LAS VEGAS (AP) - Mother Nature rather than the U.S. Bureau of
Land Management most likely will cause most blazes on public lands
this fire season, the head of the agency said Monday.
"I think we're going to fight fires more places where there's a
naturally caused fire," said BLM Director Kathleen Clarke during a
tour of southern Nevada.
Public lands managers are anticipating an unusually dangerous
wildfire season that threatens much of the drought-stricken West.
"We have nearly doubled the number of firefighters and there
are huge increases in some areas. I think we are well-positioned to
take it on," Clarke said.
While the director would not rule out some prescribed burns,
used to reduce the amount of brush that could fuel a wildfire,
Clarke said such controlled burns would be determined on a
case-by-case basis.
"We are better prepared," she said. "We will know when and
where to send people and we'll know where to burn."
U.S. Forest Service officials also have said the dry conditions
likely will force the agency to rely more on fighting fires and
less on prescribed burning than in past years.
Both the Interior and Agriculture departments have increased the
number of firefighters that can be hired by nearly 6,000, obtained
more than 600 new pieces of equipment, including wildland fire
engines, and contracted with four additional large air tankers and
31 helicopters.
Clarke said because a final fire plan is still being negotiated
with the states, she could not provide specifics on whether fewer
prescribed burns would mean increased thinning and salvage logging.
Clarke made her comments during a tour of a popular recreation
area 15 miles west of downtown Las Vegas - Red Rock Canyon
Conservation Area.
Clarke said part of the BLM's challenge in fast-growing areas of
the West is trying to better control the agency's permitting
processes that range from off-road vehicle use to grazing to
alternative power development.
Southern Nevada's unprecedented growth has created an urgent
need to determine proper uses for the area's public lands, she
said.
She called Red Rock a classic example of population growth
encroaching on public lands.
Las Vegas is the nation's fastest-growing metropolitan area, the
latest census figures show.
"I think we've got to be very careful. ... that multiple-use
doesn't become multiple-abuse," she said.
Like her boss, Interior Secretary Gale Norton, Clarke said
cooperation, communication and consultation are essential to
achieve conservation.
"The best way to create balance is to get competing needs
together," Clarke said. "I don't think the BLM needs to be making
all these decisions. I truly believe that public lands don't belong
to the agencies that manage them, but to the people of this land."
Clarke, who has held the top job in the BLM for about 4 months
was appointed by President George W. Bush to be the first woman to
lead the bureau. She was director of the Utah Department of Natural
Resources.

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On the Net:
National Interagency Fire Center: http://www.nifc.gov

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press.