Regional Master Plan Completed

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A master plan for the Regional Payson Area Project (RPAP) has just been completed and will be presented to the Payson Town Council in an upcoming work-study session.

Established in 2001, RPAP is a grant-funded program to create a healthier forest that is safer from catastrophic wildland fires and from bark beetle infestation, according to Payson Fire Chief John Ross.

“Part of our master plan is to create a healthier environment by thinning the existing forest and taking out the bug-killed trees,” Ross said. “Once that’s done, what remains is the forest we had 100 years ago. The trees and brush that exist after we thin and treat these areas will have more nutrients, more sunlight and more water to be healthier so they’ll be better able to defend themselves against this bark beetle infestation.”

The drought has given new urgency to the project.

“This is a 10-year program, but because of the drought, and the potential for catastrophic wildland fires and the bark beetle infestation, people would like to see us implement this now.”

Among the information contained in the 35-page master plan is community-by-community hazard risk assessment.

The hazard level on land adjacent to each Rim country community is rated as low, moderate, high or extreme. Not surprisingly, 27 of the 39 communities included received extreme hazard ratings, while none received a low rating.

“We’re talking about communities at risk Pine-Strawberry, Whispering Pines, the Rim Trail area, Christopher Creek, Tonto Village, Mesa del Caballo, Star Valley, Payson,” Ross said.“The goal is to create fire-wise communities on private land, and then the forest service is working diligently to address the public lands around them.”

RPAP is comprised of a coalition of interested communities, agencies and businesses, and is funded primarily by grants.

Project partners include local fire departments, homeowners associations, governments, the Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce, Arizona State Lands Department, Arizona Game and Fish Department, and the United States Forest Service.

The master plan also traces the history of Rim country forests, including vegetation patterns and disturbances, and discusses desired future conditions.

“The goal for the project area is to create conditions that protect or enhance the safety, prosperity and quality of life values of the community ...,” the master plan says. “It will be important to move beyond simply creating safe islands in a landscape which remains at risk, and to work toward placing communities in a natural setting of naturally resilient, fire-resistant ecosystems that provide for the protection of all or almost all community values.”

Besides the master plan, which has been in the works for a year, an early RPAP project has been the assessment and treatment of two large private tracts within the Payson town limits. The Buckmaster property is a 37-acre parcel at 202 N. Manzanita behind the Rim Country Mall, and the Lane property, is a 26-acre parcel just west of the Wal-Mart Supercenter.

The Payson and Mesa del Caballo fire departments and the U.S. Forest Service have been working together to remove dead and infested ponderosa pines and to thin the scrub oak and chaparral around the perimeters of the two properties. A survey revealed that 62 percent of the ponderosa pines on the properties were infested with bark beetles.

Residents in the areas of the two properties can expect some smoke as slash is burned on site.

As part of the Buckmaster and Lane properties project, an “older technology,” rear-loading garbage truck has been utilized to haul brush away.

“They’ve been using them in the Prescott area and they brought one over as a demonstration,” Ross said.

As a result, RPAP hopes to purchase one of the older-model trucks for about $20,000.

Homeowners can help the project by cleaning up brush on their own properties, and by attending the fire-wise workshops currently being offered around the Rim country. Volunteers are also needed to clear brush, monitor brush disposal pits, haul materials and perform a number of other tasks.

“The more we work at taking the fuels out of our communities and reducing the fuels around our communities, the greater our chance of surviving a catastrophic wildland fire,” Ross said. “We have the opportunity to knock the fire down or redirect it when it hits treated areas.”

For more information or to volunteer, contact your local fire department or call the RPAP office at (928) 468-8694.

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