Will an experimental plan be snuffed out?

 

As a relentless summer sun bakes the ponderosa pine forests surrounding Flagstaff, Ariz., an experimental logging project meant to restore forest health and reduce the risk of wildfire around the city has hit a snag.

On June 18, an administrative appeal filed with the Forest Service by a coalition of seven environmental groups halted a 10,000-acre logging project for at least six weeks. The agency will now re-evaluate the project and make changes if it finds any merits to the appeal. The proposed project, which has strong support from city officials, would cut small trees and set low-intensity fires in an effort to return forests to more open pre-Anglo settlement conditions (HCN, 3/1/99).

John Talberth, executive director of the Santa Fe-based Forest Guardians, the group leading the coalition of project opponents, calls the Forest Service's analysis of the plan "sloppy." He says no scientific evidence exists to back up the Forest Service's claim that commercial logging is needed to reduce the risk of fire, and he urges the agency to do a full-blown environmental impact statement on the project.

The plan was initiated in 1996, after a series of large-scale wildfires threatened the city. The Grand Canyon Trust and a group of forestry researchers from Northern Arizona University teamed up with the Coconino National Forest and Flagstaff city officials to form the Grand Canyon Forests Partnership. Its goal was to reduce the threat of catastrophic fire by using science-based restoration methods; the partnership planned to thin up to 100,000 acres of forest around Flagstaff over the next 10 years.

Talberth's arguments have some support among environmental groups involved in the project. "The (environmental assessment) did not give adequate evaluation of the cumulative impacts. It's fraught with problems," says Martos Hoffman, executive director of the Flagstaff-based Southwest Forest Alliance, a group that has participated in the partnership planning process.

The day after the appeal was filed, the partnership fired off a six-page press release slamming the Guardians for "boilerplate criticisms." In person, the partnership's supporters are no less critical of the appeal. Brad Ack, a founding member of the partnership and director of programs for the Grand Canyon Trust, criticizes Forest Guardians for not participating in the project's planning.

"We traveled to Santa Fe twice within the last six months to get their input. I think they're trying to push their zero-cut agenda," says Ack. He adds that the project was careful not to be "just another way to cut trees for profit."

Because the proposed project is an experiment in restoration forestry, says Ack, there is no way to do an environmental impact statement. "We don't know what the whole project is going to be. We just don't know what each step is going to be." He adds that, in this case, environmental assessments provide more accountability because an assessment is prepared for each new phase of the project.

If the agency rejects the appeal, the Guardians' coalition may file a lawsuit, and the project could be stalled again. While some say the debate will only improve the project, others aren't sure there's time for delay.

"The longer we wait, the closer we'll get to the fire," says John Gerritsma, the Forest Service's liaison to the partnership. "The one we don't know about."

* Tim Westby, HCN intern

You can contact ...

* John Gerritsma, Coconino National Forest, 520/527-3600;

* Brad Ack, Grand Canyon Forest Partnership, 520/774-7488;

* John Talberth, Forest Guardians, 505/988-9126.

High Country News Classifieds
  • DESCHUTES LAND TRUST EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Deschutes Land Trust, based in Bend, Oregon, seeks a collaborative and strategic Executive Director to lead us in pursuing our mission: to conserve and care...
  • DEVELOPMENT MANAGER
    Job Title: Development Manager Supervisor: Senior Director of Development Effective Date: May 17, 2021 Job Status: Full-time (40 hours/week), exempt Location: Within the Colorado Plateau...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR AT FRIENDS OF CEDAR MESA
    - The Land, History, and People of the Bears Ears Region - The Bears Ears and Cedar Mesa region is one of the most beautiful,...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Job Title: Executive Director Reports To: Board of Directors Compensation: $75,000 to $80,000, plus generous benefits and paid leave. Funding for relocation expenses available. Classification:...
  • WATER DIRECTOR
    Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis. Application review will begin on April 2, 2021 and will continue until the position has been filled....
  • CLIMATE JUSTICE FELLOW
    High Country News, an award-winning magazine covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks applicants for a climate justice fellowship. The fellowship...
  • VIRGINIA SPENCER DAVIS FELLOWSHIP
    High Country News, an award-winning magazine covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, is offering a fellowship for early-career journalists interested in...
  • COLORADO WILD PUBLIC LANDS VIDEO CONTEST
    Please submit your video of 30 seconds or less, taken on public lands, to [email protected] by May 15th for a chance to win in one...
  • WMAN NETWORK COORDINATOR
    WESTERN MINING ACTION NETWORK (WMAN) CONTRACT OPPORTUNITY CLOSING DATE: Feb. 19, 2021 WMAN is seeking a team member to coordinate the various network activities to...
  • FRIENDS OF THE INYO IS HIRING TRAIL AMBASSADORS FOR THE SUMMER OF 2021
    Friends of the Inyo's Trail Ambassadors (TAs) support the Inyo, Sierra, & Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forests and other partners by providing positive public service, outreach, interpretation,...
  • LAND & CABIN ON CO/ UT LINE
    18 ac w/small solar ready cabin. Off grid, no well. Great RV location. Surrounded by state wildlife area and nat'l parks.
  • MANAGER PERMACULTURE LANDSCAPE CONTRACTOR
    Permaculture / Landscape Company Manager / Site Lead Red Ant Works, Inc. - 20+ year landscape construction and horticultural care company seeks manager and site...
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Field seminars for adults in natural and human history of the Colorado Plateau with lodge, river trip and base camp options. Small groups, guest experts.
  • COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER
    San Juan Citizens Alliance is looking for a passionate, dynamic, organized, and technology-savvy communications professional to help grow our membership and presence in the Four...
  • ENERGY AND CLIMATE PROGRAM ASSOCIATE
    San Juan Citizens Alliance seeks an Energy and Climate Program Associate to focus on public outreach, education and organizing to advance campaigns to mitigate climate...
  • REAL ESTATE SPECIALIST
    This position provides professional real estate services and is responsible for managing and completing real estate projects utilizing a project management database that is designed...
  • WILDFIRE MITIGATION SPECIALIST
    The Wildfire Mitigation Specialist is responsible for delivering wildfire risk mitigation information, recommendations and programmatic resources to wildland urban interface homeowners, community members and partners....
  • DEVELOPMENT POSITIONS
    Thorne Nature Experience is hiring for a Development Director and Senior Individual Giving Manager. Individuals will work collaboratively with Thorne's Executive Director to develop and...
  • WESTERN NATIVE SEED
    Native plant seeds for the Western US. Trees, shrubs, grasses, wildflowers and regional mixes. Call or email for free price list. 719-942-3935. [email protected] or visit...
  • THE LAND DESK: A PUBLIC LANDS NEWSLETTER
    Western lands and communities--in context--delivered to your inbox 3x/week. From award-winning journalist and HCN contributor Jonathan P. Thompson. $6/month; $60/year.