Tag Archives: Wallow Fire

Q&A: Swinging From the Trees in the White Mountains

John Miller | White Mountains

John Miller | White Mountains

Recently, we received an email from James Nesslage, a construction contractor with Nessco Designs in Sanders. Nesslage thought we’d be interested to know about his seasonal project: From late August to mid-October, he and his crew harvest pine cones from trees in the White Mountains, and the U.S. Forest Service uses the cones to plant new trees in areas damaged by the Rodeo-Chediski and Wallow fires.

Indeed, we were interested. We reached out to Nesslage and asked him a few questions about this unusual line of work. He’s also going to have someone on his crew shoot photos of the work being done, and we’ll bring those to you in a future post.

Q: How did you get into cone-picking?
A: I am actually a construction contractor but kinda stumbled into cone-picking. I was just perusing the FedBizOpps [Federal Business Opportunities] page one day and came across a solicitation for seed-cone harvesting. After reading the scope of work, I thought, “We could do this!” I’ve had years of climbing experience, and I have always gravitated toward niche-type occupations anyway, so it sounded like a lot of fun. Go camping, climb trees and get paid for it! Sweet!

The first season was a little hectic because we didn’t even know we had the contract until I got a call on Saturday, saying, “Start Monday.” Yikes!  Well, we scrambled up our equipment, jammed down to the White Mountains and started picking. Our first week was just myself, a couple of my regular employees and my granddaughter living out of the back of my truck. By week two, we were starting to get things together and lined up some more help, along with a little better camping situation. Still pretty primitive, but we learned a lot and had some fun. Well, when the season was over, we told a lot of our friends about it, and everyone was pretty jazzed. When the next season came along, we had lots of folks who wanted to join us. Now we work with a crew of 15 to 20 people, with some rotating home or only working part of the season because they have to go back to their real jobs. It takes someone who has a great spirit of adventure and a good work ethic to do this kind of work. It’s hard, it’s dangerous, and it requires a lot of trust in your teammates.

Q: What’s a typical day of harvesting like?
A: The typical workday starts around 6 a.m. with breakfast and a safety meeting. Then, it’s off to the trees. We use standard climbing equipment, including ropes, harnesses, friction savers, ascenders (no climbing spikes!) and so on. I try to have some trees rigged the night before so there is minimal time lost getting the pickers aloft. We use a powder-activated launcher to send a light line up into the tree and over a good, strong branch. Using the throw line, we pull the friction saver (a kind of strap with two rings, one on each end) over the limb and then the climbing rope through the friction saver. This protects the bark of the tree and prolongs the life of the rope.

The climber ties in and is hoisted up into the lower branches. With the right equipment, you can pull yourself up, but we found that by the time the climber pulls himself up to the top, he’s so tired that he has to wait quite a while before he’s able to start picking, so we do that part for him.  We keep two climbers in each tree for safety, as each can help the other to tie off or belay. The ground crew makes sure the climbers have anything they need, including picking bags, water, snacks, whatever keeps them going.

After the climbers pick a bag of cones, they are lowered to the ground and the ground crew sorts them for quality control. Sometimes they will have insects that eat the seeds or other defects. The cones from each tree are kept in separate sacks and tagged, each tag listing the region, location and specific tree, including GPS coordinates.

Q: What species of trees do you harvest, and how much is done in one day?
A: Most teams can pick two trees in a day, with three or four bushels of cones from each tree. Primarily, the species harvested are white pine, Douglas fir and ponderosa pine. Each species has distinctive cones, so the number of actual seeds collected varies. We will do a field test on a couple of cones from each tree before picking to make sure the cones are healthy and the seeds are mature enough to pick.

After we harvest, the bags of cones are stored in a cooler in Alpine until a truck takes them to a nursery just outside Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, where they process and sprout the seeds and then grow them for a couple of years, until they are seedlings. When they are ready, they are shipped back to Arizona, and a team plants them in the same area the seeds were harvested. That’s why we do all the record-keeping. The genetics of each tree are, of course, passed on to its seedlings, so we have to be pretty picky about which trees are harvested. Healthy, straight, no forked trunks, et cetera. That way we get good seedlings for reforestation.

