Helicopter logging operations begin in the Flagstaff Watershed Protection Project

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Helicopter logging operations are now active in the Mount Elden and Dry Lake Hills FWPP project area. Markit! Forestry Management, the contractor responsible for managing all of the helicopter logging work, has moved crews and equipment into the project area. Ground crews have been engaged in preparation work, and hand-felling operations within the helicopter cutting units have started.

Logging equipment will be active along the Shultz Pass and Mt. Elden Lookout Road area. The primary helicopter landing and service area will be located off the Mt. Elden Lookout Road, behind the locked forest service gate, on Coconino National Forest land. This road is closed for the winter season; please do not enter the area due to the active helicopter operations and for public and operator safety. Noise and visible activity created by the helicopter flight operations will be present in this area starting in mid-January and lasting through late spring.

The helicopter flight operations will be visible in the area as the helicopter lifts and transports bundles of felled trees from the project area to established landing sites. The helicopter operations will occur during daylight hours, seven days a week, and for three to five months depending on operational conditions.

As the helicopter and other FWPP forest thinning work progresses, forest closure areas restricting public access into the Mount Elden and Dry Lake Hills area will be implemented. This will include areas along the Mount Elden Lookout Road, and portions of popular trails like the Rocky Ridge and Oldham trails. These areas closures will change as operations progress, and will be strictly enforced. Please respect all closures, and do not approach logging machinery, helicopters, or heavy equipment at any time. Be Smart, Be Safe! Please visit the FWPP website for project updates, and join our project email list to receive the most current information.

Ryan Conner is the owner of R&R Conner Aviation, the subcontractor implementing the FWPP logging operations.

FWPP Progress Update – December 2018

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FWPP has some exciting news to report this winter! The Phase I portion of FWPP is coming to a close and Dakota Logging has done an excellent job thinning the Elden Base project area. The FWPP Phase II portion of the project is beginning to come online, and work in the Steep Slope areas has already begun. For more details on the completed work in FWPP Phase I, the ongoing work in Phase II, and an outlook for work to come over the next six to twelve months; please read our December 2018 update: FWPP Progress Update December 2018

Additionally, please take a minute to read this recent article on the importance of forest thinning and watershed protection efforts in and around the Flagstaff area: FWPP is an investment. As the threat of large and destructive wildfires continues to increase across the West, so do the threats here in our beloved City. While Flagstaff residents take a moment to enjoy winter and a break from fire season, fire managers and FWPP project staff at the City of Flagstaff and on the Coconino National Forest are already planning forest thinning projects, and preparing for wildland fire response for the upcoming 2019 fire season.

 

FWPP Firewood Giveaway Success

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Last week, the Flagstaff Fire Department held a two-day firewood giveaway for area residents.  The free firewood was seasoned pine cut last year by the Dept’s Wildland Fire Crew on two sites on the City-owned Observatory Mesa Open Space parcel.

Forest thinning on Observatory Mesa is part of the on-going voter-approved Flagstaff Watershed Protection Project, designed to reduce the threat of damaging wildfire and flooding into the community.

This year’s event drew a record crowd.  In all, a total of 627 people, in over 350 vehicles, removed over 300  cords of wood from the two sites.  It’s estimated that over 70% of the wood was headed to the Hopi and Navajo Reservations.

“We’re extremely pleased to provide this free wood” said Paul Summerfelt, the City’s Manager for the Watershed Project.  Since the Project began in 2013, over 3,200 cords of firewood have been distributed in the fall giveaways.

Progress Continues in FWPP Phase 1 Mechanical Thinning!

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Dakota Logging, the contractor for FWPP Phase I mechanical thinning operations, is moving swiftly through the project area. Due to the continued progress, the Coconino National Forest has issued several new trail closures including portion of the Lower Oldham, Rocky Ridge, and Arizona Trails.

Please see the link below for a detailed map of the project area and trail closures. Please follow the closure signs posted in the area. Thank you for the continued support as FWPP, the City of Flagstaff, and the Coconino National Forest work to create a safe, and ecologically resilient forest and watershed!

Detailed map: FWPP Area and Trail Closures 10_12_2018

FWPP progress and updated trail information

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Since the Coconino National Forest lifted fire restrictions in mid July, FWPP has wasted no time getting to work. Dakota Logging, the FWPP logging contractor for  the Phase 1 Elden Base area has been working swiftly to mechanically thin trees and reduce the threat of severe wildfire and post fire flood impacts. Due to the ongoing progress, additional trails in the area have been temporarily closed for the public’s safety. Please see this map for updated trail and project area closures: FWPP Trail Closures 8_15

While Dakota Logging is hard at work, the American Conservation Experience (ACE) has been conducting hand thinning operation in the Dry Lake Hills in the area around Brookbank Meadow. The ACE crew is hand thinning small diameter “ladder fuel” trees in an effort to reduce the risk of severe fire and flooding. The links below contain several pictures that show what each thinning method looks like once complete. Take a look!

