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Peter Aleshire / Peter Aleshire/Roundup  

A record number of trees have died in the West in the past two years, including these trees on the watershed of the C.C. Cragin Reservoir, according to recent surveys by the U.S. Forest Service.


Forest_closures_fire_updates
Dying in droves

Rising temperatures and drought have led to a vast plague of tree deaths throughout the Southwest, California and the Pacific Northwest, according to a U.S. Forest Service aerial survey.

In Arizona, millions of trees have died on 1.7 million acres, including ponderosa pine and pinyon juniper habitats.

New Mexico suffered a similar number of tree deaths, the largest mass die-off since 2000.

In California, the survey found an additional 27 million dead trees. That brings the total to 129 million dead trees on 9 million acres since 2016, the largest mass die-off of trees in California ever recorded.

Foresters blame the combination of a 20-year drought and warmer winters. The drought robs the trees of the moisture they need to produce sap to repel pests like the bark beetle. Mild winters allow so many beetle larva to survive that the forest suffers an outbreak of the destructive pests in the spring.

The drought and dried out vegetation contributed to the worst California wildfire season in history, with more than 85 deaths and more than 15,000 homes burned.

“The number of dead and dying trees has continued to rise, along with the risks to communities and firefighters if a wildfire breaks out in these areas,” said Randy Moore, regional forester of the Pacific Southwest region. “The Forest Service will continue to focus on mitigating hazard trees and thinning overly dense forests so they are healthier and better able to survive stressors like this in the future.”

The cost of fighting wildfires now consumes 56 percent of the Forest Service budget, which came to more than $2.5 billion last year.

An increasing number of dead ponderosa pines have shown up in the forests around Payson and throughout northern Arizona, their pine needles turned brown. Forestry experts say trees face a host of threats when they’re stressed, including bacteria, the decline of root-colonizing fungi that help the tree absorb water, beetles, moths and a collapse of the system that pumps water and nutrients from the roots to the leaves.

An earlier study by researchers from the University of Arizona found that 40 to 80 percent of the pinyon pines in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah died between 2002 and 2003, due to the effect of rising temperatures. The trees have made little or no recovery in the years since that massive die-off, which also stemmed in part from bark beetle plague.

“We’ve clearly demonstrated how big and fast the die-off can be,” said research team leader David Breshears, with the University of Arizona. “It was the drought. Beetles don’t get trees unless the trees are really water-stressed.”

The researchers estimated tree death from satellite images, but also studied the effects of the drought on trees in carefully measured experimental plots.

“Initially the trees managed,” said Breshears, “but then I would see them go from vibrant green to pale, gasping green to pale brown to dropping all their needles.”

The region has suffered multi-year droughts repeatedly in the past, without such widespread tree death. The temperature seems to make the big difference in the most recent drought, especially the relatively warm winters.

Payson sits on the border between the pinyon-juniper forests and the world’s largest ponderosa pine forest, so widespread tree deaths could have a huge impact on the region.

The Forest Service survey found a bark beetle outbreak wiped out trees on about 300,000 acres in Arizona this year, similar to the last major outbreak in 2013, but still less than the earlier outbreaks in 2003.

In New Mexico, roughly 200,000 acres of forest have suffered a severe bark beetle outbreak. The outbreak this year has killed about four times as many trees as last year, according to estimates.

The dense, overgrown condition of the forest has added to the impact of the drought and the warmer winters. Tree densities across northern Arizona have increased from about 50 per acre before the arrival of Europeans to about 800 per acre. Forest experts blame the dramatic increase in tree densities on a century of grazing that removed the grass that once carried frequent, low-intensity fires combined with an all-out effort by the Forest Service to put out every fire quickly.

The Forest Service hopes that a combination of prescribed burns, small-tree logging and biomass burning will make it possible to dramatically reduce tree densities across millions of acres before wildfires, bark beetles and rising temperatures permanently change the face of the forest.

However, the Four Forest Restoration Initiative has lagged years behind schedule for lack of a contractor who could operate on the necessary scale. Every acre cleared produces about 50 tons of material, equally divided between small logs and biomass from branches, saplings and brush.

Contact paleshire@payson.com


Local
featured
Goose dies after shot with arrow at Green Valley Park

In a senseless act of violence, someone last week shot and killed a Canada goose at Green Valley Park.

Colin Perry found the goose waddling around near the condominiums by lake two with an arrow through a wing and captured it Sunday, Dec. 23.

