Heber-Overgaard Fire District Cost-Share
In 2003, the Heber-Overgaard
(H-O) Fire District received $250,000 from Arizona
State Lands for cost-sharing to thin private lands. The program
is a 50-50
cost share that requires three bids from contractors and will
reimburse 50% of the lowest bid up to $2000. The cost-share program
has been very popular and demand has outstripped the supply of funding.
In 2003, H-O Fire District funded 165 properties, ranging from ¾
acre to 5 acres at an average cost of $1500. The 2003 cost- share
money ran out in March 2004, three months early. In June 2004, they
received notification that H-O Fire District was approved to receive
another $250,000 for FY2004. The program is run on a first come
first serve basis and they are not prioritizing any geographic areas.
The program is publicized through local papers, but word of mouth
is the way program has really spread. A big challenge is that for
10 months of the year 50-60% of the homes are unoccupied because
they are owned by people who live in the Phoenix area.
has a brush pit on USFS lands run by the H-O Sanitation Department.
The brush pit takes slash from private property. It is open Thursday
- Saturday during the summer. In the winter it is open only on Saturdays.
Disposal is cost free. People in the community have complained about
the limited hours. Chief Ingraham is investigating grants that will
pay for staffing to help extend the hours.
Section 31 homeowners Roy and Betty Weber bought
their property in Heber-Overgaard in 1999. They are retired and
live there in the summers. When they bought the property, there
were more than 400 trees on their 1 ¼ acre lot. Many of their
trees were dying or dead. For forest health and aesthetic reasons
they thinned their property to about 130 trees. The trees range
from 3" in diameter to the largest one that is 20" in
diameter. The Weber's lost 71 trees in the front of their property
due to drought. Aesthetics and forest health were more of a driving
concern than wildfire in treating their property. In the beginning
they burned their slash in the winter. As of three years ago, they
have taken all of their slash to the brush pit, which is free of
United States Forest Service
H-O area is a small (highly valued WUI) portion of the Black Mesa
Ranger District. The Black Mesa Ranger District encompasses approx
680,000 acres on the Apache
Sitgreaves National Forest. Priority areas, from a fuels management
standpoint, on the District include H-O, Forest Lakes, Clay Springs,
Aripine, other private land and improvements, and the very highly
used Rim Lakes Recreation Area. WUI and other improvements receive
the highest priority from a fuels management standpoint. In the
Heber-Overgaard area over the past 5 to 7 years, there has been
a lot of planning and very little implementation.
Four major efforts are underway in the Black Mesa
Ranger District to address the threat in the vicinity surrounding
Heber-Overgaard. These include Brookbank Ecosystem Management Assessment,
Heber/Overgaard Ecosystem Management Assessment, Hilltop and the
Rodeo-Chedeski long term rehabilitation and fuels program.
Brookbank Ecosystem Management
The Brookbank EMA is approximately 10,000
acres, the majority of which was completed under various timber
sales in previous years. This project area is not adjacent to H-O,
but is within 3 to 7 miles of southwest of town. Approximately 1,350
acres remain to be treated and these are slated to be awarded under
the White Mountain Stewardship (WMS) contract. The prescription
is generally for large tree retention/old growth; prescribed fire
has been implemented in this area (approx 3,500 acres have been
burned here since 1998)..
In Brookbank 400 to 500 acres were prescribed
burned in Brookbank from 1998 thru 2001. Approximately 1,350 acres
are to be awarded in 2004, 2005, or 2006 depending on funding levels.
This has been converted to WMS Project.
Heber-Overgaard Ecosystem Management Assessment (EMA).
Heber-Overgaard Ecosystem Management
The H-O EMA has experienced some challenges. The
NEPA process for this project began in 1999. Over three years lapsed
from the beginning of the NEPA process, to the date the Rodeo-Chedeski
Fire, which burned through the community of H-O. The NEPA process
was in its final stages. The proposed project was in a 19,500 acre
area south of H-O. One of the project's primary objectives was to
reduce the wildfire hazard. The area was comprised pinyon-juniper
woodlands, pinyon-juniper/ponderosa pine transition, pine-oak, and
mixed conifer habitat types. In the latter three types the average
number of trees per acre (according to stand exam data) was in excess
of 600 trees per acre in the analysis area.