Q: What are the challenges of this kind of work, and what do you enjoy about it?
A: The real challenges are mostly psychological, but you do have to be in fairly decent physical shape to climb. Primitive living conditions (although we try to make that as comfortable as possible), close living with a sizable group, working in somewhat hazardous positions, and the guts to work until the job is done. With that being said, it’s the best office I’ve ever had. There is something almost spiritual about sitting in a tree, 150 feet above the ground, a slight breeze of clean air blowing the tree with a gentile rocking, watching eagles and hawks soar just above your head and feeling the sun warm you. Almost puts you in a trance. I’ve actually taken a nap up there.  Yeah, it’s awesome!

Q: Can people come watch the work being done? Or can people join the crew?
A: If anyone would like to come watch, they can just email me (james@nesscodesigns.com) and I will let them know where we will be that day. I have to be pretty choosy about who helps because of the challenges I mentioned, but I am certainly willing to talk to someone if they would like to join us.


Filed under Et Cetera, Mother Nature, Q&A

Wallow Fire: Three Years Later and Why Leave No Trace Matters

Photo by Kelly Kramer

Photo by Kelly Kramer

Three years ago today, two men — cousins Caleb and David Malboeuf — were camping in the Bear Wallow Wilderness when they walked away from their partially extinguished campfire. Their irresponsibility resulted in the Wallow Fire, which scorched 535,000 acres of forest. Arizonans continue to pay for their carelessness, and it’s a debt that will be passed to our children. Yes, we’ve seen signs of regrowth, but it’ll be another century before the area looks as it once did. It’s heartbreaking. But perhaps what’s even more upsetting is the fact that maybe, just maybe, the fire might not have happened at all had the Malboeufs understood and followed the Leave No Trace (LNT) principles.

And now another wildfire is burning. So far, the Slide Fire in Oak Creek Canyon has charred 20,369 acres. Unfortunately, this is just the beginning: it’s hot and bone-dry in places. And there is the very real possibility that another wildfire could eclipse Wallow. So, what can we do? Below, Arizona Leave No Trace advocate and master educator Cindy de Leon Reilly talks about Leave No Trace and why it’s time to pay attention to these seven principles.

What is Leave No Trace, and how did these principles come to be?
Our forests have always been used by people for recreation, to get out and enjoy them for various reasons. With this came various destructive behaviors in the outdoors. Some examples are leaving trash behind, feeding the animals, chopping trees down and playing with fire. We were literally killing our forests. In the 1960s, the U.S. Forest Service noticed these impacts. As recreationists and visitors, we rarely saw these effects.

The start of the Leave No Trace movement was in the 1980s, with the Forest Service and its “No Trace” program that focused on wilderness ethics and travel and camping practices.  In 1990s, the Forest Service partnered with the National Outdoor Leadership School to create a hands-on, science-based training to start educating others in outdoor skills, which reinforced the “No Trace” standards. Eventually, other outdoor for-profit and nonprofit organizations and federal land-management agencies joined the efforts and created an independent nonprofit organization called Leave No Trace Inc. and its principles.

Over the years, Leave No Trace Inc. evolved into the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics. The original principles evolved to include an extra principle, giving us seven total. The seven principles are:

Plan Ahead and Prepare

Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces

Dispose of Waste Properly

Leave What You Find

Minimize Campfire Impacts

Respect Wildlife

Be Considerate of Other Visitors

 This year, there have been 488 wildfires in Arizona; all but 20 or so were human caused. What is the general public missing when it comes to LNT?
Honestly, the general public does not really think about their impact when they are outdoors.  Its almost like it does not apply to them. There are two kinds of users, backcountry and frontcountry. Backcountry users, such as backpackers, are those who go to isolated areas that are not accessible by vehicles.  Most of these users are aware of the Leave No Trace principles. They learn about the principles through outdoor retailers like REI, or outdoor entities like this publication. Also, the principles are typically posted on public-land websites and at offices where one obtains recreation permits.