Perry contacted Delphia Strickland, a local licensed wildlife rehabilitator with Arizona Wild Rescue.

When Strickland arrived, someone had already removed the arrow from the goose. She said she quickly realized the bird had been fatally wounded and would soon die.

She did what she could to make it comfortable, taking it to her home and giving it food, water and a warm bed, but it died later that night.

The veterinarian that she works with was out of town at the time so the bird could not be euthanized sooner.

She said under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act it is a federal crime, among other things, to hunt, capture or kill a migratory bird like a goose.

Strickland and veterinarian Peggy Sorensen X-rayed the bird for evidence and will give it to wildlife managers.

“This is just cruel and a very serious issue,” she said. “This bird suffered for hours.”

DJ Craig, who lives near the park and has taken countless pictures of the birds on the lakes, said he hopes someone knows who did this and will come forward.

“Offenders usually like to talk about their senseless acts of cruelty,” he said.

Contact Strickland at 623-203-6473 if you have any information.

This is not the first time Craig has documented an injured goose at Green Valley Park. In 2012, someone shot a goose in the backside. It later died.


Local
Bus service beginsSenior CenterSenior Center
Bus service beginsSenior Center
Beeline Bus service up and running

roundup staff reporter

by Alexis Bechman

A month after its launch, the Beeline Bus program is chugging along. As of Dec. 19, drivers had given 170 rides since the bus service in Payson and Star Valley launched Dec. 3. “That is really good,” said Suzanne Kammerman, director of operations. “I am just happy that anybody is riding. We didn’t know what type of response we would see. This is new territory, so I am very pleased.” Besides one flat tire, the buses have suffered no problems. Drivers are still working on timing and some buses have been arriving a few minutes late. Several riders have regaled drivers with their transportation tales. One woman, who lives in the Lamplighter RV Park in Star Valley, said she was ecstatic to have the Beeline Bus because now she can take a course at Gila Community College, one of the regular stops along the blue and red routes. Another driver picked up a group of teenagers near the high school and took them to the Sawmill Theatres. “They said, ‘This is so cool! We are going to tell everybody about this,’” Kammerman said. So far, ridership picks up in the afternoons. Drivers are tracking when and where passengers get on and off and collecting comments. In three months, the Senior Center, which is running the program, will re-evaluate if any stops should be moved or others added. Kammerman said they are open to suggestions and if riders would like to have a stop added, they should tell a driver or contact the Senior Center at 928-474-4876. “We are very open to accommodating if the bus is not going somewhere,” she said. “If enough people let us know we might be able to add a stop.” This Roundup reporter tried to ride the bus twice, but both attempts were thwarted when the buses failed to stop. So here are some tips if you are going to ride the bus. First, you need to stand close to the bus stop sign. At the Roundup stop, I was standing in the parking lot and the driver went by on the Beeline Highway without stopping. Kammerman said if a person is not standing at the sign, drivers will not stop at the “flag” stops. In my case, I will try to wave something next time so the driver knows I am waiting. On my second attempt, I went to the library where the bus is scheduled to stop roughly every hour on the blue route. I sat on a bench near the stop and again I heard the bus, but the driver turned around at the dog park, never coming to the entrance of the library. Kammerman said the driver probably turned around when they didn’t see anyone standing at the sign. She said they should have stopped in front of the library, since it is a timed stop. She said she would contact the drivers and make sure they are stopping there and at the other timed stops, which include (at various times of the day) Walmart, Safeway, the hospital, Gila Community College and Big Lots. The Senior Center is running the pilot program with help from the Arizona Department of Transportation, Payson, Star Valley and Gila County.

  • The service is available for either cash or tokens. Cash fares (exact change required) are: $1 regular fair; 60 and older, 50 cents; ages 5 to 17, 50 cents; children under 5 (w/paying adult), free; deviation service (one way), $2; children under 10 must be with a paying adult on the bus.

Get tokens from the Towns of Payson and Star Valley and at the Payson Senior Center. All of the vehicles are wheelchair and handicapped accessible. Personal care attendants may ride with a client for free. Service animals are welcome on the bus. Other animals are allowed only if they are small and in a carrier and under control of their owner. The bus runs Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. until 6 p.m. Buses do not run on New Year’s Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day. To learn more, go online to beelinebus.info or call 928-474-4876. In the future, organizers hope the Beeline Bus will expand services to include a route between Payson and Globe. Eventually, other routes could even run to the White Mountains, Cottonwood and Flagstaff. Contact abechman@payson.com Contact the reporter at abechman@payson.com

A month after its launch, the Beeline Bus program is chugging along.