The majority of the H-O EMA project area was effectively
treated from a fuels management standpoint, (although, not the treatment
the USFS was proposing or hoping for) by Mother Nature before any
implementation could begin. In other words, it burned up in the
Rodeo-Chediski fire in 2002. Now the USFS sees a great opportunity
to maintain public land the Rodeo-Chediski fire treated for them.
Approximately, 4,600 acres of the H-O EMA was not burned in the
Rodeo-Chediski Fire and a decision memo was signed in June of 2003.
Spacing adjacent to private property is 20 to 35 feet in the woodland
types, and a target basal area is anywhere from 40 to 60 in the
coniferous areas. Only trees less than 9 inches diameter can be
cut. The majority of the remaining acres are scheduled to be in
the first offering for the WMS. Prescriptions in the H-O EMA vary
due to proximity to homes, habitat type, stand attributes, beetle
activity, mistletoe presence, wildlife restrictions, Forest Management
Plan requirements, etc. Generally, near homes (within 1/2 mile),
the prescription is for a 30 x 30 spacing, pruning to 5 feet and
chipping and/or mastication of all activity slash. Other areas in
the project have spacing anywhere from 10 x 10 to 30 x 30. Stands
not adjacent to homes many times have slash piled instead of chipped.
Piles are to be burned and prescribed fire is to be implemented
on approx 500 acres of the EMA.
In FY 2004 257 acres of mastication (shredding
of surface fuels) were accomplished, 235 acres of thinning and piling
were completed, another 219 acres will be completed in prior to
October 2004. The WMS Project took approximately 2,600 acres that
will be completed by 2006. Approximately 600 acres worth of funding
was requested to finish non WMS Project acres in the HO EMA in FY
The Hilltop project currently is in the NEPA process
and is projected to be awarded in FY 2006 or 2007 as part of White
Mountain Stewardship Project. It should qualify for Healthy Forests
(HFI/HFRA) status. It is a 3,900 acre area to the west of H-O and
one of the sections in town surrounded on three sides by private
property. The Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP) has been
of enormous assistance in the planning process as it meets all of
the HFI/HFRA requirements. A Decision Memo is expected to be signed
once all endangered species surveys are completed in 2005, and implementation
would then begin in 2006 (dependant upon funding and grants). The
proposed project is comprised of approximately 1,000 acres of mechanical
treatments (i.e. thinning, piling or mastication). Prescribed fire
will be used on all 3,900 acres.
Rodeo-Chediski long term
rehabilitation and fuels program
The Rodeo-Chediski long term rehabilitation
and fuels program has not yet begun but there will be a push
from the fuels and fire staff, both Mark Empey (the District
Fire Management Officer) and Paul Klasner (Assistant Fire
Management Officer), to get a portion of the Rodeo-Chediski
area treated. Both Empey and Klasner recently moved to this
district from adjoining land management agencies in early
2004. The Rodeo-Chediski fire significantly reduced fuel loads
adjacent to and in a large portion of the H-O area. There
are some excellent opportunities for long term fuels treatments
to maintain these low fuel loadings. Primarily by prescribed
burning and mastication treatments, the area could, and hopefully
wil,l be maintained at levels that will mitigate wildfire
Rodeo-Chediski rehabilitation and fuels
program has treated approximately 200 acres by falling/piling/
and burning dead trees adjacent to H/O this FY (2004). 1,000
acres will be awarded in the White Mountain Stewardship (WMS)
Project in 2005 or 06.
Costs for non-WMS Project range from $300-500+
dollars per acre for mechanical treatments. For WMS Project,
the Forest is using the figure of $250 per acre for treatment.
Costs for prescribed burning range from $25 to $200+. These
costs are entirely dependant upon project constraints identified
in the NEPA process. These have included in the past, lining
snags, lining logs, lining yellow pine, NEPA processes using
stand boundaries instead of roads for control lines (this
means having to put in line in illogical places from an implementation
standpoint), proximity to WUI (increase in cost the closer
you are), trying to prescribe burn non mechanically treated
areas (it is generally more risky to prescribe burn in areas
that have not been mechanically treated) and the number of
acres in the project area (large acres generally lowers cost).
