Millions of acres of ponderosa pine forest in the Southwest have been affected by drought, fire suppression, and bark beetle infestations. These factors have created heavy fuel loads that can sustain uncharacteristic, high intensity wildfires, like the 500,000 acre Rodeo-Chediski fire in 2002. Extensive areas along the wildland urban interface (WUI) in northern Arizona have been or will be thinned to reduce the risk that these mega-fires pose to adjacent communities. Although there is widespread agreement that fuels reduction and restoration treatments are needed, it is important that these treatments also incorporate the habitat requirements of forest wildlife. The best combinations of treatments that reduce fire risk and maintain wildlife habitat remain unknown.
In 2005, the Arizona Game and Fish Department initiated research on the effects of fuels reduction treatments on wildlife in the Flagstaff WUI. This is a collaborative effort with the Ecological Restoration Institute (ERI) at Northern Arizona University, the Greater Flagstaff Forest Partnership, and the U.S. Forest Service, Coconino National Forest, Peaks and Mormon Lake Ranger Districts.
This research is being conducted in the wildland urban interface of Flagstaff, including the areas surrounding Kachina Village, Mountainaire, and Fort Valley.
We identified 5 study areas each representing a different fuels reduction approach. For example, one area was treated using a reference-condition based forest restoration prescription developed by ERI, a second was thinned using an even-age prescription, and a third is currently being thinned using an uneven-age prescription with small patches (0.25-1 acre) of unthinned forest imbedded in the landscape. We also developed an experimental wildlife-focused treatment designed for application in forthcoming fuels reduction projects in the Flagstaff WUI.
In each study area, we are collecting data on the abundance of tassel-eared squirrels and breeding songbirds, and measuring the foraging rates of songbirds during fall migration. In Fall 2005, we initiated a radio-telemetry study of tassel-eared squirrels. We use satellite imagery data in a Geographic Information System (GIS) to describe forest attributes such as tree spacing, patch type and patch size. We use this forest attribute information to assess the influence of different treatments on squirrels and songbirds. We expect to complete initial analyses by 2008; however, this research will likely continue through 2009.
The Arizona Game and Fish Department is actively engaged in developing forest treatments that reduce fire risk and also benefit wildlife. However, much remains to be learned in order to achieve these multiple goals. Our research will provide land managers with specific recommendations on maintaining wildlife habitat in large-scale fire risk reduction projects.
For more information contact:
Fenner Yarborough, Arizona Game and Fish Department
5000 W. Carefree Highway, Phoenix, AZ 85086-5000
Phone: (928) 213-9591 E-mail: email@example.com