The American Conservation Experience is a conservation corps that is dedicated to training young professionals in a wide variety of conservation skills. From trail construction and design to running a chainsaw to reduce the risk of catastrophic wild fires, ACE gives a different perspective on conservation.
During the summer and fall of 2017 ACE Arizona has completed an 18-week forest-thinning project in the Dry Lake Hills region of Coconino National Forest, just outside of Flagstaff, Arizona. ACE partnered with the City of Flagstaff Fire Department and the US Forest Service to complete this hand-thinning project.
Fire is a natural part of the ecosystem in this region. Historically, wildfires would burn across the forest floor, clearing out the dead and lower branches of trees, making way for a diverse understory of grasses, sedges, and forbs. A forb is a a herbaceous flowering plant other than a grass.
After a century of fire suppression, logging and grazing, thick ground fuels and a ladder of dead branches have resulted in increased risks of crown fires. Numerous studies based on Forest Service data show that 90% of the trees on Southwestern forests are 12 inches in diameter and smaller. It is the high density of these small trees that represents the greatest fire risk.
In 2010, the Schultz fire burned 15,000 acres and caused between $133 and $147 million in economic damages to the Flagstaff community. The Flagstaff Watershed Protection Project (FWPP) conducted a study that concluded that post-fire flood impacts in the Dry Lake Hills region have the potential to result in significant damage to downstream watersheds. Catastrophic wildfires cause severe floods when they burn the vegetation that would normally absorb the rainfall, leaving the ground charred, barren, and unable to absorb water.
The Forest Service silviculturist has written prescriptions for five sections of the 100-acre area being thinned by the eight person ACE crew. The crew felled trees that were 9 inch diameter and smaller. After felling and bucking up the trees, the crew built piles for future prescribed fire operations.
The crew underwent extensive chainsaw training before the start of this project. With ACE staff members, the crew participated in a week long training of both classroom and field work. Safety is the number one priority for these chainsaw crews, the trainings cover everything from chainsaw maintenance to operation.
The crew learned how to assess each tree before cutting. The sawyers take into account which way a tree is leaning before they begin their back cut. If a tree is already down and suspended the sawyer will take into account where there is tension on the log and how it will fall from it's suspended state.
City of Flagstaff Fire Department Operations Specialist, Matt Millar, and ACE crew leader, Katherine Dickey, are overseeing this project. ACE is honored to participate in this effort to create a healthier ponderosa pine forest for the residents of Flagstaff.