As of Dec. 19, drivers had given 170 rides since the bus service in Payson and Star Valley launched Dec. 3.

“That is really good,” said Suzanne Kammerman, director of operations. “I am just happy that anybody is riding. We didn’t know what type of response we would see. This is new territory, so I am very pleased.”

Besides one flat tire, the buses have suffered no problems. Drivers are still working on timing and some buses have been arriving a few minutes late.

Several riders have regaled drivers with their transportation tales.

One woman, who lives in the Lamplighter RV Park in Star Valley, said she was ecstatic to have the Beeline Bus because now she can take a course at Gila Community College, one of the regular stops along the blue and red routes.

Another driver picked up a group of teenagers near the high school and took them to the Sawmill Theatres.

“They said, ‘This is so cool! We are going to tell everybody about this,’” Kammerman said.

So far, ridership picks up in the afternoons. Drivers are tracking when and where passengers get on and off and collecting comments.

In three months, the Senior Center, which is running the program, will re-evaluate if any stops should be moved or others added.

Kammerman said they are open to suggestions and if riders would like to have a stop added, they should tell a driver or contact the Senior Center at 928-474-4876.

“We are very open to accommodating if the bus is not going somewhere,” she said. “If enough people let us know we might be able to add a stop.”

This Roundup reporter tried to ride the bus twice, but both attempts were thwarted when the buses failed to stop.

So here are some tips if you are going to ride the bus.

First, you need to stand close to the bus stop sign. At the Roundup stop, I was standing in the parking lot and the driver went by on the Beeline Highway without stopping. Kammerman said if a person is not standing at the sign, drivers will not stop at the “flag” stops. In my case, I will try to wave something next time so the driver knows I am waiting.

On my second attempt, I went to the library where the bus is scheduled to stop roughly every hour on the blue route. I sat on a bench near the stop and again I heard the bus, but the driver turned around at the dog park, never coming to the entrance of the library.

Kammerman said the driver probably turned around when they didn’t see anyone standing at the sign. She said they should have stopped in front of the library, since it is a timed stop. She said she would contact the drivers and make sure they are stopping there and at the other timed stops, which include (at various times of the day) Walmart, Safeway, the hospital, Gila Community College and Big Lots.

The Senior Center is running the pilot program with help from the Arizona Department of Transportation, Payson, Star Valley and Gila County.

  • The service is available for either cash or tokens. Cash fares (exact change required) are: $1 regular fair; 60 and older, 50 cents; ages 5 to 17, 50 cents; children under 5 (w/paying adult), free; deviation service (one way), $2; children under 10 must be with a paying adult on the bus.

Get tokens from the Towns of Payson and Star Valley and at the Payson Senior Center.

All of the vehicles are wheelchair and handicapped accessible. Personal care attendants may ride with a client for free. Service animals are welcome on the bus. Other animals are allowed only if they are small and in a carrier and under control of their owner.

The bus runs Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. until 6 p.m. Buses do not run on New Year’s Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day.

To learn more, go online to beelinebus.info or call 928-474-4876.

In the future, organizers hope the Beeline Bus will expand services to include a route between Payson and Globe. Eventually, other routes could even run to the White Mountains, Cottonwood and Flagstaff.

Contact abechman@payson.com

Contact the reporter at abechman@payson.com

Contact the reporter at abechman@payson.com


Local
One more payment to launch CC Cragin project – maybe

The Payson Town Council continues to hack through the paperwork thicket to finish the C.C. Cragin water project.

In a unanimous vote, the council approved spending $176,000 to pay lawyers and consultants to satisfy the Arizona Department of Water Resources that recharging wells in the Payson water system won’t cause overflow and flooding. The town has already spent $3 million to install the equipment necessary to force water back into wells, a key part of the $54 million project.

“This pays the lawyers and the hydrological consultants to wind their way through this odd state law,” said Buzz Walker, former head of the Town of Payson Water Department and now a consultant on the project.

Walker said the Underground Storage Facility Process law ensures an entity “does the right thing to prevent damage from groundwater recharge of surplus water.”

ADWR will give Payson one of the last few straggling permits left to obtain before the water processing plant goes on line, hopefully in April. The town will also need final permits from the Forest Service and Arizona Department of Environmental Quality.

Walker said recharging eight of the 42 wells in the Payson water system requires extensive plans and expensive equipment.

