For Immediate Release, June 10, 2011
Contact: Todd Schulke, (575) 574-5962
Taylor McKinnon, (928) 310-6713
Collaborative Forest Restoration Project Has Lessened Damage,
Severity of Arizona’s Massive Wallow Fire
SPRINGERVILLE, Ariz.— U.S. Forest Service officials say forest restoration work implemented under the White Mountains Stewardship Contract — part of a cooperative project among conservationists, local communities and government agencies — has lessened the severity of the Wallow fire and helped firefighters save towns threatened by the flames. Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest Supervisor Chris Knopp told the Associated Press on Thursday that he credited treatments with helping to save Alpine, Nutrioso and Springerville. A district ranger from the same forest told the Los Angeles Times on Thursday that restoration treatments aided firefighters’ ability to save homes in the White Mountains.
“Ever since Arizona’s last mega-fire — the Rodeo-Chediski in 2002 — communities, environmentalists, local industry and forest officials have been pouring their hearts and souls into community protection and landscape-scale restoration of the degraded pine forests in the White Mountains,” said Todd Schulke of the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the groups involved with the project. “That work began next to towns where the fire danger was high, and it looks like those years of cooperation are paying big dividends in the Wallow fire.”
After the Rodeo-Chediski fire, the Forest Service initiated the White Mountains Stewardship Contract to facilitate forest restoration in White Mountains east of that fire’s boundary in a swath of forest that includes the area being affected by Wallow. Its objective is to restore up to 150,000 acres of degraded forest over 10 years by strategically thinning small trees in overgrown ponderosa forests to safely reintroduce beneficial fires.
As of April 2010, 49,719 acres of degraded forest had been approved for treatment. Work had been completed on 35,166 of those acres, and the rest were in progress. Most of the acres are located in the wildland urban interface — lands abutting towns — and are intended to reduce fire hazards to communities including Alpine, Nutrioso, Eager and Greer that are now threatened by the Wallow fire.
The Center for Biological Diversity publicly supported the White Mountain Stewardship Contract creation in 2004. Since then the Center has actively worked with communities, the Forest Service and businesses that thin small-diameter trees to ensure the project’s success. That work included lobbying Congress for adequate funding. Because of broad agreement around the project — which resulted in forest recovery and local jobs — it has been hailed as a model for collaborative forest restoration.
“Without the success and cooperation of the stewardship contract, damage from the Wallow fire would have been much worse,” said Schulke. “Our forests need more of this kind of cooperation if we are to have any hope of restoring them.”
The Center and other organizations have been also working together to expand the success of the White Mountains Stewardship Contract to the rest of the Mogollon Rim. The 2.4-million-acre Four Forests Restoration Initiative (4FRI) seeks to restore the ponderosa pine forest from Flagstaff to New Mexico, focusing on strategic thinning of small trees on 1 million acres over the next 20 years in order to protect communities and safely restore beneficial fires to forested landscapes. 4FRI includes a plan to develop a restoration wood industry designed specifically to thin and utilize small-diameter trees in order to eliminate costs to taxpayers and rapidly expand the amount of forest work being done.