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Science and Innovations

Plan Finalized for Thinning Forest Near Payson, Over One Group’s Objections

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Polly Haessig/USFS Coconino National Forest
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The U.S. Forest Service has finalized a plan to thin trees on 64 thousand acres above the Mogollon Rim to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire. One environmental group has criticized the plan for not protecting large old growth pines. KNAU’s Melissa Sevigny reports.

The plan calls for mechanical thinning and prescribed burns in the watersheds that feed the C.C. Cragin Reservoir. Forest Service Ranger Linda Wadleigh says the drinking water in the reservoir would be at risk if a high severity fire moved through the area.

"Our focus is just on fuels reduction," she explains. "There was an urgent need to do this because of the watershed and the fact that it’s municipal water for the town of Payson." 

Wadleigh says in some rare circumstances pine trees larger than 18 inches can be cut down, if they’re near infrastructure or near an oak tree. That’s because oaks are favored wildlife habitat.

But the Center for Biological Diversity objects to that part of the plan. Spokesperson Joe Trudeau says it deviates from agreements hammered out under the Four Forest Restoration Initiative (4FRI). He says, "It frightens me to think the Forest Service is moving away from those agreements, because a lot of people have put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into coming to agreements on how we save large trees on the landscape."

The Cragin Watershed Protection Project is not part of 4FRI although it occurs in the same geographical area. The project's first timber contract will be offered this fall.

Melissa joined KNAU's team in 2015 to report on science, health, and the environment. Her work has appeared nationally on NPR and been featured on Science Friday. She grew up in Tucson, Arizona, where she fell in love with the ecology and geology of the Sonoran desert.
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