Old growth ponderosa pine forest at Burnt Corral Ridge. Photo credit: Joe Trudeau
Why this forest is special
The northern portion of the Kaibab National Forest, above the Grand Canyon’s North Rim, includes some of the most extensive tracts of old-growth forest left in the Southwest. This area, known as the Kaibab Plateau, holds most of the Southwest’s remaining old ponderosa pines, towering trees that provide essential habitat for the highest density of northern goshawks on the continent. Endemic Kaibab tassel-eared squirrels, mule deer, elks, pronghorn antelopes and black bears also call the Kaibab National Forest home. The iconic 800-mile Arizona National Scenic Trail goes through the forest. The Kaibab Plateau has been proposed as a national monument because of the ecological significance of the high-elevation forests and greater Grand Canyon ecosystem.
The Burnt Corral Vegetation Project
The Forest Service proposes to log old and large, fire-resistant trees across 15,000 acres of the Kaibab Plateau. The project targets old-growth forest for the highest intensity logging, including clearcutting nearly 1,000 acres and cutting stand density in half. The Forest Service admits that “the loss of old growth and old trees would require decades to centuries to recover.”
Carbon storage and biodiversity
Although many of the large, old trees on the Kaibab Plateau have been logged, the remaining centuries-old trees store and sequester large amounts of carbon. Old ponderosa pines have greater drought resilience than young stands. The Burnt Corral project would log almost 100 nesting sites for northern goshawks, beautiful raptors that rely on these dense pine tree canopies for their survival. A 2014 federal study of the Kaibab Plateau said logging that reduces the canopy cover from old-growth trees wipes out goshawks’ preferred habitat.
Why these trees should remain standing
The Forest Service claims this project is needed to “improve ecosystem resilience,” reduce wildfire risk and restore forest structure. But logging old growth and large trees will not accomplish these objectives. In fact, numerous scientific studies show that old and large trees make forests more fire resilient. Logging old and large trees in Burnt Corral will release carbon into the atmosphere and lose future carbon sequestration potential. This project will also spread invasive, flammable cheatgrass, cause erosion by reopening old logging roads, and encourage dense ladder fuels to grow where the canopy has been reduced. This is exactly what happened under an earlier Forest Service program that drastically reduced high-canopy old-growth forest, resulting in dense undergrowth that now fuels wildfire behavior.
The future of mature and old-growth trees on the Kaibab Plateau
Despite ample science showing old, fire-resistant trees are the backbone of dry forest ecosystems, numerous timber sales are under way across the Kaibab Plateau. That includes the Jacob Ryan Project, just north of the Burnt Corral project, that’s currently being logged. The Forest Service said just 1% of the trees to be logged in Jacob Ryan would be larger than 16 inches in diameter, but more than a third of the targeted trees were at least that big, including thousands of ponderosas that had stood for more than two centuries.
The Forest Service released a draft environmental assessment in March 2020, but the project was put on hold due to widespread opposition. A stakeholder group has been formed and the Forest Service is expected to issue a revised proposal in 2022.
How you can help
Sign our targeted letter to Secretary Vilsack and Secretary Haaland to call for durable protections for mature and old-growth forests on federal lands.
Submit Letters to the Editor about this project to your local newspaper.
Send emails and make phone calls to the Southwest regional Forest Service office to oppose the Burnt Corral logging project.
Local contact: Brian Nowicki, Center for Biological Diversity, firstname.lastname@example.org