Tag Archives: nature conservancy

wildfire

How Arizona wildfires impact water supply, economy

Arizona is home to the largest contiguous ponderosa pine forest in North America, with a single stand stretching from near Flagstaff all the way to the White Mountains of the east.

And in the last 10 years, 25 percent of it burned, said Patrick Graham, Arizona state director for the Nature Conservancy.

Fire suppression and subsequent cleanup costs have risen far beyond estimated prevention costs, according to studies by the Nature Conservancy, Sierra Nevada Conservancy, the U.S. Forest Service and the Ecological Restoration Institute (ERI) at Northern Arizona University (NAU), among others.

The tourism industry in Arizona, an estimated 20 percent of the state’s economy, is largely dependent on the health of forested lands and other wildlife preserves, a 2007 report by the Governor’s Health Oversight Council stated.

But “wildfires affect the entire state — not just the north,” said Eric Marcus, executive director at the Northern Arizona Sustainable Economic Development Initiative.

A full-cost economic analysis of the 2010 Schultz fire outside of Flagstaff by the ERI revealed the deeper effect of forest fires. More than 15,000 acres of forest were burned, causing an estimated $147 million in economic damage, the report found. An investment of only $15 million could have prevented this catastrophe, said Marcus.

Fire and water

But most of the damage from these wildfires occurs after the fire has been extinguished.

When major wildfires remove the trees and grasses necessary for holding soil in place, a once standard rainstorm can now cause dangerous floods and massive erosion, filling up the reservoirs and ultimately decreasing the carrying capacity of our water supply, said Bruce Hallin, director of water rights and contracts with the Salt River Project.

“These catastrophic wildfires go in and the fire burns so hot that it burns everything,” said Hallin. “It turns it into this wasteland.”

But nothing can hold back sediment from flowing directly into the water supply if a fire were to ignite downstream from the reservoirs, such as the Sunflower fire in 2012. If ash-laden water were to be delivered to processing plants, treatment costs would increase dramatically, thus increasing the price of the water, said Marcus.

The 2002 Hayman fire in Colorado deposited more than 1 million cubic yards of sediment into Denver’s primary drinking water supply. To this day, cleanup is still underway to restore Strontia Springs Reservoir, with costs exceeding $150 million.

“Ultimately, through forest thinning, we don’t want to get to that point,” said Hallin.
One century ago, Arizona’s northern forests were more akin to open grasslands interspersed with towering ponderosas. Ignited by lightning, the grass beneath the trees would carry a smoldering fire along the ground, burning the young trees while only charring the thick bark of the older, more established ponderosas.

Need for thinning

But Arizona’s northern forests have “all departed from the way they were historically,” said Diane Vosick, director of policy and partnerships at ERI.

When grazing came through in the late 1800s and removed all of the grass, fires could no longer move through the forest naturally. Bare soil — which resulted from result over-grazing — allowed the pines to germinate seeds more easily. However, when fires did ignite, the U.S. Forest Service fire policy at the time required any and all fires to be extinguished. This fire policy went unchanged until 1995, allowing millions of young ponderosas and other vegetation to crowd the once-thin forest.

A study conducted by ERI Director Wally Covington found that historically, Arizona’s ponderosa forests contained roughly 25 trees per acre. But now, one acre of forest can contain more than a thousand trees.

“You’ve basically got a big wood pile out there waiting to burn,” said Vosick.

SRP, the water supplier for more than half of Phoenix and nearly all of Tempe, manages eight reservoirs deep within Arizona’s northern region.

“That’s the goal,” said Vosick. “You want fire to do its natural role and to help manage the forests.”

The Four Forest Restoration Initiative, or 4FRI, is a collaborative effort comprised of residents, industry, and the government to restore the Coconino, Kaibab, Apache-Sitgreaves and Tonto national forests through thinning and prescribed burning.

Vosick said that 4FRI hopes to have thinned at least 1 million acres of forested land within 20 years.

However, almost no thinning has taken place in nearly five years since the initiative began.

Seeking a solution

“Forest lands have been managed for the last 20 years through litigation and attorneys, not projects,” said Hallin. Because of these legal barriers, Northern Arizona’s timber industry has all but vanished. So even the lands that have been approved for thinning cannot receive the treatment prescribed because there is no longer any industry to do the work, he said.

“You can make money with big old trees, but we don’t want those trees taken out of the forest,” said Marcus. Private enterprise doesn’t want to invest because no money can be made from the small diameter trees, he said.

The only way to thin the forests in a timely manner is through convincing industry that their investment will not be inhibited by litigation because the federal government can’t do it by itself, Hallin said. “The fact of the matter is, without a successful forest products industry, that entire forest is going to burn.”

SRP, in conjunction with the National Forest Foundation, has created the Northern Arizona Forest Fund, enabling individuals and businesses to invest in restoring the lands that provide them water.

“We don’t need to do more research to know what our problem is; we need to generate public interest in fixing things,” said Marcus.

“You can pay me now, or you can pay me later. But if you pay me now, you pay me a fraction of what you’re going to pay me later and have nowhere near the devastating effects that you’re going to have down the road.”

Hiking Adventures - EAZ Fall-Winter 2012

Wells Fargo issues Environmental grants

The Nature Conservancy’s Arizona Forest Restoration Project and the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Phoenix District Youth Initiative today received a Wells Fargo Environmental Solutions for Communities grant for $25,000 and $24,097, respectively. Both organizations were selected from among 54 environmental nonprofits to receive grant dollars totaling $3 million from the 2014 Wells Fargo Environmental Solutions for Communities grant program, which supports projects focused on land and water conservation, energy efficiency, infrastructure, and educational outreach in communities across America.

