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

Heber-Overgaard Fire District Cost-Share Program

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.

Slash Disposal

Slash Disposal signH-O 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.

 

H-O Homeowners

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 cost.

United States Forest Service

Black Mesa RD signThe 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 Assessment (EMA)

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 Assessment

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 2005.

Hilltop

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.

 

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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 concerns.

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 Manage Forest signlate-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 signThe 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 for $3,500.

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.

Section 31 WUI pictures

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