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Arizona’s high country forests and the water supply

Snow and rainfall in Arizona’s high country forests are critical to the water supply. But with much of the forests overgrown less water is able to flow downstream. The Nature Conservancy in Arizona is bringing technology to the woods.

Neil Chapman, NCA, explains the size and importance of the Ponderosa Pine forests in northern Arizona. Over two million acers of continuous Ponderosa Pine stretch across northern Arizona and into New Mexico, making it the largest in the world. It is an important watershed for snowpack and rain that drains into the Salt and Verde Rivers. There is a strong connection between overgrown forests and water supply. Trees in the forest are like straws taking water from the water supply. An overgrown forest takes more water from the supply.

The NCA is working with private logging operations to thin overgrown areas. Their efforts with projects like the Four Forest Restoration Initiative are helping the forests return to healthy levels providing better forests for the wildlife living there and more water downstream for Arizonans. The overgrowth of the forest is much more susceptible to catastrophic fire. The thinning reduces the number of trees per acre leaving them in groups so if one tree is stuck lightning and burns it is less likely to start the entire forest on fire. Fire is devastating to the watersheds.

The way Arizona is thinning its forests is combining science, technology and the logging industry to change the model of logging used for the last 100 years. The Nature Conservancy, the logging industry and Forest Service are working together to save our forests and conserve our water in both the Verde River and Salt River.