Flagstaff Watershed Protection Project Ramps Up

Jul 14, 2016

A new phase of mechanical tree thinning launched this week on the Coconino National Forest. It’s part of the Flagstaff Watershed Protection Project to help prevent catastrophic wildfire. As Arizona Public Radio’s Ryan Heinsius reports, crews are constructing almost four miles of logging roads. 

Forest managers have temporarily closed the Schultz Creek Trailhead in Flagstaff. The bottom portion of the trail has been widened to accommodate logging trucks as part of the Flagstaff Watershed Protection Project. When the work is complete officials will revegetate the trail and return it to its original state.
Credit Ryan Heinsius

Forest managers plan to treat about a thousand acres of dense ponderosa pine forest in the Dry Lake Hills area. The road will allow logging trucks to haul out large-diameter trees cut by heavy machinery. Smaller ponderosas will be cut by hand.

A bulldozer carves out a road near the Schultz Creek Trail as part of the Flagstaff Watershed Protection Project. It follows another logging road built decades ago. Officials will create nearly four miles of temporary roads for the project.
Credit Ryan Heinsius

“These areas, with the absence of fire for over a 100 years, have become much too thick, and if a fire was to occur in this area you’d have really devastating results,” says Mike Elson, Flagstaff District Ranger for the Coconino. “This allows us to get started and it is a high priority area right next to the community.”

A water truck wets the freshly cut logging road in the Coconino National Forest as part of the Watershed Protection Project.
Credit Ryan Heinsius

Elson says a wildfire could threaten Flagstaff’s water supply and cause widespread flooding in the city. 

Matthew Millar, operations specialist with the Flagstaff Fire Department, walks a newly constructed road in the Coconino National Forest Tuesday.
Credit Ryan Heinsius

The Watershed Protection Project is a voter-approved initiative. It passed after the 2010 Schultz Fire and subsequent flooding in neighborhoods on the eastern base of the San Francisco Peaks. Mechanized thinning is slated to begin in August. Crews will treat more than 15,000 acres over the next decade.