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Thinning project provides firewood for northern Arizonans

(U.S. Forest Service Coconino National Forest Photo)

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — Tall stacks of logs left over from a forest thinning project in mountains overlooking Flagstaff are being processed into thousands of cords of free firewood to provide a winter heat source for northern Arizonans, including residents of the Navajo and Hopi reservations.

“It’s cold, it’s winter, we want this stuff out. A lot of it is dry and can be burned this year, so we want to make sure that, rather than having wood sitting here, that it’s sitting in people’s yards and they’re getting to burn it,” said Neil Chapman, project manager for the Flagstaff Watershed Protection Project.

The group has conducted extensive forest thinning projects around Flagstaff in order to protect drinking water sources from wildfire, the Arizona Daily Sun reported.

A crew uses chainsaws, loaders and splitting machines to turn the logs into large piles of firewood near the top of Schultz Pass.

The firewood giveaway is a way to get rid of the thousands of logs the thinning project has created while providing much-needed firewood to residents across the region, Chapman said.

Chapman said the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2019 closures of the Navajo Generating Station and the Kayenta coal mine contributed to an increased demand firewood.

When the mine was in operation to fuel the power plant, some of the coal was furnished to reservation residents.

Chapman said Flagstaff coordinated with private companies, government agencies, nonprofits and community organizers to distribute the free firewood and that some families call to ask about getting wood.

Organizations helping to distribute the wood include the Flagstaff-based Red Feather Development Group, which works on issues of housing on tribal lands.

Terry Smith, program manager at Red Feather, said it has delivered nearly 170 cords of firewood across the Hopi reservation and to Leupp on the Navajo Nation.

“There is not an abundant source of firewood locally to parts of the reservation,” Red Feather Executive Director Joe Seidenberg said. “We wanted to make sure families had adequate heating options.”

Chapman said recently that an estimated 200 truckloads of logs still awaited processing into at least 2,000 cords of firewood, and forest resource specialist Carl Livingston said the crew he leads likely will be working until mid-March.

Chapman said it’s rare for projects to process timber into split firewood as opposed to smaller logs that residents then need to split themselves.

“We are not just loading pickup trucks with green wood rounds or dropping logs in a lot for others to deal with,” Chapman said. “Individuals are loading trucks, trailers, dump trucks and side dump semi-trucks full of split, seasoned firewood that can be burned this winter.”

The project hosted an open giveaway throughout a weekend in December when more than 100 vehicles and trailers were loaded with firewood, Chapman said.

Chapman said that giveaway drew so much interest that some vehicles were turned away, so the project is working to improve public access through scheduled appointments and expanded community partnerships.

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