This is the first round of public comment for both projects, and the nature of the responses will determine if the project will undergo more extensive review and more public comment.
“We’re in the initial stages of public scoping at this point,” she said. “We’ve looked at everything internally but we won’t know until we get the public comments back whether there are more issues we have to deal with.”
The Topeka project calls for non-commercial thinning and prescribed burning in the area adjacent to the park boundary from Bright Angel Wash to Tusayan. It will also require limited use of heavy equipment for slash piling.
“There are limited areas we’re going to do that in,” said McCurry. “We don’t expect a lot of those but there will be some in heavier slash areas.”
According to the scoping letter issued on Feb. 6, the project has priority because of its proximity to developed areas and to Grand Canyon National Park. It also contains several heritage sites.
The area is predominately ponderosa pine with scattered clumps of Gambrel oak, transitioning into pinyon pine and juniper woodland. Fire risk in the project area is rated moderate to high due to its closed-canopy characteristics and rich supply of understory fuels that can act as a “fuel ladder” to bring a blaze to treetops where it’s harder to fight.
“Proposed treatments to reduce existing forest fuels and open up the forest canopy would likely reduce the risk of a large fire that could occur if no action was taken, and at a lower cost now than in the event of a wildfire,” according to the scoping letter.
McCurry said the plan will be phased over about five years, based on funding availability. The first phase of burning in an eastern-most section is tentatively planned to begin in April, in conjunction with a Park Service burn, provided the comment period goes smoothly. Because of the presence of heritage sites in the treatment area, no aerial ignition will be used on Forest Service land, McCurry said.
Once thinning begins, the material will be available to the public for personal use as firewood.
The Ten-X project calls for mechanical thinning and prescribed burning on much of the 1,700 acres and prescribed burning only on 700 acres. Field studies showed that the area’s tree density – predominantly ponderosa pine – is more than 25 times above historical levels. According to the scoping letter, while average density is 774 trees per acre, only 26 trees per acre measure more than nine inches in diameter. According to McCurry, the project will preserve those larger trees.
She said that if the comment period goes smoothly, that project is expected to begin in July after bark beetle activity subsides.
“That’s the soonest they could start,” she said. “Mechanical treatment and cutting attracts bark beetles and they’ll start attacking healthy trees.”
A copy of the scoping letters can be requested from the Tusayan Ranger District Office. Direct comments to McCurry at 638-2443, firstname.lastname@example.org, or care of Tusayan Ranger District, PO Box 3088, Grand Canyon, Ariz., 86023. The project responds to goals outlined in the Forest Service’s 2000 National Fire Plan and the Kaibab Forest Plan. For more on regional and national Forest Service fire management strategies, visit www.fs.fed.us/r3/fam/nfp/