Improve Fire Prevention and Suppression Reduce Hazardous FuelsRestore Fire Adapted Ecosystems Promote Community AssistanceSummary

 

WGA Goal - Reduce Hazardous Fuels


Actions to meet goal

  • Reduce acres at risk
  • Ensure communities most at risk receive priority
  • Expand and improve integration of hazardous fuels management program
  • Incorporate public health and environmental quality considerations in fire management activities
  • Develop smoke management plans in conjunction with prescribed fire planning
  • Address fire-prone ecosystem problems
  • Maintain areas improved by fuels treatment
  • Conduct and utilize research to support the reduction of hazardous fuels in WUI communities
  • Factor in local environmental conditions during fuels treatment planning

City of Flagstaff

Fuels Reduction Program

The Flagstaff Fire Department is currently engaged in thinning and prescribed fire activities throughout the city. According to Paul Summerfelt, Flagstaff Fuel Management Officer (FMO), there are not a lot of fire departments that can say they light more fires than they put out, but the Fuels Management Division has a very active prescribed fire program. They conduct 30-50 burns a year. Since 1996 they have thinned 4,840 acres, while prescribed burning 3,026 acres. Their biggest frustration is the weather, which prohibits more prescribed burning. Most of the acres burned by prescribed fire are on private property, approximately 65%, with the remainder on a variety of public lands-- 5% county, 15% city, 10% state and 5% federal.

The City of Flagstaff is unique because it has its own Fuel Management Division within the Fire Department. The Fuel Management Division has been engaged in an active fuel reduction and education program since 1996. In 1996 the city started its first demonstration project behind one of the fire stations in the middle of town. A 20-acre plot was overstocked at about 350 stems an acre. The one acre was initially treated so people could clearly see the difference between 120 stems an acre and 350 stems an acre. This first demonstration project was costly, about $30,000 for the single acre because of all the scrutiny and preparation it received. Hundreds of hours of time were spent on it. It was marked multiple times. People watched every tree come down. According to Summerfelt, it was money well spent, "Everybody got their say, everybody watched, everybody had an input". In 1999 an additional 30 acres around the original one acre site were treated. Then in 2001 additional acres across the street were treated for a total of 200 hundred acres. Today the original demonstration site is indistinguishable because of on-going treatments within the city.

In 1997, the city hired their first Fuel Management Officer, Paul Summerfelt. In 1999 the City Council allocated seasonal crew money. The crew members arrive in early May and work until mid-November and are made up of students, locals and some people from the Hopi reservation. The city also started an intern program in 1999, through Northern Arizona University. Interns need 15-18 contact hours for credit. At the end of the semester the interns write a paper for their course outlining what they accomplished. In 2000 the Fire Department hired an Assistant Fuel Manager, Mark Shiery and in 2001 they hired three squad bosses. Every year a few hundred people from sororities, fraternities, church groups, boy scouts, etc., volunteer their time. They help clean up treated site and remove wood.

With the additional labor and support, the Fuels Management Division has been able to increase its treatment of fuels over time. The Fuels Management Division began with treating 1 acre in 1996 and today treats in excess of 1,500 acres per year. In 1996 the city thinned 230 acres and burned 80 acres. In 1998 they thinned 100 acres and prescribed burned 110 acres. In 1999 they thinned 620 acres and burned 330 acres. In 2000 they thinned 830 acres and burned 440 acres. In 2001 they thinned 1,250 acres and burned 510 acres. In 2002 they thinned 1,126 acres and burned 538 acres. They have supported this work with funding from AZ State Land Department through the National Fire Plan.

In 2001 the city received a grant for $150,000 for 1,000 acres of thinning throughout the city to develop stewardship plans and mark the property for treatment. In 2002 the Fire Department received a grant $123,750 for hazardous fuel reduction on 750 acres within the City. In 2003 they received a grant for $120,000 for hazardous fuel reduction on 600 acres within and adjacent to City.

Stewardship Plans

Fire Department signThe Fuel Management Division works with homeowners to reduce hazardous fuels on their property in a variety of ways. They carry out everything from providing advice to preparing a stewardship plan. A stewardship plan is an assessment of the conditions on the property and recommendations to improve forest health, address insect disease and mitigate fire risk. The city Planning Division and Fire Department have an administrative program that requires a forest stewardship plan to be prepared and implemented for new developments or new building permits. They also complete stewardship plans for existing homes or properties at no charge. The Fuel Management Division will mark the property owner's trees. However, cutting on private property is left to the private sector contractors. Periodically, the Fuel Management Division will hold workshops with local contractors concerning the Division's program standards. The contractors that attend are placed on a list provided to the property owner after the stewardship plan is completed. On average, the homeowner can expect to pay $350-450 per acre for treatment. The stewardship plans are funded through monies procured from Northern Arizona University and the Ecological Restoration Institute, city appropriations and the National Fire Plan.

