Weekend Fire Underscores Need To Treat State's Forests

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Just when it seemed like the forest fire season was over, yet another blaze erupted Saturday.

"Up by Roberts Mesa we had a two-acre fire caused by a hunter's warming fire," Payson Ranger District Fire Prevention Officer Gary Roberts said. "It was a little bigger than we like, but we had pretty gusty winds that day. Fortunately we caught it quickly."

Roberts Mesa is northeast of Payson, about one mile south of Myrtle Point and three miles north of Tonto Village.

The latest fire comes at a time when the Payson Ranger District is initiating an environmental analysis process for the Payson Wildland Urban Interface Project. The project is part of an ongoing program to manage forest fuels and reduce the threat of a catastrophic fire in the district. It includes looking at opportunities to manage forest fuels on 68,000 acres in the area immediately adjacent to Payson and neighboring communities. The types of treatments that will be considered are:

  • Thinning trees and removal of dead trees adjacent to parcels of private land;
  • Fuel break construction in strategic locations;
  • Prescribed burning and use of herbivores to manage the brush component;
  • Pinyon-juniper savanna restoration.

"It's a new project that we're starting to look at for doing hazard reduction around the communities of Payson and Star Valley," Payson District Head Ranger Ed Armenta said. "It's one of five large projects we're looking at to reduce the threat of wildfires."

Besides fuel breaks, burning, and mechanical treatments, goats and other animals might be used.

"What we do is we look at all the fuels for this project area and look at which treatment would best fit the objective of reducing the threat of wildfires," Armenta said. "Some areas may not be needing a whole lot of treatment such as grasslands, but others may be highly overstocked brush fields that need to be thinned out or burned."

Armenta also pointed out that this project does not involve the "typical fuel break like we've got going on in Pine and Strawberry, where we go up against the private property-forest service boundary and go out 200 or 300 yards and treat the fuels right up to the property. We're looking at more of how the topography lays and what makes sense. For instance, some of the topography may be so steep you can't get mechanical equipment in there."

The environmental analysis process, required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), is in its initial phases and proposed actions have not yet been developed. Anyone interested in participating in the process and receiving project announcements as they are released should contact the Payson Ranger Station and ask to be placed on the mailing list for the Payson WUI project. The address and phone numbers are:

Payson Ranger District

1009 E. Highway 260

Payson, AZ 85541

PH: (928) 474-7900

FAX: (928) 474-7999

As the project develops, meetings will be scheduled to allow the public to be directly involved in assessing needs and opportunities, and building the proposed action. Information on these meetings will be provided to the people on the project mailing list and a notice will be placed in the Payson Roundup newspaper.

People with questions or concerns that they would like to have considered in the Payson WUI project should contact Armenta or Project Coordinator Ed Paul at the above address or phone number.

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