More than 700 cords of wood from the Kaibab and Coconino National Forests have been delivered to tribal communities, who have been impacted by the Navajo Generating Station's closure and the Black Mesa Peabody coal mine.
The National Forest Foundation (NFF), the Forest Service, and other partners develop a sustainable solution for completing restoration projects that help meet tribal community fuelwood needs as part of the Wood for Life (WFL) initiative. It stems from a need to restore northern Arizona forests. Forest thinning and hazardous fuel reduction projects reduce the risk of high severity wildfire and post-fire flooding. In Arizona, the Forest Service often requires that cut trees and other biomass be removed from restoration project sites. The low value of small-diameter trees and challenging markets can make it challenging to complete restoration efforts.
At the same time, Navajo and Hopi communities have been impacted by the closure of the Navajo Generating Station and the Black Mesa Peabody coal mine. This has resulted in a loss of coal as an energy source for heating and cooking in homes without access to electricity and other utilities. The COVID-19 pandemic has further added challenges to firewood gathering due to curfews, stay-at-home orders, and limited transportation resources.
"Preparation for the winter is critical as communities continue to deal with the ongoing pandemic and the need for home heating," explains Marshall Masayesva, Hopi Office Program Coordinator for the Ancestral Lands Conservation Corps.
In response, the NFF works with the Forest Service, Navajo Nation Chapters, the Hopi Tribe, and other partners to connect wood from forest restoration sites with tribal communities in need of firewood through the WFL initiative. In its founding year, the WFL team facilitates the delivery of over 700 cords of wood from the Kaibab and Coconino National Forests to tribal communities by acting as a "matchmaker" between forest management efforts tribal partners who split and distribute the wood.
As part of the WFL program, NFF has aligned resources to transport more than 240 cords of wood, including from NFF restoration projects, to tribal communities, and has partnered with Navajo Nation Chapter houses and Ancestral Lands Hopi crews to process the wood and get it to those who need it.
"Connecting the dots from restoration projects to woodstoves takes coordination, relationships, and a lot of logistics. Partners have helped leverage Forest Service efforts so we can all make this happen," says Sasha Stortz, NFF's Arizona Program Manager. "Our goal is to build on the momentum of this first year and work towards a sustainable, long-term partnership. We've all learned a lot and are excited to grow from here."
One source of fuelwood for these WFL efforts is the steep slopes of Bill Williams mountain, above the city of Williams, where NFF works with the Kaibab National Forest, Coconino County, and other partners to reduce hazardous fuels and manage the risk of post-fire flooding, which would impact the water supply and infrastructure of the city. Wood was set aside for the WFL program and transported by Joe Dirt Excavating to Cameron Chapter and Hopi villages. Wood has also come from several other forest management projects on the Kaibab and Coconino National Forests, including Lockett Meadow and the Flagstaff Watershed Protection Project.
Once delivered, local groups step in to process the full log lengths into split firewood and distribute it. On the Navajo Nation, Chapter officials and volunteers work together to cut the wood into shorter lengths and get the wood to those who need it. At Hopi, NFF works together with the Hopi Foundation, Red Feather Development Group, the Ancestral Lands Conservation Corps, and Hopi Village Community Support Administrators. They manage a distribution plan for the firewood. AL crews split the wood and deliver directly to the homes of Hopi elders and community members across 12 Hopi villages.
By getting wood out to the reservations, we can create a win-win situation where we're getting our forests restored, and we're also providing a valuable resource to tribal partners.