Restoring Arizona's forests

Arizona's forests are unhealthy and overgrown, and without action, catastrophic fires are almost a certainty – putting the state's physical beauty, economic vitality and water supplies at risk.

That's why a team of SRP employees across multiple departments is working to find solutions.

Support restoration efforts

For as little as $3 a month you can support SRP's efforts to revitalize our forests, prevent wildfires and protect the water you drink. SRP matches customer contributions up to $200,000 per year and uses 100% of funds for forest restoration projects.

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To understand why SRP is so involved, it's first important to understand why forest health matters to Greater Phoenix as a whole.

Forests in northern and eastern Arizona are the lifeblood of SRP's water supply. The runoff from rain and snow that fall on those forests flows downstream, filling reservoirs on the Salt and Verde rivers.

When those forests are healthy, they protect winter snowpack, preventing it from melting too fast. They also filter runoff so that water flowing into reservoirs is clean and relatively free of sediment.

Scorched forests do the opposite, exposing snow to excessive sunlight, which causes it to melt more quickly. Runoff from fire-scarred areas drains into SRP's reservoirs and brings with it ash and debris. This waste settles at the base of the dams, reducing reservoir capacity and affecting water quality.

Since 2002, more than 2.5 million acres in or around SRP's watershed has been burned by megafires such as the Rodeo-Chediski and Wallow fires.

Working toward healthy forests

The solution is to remove the excess small-diameter trees and brush that overcrowd modern forests – the result of dated forest management policies that emphasized extinguishing all fires. Historically, small fires were a natural part of the ecosystem in Arizona's forests, removing excess vegetation and improving soil conditions.

The problem is now so large that millions of acres of Arizona forest are at risk of severe fire and in need of thinning. But resources to address the problem are in short supply.

Four Forest Restoration Initiative

Map showing areas burned on the SRP watershed since 2002. This includes the Rodeo-Chedeski Fire on the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in 2002, the Warm Fire in 2006 in Kaibab National Forest, the Schultz Fire in 2010 in the Coconino National Forest and Wallow Fire in 2011 in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest.

The first efforts to address the issue on a widespread scale began with the signing of a 2011 agreement that launched the Four Forest Restoration Initiative – a U.S. Forest Service-endorsed plan to thin 50,000 acres of forest annually for 20 years across the Tonto, Coconino, Apache-Sitgreaves and Kaibab national forests.

In 2019, the U.S. Forest Service, in partnership with SRP, the Arizona Commerce Authority, the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, developed a request for proposals (RFP) for the next long-term, large-scale contract(s) to promote a sustainable forest product industry and accelerate forest restoration in northern Arizona. By jointly developing the RFP, the partners' unique perspectives and interests in restoring national forest system lands are represented.

Partnering to develop solutions

Thinning work has been slow to take root and the problem isn't contained to the national forests that are the focus of the Four Forest Restoration Initiative. Private, state, tribal and U.S. Bureau of Land Management lands are also affected.

To address this, SRP is working with other groups including the National Forest Foundation, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the Ecological Restoration Institute at Northern Arizona University, the Nature Conservancy, the Arizona Department of Forestry, White Mountain Apache Tribe and Fire Management and private industry to seek joint solutions.

And SRP has begun to explore another thinning project around C.C. Cragin Reservoir, a reservoir on the Mogollon Rim surrounded by dense national forest system lands.