Kaibab Plateau Forests
Forest protection, restoration and fire management are important issues in the greater Grand Canyon region. Grand Canyon National Park contains some of the finest, healthiest remains of old growth forest in the region and serves as a reference point for forest researchers. In this part of the park, you can see what our forests might have looked like had we not logged, grazed and suppressed fire. These old growth pines have survived over a century of the cool burning ground fires that maintained the open, old growth structure and abundant native grasses that once characterized the southwest's ponderosa pine forests.
In some places, the park's forests have been altered by past fire suppression and grazing.
To a far greater extent than the Forest Service, the Park Service has recognized the value in using fire as a management tool for restoring forests, through prescribed burns, or letting wildfires burn. We will be working with the Park Service when they come out with their new fire management plan to ensure that the Park's old growth forest habitat is protected and restored.
Although the Park Service has done a good job of using fire as an effective tool within the Park, just across the boundary, on the same forest, old growth logging continues on Forest Service lands on the Kaibab Plateau, which is a critical biological link between monument and park lands and provides a continuous forest that transcends administrative boundaries.
Perched on the North rim of the Grand Canyon, the Kaibab Plateau is home to the highest remaining density and distribution of old growth ponderosa pines in the Southwest. The Kaibab Plateau, which includes Park lands and the North Kaibab National Forest, is home to a uniquely evolved species called the Kaibab Squirrel. Found nowhere else in the world, the Kaibab Squirrel is a classic example of evolution through geographic isolation.
The Plateau is also home to the largest population of goshawks in the Southwest.
And although the squirrel and the goshawk both need old growth to do well, the old growth of the North Kaibab has been severely logged. Sadly, over 60,000 old growth trees 18 inches in diameter or greater have been logged on the North Kaibab in the last six timber sales.
We strongly support thinning small diameter trees and using fire to reduce fire risk and restore forests to protect both communities and old growth forests. Restoration is not possible, however, while the Forest Service is still logging old growth trees. The Jacob Ryan timber sale is a good example of this situation. Forest Service estimates show that 89% of the trees in the Jacob Ryan project area are smaller than 5" in diameter.
Although the Forest Service acknowledges that the greatest fire and forest health risks in the planning area are due to these small diameter trees, the agency nonetheless proposed to log thousands of large and old trees in the Jacob Ryan project. We successfully appealed the original plan and have proposed an alternative that would remove smaller diameter trees and save the old growth and rare large diameter trees in this area, which is being analyzed along with the Forest Service proposal.
This is a photo of a 29 inch diameter tree that was marked to be cut in the East Rim timber sale, another North Kaibab old growth timber sale. Using forest health and fire risk reduction justifications the Forest Service planned to log another 7400 large old growth trees in this area overlooking Grand Canyon National Park. We sued to stop this project and the Forest Service withdrew it earlier this year.
We are currently working with the Kaibab National Forest as they move forward with a new Forest Plan Revision. We need people to attend Forest Plan Revision meetings and send letters (http://www.fs.fed.us/r3/kai/plan-revision/get-involved.shtml) to help influence a Plan Revision that will protect the Kaibab's old growth forest. Working with a coalition of conservation groups, the Sierra Club has developed a set of Forest Planning Principles (124 KB pdf) for use in this process.
Sierra Club, Grand Canyon Chapter, 202 E. McDowell Rd, Suite 277, Phoenix, AZ 85004, (602) 253-8633