The Nature Conservancy’s Restoring Arizona’s Forests Program uses science-based solutions to restore Arizona’s Ponderosa Pine forest and conserve the lands and water on which all life depends. Forests are critical to Arizona’s rural economies, rivers and wildlife habitat, and our water supplies. The grant will help accelerate forest thinning – which is a natural solution to protect forests from long-term drought conditions and the risk of mega-fires.

“We are thrilled to partner with Wells Fargo on this project to help solve one of the toughest problems affecting Arizonans and nature,” stated Rob Marshall, Director of the Center for Science & Public Policy, The Nature Conservancy. “Accelerating forest thinning is urgently needed to improve forest conditions and protect our communities and water supplies.”

The Bureau of Land Management Phoenix District Youth Initiative Program’s grant will help build about 1,000 feet of new hiking trails around Phoenix; rebuild 1,300 feet of existing trails; improve deer habitat by removing 3,350 feet of fence; enhance the BLM Sonoran Desert National Monument by clearing debris; conduct official bird surveys; and collect data along the Agua Fria River and Burro Creek.

“We are thrilled to provide youth with an experience that will last a lifetime. We hope that the skills learned and experiences they have will inspire them to make public lands and natural resources a part of their lives both in work and play” said BLM Phoenix District Manager Mary D’Aversa. “We are honored that the BLM Arizona is a grant recipient. We are leveraging grant funds to educate and employ urban youth through our Arizona Youth Initiative,” added BLM Arizona State Director Raymond Suazo.

The Wells Fargo Environmental Solutions for Communities grant program began in 2012 as part of Wells Fargo’s commitment to provide $100 million to environmentally-focused nonprofits and universities by 2020. It is funded by the Wells Fargo Foundation with a
$15 million, five-year commitment to promote environmental stewardship across the country.

The program funds proposals in select cities/regions (see full list) that help address the most pressing environmental issues identified by each participating community. Some examples of past grant projects include: helping Camp Pollack in Sacramento, Calif., prepare for teaching local students; working with the Sea Turtle Conservancy along the Florida coast to keep endangered animals safe; and restoring the landmark Levi Carter Pavilion with the city of Omaha, Neb.

Administered by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the 2013 Wells Fargo Environmental Solutions for Communities grants collectively helped reduce more than
3 million pounds of CO2[1], which is the equivalent to averting consumption of 8,535 barrels of oil1[2]. The program also planted 132,709 trees and restored more than 1,600 acres of habitat. These projects have trained 150 people in “green” jobs, while engaging more than 689,000 community members in the supported environmental grant programs.

“We believe that helping our communities become more resilient and better stewards of the environment will improve the long-term quality of life of our customers and team members,” said Mary Wenzel, head of Wells Fargo Environmental Affairs. “We’re proud to support both the Nature Conservancy and the Bureau of Land Management with both grant dollars and support from our local employees, who volunteer their time and efforts through our 70 Green Teams.”

“Through our collaboration with Wells Fargo and their commitment to community-based efforts, this investment will support a total of 54 projects, and conservation efforts will take place in cities and towns across America,” said Jeff Trandahl, Executive Director and CEO of NFWF. “The experience will be an opportunity for participants in these communities to personally contribute to a more sustainable future, which would not be possible without
Wells Fargo’s long-term commitment to the Environmental Solutions for Communities program.”

The full list of 2014 winners can be found at http://blogs.wellsfargo.com/environment/.
Details of the program and a link to the 2015 application (available in September 2014) can be found at the NFWF application website: http://www.nfwf.org/environmentalsolutions.

Projects benefiting underserved communities and encouraging volunteerism are given priority consideration.

Arizona Forward, State Park Issues

Arizona Forward Enhances Awareness of Arizona’s Park Issues

Arizona Forward Enhances Awareness of Arizona’s Park Issues

Arizonans value their parks and open space, consistently ranking them as key quality of life indicators. A recent survey conducted of residents statewide shows that 87 percent visit a park or recreation area at least once a year, with 23 percent doing so on a weekly basis. In addition, parks and open spaces create thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in revenue.

Multiple land ownerships and funding mechanisms have produced parks and open space issues that are complex, confusing and sometimes controversial. In fact, the telephone survey conducted by WestGroup Research further revealed that most residents (80 percent) rate their knowledge of how state and local parks are funded as very low or in the middle range. Meanwhile, a depressed economy and recession has impacted parks negatively at every jurisdictional level from federal and state to county and municipal governments.

Recognizing the need for public education on the subject of parks and open space issues, Arizona Forward, a new statewide environmental/business coalition launched by Valley Forward earlier this year, developed a comprehensive report to provide unbiased facts, background information and answers to frequently asked questions about state and federal lands as well as county and municipal parks.

Designed to enhance awareness of and interest in solving Arizona’s parks issues, the primer is among Arizona Forward’s first projects towards its mission to promote cooperative efforts to improve the livability, sustainability and economic vitality of cities and towns across Arizona. Readers can sort out how much open space is available in the state, who is responsible for it and the challenges facing various jurisdictions of government. The user-friendly reference guide is described as ‘parks and open space 101’ and can be downloaded at arizonaforward.org.

While the primer doesn’t take a formal position on how to solve funding issues relating to parks, it communicates the economic impact of recreational and open space amenities and why Arizonans should care about these natural resources.

Charter members of Arizona Forward include: Arizona Community Foundation, First Solar, Freeport McMoran Copper and Gold, National Bank of Arizona, Solon Corporation, Sundt Construction, The Nature Conservancy, Total Transit and Wells Fargo.

For more information about Arizona Forward, visit arizonaforward.org.