This week, the Coconino National Forest began an aggressive treatment of Oak Creek Canyon’s most severely burned areas from the Slide Fire. As Arizona Public Radio’s Ryan Heinsius reports, one part of that process is so-called heli-mulching.
Two helicopters each carrying a massive payload of straw mulch fly in from the north. They near a charred section above the banks of Oak Creek and release right on target, covering plant seed already put down. Then they turn back for another round. In total, nearly 2,200 acres in the burn area will undergo the $2 million treatment.
Sean Martin is the Burn Area Emergency Response implementation team leader.
“It’s an effective treatment. There’s been many studies in the past five, 10 years on major fires that we’ve had and straw mulching is pretty effective,” Martin says.
The team’s goal is to lessen flooding, debris flows and rock fall during monsoon rains. Rory Steinke is co-leader of the response team and a soil scientist.
“You put it in these areas that have been over-burned — that is going to slow the water down, it’s going to protect the soil at the same time, and the mulch provides a favorable micro habitat for plant growth,” Steinke says.
Steinke says it will take three years for shrubs and grasses to regenerate in the canyon. Once it does, it will reduce flooding. But, he acknowledges this year will be the worst for the after effects of the Slide Fire. Because of the danger, managers recently announced the closure of all forest lands in Oak Creek Canyon for monsoon season, beginning July 7.