Forest thinning with helicopters will begin this week near Flagstaff as part the Watershed Protection Project. KNAU’s Ryan Heinsius reports, it’s designed to lessen wildfire and flooding danger that could threaten the city’s main water sources.
Contracted crews will work seven days a week hoisting bundles of cut trees from the steep slopes of Mount Elden and the Dry Lake Hills north of the city. It’s the newest phase of the 15,500-acre project primarily on the Coconino National Forest.
"We’ve got some incredibly steep, rough ground where typical ground-based equipment, like traditional logging like we see in our area, is not practical, you can’t use it, it’s too steep, it’s too rocky," says Paul Summerfelt, the city’s fire management officer and FWPP project manager.
Summerfelt says those areas are some of the most susceptible to wildfire, which could cause flooding and debris flows. That could add up to more than a billion dollars in damage. The city, by contrast, will pay about $3.5 million dollars for the steep-slope thinning.
Officials acknowledge the helicopters will create noise along with trail and area closures, but the work will greatly reduce wildfire potential. The helicopter work is expected to last through late spring.
Flagstaff voters approved a $10 million bond for the Watershed Protection Project in 2012 following the 15,000-acre Schultz Fire.