The human-caused San Juan Fire that flared up Thursday is burning some of our favorite hunting grounds on the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest. It started on the Apache reservation near Boundary Butte and is spreading northeastwards on the Springerville ranger district in the vicinity of Vernon, between Highway 260 and Highway 60.
The size doubled yesterday to over 5,000 acres. At the moment, it is in ponderosa and mixed conifer forest between 7500 and 8500 feet. If the winds continue to come out of the southwest as is typical, it will burn itself out as it hits the high desert of the Colorado Plateau northwards. However, if we get an unusual northwest or north wind, all the vast 9000-10,000 foot mixed conifer forest around Greens Peak will be threatened. This is perhaps the premier ten square miles of mushroom habitat in the state, and a favored site for group forays of the Arizona Mushroom Club.
The forest will be healthier for it in the long run, and the morel hunting should be superb next spring if we get the predicted El Niño winter this year. But it will not look the same for a lifetime, and it’s anyone’s guess when it will again produce a cornucopia of boletes and chanterelles in the summer monsoon season.
Let us hope that it remains predominantly a ground fire that spares the large trees, rather than a crown fire that consumes everything in its path. According to the ABC-15 story, the area has been thinned aggressively in recent years, which should limit the damage it does.