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Expert: 'Historic' plan could help improve Arizona forests' health

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Alex Gonzalez

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(Arizona News Connection) An Arizona conservationist is lauding the U.S. Forest Service for announcing what some are calling a "historic proposal" to conserve old-growth forests. 

Michael Cravens, advocacy and conservation director with the Arizona Wildlife Federation, called the plan "pragmatic and based in science." He added that the inventorying of mature and old-growth forests is a crucial step in making Arizona's forests more resilient against the impacts of wildfires and drought, which have posed serious consequences in the Grand Canyon State.

"It has an eye on the overall health of our forests, but living here in Northern Arizona, every year the Forest Service is doing mechanical thinning and then applying fire back to the ecosystem," Cravens explained. "These ecosystems evolve with fire, and it's an important component of these forests."

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© iStock - klenger

The proposed plan also calls for setting reforestation targets on federally managed lands and analyzing reforestation opportunities on state, Tribal and private lands. Cravens added Arizona's current forest landscape isn't the healthiest, and said forests in Northern Arizona today are primarily composed of tightly packed trees that are not allowed to grow and flourish like they should.

Cravens said it is important for stakeholders to realize that the plan isn't intended to curb all logging and timber products, but contends it's "an attempt to manage our forests for health and industry."

"You're going to have those extreme opinions on both sides of the spectrum - you're going to have those folks that don't want any trees cut and you're going to have those folks that think this is government overreach that are trying to impede industry, " Cravens continued. 

Cravens argues "if done smartly," Arizona can have it all; healthy, mature and old-growth forests which will lead to healthier wildlife habitat, clean water and carbon sequestration. He added it would also cultivate a thriving timber industry.