Arizona Groups Partner To Put New Technology Into Thinning Forests

By Casey Kuhn
Published: Tuesday, September 11, 2018 - 5:59pm
Updated: Tuesday, September 11, 2018 - 7:26pm
Casey Kuhn/KJZZ
Too many trees in Northern Arizona's forests could be a recipe for worse wildfires in the future.

An Arizona water and electric company has donated money to help keep the forests that support the watershed healthy and provides almost 60 percent of Phoenix’s drinking water.

Salt River Project manages several reservoirs northeast of Phoenix and the farther north you get toward the Mogollon Rim, the more coniferous trees you’ll see.

But, the more coniferous trees there are, the less healthy the forest, and the higher likelihood of a nasty wildfire.

So, several agencies are working together to thin the trees and the problem is it takes time and money.

SRP has donated $400,000 to the Nature Conservancy to help clear 20,000 acres using a new technology.

Charlie Ester manages surface water at SRP.

“Someone has to come and paint those trees, then the timber person comes in and cuts them, then you have to go back in and check, did they cut the right ones," Ester said. "But using this advanced technology, all of that is done in one step.”

The new technology includes WiFi-enabled tablets in tree-cutting machines that are able to keep track of each tree thinned.

Thinning the forest creates a healthy ecosystem, but the technology is not cost-effective and the wood isn’t very valuable.

“And if you can reduce the cost of thinning, ultimately you get to the point where profit is easier to be made by a company that will come in and thin the forest," he said. "And we’ve got to drive that cost down so that it is easier to make money from doing the thinning.”

SRP is one of several agencies, including the U.S. Forest Service, that thins trees across northern Arizona.

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