If you have driven the road to the Jim Jones Shooting Range south of town, no doubt you have noticed a cleaner forest.
This has been accomplished by the mastication of hundreds of invasive shaggy bark juniper trees, manzanita and catclaw brush where it is now possible to actually see through this once thick foliage.
By greatly reducing the number of trees, grasses will now be able to grow where it once flourished many decades ago.
The mastication process literally grinds these trees into wood chips, which are spread throughout the forest floor.
These wide open spaces will allow the natural wild grasses to spread and have the opportunity to germinate in the spring provided we get much needed snowfall and spring rains.
This grassland restoration project will benefit all species of wildlife, especially the mule deer herds that have been suffering over the last two decades.
The first phase of the project will create more than 1,000 acres of improved habitat for wildlife as the grasslands are reclaimed by the reduction in number of shaggy bark juniper trees per acre.
It is interesting to note that where grasslands have replaced these jungles of juniper trees there has been an increasing number of a small game bird called the Mearns quail.
In the expansive Dude burn under the Rim where grasses are growing, these Mearns have taken up residence with a growing number of coveys of this popular quail found predominantly in southern Arizona.
Another benefit is the natural firebreak that will be created for the residents of upper and lower Round Valley. This process of creating natural firebreaks has been an ongoing project for the area surrounding Payson and all the small subdivisions in the Rim Country.
When the forest is thinned and cleaned up by prescribed or controlled burns, everyone benefits by reducing the chance for catastrophic fires in addition to improving the food supply for local wildlife.
The Round Valley grasslands restoration project was a shared venture with the forest service, the Habitat Partnership committee of the AZGFD, and a non-profit group called the Arizona Sportsmen For Wildlife Conservation.
This nonprofit group of sportsmen generates a significant amount of funding through the public purchasing of the wildlife conservation automobile license plates. In addition, a major portion of the cost for the mastication project was funded by a federal grant.
The key to success is a combined venture for funding and manpower, which is greatly enhanced by a true team effort of local, state, and a federal agency.
This project should be completed within a couple of months and the benefits will soon follow with improved wildlife habitat and a precautionary safety measure for preventing major wildfires in the Tonto National Forest.
Take a drive south of town to the Jim Jones shooting range road and observe the progress being made in making a healthier forest. This weekend enjoy the late fall days in the Rim country, God’s creation.