Sustainability: Friends of the Tonto National Forest

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In a time of declining federal funding, a new volunteer group, Friends of the Tonto National Forest, has been formed to help with natural and cultural resource management and promotion of forest policies, programs and projects. Carrie Templin, the public affairs officer for the Tonto National Forest, and Art Wirtz, President of the Friends group, will discuss the goals of the new organization.

Ted Simons: Tonight's edition of Arizona Sustainability looks at Friends of the Tonto National Forest, a new volunteer group focused on helping promote and maintain the Tonto National Forest. Joining us now are Carrie Templin of the Tonto National Forest, and Art Wirtz, president of the friends group. Good to have you both here. Thanks for joining us.

Art Wirtz: Indeed.

Ted Simons: Real quickly for those who aren't familiar, where is the Tonto national forest?

Carrie Templin: The Tonto National Forest is north and east of Phoenix. If you've ever gone to Payson or to Roosevelt you've been in the Tonto national forest.

Ted Simons: And the challenges as far as natural and cultural resource management, these sorts of things, what kind of challenges are faced?

Carrie Templin: We have lots of challenges. As the city grows and people go and enjoy their natural resources, we have more and more youth, and it's harder and harder for us to keep up with all of the things we need to do and all the maintenance we would like to be doing to keep the areas beautiful.

Ted Simons: And thus the friends group, how did this friends group get started?

Art Wirtz: This friends group is relatively new. It's only been together for a few months now but volunteering, working with the different groups, has been for years and years and years. And it's just in more recently, though, as we have more and more problems and less funding, we've been looking at different ways of working hand in hand with the Tonto national forest.

Ted Simons: By way of certain projects and these sorts of things, outings, public information?

Art Wirtz: Most all of those and the typical projects people look at, they look at cleanup projects and a lot of different projects like that. But we're looking at a lot of new projects and there's a lot of different things that volunteers can do that have never been used before. And so we're exploring that. We're getting input from volunteers and things we can do to help the national forest.

Ted Simons: Were these things the national forest service was once able to do on its own? What happened?

Carrie Templin: The Riparian Photo Point is a very good example. The program has been going on for the last 25 years but it's been in the last year or two that we've been no longer able to maintain doing the photo points every single year. We don't have enough staff or funding. The friends of the Tonto have volunteered to take that program over for us and maintain those photo points which are critical to us to be able to demonstrate the health of the riparian areas.

Ted Simons: And we're looking right now at the seven-mile wash. Talk to us about what a photo point project is and what the goal is.

Art Wirtz: Essentially, it's monitoring a piece of land over a period of time. And would be taking picture of the current conditions and then coming back a year later, taking another picture, and determining has it changed for the better, for the worse? Has it stayed the same or what are the conditions?

Ted Simons: Can you go back to seven-mile wash for a second because I want to ask you from what we saw of that, what is that telling you those pictures?

Art Wirtz: Well, those pictures are showing that there's improvement and a lot of times there's some changes that have been made related to either management of grazing or other different changes, and also if there is effect of a drought condition which we've had drought conditions on there. Right now, we're getting a little bit of improvement in the past few years. So we're seeing some of the improvements on there, and the measurement tied in with the riparian areas, it's a way of measuring the health of the forest.

Ted Simons: The forest service had done these projects for quite a while. And they've got to continue because it's a valuable resource.

Carrie Templin: It's a very valuable tool for us to be able to demonstrate the health of the forest and the health of those riparian areas and one of the things that Art didn't talk about with that is that a lot of people don't realize that those riparian areas lead into all those lakes that we talked about earlier, which is the drinking supply for Phoenix.

Ted Simons: Indeed, indeed. Okay. So how many volunteers are there, how many friends are there and how does one become a friend?

Art Wirtz: It's a new organization. There's currently about 30 people that have signed up on there but we know there are thousands out there that have interest in it. We have a website, I'm sure you're showing the website on there. We like people to go in and look at that website and if they have interest to contact us, not with just the projects that they think they would have but ones they would like to get involved with or some I've always liked to do this type of project. Fine, bring it up and we'll look at things and talk it over with the forest and see if that's possible.

Ted Simons: How do you make sure that the friends are qualified to be friends? [ Laughter ]

Carrie Templin: We're lucky enough that we have very talented people that are heading up this group, that we've worked with for years so we know them, we know that they'll do the projects and we will work with them hand in hand to make sure that the projects that are taken on benefit the forest and benefit the volunteer group.

Ted Simons: And as far as coordination and consultation between the forest service and the group? How much is there?

Carrie Templin: There's often -- I attend their meetings which they have monthly but beyond that, we have phone calls and visits often between those two points. So we are back and forth all the time with what's going on.

Ted Simons: The future, what do you want to see in the next few years?

Art Wirtz: We would like to see the organization build and get involved with a lot more different projects, particularly in areas like equestrian. There's a lot of people that ride horses on the national forest and they may be able to go out and identify problems with some of our trails that we don't have people in the national forest available but they can identify those problems or recreational shooting, same type of thing. We're looking at a lot of different groups. We would like to get involved with them and have them contact us.

Ted Simons: Good information. Good to have you both here. Thanks for joining us. That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.

Carrie Templin:Public Affairs Officer, Tonto National Forest; Art Wirtz:President, Friends of the Tonto National Forest;

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