In 2001, Stewardship Plans were developed on 1,950 acres and 470 acres marked. In 2002, Stewardship Plans were developed on 614 acres and 605 acres marked. In 2003, Stewardship Plans were developed on 1,472 acres and 765 acres marked.

The southwest part of Flagstaff is at the greatest risk from wildfire given prevailing winds and has been the priority for treatment. Beyond this prioritization, the Fuel Management Division has been more "opportunistic" in its approach. They found that targeting and prioritizing was difficult because there were people outside of those prioritized areas who were very interested in reducing hazardous fuels on their property. "So what we've chosen to do is not worry about the people that won't do it, but help those who will". As a result of this approach, they have found that neighbors observe and then request the service. "We have just found that it has been more effective rather than beat ourselves against the wall trying to deal with people that are a little hesitant. We'll jump on those who are willing to do it and then neighbors start filling in the holes". At the end of 2003, the Fuel Management Division had a backlog of 2 years of work, so demand for the program has not been a problem. "The biggest challenge I think we have is trying to meet the need… We no longer have to convince people this is the right thing to do. Now all we have to do is meet what people want done in a timely manner. All of our vendors [contractors] are maxed. They are so busy that if you were to call them right now, it might be 6 months before they can get to your property". There are 12-13 contractors on their current list.

Targeted Home Assessment Campaign

University Heights picture

In 2003, the Fire Department began a home assessment campaign to target 900 homes in the University Heights development. This is the first time the Fire Department targeted an area because of the development's location on the southwest side of the city. In the spring and summer of 2003, Fuel Management Division notified property owners of their plan to visit neighborhoods and evaluate defensible space around homes. If the Fire Department identified issues that need to be corrected, the homeowner was contacted again. As of December 2003, 350 out of the 900 assessment have been completed. About 1/3 of the properties needed work. Summerfelt is fairly confident the work is getting done because people are calling his office to request a stewardship plan for their property and to obtain the contractor list.

Taylor Woods Pictures

 

US Forest Service

Ponderosa Pine signCoconino National Forest has numerous thinning projects completed, currently planned or ongoing within Flagstaff and on national forest lands surrounding the greater Flagstaff area. Many of these projects are stewardship contracts or various projects that exchange goods for services and are designation by description. These areas include Fort Valley, A-1 Mountain, Skunk Canyon, Lake Mary, Pumphouse and Mars Hill. As of January 2003 approximately 1,100 acres were thinned on USFS lands with approximately 900 acres under contract to thin. Additionally, 750 acres have been broadcast burned with many other acres of slash pile burning.

The work on the Greater Flagstaff Forest Partnership (GFFP) consists of 100,000 acres and treatment proceeds with the USFS as a major partner. Due to the Partnership's national exposure, they had been perceived as a threat to environmental organizations seeking the elimination of commercial logging on national forests. Other groups opposed the restoration models developed by Wally Covington at Northern Arizona University.

Ft Valley Project pictureThe first contract was awarded for the Fort Valley Project in September 2001. The Fort Valley Project was appealed three times and litigated by the Forest Conservation Council, National Forest Protection Alliance, Forest Guardians and Flagstaff Activists Network. The suit was settled with an agreement for a new Decision Notice that was finalized in June 2001. After two years of delays, the project is scheduled for completion in December 2006. Fort Valley is estimated to cost $1,212,000. In FY2001 1,596 acres had been thinned and 262 acres had been prescribed burned on the Fort Valley Project.

In addition to the Fort Valley Project, the USFS also is engaged in the Arboretum, Airport, Elden, Kachina, Woody and Mountainair stewardship contracts. The Arboretum Project completed NEPA work in September 2000 and was not appealed or litigated. Arboretum is estimated to cost $87,000. A total of 1,062 acres were thinned and 200 acres were prescribed burned on the Fort Valley and Arboretum in FY2002. In January 2003 Katchina completed its NEPA work and was not appealed or litigated. Katchina is estimated to cost $1,209,000 and a contract was awarded in August 2003. In FY2003 305 acres were thinned and 1,121 acres were prescribed burned on all the stewardship projects.