Hand thinning: ACE Thinning Progress in FWPP Dry Lake Hills 8_15

Mechanical thinning: FWPP Phase 1 Mechanical Thinning Progress 8_15_18

 

FWPP and ACE continue a successful collaboration in 2018

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In 2017, American Conservation Experience (ACE) partnered with the City of Flagstaff/Flagstaff Watershed Protection Project (FWPP) to thin 110 acres of hazardous fuels in Dry Lake Hills (north of Flagstaff) in order to reduce the significant threat of catastrophic forest fires and post-fire flood impacts for the area.

This successful partnership will continue in 2018 thanks to the support from City of Flagstaff, National Forest Foundation, and AZ Department of Forestry and Fire Management. ACE will be employing, training, and deploying 24 emerging forestry professionals to thin an additional 200 acres in Dry Lake Hills and Brookbank Meadow.

Currently, the first ACE crew (pictured above) is deployed and thinning within the FWPP project area in the Dry Lake Hills. In the coming weeks two additional, eight person crews, will be joining them. The crews will be cutting small diameter trees that act as “ladder fuels” that can carry fire from the forest floor into the upper part of the forest canopy. By removing these small, under-story “ladder fuel” trees, the ACE crews are helping to reduce the risk of high severity crown fire in our beloved forest, in our own backyard!

Recently, the AZ Daily Sun wrote an article about the work ACE and FWPP are doing: Read it here

Also, see the map below showing the areas that ACE is working this summer within the FWPP project area: 2018 ACE Crew Thinning in FWPP Project

See current pictures of ACE Thinning Progress in FWPP Dry Lake Hills

FWPP partners with local and national organizations for a successful collaboration!

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During the summer and fall of 2017, the Flagstaff Watershed Protection Project was able to participate in a new collaborative project to help implement our watershed protection work! In partnership with the National Forest Foundation (NFF), American Conservation Experience (ACE), and the Coconino National Forest, we were able to complete an additional 115 acres of hand thinning across the FWPP project area.

Through this collaborative, ACE was able to hire, train, and deploy 8 young and emerging conservationist to implement the work. The ACE crew used chainsaws to cut, limb, and pile small diameter “ladder fuel” trees from the forest to help reduce the risk of high severity wildfire in the lower Dry Lake Hills area along the Rocky Ridge trail.

Please take a few minutes to learn about how ACE contributed to the Flagstaff Watershed Protection Project and hear their unique stories in this mini documentary that they created for our collaborative project.

 

Putting Fire Back Into the Forest: 2017 Prescribed Fire on Observatory Mesa

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In early November of 2017, a group of wildland firefighters and forest managers came together to support the common goal of making our forest healthier; by reintroducing fire back into the ecosystem. The City of Flagstaff Fire Department, The Nature Conservancy, Summit Fire District, members of the Bear Jaw Fire Crew, and a group from the Northern Arizona University chapter of the Association for Fire Ecology (SAFE), all participated in the 2 day, prescribed fire operations within the Observatory Mesa Natural Area.

(Watch as wildland fire crews put low severity fire back into the forest during the 2017 prescribed fire operation Observatory Mesa RX 2)

Historically, this type of low severity fire was no stranger to the ponderosa pine forest ecosystem of the Southwest. For centuries, this frequent, and low severity fire regime would clean the forest floor of dense small trees and woody debri, recycle important nutrients, and support a biodiverse forest resilient to drought, insect attacks, and disease.

Prescribed fire is only one part of forest management in our area. In many parts of our forests, fire crews and forest managers must first thin our overcrowded forest, before they are able to safely reintroduce fire. For several years, City staff, forest managers, and community partner organizations have been working together to do this as part of the Flagstaff Watershed Protection Project (FWPP). The operations on Observatory Mesa serve as a great example of what is possible, when a diverse group of organizations supported by the community of Flagstaff, come together to keep our forests healthy.

(Watch more low severity, surface fire during the Observatory Mesa prescribed fire operation Observatory Mesa RX 3)

FWPP forest treatments helping reduce the risk of high severity wildfire

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On the afternoon of October 25th, 2017, the Flagstaff Fire Department and resources from the Coconino National Forest responded to reports of a wildfire on city owned land within the Observatory Mesa Natural Area. The exact cause of the fire is unknown, but given the location, a human caused ignition is suspected. The Miller Fire occurred in a forested area on Observatory Mesa that had been aggressively thinned in 2015 as part of the Flagstaff Watershed Protection Project (FWPP). Based on the known pre-treatment disorder, and current weather and fire conditions at the time of ignition, the fire would have been much worse in terms of size, severity, duration, cost, and difficulty to control.

The FWPP treatment in this area has created a forest structure that is resilient to high severity wildfire, and allowed firefighters to respond, engage, and manage the wildfire in a safe and effective manner. Moving forward, and as conditions allow, the Flagstaff Fire Department is planning to conduct prescribed burns within Observatory Mesa this Fall, 2017.

Please see the following link for a map of the work done on Observatory Mesa, and the location of the Miller Fire. Observatory Mesa Miller Fire Location