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Arizona inmates helping to prevent wildfires through Healthy Forest Initiative

Last week, more than 100 low-offender Arizona prisoners completed their two-week training to become part of the state’s first Healthy Forest Initiative crew.
Published: Apr. 4, 2022 at 9:39 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - More than 500,000 acres of land in Arizona were burned last year, and more than 900,000 acres the year before that. As those in our state prepare for another wildfire season, the Healthy Forest Initiative is a new way to protect our forests and communities.

The initiative is rooted in Arizona inmates working with the Department of Forest and Fire Management to remove hazardous vegetation. It’s a preventative approach that the state hopes will have short and long-term benefits.

Last week, more than 100 low-offender Arizona prisoners completed their two-week training to become part of the state’s first Healthy Forest Initiative crew. “They’re very excited to take part in this program,” Arizona Department of Corrections spokeswoman Judy Keane said. “They volunteer for this. It’s their first day on the job, and they’re happy to give back to the communities in this way.”

This initiative was put together by Gov. Ducey last year, with the state budgeting $36 million to train these inmates to help remove hazardous vegetation that could eventually lead to fires. At the same time, the plan is for the initiative to provide these inmates with employable skills that could be used when they’re released.

“I’m confident that these men and women can help prevent more wildfires from occurring,” Ducey said. “And I’m glad that they’re getting a second chance at a new life after they’ve paid their debt and served their sentence.”

Arizona Wildlife Federation Executive Director Scott Garlid says the activities these inmates are doing come at a much-needed time. “Cutting trees, getting some of the undergrowth out of there, we’ve been falling way short on that,” he said. “So I applaud the efforts.”

That being said, Garlid doesn’t see this initiative doing much in the way of preventing wildfires this year. “Our scale of the problem is so massive that we really need to figure out how to crack the nut of what are we going to do with all this slash and all of this small-diameter timber,” Garlid added. “Right now, there’s no market for it, and that’s kind of the Achilles heel of the whole thing.”

But Keane thinks this initiative is a good starting point for what she hopes will be a long-term commitment. “We hope to continue to recruit inmates,” she said. “We hope that the inmates that are taking part in the program will tell others.”