Work has proceeded slowly due to complexities with contracts, the timing of work, burning windows, coordination with other agencies, and budgeting issues. NEPA work is completed for Fort Valley, Airport, Arboretum, and Kachina. All of Fort Valley Phase I has been contracted out and the contract lengths are generally about three years in length so the USFS would not expect all the thinning to be completed until then. The subsequent activities (slash treatments and prescribed burning) are interdependent. Most of the pile burning has been completed on Phase I. Phase II layout and marking is scheduled to be completed in 2004 with contract award scheduled for in 2005. The NEPA for the Airport project is completed but implementation is not scheduled because the area is now part of a land exchange which needs to be completed prior to project implementation. The need for implementation and type of work originally proposed may need to be revisited depending on the outcome of the land exchange process. The Kachina Village project is proceeding although the operator was shut down during the winter of 2004 due to wet weather conditions, a standard mitigation measure during the winter. Work is expected to resume around May 2004, conditions permitting. The planning process for Mountainaire is beginning. Because the planning team for this project consists of many of the same members as those working on the Woody Ridge Project, it will not get into full swing until Woody Ridge Project is completed. The Decision Notice is expected near the end of the March 2004.

The GFFP has been able to complete approximately 2,000 acres of work so far and the USFS estimates it will take another 10 years to complete the rest of the work. The Coconino NF has approximately $4,000,000 annually for fuels reduction. Ideally the Coconino Forest would like to thin 10,000 acres per year, including the Partnership projects, and this plan will require an additional $3,000,000 annually.

There have been some clashes between Partners over the prescriptions used. According to USFS Stewardship Staff Officer Rodger Zanotto, working out a common vision has been challenging at times. "What it comes down to is you have subcultures who are trained in forestry school and have a definite vision on what that means, and then we have an environmental community who has another vision. So it's trying to find a way to weave those two things together".

Commercial removal on average costs about $300 per acre. This means that under a service contract the USFS pay a contractor$300 to do the 'services' which often mean removing the trees, conducting the required slash and road work as specified in the contract. Non-commercial thinning costs $100-$140 per acre.

Arizona State Land Department

AZ State Land signThe Arizona State Land Department, Fire Management Division is small compared to other western state forestry departments. The entire division has about 30 employees, of which half are actual foresters, with the remainder working as support staff. In the greater Flagstaff area, they manage 28,000 acres of timber trust land primarily southwest of Flagstaff. This land is intermixed with national forest. Fire Management Division works cooperatively with the USFS due to the inter-jurisdictional nature of their lands. They try to match prescriptions and assist each other with archeological and wildlife surveys when appropriate. In general prescriptions vary but they shoot for 60 basal area and they try to protect specific species, like yellow pine.

The Arizona State Land Department Fire Management Division was managing its forested resources as a commercial timber base, until the markets declined. The pulp market disappeared in 1998 when the paper mill in Snowflake, AZ transitioned to recycle material. The sawwood market declined around 2000. The last timber sale was in August 1998. The State Land Trust dictates that in order to spend money on land, the land must generate revenue. Since the land was not generating money through timber sales, no thinning or fuel treatments could be planned. When the State Fire Assistance grants started in 2001, the forestry department started receiving much needed money for treatments.

The priority for hazardous fuel reduction has been lands close to Flagstaff. In 2001 Arizona State Lands received $33,684 from a State Fire Assistance grant for a 2,750 acre fuels treatment program in the Flagstaff WUI. In 2002 they received an $80,000 SFA for fuels reduction around Flagstaff and received $105,000 of a shared SFA grant with Prescott for $242,525 for treatment of WUI acres.

In 2003, Flagstaff AZ Fire Management Division received two grants-one for $500,000 from the Arizona Department of Emergency Services and another State Fire Assistance grant for $250,000. The $500,000 grant is a 100% funded grant (no cost share) and has been used to survey and mark roughly 990 acres of state trust land for treatment. 500 of these acres are prepped as a timber sale-all size classes and 490 acres are prepped as a pre-commercial thinning (6-7"), which will be hand thinned. The small diameter timber for the pre-commercial acres will be piled and burned. The cost to treat these acres is estimated at $700-1000 an acre for the timber sale, and $400-500 an acre for the pre-commercial thinning. These 990 acres are inside or within ¼ mile of Mexican spotted owl (MSO) protection zones. AZ Fire Management Division has partnered with US Fish and Wildlife to treat this land. Under this agreement, AZ Fire Management Division has been able to operate without restrictions and treat more aggressively and during the breeding season. Treatments in the MSO area are generally less aggressive, more clumpy, an increased emphasis in species diversity, uneven age and generally have size or timing restrictions. This is a one of a kind, first in the United States partnership and is being watch closely the Department of Interior and other agencies. The $250,000 SFA grant is funding a new hire to assist with WUI fuels reduction projects and also funding the purchase of chippers and a dump truck to remove slash from private property.

The Flagstaff State Land office could use $1.5 million a year for fuels reduction. They expect to receive $100,000-200,000 next year through another Arizona Department of Emergency Services grant. With this money they will begin thinning between 200-500 acres in FY2005, which is ready and awaiting funding.

In 2001, 550 acres of state trust land were thinned and 400 acres burned. In 2002, 380 acres were thinned and 1040 acres burned. In 2003, 780 acres were thinned and 690 acres burned.


 

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