Firescape Program Thins Sky Island Forests

Firescape aims to reduce heavy fuel loads and restore health in the Sky Island forests of southern Arizona. FireScape is a framework for expanding safe, ecologically sound, large-scale fire management across multiple land ownerships in the mountains of southeastern Arizona.

The FireScape leadership team includes representatives from the U.S. Forest Service, The Nature Conservancy, the University of Arizona, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service and other southeastern Arizona land managers.

In Action in the Huachuca Mountains

In 2009, the Huachuca FireScape project completed a landscape-scale Environmental Assessment covering a menu of treatments for 400,000 acres in southeastern Arizona. The planning area covered lands owned or managed by the BLM, the Conservancy, Audubon, private ranchers as well as the National Park Service and the U.S. Army/Fort Huachuca.

These partners have worked together for over a decade to coordinate fire management in an area where wildfires burn freely across property lines. Key treatments are large prescribed burns, but also thinning in the burgeoning wildland-urban interface.

Stopping the Monument Fire

The value of this work was shown in how fire fighters managed the Monument Fire in the summer of 2011, especially in the woodlands around Ramsey Canyon.

Prior to the fire, the Conservancy’s Ramsey’s Canyon Preserve staff thinned trees in the canyon creating a diversity of tree sizes and species and an understory that could carry fire low to the ground.

As the Monument fire approached Ramsey, fire crews took direction from Conservancy staffers to complete additional thinning in preparation for the fire, which was burning toward the canyon.

“We had been thinning in the canyon to open it up and bring it back to a more natural density, and to protect the sycamores at the bottom,” said Brooke Gebow, southeastern Arizona preserves manager for the Conservancy.

In the end, the Monument fire was stopped just above the Ramsey drainage.


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