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Protecting South Flagstaff From Wildfire

James Perkins has lived in Williams for 46 years. He and fellow residents are well aware that a large wildfire could destroy the city. And structures spared by fire could be washed away in the flooding aftermath.

Perkins thinks about these things and the many residents of Northern Arizona as his company, Perkins Timber Harvesting, thins forests in the region. One of the numerous projects on which he has been working this year is Rogers Lake Natural Area, a county owned property about six miles southwest of Flagstaff. The undertaking is a partnership between Coconino County, the Centennial Forest, NAU’s Ecological Restoration Institute, Arizona Game and Fish and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. About 200 of 520 acres have been treated so far.

“As in any forest around here, it’s always a fire hazard,” said Perkins. “The forest is going to eventually burn and that’s on the south side of Flagstaff, so everything we eventually do thins the forest out and makes the trees healthier.”

The land is near the Arboretum and can be accessed from Woody Mountain Road. In addition to being rich with spring flows, the area is a major wildlife corridor for elk, deer, antelope and even cougar and bear. Long-term plans include managing Rogers Lake as a park.

Fortunately for Coconino County, where elected officials want the best care for the Rogers Lake Natural Area, some of the world’s cutting-edge forest management science is coming out of Northern Arizona University. That research was applied to the parcel after the county used voter-approved funds to purchase the land as a conservation easement.

Forester Sean Considine began working on this part of the forest when he was a NAU student. “We ultimately came up with the prescription we decided on and the neat part about that is we were able to start implementing the prescription within a few months of developing it,” said Considine.

Walking through a treated parcel, there is a combination of shade from old ponderosas and sunshine. There are fewer signs of mistletoe and bark beetle infestations. Before the area was settled and used for cattle grazing, there were about 20 trees per acre; today, one acre could be home to as many as 800. During the restoration, three trees are being kept for each pre settlement tree on the forest; the rest are being removed.

Forestry major Danielle Klaas has been working at Rogers Lake and studying the state of the forest. “I would say the general health of these trees, a lot of them are under a lot of stress because of the density. So they’re all competing for sunlight, water and nutrients,” said Klaas, who has worked closely on the project with fellow forestry student Casey Branning.

“The hands-on experience is allowing me to have skills to help me move on to another job in the future,” said Branning of the Rogers Lake restoration. “It also gives me great insight into how the forest industry works with collaboration between the county, the school (NAU), and the public.” Branning and Klaas agree that because the county owns the land, the thinning approval process was expedited, thus providing a rare opportunity for students to watch the process from planning to execution.

Cheryl Miller has been active in the restoration process since before the county owned the land. As a manager at NAU’s Centennial Forest, Miller calls the county’s management “visionary.” Her enthusiasm for the Rogers Lake Natural Area project begins with reducing risk of catastrophic wildlife by creating a healthier forest. Miller also is eager to improve the Woody Ridge Wildlife Corridor. She says large wildlife prefer less densely forested areas. And the restored parcel will better accommodate endangered species. “The county is already reintroducing the leopard frog. We also have a Mexican Spotted Owl protected activity center nearby that we have worked diligently to try not to disturb,” Miller added.

In addition to seeing Rogers Lake managed as a park for use by many, Miller looks forward to educational opportunities. Students, researchers and the public will be able to examine several types of demonstration plots, evaluating the effects of thinning and restoration efforts.

Coconino County Parks and Recreation Manager Jeanne Trupiano says the Arizona State Parks department is recommending full funding for a Rogers Lake grant. Just before speaking with Flagstaff Business News, Trupiano received word that the nearly $100,000 grant has moved forward, with final approval possible in early December. The money will go toward construction of trailheads, fencing, kiosks and six miles of trails within the natural area.

“It’s a perfect example of being able to do an ecological treatment of the forest so people can see the significant changes,” said Trupiano. “People will be able to enjoy the trail system and know that it is part of a network that is going to protect our community from these severe fires, as well as provide for enhancement of the ecosystem and wildlife habitat.” Trupiano thinks people will be able to appreciate the restoration efforts for at least 100 years.

That idea works for James Perkins, who has spent nearly five decades in the Northern Arizona forests. As he labors alongside his two sons and oldest grandson who are employed by the family business, Perkins shares his appreciation of the beautiful aspen, oak and giant fragrant ponderosa pines. “We’re trying to get the forest back to health, so we take pride in that,” he said.

As Perkins Timber and Harvesting crews thin the Rogers Lake Natural Area, other crews in the northern part of the state will be proceeding with other projects, as Arizonans try to preserve the natural resources that add to the richness of the Grand Canyon state. FBN





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