Loggers ready to gear up in northern Arizona

Firefighter Chris Sanchez, of the Flagstaff Fire Department Wildland Fire Crew, uses a drip torch to burn a slash pile near Woody Mountain Road Wednesday afternoon. (Jake Bacon/Arizona Daily Sun)

Slash. Burn. Cut. This coming year, northern Arizona will leap into an era of logging not seen in a generation. The historic Four Forest Restoration Initiative will begin in earnest on the region’s forests in 2014.

That means logging trucks, and lots of them.

The 4FRI contractors will work to complete more than 20,000 acres of thinning on the Coconino National Forest this year.

Some of those acres are left over from the previous contractors, who failed to complete any of the logging task orders assigned to them.

Once the initial round is completed in 2015, the project is expected to accelerate to 30,000 acres each year. And each acre treated requires two log truck trips — one in, one out, eventually putting 60,000 log truck trips on northern Arizona roads annually.

Projects this year in the Flagstaff area include thousands of acres around Mountainaire and along the Interstate 17 corridor south of town, near Sedona, Parks and surrounding Williams. Other thinning task orders for 2014 include the Eastside Project near Walnut Canyon, and two projects on the eastern slopes of the San Francisco Peaks near Timberline. The contractors have just completed the first 4FRI task order, Ranch, on the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest.

“Everything we’re hearing is that they’ll complete the projects this year,” said Dick Fleishman, assistant team leader for the Four-Forest Restoration Initiative. “We’re expecting some activity about town.”

That won’t go unnoticed by area residents, who have become unaccustomed to logging. And this is just the beginning, if things go as the U.S. Forest Service hopes.

The goal is to thin — by hand and with equipment — and burn and improve millions of acres of ponderosa pines along the Mogollon Rim, stretching from Tusayan to the New Mexico border.