New Proposal Would Enlist 700 More Arizona Inmates For Wildfire Mitigation

Feb 5, 2021

Arizona lawmakers have proposed a new effort to combat catastrophic wildfire in the state. A main component of the plan would enlist more prison inmates to perform mitigation work. KNAU’s Ryan Heinsius reports.

A fire crew from Winslow made up of state inmates working the Bighorn Fire in the Santa Catalina Mountains near Tucson in the summer of 2020.
Credit Nate Jones/DFFM

The Arizona Healthy Forest Initiative would add about 700 low-risk inmates over two years to a dozen prisoner crews already performing fire prevention work in the state. They’d remove vegetation and other fuels, mainly on state lands, but could also treat some neighboring federal, tribal and private areas. According to the Department of Forestry and Fire Management, the inmates are paid and gain job skills for post-release employment.

Gov. Doug Ducey’s office says the nearly $24 million proposal for the next fiscal year would boost thinning work fivefold in fire-prone areas, and increase available grants for hazardous vegetation removal. The plan was put forward in bills recently introduced by Republicans in the state House and Senate.

2020 was Arizona’s second-most-severe wildfire season on record with nearly 980,000 acres burned in the state.

Arizona is one of several states, including Nevada and Wyoming, to use inmate fire crews, and California employs the highest number by far.