Moran takes SEK conservation tour

By Ray Nolting
Parsons Sun – November 21, 2018

State and private conservation officials visited the Parsons Arboretum Tuesday morning as part of U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran’s five-stop conservation tour in Southeast Kansas.

Moran’s tour first stopped at Li’l Toledo Lodge in rural Chanute, then the arboretum before moving on to rural Chetopa, McCune and Mulberry. Moran takes these tours regularly and this was his 13th tour since being elected to the U.S. Senate.

Moran introduced state forester Larry Biles, who spoke about the Kansas Forest Service and its programs that benefit communities. Also speaking were Tim McDonnell, community forestry coordinator for the KFS; Mark Neely, KFS fire management officer; and others. Besides the forest service, other agencies or organizations attending the event included the Farm Service Agency, the Nature Conservancy, the Natural Resources Conservation Service and Ducks Unlimited.

Biles said the state’s community forestry program started in 1972 in response to Dutch elm disease. Communities took responsibility for tree health in public spaces and the KFS wrote management plans that looked at removing trees and planting trees in safe locations (away from power lines and underground utilities). The plans introduced variety to tree species in communities, he said.

In western Kansas, 87 percent of the trees growing in public areas were of one species.

“Not real good,” Biles said.

“In our view the public trees are really an impetus for community development,” Biles said.

The KFS also works with fire departments in the state by directing military surplus vehicles to departments for fire suppression and arranging training for fire departments.

The agency operated the military surplus program from 1963 to 2014, when KFS was told it would no longer qualify to receive surplus vehicles. Moran arranged a Senate hearing on the issue and the program was restored. In all, the KFS provided 600 pieces of motorized equipment across the state from the program, most to volunteer departments.

Biles said these volunteers are the first responders “and many times they are the only responders. In my view that’s a classic example of community spirit,” he said.

McDonnell touched on KFS’ efforts in communities, including Parsons. The forest service recently increased species diversity at the arboretum, which now has more than 300 tree species, and he evaluated trees in Forest Park, and in other public parks, some time ago. The evaluation caused a little stir in the community when he recommended taking out 30 trees in Forest Park that posed or could pose a danger to the public.

Neely spoke more about the fire equipment and training provided by the agency. Three counties brought trucks received from the KFS to the arboretum: Liberty Township in Montgomery County, Hackberry Township in Labette and Lola Township in Cherokee County. Fire equipment grants generally go to fire departments operating in places with populations of less than 10,000 citizens. In 2018, the KFS gave $400,000 to 121 departments for equipment purchases, he said. The agency also had 51 training sessions for 700 firefighters.

He said fire departments in Kansas have 575 KFS trucks in operation to date and those trucks were valued at $400 million.

Leighton Davis, assistant chief of the Hackberry Township Fire Department at Bartlett, spoke about the brush tinder truck his department received from the KFS. The vehicle holds 1,500 gallons of water and can be operated by one person, a necessity because the number of volunteers at fire departments is dwindling.

“I do not know of a single fire department that is not short personnel,” Davis said. “It’s getting really bad.”

Hackberry also has a prescribed burn trailer that can be loaned to farmers or ranchers. These burns are conducted to reduce fuel for grass fires.

Jay Justice, deputy chief of the Lola Township Fire Department at Hallowell, said he started the fire department in 2013 and scrapped for equipment until he learned about the Kansas Forest Service’s program. Without the KFS program, his department would have shelled out $40,000 to get a brush truck instead of the $8,000 spent on the one from KFS.

“The programs are an absolute necessity for the survival of the Kansas fire service. I mean there is nothing that takes their place,” Davis said.

Neely said the state saw 7,400 fires last year and those numbers have increased each of the last two years. Biles said the No. 1 ignition source is from people burning debris. The second biggest cause is prescribed fires getting out of control and then fires that cross the Kansas border from neighboring states.


Posted by Gwen Dorr Romine, KSFFA Webmaster
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