WHITERIVER — Reading the signs of drought, White Mountain Apache Tribal Chairwoman Gwendena Lee-Gatewood reached out to the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) Forestry and Wildland Fire Management’s Public Information Officer Candy Lupe for a bit of insight on what’s ahead for the 2021 fire season.
It is no surprise that Lupe’s message coincides with those of recent years, meaning strategy and mitigation will likely begin earlier than usual this year.
Relating two scenarios from her own backyard, which simply signify we are in a drought, Lee-Gatewood said birds have been regularly coming to her bird bath and drinking water excessively this winter. Just last week she also witnessed a lone cow venture into her yard seeking water.
“There is no water with this current lack of moisture,” said Lee-Gatewood.
Lupe referred to the U.S. Drought Monitor Center’s Jan. 12 graph for Arizona which was released on Jan. 14. It shows a lot of red for Arizona which denotes drought. The darker red areas on the graph (D4) which encompass the White Mountain area, denotes exceptional drought which translates to fire restrictions increasing; large fires occurring year-round; poor green-up of vegetation; dying of native plants, and the lakes, ponds, and streams, dry.
Lupe acknowledged the extreme dryness and concurred that this is something BIA has seen over the last several years. There has been some precipitation, but she said we need a lot more.
Jerry Gloshay, chief of staff for Lee-Gatewood, said Sunrise Park Resort is having to make snow at night and he said even Mt. Baldy does not have much snow right now.
Though some snow graced the White Mountain area this week, it quickly dissipated with very little accumulation.
The National Weather Service in Flagstaff predicted late Wednesday that two winter storms are likely to impact the area over the next several days. “The first would be Saturday into early Sunday with moderate snow impacts mainly over the higher terrain. The second and likely more impactful storm would be Monday into Tuesday with much lower snow levels and potentially more snow accumulation.”
As for the BIA’s look ahead to this year’s fire season, Lupe said “Our fire managers are looking at meeting in the next couple of weeks and having a meeting with Tribal managers to talk about strategy and mitigation measures we can work on for fire season. Most all of our fire fighters are on furlough right now but will be coming back on board working on training operations that they need to be doing.”
Lupe said for preparation BIA will work on their weight capacity tests, the weather, the fuel and moisture. The active field specialists and fuel managers will accompany the active training officers and look at different grasses, dead and downs on the forest floor, measure them and look at how dry they are. She…