Center for Biological Diversity

Protecting endangered species and wild places of western North America
and the Pacific through science, policy, education, and environmental law.

February 14, 2001
CONTACT: Brian Segee, Center for Biological Diversity, (520) 623-5252 x308
Brian Nowicki, Southwest Forest Alliance, (520) 774-6514
Sharon Galbreath, Sierra Club, (520) 774-1571


In its monthly meeting on Tuesday, the Grand Canyon Forest Partnership (GCFP) affirmed that it has no policy mandating a diameter cap on its forest restoration projects. GCFP intends to eventually treat up to 180,000 acres of land around Flagstaff to reduce fire danger and to attempt to recreate forest structure conditions as they were thought to be in the mid-19th Century. Under this "pre-settlement" model based logging, large trees are often removed because they are believed not to have existed in 1870. The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), Southwest Forest Alliance (SWFA), and Sierra Club strongly support a strict diameter cap on all GCFP projects, and were instrumental in securing a 16" cap on Fort Valley, GCFP's first project.

There are a number of compelling reasons for preserving all large trees within Southwestern forests. First, comparisons of historic tree inventories and modern inventories clearly show that there have been substantial declines in large trees, especially those over 17" diameter. Secondly, large trees, especially ponderosa pine, are highly resistant to fire, and thus their removal is not necessary for fuels reduction or "restoration" purposes. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, myriad wildlife species are dependent on the large trees and snags which have become increasingly rare in the Southwest. "The ecological fact is that we have lost the vast majority of our large ponderosa pine in the Southwest," stated Brian Nowicki, conservation biologist with SWFA. "The 16 inch cap was the only safeguard that restoration projects would not become pure logging grabs," continued Nowicki.

Several projects designed to reduce fire risk and restore habitat without cutting large trees are currently underway or being planned on the Coconino National Forest. For example, the recently proposed Rocky Park Fuels Reduction project on the Mormon Lake Ranger District will rely solely on prescribed burning and thinning of trees less than 12 inches. "The Partnership has created a false reality where the only two choices for Flagstaff are doing things their way or doing nothing at all," stated Brian Segee, Forest Watch Coordinator with CBD. "There are, however, alternatives to the pre-settlement model which will allow us to restore habitat and safely reintroduce fire without decimating the forests we are trying to save," concluded Segee.

Over 100 years of logging, fire suppression, and domestic livestock grazing have transformed much of the Southwest's majestic ponderosa pine forests into overly dense thickets prone to unnaturally intense and damaging crown fires. The Center, Sierra Club and the Forest Alliance are developing and actively testing restoration strategies on the Kaibab, Coconino, and Gila National Forests designed to improve forest health and reduce crown fire danger through prescribed burning and conservative thinning which retains all large trees and emphasizes the protection of wildlife and biodiversity.


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