Helicopter flights over Flagstaff are common, particularly with the local hospital being northern Arizona's only top-tier trauma center, but the cargo of some of the helicopters buzzing over Flagstaff these days consists of logs, not people.
The logs are the product of forest thinning intended to help reduce the severity of wildfires, and helicopters are being used partly for the work because the terrain is a barrier to ground transport of felled trees.
The helicopter logging project being conducted behind Mount Elden since mid-January is the first of its kind in the northern Arizona region, reported The Arizona Daily Sun.
Some local residents, particularly those with health conditions, told the Sun they don't mind the flights' noise because the work means forest managers can do fewer prescribed burns to thin the forest.
Marissa Moezzi, who said she has lung cancer, said she doesn't mind the helicopter noise and can hardly hear it from inside her home. And it's better than prescribed burns, she said.
"I'm not foolish, I don't think we can do nothing. I don't want Flagstaff to burn down," Moezzi said.
The helicopters fly off with the felled trees after loggers attach the logs to cables
"Every tree that is felled has to have a choker put around it and be picked up and yanked off the mountain," said Patrick Gayner, a vice president for Markit! Forestry Management, a contractor that is running operation.
Markit! Forestry Management's parcels were part of two contracts that were purchased by the city for a total of $5.4 million, with $3.6 million coming from a city bond issue and $1.8 million provided by the U.S. Forest Service.
Gayner said 12 loggers will work on the project in the next three to five months.
The collected timber will be available for various buyers for mass purchases.
The timber is stacked into decks after it is dropped off by the helicopter and will be offered for sale to potential buyers, according to Debra Mollet, deputy district ranger of the Flagstaff Ranger District of the Coconino National Forest.
Timber is considered merchantable when it is over 4 inches in diameter at breast height and over 10 feet tall.
"It could be used for fuel wood, a chip plan if they wanted to do that, saw timber," Mollet said. "It depends on who buys the deck or who gets the deck."