The U.S. Forest Service, North Kaibab Ranger District, is planning a vegetation management project on about 28,000 acres of forestland and the Mohave Sportsman Club, on behalf of its 1,500 members, is involved.
The involvement of the local conservation and shooting club started when I received a call from Luke Thompson, the supervisor for the Arizona Game and Fish Department in Region 2, which is part of the North Kaibab forest.
Thompson told me and a number of others about the meeting with the Forest Service in a collaborative setting at the Big Springs Ranger Station on the Kaibab.
Thompson asked if I would come to the meeting as a representative of sportsmen and the MSC, as he wasn't sure if any other sportsmen's groups were going to be represented at the meeting.
While I am no longer the government liaison for the Mohave Sportsman Club, as a life member of the club, I remain committed to assisting the group on these kinds of matters whenever I can. I have been on the North Kaibab in various capacities from a hunter to a guide since the early '70s and have a lot of knowledge about the forest and the wildlife there.
The Kaibab is a very special place to me and to a lot of other local sportsmen.
I asked permission from the board of directors to attend the meeting and represent the MSC in this process. Because of my background on the Kaibab and my familiarity with these kinds of government endeavors, permission was granted.
But the process for me didn't start off so well.
I thought I had a room/cabin at the Big Springs ranger station, but when I arrived at 10 p.m. there was no map of where the cabin was. Plus, my flashlight didn't work, so I had a dilemma.
I ended up sleeping on a concrete basketball court, but fortunately I had brought a sleeping pad and my good Butler bag, so it wasn't too bad.
The meeting was attended by a number of groups, including the Sierra Club and the Grand Canyon Trust. The Center for Biological Diversity was scheduled to be there, but did not attend. This group has in the past appealed almost all of the Forest Service's proposed actions, especially when it comes to cutting any old-growth trees.
I was shocked to find that the the Arizona Deer Association and the Mule Deer Foundation did not have representatives at the meeting. Nor were any members of the National Wild Turkey Federation present.
It is almost always this way. The "green groups" have paid staff to attend these kinds of meetings, while sportsmen's groups mostly rely on volunteers.
Other than the Arizona Game and Fish Department, which as well represented by Thompson and Todd Buck, the longtime wildlife manager for the Kaibab, no other sportsmen groups were present.
This meeting was designed to get input from the various groups in a collaborative setting with the ultimate goal of presenting a proposed action to the Forest Service that would be acceptable to all.
The area under consideration is called the Burnt Corral Vegetation Management Area, a vast area of Ponderosa pine on the west side of the forest.
The first part of the day was spent reviewing the project context, the process, and the roles of the participants. We were given the background of the Kaibab Forest Health Focus and how it relates to the Burnt Corral project.
A field trip was also planned and a number of stops were made to show and explain the different situations going on in the forest and the possibilities for different treatment methods and options, including the use of fire.
It was during this time that the several things became obvious.
First, the Northern Goshawk is a real driver when it comes to forest management.
Considerations for the nesting and forage areas of this protected raptor are of the highest priority when it comes to any proposed treatment where this bird of prey lives.
Old-growth trees. This really is the talk of the green groups.
In my mind, this will be definitely be a sticking point in future meetings and will be the main reason that a proposed action statement won't be agreed on by everyone.
Some groups are adamant about not cutting any of the old-growth Ponderosas, even at the expense of a healthy forest.
The Forest Service made a good point when they showed where groups in the past protested projects in eastern Arizona that called for the cutting of old trees to protect the forest from the effects of drought, insects and fire. This stopped that project in its tracks.
While this action was working its way through the appeals and court processes, the Wallow Fire came through and destroyed tens of thousands of acres of Ponderosa pine.
The end result was of course the loss of all of that forest, including the old growth that the green groups fought so hard to protect.
Despite having this knowledge, it seems that at least some of the groups would rather take the chance of a catastrophic fire than agree to the removal of even some of the old-growth trees on the Kaibab.
There are going to be two more days of meetings on this project during the third week of October. I plan to attend those meetings if I receive the blessing of the MSC board to continue to represent them.
As a sportsman, I know that the North Kaibab forest is a true treasure to the state and to all Americans. The health of the forest should be the No. 1 priority of this group.
All will need to compromise in order to make this process work.
I understand the passion that other groups have when it comes to saving old-growth trees.
But I also see that in order to protect the entire forest from a catastrophic fire, it may mean that some of the old growth will need to be thinned and removed.
I also want to see that these treatments allow for the protection of all of the forest's wildlife, including turkeys, mule deer and the unique and beautiful Kaibab squirrel.
I do hope that in the end, the group will come forward with a proposed action that is acceptable to all.
I've been involved in these processes for a long time, and to be truthful, I won't hold my breath to see if some of the more radical groups like the Center for Biological Diversity are willing to compromise.
But the Mohave Sportsman Club is doing the right thing by having us involved in the process.
I'll let you know how it goes.