USFS employee Mark Empey said that the biggest
risk to the H-O area is from the USFS land. But the USFS is
hindered in getting acres treated by litigation that puts
injunctions on planned projects. He feels that appellants,
who are not geographically local to the area, do not understand
the process the USFS must go through before they can treat.
The NEPA process is not very timely and delays fast action.
The appellants are resented by many local H-O residents, who
feel the appeals and legal action delay much needed work.
Klasner says funding is the biggest constraint to get treatments
done and maintenance of the burn areas. He also said that
smoke management is a challenge. The internal targets for
the Ranger District in FY 2005 are 5,000 acres of prescribed
burning and beyond FY2005 10,000 acres per year. In 2004,
the USFS was on target to burn nearly 2,500 acres. In 2003
they burned 1,376 acres and in 2002 2,586 acres.
Dave Maurer, USFS forester, handles the
timber contracts. In the mid 1990s everything was halted due
to injunctions initiated by Mexican spotted owl endangerment.
Previously, logging primarily consisted of taking out 10-30%
of the large diameter trees per acre, then taking out the
multi-product: 5-18" diameter trees which would go to
the pulp mill, then they would do pre commercial thinning
which would take out the small diameter timber. This process
changed in the late-Reagan
era when cost savings measures were being pushed. Forest management
included overstory removals, taking everything from 12"
and up off of the forests. Today there is a small amount of
timber work contracted out, but not much, even though the
USFS has returned to uneven age management. This has drastically
affected the economy of the area. Many sawmills have closed
down and has caused much resentment in the community toward
environmentalists that have caused the timber work to stop.
Locals feel that because the forest has not been managed,
their communities are at greater risk to catastrophic wildfires
and are suffering greatly economically as well.
Mogollon Estates Homeowners Association
Mogollon Estates community is comprised of 70 lots that are
approximately one acre in size. 25 lots have homes on them.
Each tract cost approximately $50,000 and lots that have built
homes are worth an average $280,000. A quarter of the lots
are investment properties with absentee owners, and there
are 7-8 full-time homeowners in the community.
The Mogollon Estates Homeowners Association
has been very active in requiring thinning on property in
the neighborhood. "There's a requirement that once you've
bought a lot, you have to come in and thin it and clean it
within a year's time," says Ken Floberg, Secretary of
the Mogollon Estates Homeowner's Association. They are conducting
education and outreach through their annual meeting notices
and their quarterly newsletters. The thinning is not defensible
space (per se) - not to USFS specifications - but does provide
protection to the property. If the landowners do not thin
the property within one year they are mailed a certified letter
from the homeowners association outlining the requirement
to thin the property within 30 days. If the property owner
does not take action, the homeowners association gets a bid
to thin the parcel and notifies the landowner of their intention
to do the work and bill the landowner. If the homeowner does
not pay, the homeowners association will put a lien on the
property. The program has been mostly successful. "The
majority of the people are in favor of it. There are those
that balk at it because they only bought their lot as an investment,
so they don't really care. So we have those people that we
fight.". There is currently one lot with a lien on it
The homeowners association also has the
right to inspect lots and ask for fire hazards to be eliminated.
Dead trees have become an increasing concern with the advent
of the bark beetle and the drought. Last year they formed
a dead tree committee. "I drive around and monitor the
lots and send letters out," says Floberg. Last year he
sent out about 40 letters and they had 80% compliance.
Ken Floberg, a Mogollon Estate homeowner,
stated that people are very dissatisfied with the USFS because
the agency is pushing for the community to create defensible
space, but will not develop fuels reduction projects on the
USFS lands abutting private property. Likewise, he is concerned
that USFS contracts for thinning are for taking 10-12"
or greater diameter trees, while leaving the smaller trees.
Floberg feels the smaller trees are what need to be thinned.
The neighboring homeowners association,
Mogollon Air Park, and Mogollon Estates do not communicate
with Mogollon Estates. Residents in Mogollon Estates would
like more cooperation and collaboration. There are many dead
standing trees on the Air Park properties and while the Air
Park residents have been good about completing initial thinning
on the property, they do not require continued upkeep, which
has the potential to be a fire danger with the drought and
bark beetle epidemic.