Chiricahua - Dragoons - Dos Cabezas

Chiricahua landscapeThe USDA Forest Service, Coronado National Forest, is proposing the Chiricahua-Dragoons-Dos Cabezas FireScape Project to coordinate Forest Service fire and fuels reduction activities with those of the USDI National Park Service (NPS-Chiricahua National Monument and Fort Bowie National Historic Site) and other land managers in the Chiricahua, Dos Cabezas, and Dragoon Mountains of Cochise County in southeastern Arizona. The project is intended to create landscapes that survive wildfires in a healthy state, better protect values at risk, and return fire as a natural process to the ecosystems that require it to be healthy. The project also aims to increase fire management flexibility, efficiency, and consistency across over 500,000 acres of grasslands, woodlands, and forests. The Coronado’s Douglas Ranger District is leading this effort.

Fire has played an important ecological role in the history of the grassland and woodland ecosystems of southeastern Arizona. Regular intervals of naturally occurring fire restrict the growth of shrubs in grasslands, thin forests of fire-intolerant trees, increase stream flows, and renew wildlife habitat. Since the beginning of the early 20th century, the frequency of natural fire has decreased dramatically. This decrease has corresponded with an increased demand for wildland fire suppression to protect life and property and reduction of fine fuels by livestock grazing. We now have areas of dense, overgrown vegetation and heavy accumulations of fuel.

Current conditions allow wildfires to eliminate desired ecosystem components, intensify the spread of unwanted non-native species, and result in dramatically different effects on watersheds than what would have occurred with natural fire. In 1994, the 28,000-acre Rattlesnake Fire in the Chiricahuas demonstrated the severe effects possible under such conditions.

 Awareness about the beneficial role of natural fire in ecosystems has coincided with rapid residential development in southeastern Arizona’s canyons, foothills, and valleys. Because of threats to life and property, wildland fires still need suppressing in these areas. Accomplishing proactive treatments can be difficult because of funding, weather conditions, and the coordination of fire and vegetation management between multiple landowners.  Meanwhile, we have improved our record with letting natural fires burn under predetermined conditions.

In order to create “fire-resilient” landscapes, we need to step up the scale of treatments. If the natural fire return interval for our fire-adapted systems is conservatively every 15 years, then over our 500,000-acre Chiricahua-Dragoon landscape we need to treat 30,000 acres per year. A key goal of this project is to complete environmental compliance activities at the whole-mountain scale to pave the way for concentrating on safe, opportunistic, large-scale treatments.

Public comments on the Chiricahua FireScape project are being accepted at this time. A project description as well as instructions on how to submit comments are included in the Scoping Notice. To download a pdf of the Chiricahua Scoping Notice, please click here.

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