The Sierra Club would like to express our sympathies for the families who have lost their homes in the Aspen Fire burning here in Arizona. We would also like to thank the firefighters who are putting their lives on the line to help protect those homes still in harm's way. The Aspen Fire is serving as a wake-up call for communities across the parched Western landscape.

The fires that burned in Arizona are further evidence that we should be focusing fuel reduction efforts near communities, where homes and lives can be threatened. The Bush administration is instead pushing a plan through Congress that would focus limited funds on logging miles from communities. The administration and the Forest Service should be doing everything possible to help communities help themselves.

The forest health debate is about priorities. We support thinning overgrown forests next to communities, such as Summerhaven, to reduce wildfire risk, but the Bush administration is more interested in promoting logging in the backwoods, including an old growth timber sale near the Grand Canyon. We need to protect our forest communities first.

Communities across the West are experiencing the same multi-year drought that helps fuel wildfires. As Westerners, we know that the risk of wildfires always exists, and also know that there are steps we can take to help protect homes and lives in our communities. Homeowners have spent the prolonged spring removing brush and debris from their properties, and taking other precautions to create defensible space.

We are armed with this knowledge, and we should be doing everything in our power to help reduce the risk to our communities.

Rob Smith is the Sierra Club's Southwest regional director.

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