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Forest thinning on Bill Williams Mountain to resume

Forest thinning on Bill Williams Mountain to resume

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The Kaibab National Forest will resume forest restoration and fuel reduction work this week on Bill Williams Mountain adjacent to Williams.

The project aims to reduce the unnaturally dense timber stands and heavy accumulations of fuel on the highest slopes of the mountain's north face. Helicopters will be noticeable from the City of Williams and surrounding communities, according to a Kaibab press release.

Restoration activities are expected to continue through the fall and winter as conditions allow. Area closure will be in place for crew and public safety, currently the mountain is closed due to unprecedented hot and dry weather.

This project is exempt from the forest closure order due to the immediacy of the Bill Williams Restoration Project, due to an action taken by Heather Provencio, Kaibab National Forest Supervisor.

"We recognize that allowing machinery to operate right now elevates the chances of a human-caused fire on the mountain, and a wildfire in these current conditions could be severe," said Provencio. "However, if we don't remove the material now, we run the risk of it remaining on the ground until this time next year, creating an even more critical situation next summer."

Kaibab has mitigation measures in place, including more crews and firefighting equipment on scene, additional water sources readily available such as bladder and water pump backpacks on sawyers and water tenders on site, as well as additional fire watch — from the ground and from the air — for early detection and rapid response if a fire were to occur.

The project's goal is to reduce risks to life and property and protect critical watershed drainages that deliver the vital water supply to the City of Williams as well as to many other communities to the south. This effort will also reduce the risk of a potentially destructive wildfire and the probability of post-wildfire flooding that would likely have devastating effects on the mountain’s natural resources and on essential infrastructure and neighborhoods in the community below. Coconino County has identified that fire, and post-wildfire flooding is the number one health and safety threat to the citizens of the county.

The public should expect an increase in traffic as materials removed from slopes will be hauled out by trucks and chip vans.

The National Forest Foundation, Coconino County and Kaibab National Forest partnered in Sept. 2019 to thin the forests of the 300-acre project. The project will include hand thinning and removal of timber by helicopter.

The National Forest Foundation has brought together funds from multiple contributors that include $1,800,000 from the Kaibab National Forest, $800,000 from Coconino County, private foundation funds, $315,000 from the Arizona Water Protection Fund, and another $300,000 from Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management.

In mid-September, helicopter operations will begin as well as chipping and grinding to remove the materials left on site. Planning for the second phase of the project is underway.

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