Wildfires have been an annual problem in the West, and hotter and drier weather lately has contributed. Other factors are a lack of logging and clearing the forests, with government regulations contributing to that, along with the fact that more people live closer to forests now and natural minor wildfires are not allowed to run their course. The devastation, disruption and cost are huge.
Some efforts have been made to remove undergrowth in Arizona forests, but paying for that and finding associated industry to be a part of the process has been a challenge.
Meanwhile, new legislation touted by Gov. Doug Ducey is expanding a program in which state prison inmates are trained to clear wood fuel from forests in Arizona. The work of the Legislature and Ducey in this regard is beneficial on multiple fronts.
The inmates chosen for the program will be considered dependable and low risk. When trained, they will be sent out to clear debris from the forests. In the process, they will learn teamwork along with job skills that can be used after they are released. One of the big benefits to them will be a sense of accomplishing something that will help their fellow Arizonans. That should combat the tendency of inmates to reoffend and return to prison. That problem is tied to bad habits and diminished capacity to find a job.
The Arizona Healthy Forest Alliance is a joint program between Corrections and the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management. Under the expansion approved in the legislation, 700 inmates will work in the program over two years.
Some inmates also have become firefighters, qualifying them for work after their release. Wildland firefighting is not for everyone nor every inmate, but it is a needed job — increasingly so, unfortunately.
Preventing wildfires and training inmates for their future lives are both highly desirable. Mixing those things together is a big win for the state and its residents.
— Donovan Kramer Jr.