Q: We live at Rim Trail north of Payson, and the leaves are at their glory right now the prettiest we have seen in years. We have maples, oaks and sycamores to grace our landscape. But now the Forest Service has hired a contractor to clear around the private properties as a fire break. My point is that in areas that have so few maples as this one, shouldn't they be more selective in what they remove?

A: "We have a brush buster out there doing fuel breaks right now, but our objective is to leave the larger, more dominant trees," Gary Roberts, fire prevention officer for the Payson Ranger District said. "I can't say that isn't going on, but I do know we watch that pretty closely. We have hand crews out there as well."

Roberts said people sometimes think a tree should be left standing that is not a healthy tree. "A lot of times people mean well but are placing emotions over facts," he said.

Between them, Arizona and New Mexico have 21 million acres of national forest, roughly half of which is unhealthy and in need of intensive treatment to replicate what lightning did in the past. What residents also need to remember is that last year was the second worst wildfire year in 40 years.

Because congress has finally allocated the money, "we are shifting gears to a more pro-active strategy," Roberts said.

If you have concerns, Roberts advises calling the Payson Ranger Station at 474-7900.

Q: When are they putting up the fencing to encourage elk and other wildlife to go underneath the bridge at Preacher Canyon where the new Highway 260 goes through?

A: All the wildlife fencing is done on the north side of the roadway, according to Carol Oaks of Kaneen Advertising & Public Relations, a Tucson-based firm retained by the Arizona Department of Transportation to keep the public informed. Work on the south side of the road is winding down, and should be completed by the end of the year.

The fences, Oaks said, are designed to guide the wildlife so they don't get lost.

Incidentally, the contract for the second phase of the Highway 260 project a 5.3 mile stretch between mileposts 272 and 277 that will bypass Christopher Creek has been awarded to Keiwit Western Company of Phoenix.

"They came in several million under everybody else," Oaks said.

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