Flagstaff was once again focused on climate change in 2021. The region witnessed the consequences firsthand in the form of extreme wildfires and a summer of other extreme weather events. The community worked to improve climate regulations and prevent future disasters. Some of these efforts were criticised by the public.
Here are the top 2021 environmental stories:
Flagstaff joins the carbon neutrality plan
Flagstaff City Council adopted the Carbon Neutrality Plan (June) and pledged to be net-zero carbon emission by 2030.
The Carbon Neutrality Plan was initiated in 2020 by a citizen petition calling for a declaration of a climate emergency. It is a framework that allows for future action, and fine-tuning continues throughout the year.
According to the plan, costs include a $90million one-time investment to improve bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure and $5million annually to support high frequency bus lines. These are in addition to future infrastructure costs, such as reducing the use of nonrenewable energies.
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The Carbon Neutrality Plan seeks to address and eventually reduce emissions through multiple areas. These include infrastructure improvements that allow for walking or biking. Flagstaff’s 2020 growth was largely due to transportation and waste. The city will also work closely with Northern Arizona University, the council, and other stakeholders to develop realistic goals and timelines.
North Rim bison removal
Many hunters applied for one or more of the 12 spots that were available to reduce the number bison living on Grand Canyon’s North Rim.
The herd of bison has been living on the North Rim since the 1990s, resulting in frustration for park managers, scientists and conservationists.Park officials worried the herd of an estimated 800 animals could seriously impact water, vegetation, soils and archeological sites.
Officials from Grand Canyon National Park said that reducing the number and size of bison would help to protect the ecosystem, resources, values, and biodiversity. It was the first time that hunting was allowed within the national parks.
The applicant had to pass a shooting test in which they had to shoot three of five bullets at a 4-inch target at 100 yards. They were also required to have a support crew, be able field-dress and haul out the kill, and provide their own hunting gear and safety training.
However, local conservation and environmental groups urged for a nonlethal solution. Officials, including the Colorado Governor, had previously moved Bison to better areas. Jason Polis asked why it couldn’t happen again. However, park officials said that they needed rapid reductions in the herd.
Rafael Fire causes destruction of thousands of acres
In June, the Rafael Fire engulfed more than 78,000 acres in Flagstaff. Numerous communities were threatened by the lightning-caused blaze and residents waited anxiously for an evacuation.
Multiple fires were igniting across the state, putting pressure on fire crews. The Rafael Fire was the most important, with 600 crews.
In the end, they used backburns to stop the rapid-growing western and northern fires. However, flooding was a possibility after fires like the Rafael and Backbone.
Campers and businesses are affected by the closing of forests
Due to the high risk of wildfires this summer, Coconino National Forest was again closed. This forced campers out of their woods and impacted outdoor-dependent businesses.
The restriction was in effect for several weeks, and the city saw an increase in forest dwellers who moved their camping equipment within city limits. After the forest closed, RVs, vans, and sedans were allowed to decamp in a Walmart lot for 24 hours.
The Flagstaff City Council ultimately denied a citizen petition to repeal the citys public camping ordinance,prompting further conversations about how to better support unsheltered and vulnerable populationsespecially as the seasonal summer closures become the norm.
Arizona Snowbowl was one of the businesses that had to close because of the restrictions. Others were affected by evacuation orders and uncertainty that loomed during their busiest season.
Wood for Life continues
As part of the second annual Wood for Life partnership, crews from the Ancestral Lands Conservation Corps cut timber from the San Francisco Peaks and Bill Williams Mountain in the early autumn.
The unique goal of the project is to restore the meadows and riparian areas that were destroyed by the closing of the Kayenta Coal Mine and Navajo Generating Station. The wood will be donated to tribal communities that are in dire need of firewood. With the closures of the Navajo Generating Station, Kayenta Coal Mine and the Navajo Generating Station, the demand for alternative heating in tribal lands grew substantially. This led to a heating crisis for the Navajo as well as Hopi people.
The project resulted is the donation of nearly 2000 cords of woods. More efforts are already planned for the next few year.
Grand Canyon uranium miner opens new chapter
This year, a new controversy erupted over uranium mining near Grand Canyon National Park.
Canada-based Energy Fuels Resources applied to obtain a new permit for the Pinyon Plain Mine’s aquifer protection. The mine is 10 miles from the Grand Canyon National Parks South Rim.
The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality was forced to deny the application by environmental groups and the Havasupai tribe. Activists have long worried that the mine’s proximity the Grand Canyon could cause groundwater contamination. This could also lead to poisoning springs throughout the Grand Canyon, including the Havasupai tribes’ sole source of water.
This is just the latest chapter of the ongoing conflict over uranium mines near the Grand Canyon. Following a lengthy court battle, the tribe along with two environmental groups lost the right to close down the mine in 2020.
After Forest Service officials canceled Phase 2 contracts, citing several obstacles that made the project impossible, the future of Four Forest Restoration Initiative (4FRI), was grim.
The project will treat millions of acres of forested land in northern Arizona to reduce wildfire risk and improve forest health. It is one of the most important forest restoration projects in the nation.
However, advocates and state officials were concerned that 4FRI would be ending after many years of hard work.
The U.S. gave the project new life. In November, the Forest Service pledged $54million for forest restoration. Crews were able immediately to treat 135,000 high-priority areas, with a goal for 35,000 acres by 2022 fiscal year.
Firefighters gather for prescribed-burn training
Flagstaff was the location for several city-led fires by firefighters from the West. It was part of a training exchange.
Flagstaff Forest Health Supervisor Neil Chapman believes Flagstaff is a great location to host such an event. Flagstaff Fire Department, for one, has had a wildlands division for almost two decades. It also has done a lot of proactive work, including prescribed burns.
The idea was to bring together municipal and federal fire officials to exchange ideas and strategies, and to better prepare local departments to deal with wildfires. As wildfires increase in intensity and size with each passing season, and as housing developments become more prevalent on forested land, more attention is being paid to preventative and initial measures.
Participants were trained in managing fire, long-term suppression, and how to deal with prescribed burns.
Reporter Bree Burkitt can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org on Twitter at@breeburkitt.
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