Frontcountry means those areas easily accessible by vehicles. These are areas such as campgrounds and nearby trails. Even though the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics partners with the Forest Service and other similar entities, and gets the word out through campsite postings and education, many outdoor frontcountry users do not read or care to practice these principles because they are only thinking about having fun. I have seen many frontcountry users ignore the rules and the principles.  Of course, not all backcountry users follow the rules, either. Is a bonfire necessary to have the campfire ambience? Is a campfire really necessary?

This week is the anniversary of Wallow Fire. What goes through your mind as you look back on that fire, and how could have LNT prevented that blaze?
It is my understanding that two men, who left their fire unattended, started the fire.  Principle 7 of Leave No Trace is Minimize Campfire Impacts.  This principle includes the following:

·      Campfires can cause lasting impacts to the backcountry. Use a lightweight stove for cooking, and enjoy a candle lantern for light.

·      Where fires are permitted, use established fire rings, fire pans or mound fires.

·      Keep fires small. Only use sticks from the ground that can be broken by hand.

·      Burn all wood and coals to ash, put out campfires completely and scatter cool ashes. 

Had these men put out their fire completely before they left their site, then this devastating fire could have been prevented.  Even if a fire was in a campsite and within a fire ring, one should always make sure that their fire site is out cold.  Cold means that when you place your hand upon the fire site, you should feel no warmth.  Sometimes there are smoldering embers beneath the surface that we cannot see.  But if we feel for it, then a fire can be avoided.

According to the Incident Information System, the Slide Fire is human caused, though still under investigation. Long term, what do you think will happen if, moving forward, we do not implement LNT in our daily lives?
People, especially in Arizona, should understand that lands in our Southwest regions are very dry and overly sensitive to fire impacts.  Having a water shortage makes it worse.  If we do not implement Leave No Trace and its principles, the impacts of wildfire will happen more often. People will start fires anywhere, regardless of rules and conditions.  There is a common-sense attitude about the principles and education. This is to make things safer and better. Leave No Trace is not supposed to be an inconvenience. I believe that Leave No Trace and its principles have been minimizing the impact of fires in our region.

How can the public help spread the word about LNT?
Many organizations, public and private, are spreading the word about Leave No Trace. Upon learning the principles, share them and their importance.  Spreading the word is educating.

The Leave No Trace Center of Outdoor Ethics has been working hard with many organizations and corporations in supporting educational training and awareness workshops. Although the training may have a cost, depending on where you take it, from a master educator/trainer point of view, it’s worth learning and preserving the outdoors and practicing outdoor ethics.

As an Arizona advocate, I get the word out and help provide training and awareness workshops. The trainers are all volunteers and knowledgeable to give Leave No Trace.  They teach Leave No Trace through hands-on activities and games.

To learn and spread the work, request information from Leave No Trace. Contact your state advocate for options and opportunities to have Leave No Trace visit your troop or organization and help you implement Leave No Trace. The Leave No Trace trainers are volunteers. We believe in Leave No Trace outdoor ethics.  Contact me to get you the information.

And not only learn it, but practice it and share it with your organization.  It may take a while to educate, but in the long run, it will be worth it. It is a worthwhile cause.

What are some simple things the public can do now that will help protect our outdoor spaces?
Throw your trash away in designated areas. This includes food items that will attract wildlife, a safety and health issue for both the animal and us. Additionally, make sure cigarettes are fully extinguished and properly thrown away.

Do not play with matches, lighters or fire. Some people are fascinated with fire. Teach them the dangers of fire and teach then how to properly use them for when they need to use this tool.

Store flammables away correctly as directed.

Cut tree branches away from flammable areas, such as those hanging over chimneys.

Keep in mind that if you have to build a fire that is not in an established fire ring, please consider the location of your fire. Typically, tree-root systems lay as far as the tree canopy.  Do not place your fire under the canopy area, since the root system may catch on fire and travel.  This is known as root fire and is also considered very dangerous.  After your fire, put it out cold, then dismantle it and leave no trace.

