The Kaibab National Forest announced on Friday it will begin marking trees in early March within the 1,400-acre Government Prairie Project north of Parks in the near future as a part of the Four Forest Restoration Initiative (4FRI).
The project area is located about 5.5 miles north of the intersection of Forest Road 141, also known as Spring Valley Road, and Historic Route 66 between Government Mountain and Government Hill, according to a media release.
The large grassland and savanna ecosystems have become less healthy over time due to significant encroachment by trees and other vegetation not historically found there. Crews have already begun painting the boundaries of the Government Prairie Project area and next week will begin marking trees within those boundaries with a mark indicating they will not be cut.
There are varying treatments within the 1,400-acre project footprint, which are based on historic conditions in different units, according to a media release. In historic grasslands and savannas, the vast majority of encroaching conifers will be removed in order to encourage species diversity, reduce dwarf mistletoe infection, promote understory grasses and forbs, restore connectivity between grassland habitats for wildlife species, and move the entire area closer to historic and healthy ecological conditions.
Forest officials said marking crews will try to limit the visibility of tree marking paint where possible, such as along roadways and adjacent to private property, so as to not impede the views of residents and visitors.
Once the project has been marked, which will likely be completed by this summer, it will be offered as a timber sale. Implementation of the Government Prairie Project is anticipated to begin in early 2021, depending on the contractor selected to complete the work as well as weather conditions at the time.
The Government Prairie Project is one of several grassland restoration projects that have been implemented or are planned across the southern two districts of the Kaibab National Forest. Forest managers monitoring the effects of these projects have already documented increased use by a variety of wildlife species.
Grasslands play an important ecological role, especially for various wildlife species such as pronghorn antelope, and are known for their high biodiversity. Healthy grasslands are better able to carry out natural processes such as nutrient cycling and provide increased water availability and habitat quality.
Other treatment units within the broader project boundary are dominated by stands of ponderosa pine trees. These stands have become overly dense due to fire exclusion and other factors. In these units, treatments will focus on removing trees in order to more closely resemble historic stand structures, which include more openings between groups of trees and fewer areas of interlocking crowns.
Goals of these treatments include reducing threats to lives, private property and forest resources posed by unnaturally severe wildfire; improving the overall health of the remaining stand by increasing tree age and species diversity; and enhancing wildlife habitat through improved grass and understory vegetation growth.
The efforts to improve conditions in the Government Prairie area are part of the broader Four Forest Restoration Initiative, which seeks to accelerate forest restoration treatments across 2.4 million acres of ponderosa pine forest on the Mogollon Rim of northern Arizona. The project area was part of almost a million acres that were analyzed under the 4FRI 1st Environmental Impact Statement, which approved forest restoration work across more than 580,000 acres of the Kaibab and Coconino National Forests.
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