Kaibab National Forest seeks public input on grassland restoration project

TUSAYAN, Ariz. - The Kaibab National Forest is seeking comments on a proposed grassland restoration project in the forests around Williams and Tusayan ranger districts.

The project would restore the structure and function of grasslands and woodland areas by reducing tree densities, reestablishing natural fire regimes and promoting grassland-associated wildlife species.

The Southwestern landscape, including the Williams and Tusayan districts of the Kaibab National Forest, has been greatly altered over the past century by the encroachment of woody plants - particularly juniper, pinyon and ponderosa pine.

These plants have grown into areas that were former grasslands and open pinyon-juniper woodlands.

Many factors have played a role in this transition, including historical livestock grazing, fire suppression, changes in wildlife populations, and climate change. These factors have eliminated the vegetation necessary to carry low intensity surface fires across the landscape, thereby altering the natural fire regimes and allowing uncharacteristic forest succession to take place.

Encroachment can alter water and nutrient cycling, impact soil integrity, and negatively impact wildlife habitat.

Forest managers are seeking to reduce this encroachment and move toward desired conditions by thinning conifer trees, conducting prescribed burns and implementing associated actions on a broad scale across the two southern districts of the Kaibab National Forest.

"Grasslands serve an important ecological role and provide habitat for wildlife including birds and mammals," said Roger Joos, wildlife biologist and project lead. "Functional grasslands are much less abundant than they were historically, which reduces the amount of available habitat for grassland-associated species. Understanding the value of these grasslands and the threats they are facing, we recognize the need to work toward restoring them to healthier conditions."

The encroachment of trees into grasslands and pinyon-juniper woodlands resulted partially from historic overgrazing.

Heavy grazing also reduced fine fuel loads to the point that fire frequency and intensity are reduced, removing a natural source of control for woody species.

Range management on the national forest has changed dramatically over the past century. In the past, grazing was largely unregulated and cattle, sheep and horses typically grazed the rangelands.

The peak of grazing occurred during World War II. Since the 1970s livestock numbers have steadily declined and rangeland improvements have been put in place to improve livestock distribution. The number of livestock grazed currently on the South Zone is a fraction of those in the early 1900s.

Human alteration of natural fire regime through suppression efforts has also facilitated the spread of woody plants on the South Zone.

Additionally, the reduction of prairie dog population and climate changes have also played a role in woody species encroachment into grasslands. Shrub increase in grassland areas can be responsible for droughts.

The detailed proposal and associated documents, including maps, are available on the Kaibab National Forest website at http://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=44132. Interested individuals are encouraged to submit comments during the 30-day scoping period, from March 24 to April 22.

Comments may be written, hand-delivered, oral, or electronically-delivered. Hand-delivered comments can be submitted to the Williams Ranger District office from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, excluding holidays, at 742 S. Clover Road., Williams, AZ 86046, or to the Tusayan Ranger District office from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, excluding holidays, at 176 Lincoln Log Loop, Grand Canyon, AZ 86023.

Comments may also be submitted through electronic mail to comments-southwestern-kaibab-williams@fs.fed.us. Please include "South Zone Grassland Restoration Project" in the subject line of the email.


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