“We’re going to process 4 million gallons of water a day,” said Walker. “Customers use an average of 1.5 million gallons per day.”

The town won’t have to pump groundwater during the nine months the pipeline operates and can put extra water back underground. Then water will fill up the many storage tanks in and around Payson. Once those tanks are full, monitors will shut down water to those tanks. That’s when recharging the wells comes into play.

“The tanks send a signal to recharge wells, to open up your down hole injection valves,” said Walker.

Walker has worked on bringing water from the C.C. Cragin Reservoir since 1973.

He admits it’s been a bureaucratic nightmare and an exercise in infinite patience working with government from the federal level on down.

“I’ve been involved for years and years,” he said.

Walker served as the head of the Town of Payson Water Department for decades, after humble beginnings digging trenches.

He said the C.C. Cragin pipeline does something for Payson no other water source in the state provides, moving water from one watershed to another.

The Mogollon Rim separates the Winslow watershed from Payson’s watershed.

The C.C. Cragin pipeline pumps water up over the Rim and down to Payson where the town’s water treatment plant off of Houston Mesa Road will process it for consumption.

Walker said none of the C.C. Cragin project would have come about if the town had not made partnerships with the Salt River Project, worked with representatives on the federal level and state entities such as the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality and ADWR.

The new council had questions before they voted for this chunk of money — their first vote with financial consequences.

Barbara Underwood asked if the town had foreseen this cost.

Town Manager LaRon Garrett said it was complicated.

“We have added that into the management plan,” he said.

Walker said no matter how much the town planned ADWR would have still required research before approving the permit.

“We always knew we had to get this permit,” he said. “Then the state water staff started worrying about everything that could go wrong ... they keep moving the bar.”

He said the investigation by lawyers and consultants is to make sure ADWR trusts everything will work for the well recharging process.

With the new council approving the cost of getting the ADWR permit, the town moves one step closer to a guaranteed source of water.

Last year due to the drought, the C.C. Cragin Reservoir only held 22 percent of what it could. As of now, the reservoir holds 40 percent of its capacity.

Now, if only the snow would arrive.


Business
ACC Commissioners question APS

APS opened a huge present of profits for Christmas in the form of a rate increase, but that could change if the Arizona Corporation Commission decides to reopen the recent rate hike case.

Commissioners Bob Burns and Boyd Dunn have questioned whether APS has earned more than constitutionally allowed profits after the company launched its new rate plan.

They have filed a request for a rate review.

Commissioner-elect Sandra Kennedy filed a letter in support of Commissioner Burns’ and Dunn’s requests the day after Christmas — even though she still does not yet officially sit on the commission.

The ACC commissioners in 2017 voted 4 to 1 (Burns voted against) to approve a rate plan that should have provided $95 million to the utility company’s bottom line. The new rates included a potentially confusing selection of plans intended to encourage energy conservation during peak use periods. Consumers petitioned for a rehearing when many found themselves paying far more than the promised 4.5 percent increase.

The Arizona Constitution, Article XV Section 3, requires the Arizona Corporation Commission to set just and reasonable rates. Profits flow from those rates. Section 14 of Article XV outlines the formula the ACC must take into consideration to determine rates. These Constitutional Amendments protect consumers from predatory billing practices.

Since 2017, Pinnacle West, the parent company of APS — has reported revenue increases above the legally allowed limit. In the second quarter of 2018, Pinnacle paid $78 million to shareholders. At the same time, APS reported profits of $488 million.

APS customer Stacey Champion did her own analysis in launching the rate review case in 2017. As part of that case, she analyzed 15,431 residential customers’ rates pre and post the rate change.

Instead of the 4.5 percent average bill increase APS projected, she found customers’ bills increased on average 12.56 percent.

Champion suggested in a Dec. 14 legal brief various reasons for the large increase.

• The base rate increase ended up significantly higher than APS reported it would be.

• Champion found more than 88 percent of APS customers had not switched to a plan that gave them the cheapest rates, rather they remained on plans most similar to what they previously had — even if that choice meant higher rates.

• An analysis done by an expert witness for Champion found the average rate for electricity ended up 2 percent higher than APS figured. This gave APS an additional $30 million in revenue.

In a press release, Kennedy said she filed the letter of support early because she “wanted to send a clear message that she is in full support of the rate review.”

Champion’s rate review case is still pending an ACC decision.


Contributed photo/  

The Beeline Bus got off to a good start in its first month of service.