SEDONA, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -- A picture may be worth a thousand words, but in this case, the video explains it all. Trees and plants in the forest around Sedona are being damaged. Some are dying.
Sedona is considered one of the most beautiful places in the world. Visitors describe views of majestic, towering red rocks as 'spiritual." But if you leave the quaint town that draws more than 3 million visitors a year and drive a short distance into the forest, you see brown, brittle, dying trees along the dirt roads and trails. These areas have seen a dramatic increase in traffic, especially off-highway vehicles (OHV's), during the pandemic. The problem appears to be dust.
Homeowner Dianna Bindley was so concerned over the die-off that she hired an arborist who found the increased traffic is kicking up dust, which settles on the trees, blocking their ability to photosynthesis, the process in which plants turn sunlight into food. The plants are starving. This is not typical dust. OHV's have tires designed to grip the ground.
According to the arborist's report, the heavy traffic pulverizes the dirt on the roads into fine powdery dust, which is kicked up into the air. Especially with the wind, the fine dust can be carried higher and a greater distance, affecting more trees farther away from the roads. Video shows a thick coating of dust on plants and trees.
COVID has brought a surge in all forms of recreation in the Sedona area, including OHV rentals. Bindley says there are days when hundreds of OHV's speed past her home kicking up dust clouds. Using a radar gun, our video shows the faster the vehicle, the bigger the dust cloud.
The drought may compound the declining health of trees. In 2020 the Sedona area received less than half its annual rainfall. There are no speed limits on forest service roads and, according to Forest Service Ranger Amy Tinderholt, there are no plans to limit traffic to reduce the dust. The Forest Service points to the drought as a predominant factor in the declining health of trees, but Tinderholt says there has been discussion on what role the dust is playing.
"It's not something that we've typically tackled before. This is a little bit of a new problem that we're investigating," says Tinderholt.
For now, it's up to visitors to voluntarily ease up on the gas to cut down on the dust and help protect the forest they came to enjoy.