Be prepared, be aware of the rules and follow them. Rules are made to protect the area and us. There may be a fire restriction or water concerns. There may be sick or dangerous animal situations in the area. Rules are made to protect the environment and us.

Talk to me about the programs your organization offers.
We have volunteer trainers who are available to share Leave No Trace with you.  There is the REI PEAK program; you can borrow these kits from REI or purchase them online. Traveling Trainers provide workshops and attend events to share Leave No Trace at no cost; just make your request for their appearance online. They are a terrific addition to any event or visit. Backyard sessions are when a trainer comes over and talks about Leave No Trace to your group. You can talk to your state advocate about scheduling these opportunities. Leave No Trace has some grant opportunities to cover educational materials and training costs.  More information on this is online at www.LNT.org. Hot Spots is a conservation-related program. It is based on nominating locations in need of major improvements due to the destruction suffered.  Then Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics will work with others to bring the location back to its original natural state.

You offer LNT principles for kids; what tips can you offer parents who want to teach their children how to enjoy the outdoors responsibly?
Working with kids is fun! We work with many kid organizations, Scouts, schools and clubs for children. The key component to teaching children is to make it short and fun. Some of the fun is through games and hands-on activities.  Create an LNT Bingo game for a hike, create a cootie catcher with the principles, and teach them to be considerate to others and their environment, as you would expect them to be at school and home. Take the online awareness course, too.

There are many resources to help teach children Leave No Trace. For example, you can go to your local REI and borrow the PEAK program.  This program was created by REI, through their partnership with the center, to provide an outdoor ethics kit to teach kids Leave No Trace.  This kit contains cards with games and materials that can be used, making it fun to learn Leave No Trace. REI also offers free workshops, often hosted by the Traveling Trainers, where they love to teach with children and other organizations about Leave No Trace.

You can contact your Leave No Trace state advocate to arrange a visit or send you Leave No Trace material for your use.

For more information, visit http://www.facebook.com/LNTAZ or http://lnt.org/get-involved/state/az.

You can also contact de Leon Reilly at: AZadvocate@lnt.org 

—Kathy Ritchie


Filed under Eco Issues, Mother Nature

History Repeating Itself With the Doce Fire

Photo courtesy of Jag Fergus, Prescott

Photo courtesy of Jag Fergus, Prescott

History is notorious for repeating itself. Eleven years ago yesterday, the Rodeo Fire started on the Fort Apache Reservation. Two days later, the Chediski Fire was reported. The two fires eventually merged, becoming the second-largest wildfire in Arizona history. The Wallow Fire, in 2011, surpassed Rodeo-Chediski when it burned more than 538,000 acres. Despite the devastation of those two human-caused fires, it seems not everyone was paying attention. The proof? Yesterday, on the anniversary of Rodeo-Chediski, the Doce Fire started 8 miles northwest of Prescott. According to officials, the cause was human. The fire has already consumed 7,000 acres of forest, and containment is at zero percent.

The Leave No Trace principles exist to help prevent fires like Doce from happening. Yet, as we learned just a few weeks ago, people either don’t care or don’t listen, which likely explains why more than 70 illegal campfires were discovered on the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests over Memorial Day weekend.

Photo courtesy of Jag Fergus, Prescott

Photo courtesy of Jag Fergus, Prescott

So, here we go again. Homes have been evacuated, and the American Red Cross has already set up an evacuation center at Yavapai College. Let’s hope that this fire is contained soon.



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Filed under Eco Issues, News

Over 70 Illegal Campfires Discovered on the Apache-Sitgreaves NF

Photo by Kelly Vaughn Kramer | Wallow Fire

Photo by Kelly Vaughn Kramer | Wallow Fire

Wow. Well, this is some very, very disappointing news. Turns out, Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests personnel found over 70 illegal campfires while patrolling Memorial Day weekend. “In most cases, campers complied with our request to put out their campfires, however, citations were issued,” says Mark Empey, Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests’ Fire Management Officer.

