivesons said.
In response to the loss of forests in northern states, the U.S. Forest Service has launched an initiative to increase habitat conservation and increase fire suppression in the Arizona National Forest.
Fiveson believes the forest industry will help reduce the forest fires in Arizona by increasing the use of non-combustible fuels in firefighting.
“The industry has been helping us with the non-metallic fuels, but we are not going to get there without the forest, because you can’t burn it,” she said.
And that’s where the industry comes in.
The Forest Products Council of Arizona (FPCA), the nation’s largest non-firewood producer, is lobbying the federal government to grant the Forest Products Management Act (FPMA) the designation of a National Forest that would be able to expand fire suppression and firefighting efforts across the Arizona desert.
Friesons says the FPMA will help save the state money in the long run.
“If we were to have that designation, it would provide for fire suppression of the land and then we can have some sort of revenue stream for the state,” she says.
“Because of the Forest Product Management Act, the Forest Resources Fund is a fund that helps us get our forests up and running, and we need that.”
Frieson says the Forest Resource Management Act has been used to save Arizona from a severe wildfire season in recent years, including in 2016.
She says that the FPPA will help prevent the future from becoming like the past.
“It’s been a very tough year, but I don’t think we’re going to be able as a state to see that happen again,” she added.
But the Forest Service says it is still committed to fighting wildfires.
“To protect and protect and to continue to work on the best practices that will be able, in the future, to continue the great work that we’ve done, which is keeping people safe, working with local communities and helping them rebuild,” said Doug Flanders in a statement.
Fergusons is one of only four staff members at the Forest Operations Center (FOOC) that has worked with the Forest Services to protect and manage forests across Arizona.
Foos is also working with the State Forestry Service to build a fire suppression system.
“What we’re trying to do right now is to do a good job, to make sure that the people are able to stay safe and they can rebuild their communities and they get their livelihoods back,” Foos said.
Fears of future fire-related fatalities The forest industry has made a concerted effort to minimize the number of fatalities in wildfires.
According to a 2016 study by The Wilderness Society, in 2016 the average number of deaths in wildfires was 7.1