Forest thinning offers several benefits, according to Scott Lerich, NWTF senior regional biologist. Among them are: increased biodiversity, watershed quality and amounts of forbs and grasses available for wildlife. It also increases employment opportunities, conservation of wildlife and prevents large-scale forest fires.
Two stewardship projects are improving forest health in Arizona and New Mexico.
The Bluewater project is in New Mexico’s Zuni Mountains. “This project grows in scope each year,” Lerich said. The NWTF and the Forest Service have been thinning mostly ponderosa pine and Douglas fir for the past five years. Squirrel, elk, mule deer and Merriam’s turkey are among the many animals benefitting from the project. Last year, the Forest Service added $2.2 million to the project. Lerich said they thinned 1,300 acres in the past 12 months.
Mt. Taylor Manufacturing, a sawmill in Milan, New Mexico, supports about 37 employees under the project. Although the project is in the eastern Zuni Mountains, project managers hope it spreads to the western side, too.
The Pinaleño Ecosystem Restoration Project is under way on Mount Graham in Arizona’s Coronado Forest. The Forest Service provides most of the funds to complete this work. Mount Graham peaks at more than 10,000 feet, and the town at its base is situated at 3,000 feet. The land below is scrub desert: hot and dry. The top is snowy and wet.
“There’s everything in between, from top to bottom,” said Lerich. The area is also referred to as Sky Islands, an isolated mountain range surrounded by desert. It supports hundreds of North American bird species, along with more than 3,000 species of plants and at least 100 species of mammals.
Encompassing about 5,000 acres and home to Mount Graham red squirrels and Mexican spotted owls, this area needs commercial logging and prescribed fire to manage several species of pine and firs.
Lerich said the work helps provide good habitat and prevents large wildfires that could destroy it. The work also protects billions of dollars in infrastructure related to campgrounds, tourism sites, highways and even a high-powered binocular telescope that peers into deep space from atop Mount Graham.