In case you forgot, on May 23, campfire and smoking restrictions were implemented in Apache and Navajo Counties, Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests, and within local fire districts located in both counties.

Most Arizona campers are used to the almost annual need for restrictions on campfires. Still, it’s clear some folks need a reminder.

Photo by Kelly Vaughn Kramer | Wallow Fire

Photo by Kelly Vaughn Kramer | Wallow Fire

Let’s not forget Arizona experienced several mega fires in 2011, namely the Wallow Fire, which charred over 538,000 acres, and, according to the Forest Service, this year’s severe drought conditions and moisture emulate the blue print from 2011. The Forest would like to enlist the public’s help in reporting abandoned fires or people who build campfires outside of developed campgrounds.

In the meantime, the fire restrictions will remain in place until national forests service lands within Apache, Greenlee and Navajo Counties receive significant precipitation.

Photo by Kelly Vaughn Kramer | Wallow Fire

Photo by Kelly Vaughn Kramer | Wallow Fire

White Mountain visitors are reminded that some campfire restrictions are always in effect, such as in forested areas within city limits of most northern Arizona communities. Additionally, fireworks are never allowed on National Forests. For more information about restrictions on public lands by calling (928) 333-3412 or toll free 1-877-864-6985 or visit (www.311info.net), and also the NEW interagency website: (Firerestrictions.us) created to inform residents and visitors about fire restrictions and closures across the South-west area.


Filed under Eco Issues, News

Research Study of the Health Effects of the Wallow Fire on Apache County Residents

Smoke from the Wallow Fire hovers over a meadow near Tal-Wi-Wi Lodge in Alpine, Arizona.

Apache County homeowners may receive mail from Cornerstone Strategies, Incorporated concerning a study of how last year’s Wallow Fire affected residents. The Apache County Department of Public Health and the UCLA School of Medicine are studying the effects of the Wallow Fire on community health one year after the fire.

“It’s important that we consult with everyone who lives in Apache County, full-time or seasonal, so that we have a better understanding of how our citizens were affected. The residents of Apache County suffered a great loss during the summer of 2011 and this survey is an efficient way to involve our community in efforts to understand the health implications of our wildfire,” said Kellie Monterrosa, Division Manager of Public Health Emergency Preparedness for Apache County.

David Eisenman, UCLA physician and public health researcher who is conducting this research is hoping for a high response rate. “It’s important that we hear from everyone who receives this survey whether they live here full time or part time and whether they feel they were affected or not by the Wallow Fire. The more people who respond, the more accurately this survey will reflect the views of the whole community.” Approximately 1,400 homeowners have been randomly selected to participate in a survey, which takes about 20 minutes to complete. They will arrive by mail during the month of July. Reminder mailings will be sent to people who do not respond to the first mailing within two weeks.

For more information, please contact Kellie Monterorosa, MBA, Apache County Department of Public Health 928-333-6444; 928-245-1171 (cell) or David Eisenman, MD, at UCLA School of Medicine 310-794-2452.

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Filed under Eco Issues

Wallow’s Scars

Photo by Kelly Kramer

On Monday morning, a handful of Arizona Highways staffers drove up the road to Escudilla Mountain, the third highest peak in Arizona. There, not long ago, the mountainside was covered in aspens. They glowed a green-gold come autumn, and countless hikers, mountain bikers and photographers journeyed to the mountain to breathe it in.

Catching just a glimpse of the peak — even from a distance — reminded two of us of Aldo Leopold: “Life in Arizona was bounded under foot by grama grass, overhead by sky, and on the horizon by Escudilla.”

Then, last summer, the Wallow Fire burned.  Escudilla was destroyed. In time, the trees will return. It will take decades, generations, a hundred or more years for the Earth to replenish what the fire took away. But for now, the mountain is a reminder to everyone who enjoys the outdoors: Leave no trace. Extinguish your campfires. Protect the trees for future generations.

—Kelly Kramer


Filed under Eco Issues