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7/12/2011 2:23:00 PM
Four Forest Restoration Initiative: Part 1
Ending a scorched earth policy
Arizona has lost more than a million of acres of ponderosa pine forest in the last 10 years, following the departure of the logging industry from the national forests. The Four Forest Restoration Initiative intends to create an environment that brings them back
Arizona has lost more than a million of acres of ponderosa pine forest in the last 10 years, following the departure of the logging industry from the national forests. The Four Forest Restoration Initiative intends to create an environment that brings them back
The Four Forest Restoration Initiative will clear out smaller trees and bushes on about 1 million acres of the Coconino, Kaibab, Apache-Sitgreaves and Tonto national forests through the use of mechanized logging and prescribed burns.
The Four Forest Restoration Initiative will clear out smaller trees and bushes on about 1 million acres of the Coconino, Kaibab, Apache-Sitgreaves and Tonto national forests through the use of mechanized logging and prescribed burns.

Steve Ayers
Staff Reporter

VERDE VALLEY - Everyone agrees that Arizona's forests are in bad shape, or so it seems.

Years of unmanaged growth have created a situation where even the smallest of fires has a good chance of becoming a big fire.

In the past 100 years there have been 14 wildfires in North America that have exceeded 400,000 acres. Two of them occurred in Arizona just nine years apart.

Blame for the situation has fallen on environmentalists, specifically the Center for Biological Diversity, a Tucson-based organization, for running the loggers and ranchers out of the woods.

Beginning in the 1980s, the CBD began a legal battle to protect the Mexican spotted owl, which at the time was listed as a threatened species. The group blamed the logging industry, claiming that the owl's survival was dependent on old growth ponderosa pines, which the industry was clearing out.

In 1996 they convinced a federal judge to leave the big trees alone. Unable to turn a profit cutting the small stuff, the logging industry soon became the threatened species in Arizona.

It was a major victory for the environmental movement. But the excitement was tempered just six years later when the Rodeo-Chediski Fire, fueled to some extent by unmanaged undergrowth, torched 468,000 acres, taking with it the small stuff and the large stuff indiscriminately.

Two years latter, the Willow fire near Payson burned 120,000 acres, much of it ponderosa pine forest.

But nothing tops the devastation of 2011. To date, three major fires - Wallow, Horseshoe 2 and Monument - have burned more than 1,200 square miles of trees, along with 100 homes.

Shortly after the Rodeo-Chediski Fire (and likely even before), the Forest Service, as well as everyone else in the fight, realized it had a problem on its hands.

Unable to turn a profit because the big "yellow pines" were no longer available for harvest, and lacking a market for smaller trees, the logging industry had abandoned Arizona. Previously, the loggers had cleared out the smaller trees and brush while harvesting the big ones.

The only way to entice private industry back to the woods to clear out the increasingly volatile under story was to actually pay them to do it.

In 2004 the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest awarded a 10-year contract to a handful of private logging companies that would be paid to "treat" about 15,000 acres a year, most of it in the urban interface portion of the forest -- where the forest meets the mountain communities.

Called the White Mountain Stewardship Contract, it was this program that is largely responsible for saving the communities of Greer, Nutrioso and Alpine from the monster Wallow fire.

By 2014, the contract will clear brush and small diameter trees from 150,000 acres of the forest floor at a cost estimated between $500 and $1,000 per acre.

Estimates to complete the project run between $30 million and $60 million, a figure the Forest Service realizes is not realistic if they intended to bring the entire 25 mile wide, 200 mile long, 2.4 million acres of Northern Arizona's ponderosa pine forest back into balance.

In addition, the Forest Service realized that 150,000 acres at 15,000 acres a year would barely put a dent in the growing problem.

In 2009, a new plan began to take shape, known as the Four Forest Restoration Initiative, or 4FRI.

It proposes to treat nearly 1 million acres of overgrowth and undergrowth, using mechanized logging as well as prescribed burns, to treat the forest at a rate unprecedented in Forest Service history -- 50,000 acres a year.

And it intends to do so at no cost to the four National Forests involved in the undertaking, the Coconino, Tonto, Apache-Sitgreaves and Kaibab.

It is a remarkable program not only for its size and scope, and its zero-cost mandate, but because of who is involved.

Entities who fought the legal battles back in the 1980s and 1990s are the ones who have sat at the table the last two years and created the initiative -- private industry, environmental organizations and state and federal agencies.

An example of the change in attitude happened earlier this year when the CBD and the Grand Canyon Trust signed an agreement with Forest Restoration Products, one of the companies hoping to do some of the work, not to sue the company and even defend it if it was sued by other environmental organizations.

The initial contract is 10 years, 300,000 acres. Bids are due by Aug. 12, and according to Brady Smith, spokesperson for the Coconino National Forest, some work could begin as early as this fall.

If the ambitious program has a weak link it is the dependence on creating an economy that can support the work necessary.

Many obstacles are in the way, not the least of which is the timing of the project. Amidst an economy that remains on life support, it is increasingly difficult to find financial backers to build the kinds of plants it will take to use all the material.

A proposal has been made to build a plant that makes oriented strand board (OSB), a sheeting material much like plywood that is used in the building industry, along with a separate plan to build a high-tech, low-waste lumber mill.

The two plants would augment an existing wood stove pellet manufacturer, a pallet maker and the energy cogeneration plant at Snowflake that generates electricity by burning biomass.

Even the environmentalists agree, the key to making 4FRI work is economic.

Part 2: The Economics of Restoration

Taylor Waste
Related Stories:
• Four Forest Restoration Initiative: Part 2

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Reader Comments

Posted: Monday, July 18, 2011
Article comment by: Suzy Burnside

As an additional source of information to supplement the media two very informative websites are and The Forest Restoration Products website is excellent and very detailed. By clicking on the Interested in More button at the bottom of every page readers can learn a great deal about this process, participants and plan.

Hmmm, in the works since 2003, following the 2002 Rodeo-Chediski Fire, consultants and experts completed the NAU study in 2007 which apparently demonstrated the need for "landscape scale restoration".

Now the members of 24 different agencies, [names on the FRI website] in February of 2011 were finally able to craft an MOU that enables "science based and socially acceptable agreements".

And in 2014 they can possibly begin a contract to clear and restore 300,000 acres over a 10 year period.

Doing the math - assuming the acreage lost to wildfires in this article is correct, and after converting the 1,200,000 sq mile number to acres, we are talking about 768,588,000 acres in need of restoration! Even deducting the small amount of acreage the White Mountain Stewardship Committee has been allowed to do at 15,000 acres a year, this is an incredible amount of forest to restore before the ongoing drought, extracts an even higher toll.

It's a good beginning, but are we "fiddling while Rome is burning?"

Posted: Monday, July 18, 2011
Article comment by: Kayo Parsons-Korn

I too grew up in the Pacific Northwest and can attest to what a clear cut is. Douglas Fir and Ponderosa Pines have very different optimal growth conditions. Doug Firs need lots of sun, hence clear cutting would provide the optimal growth conditions. Not desirable, but if you are just looking at profit, the way to go. Ponderosa Pine can be harvested selectively, although they aren't nearly as profitable as Doug Fir (don't get as large) and selective cutting isn't as profitable either. A report from NAU showed that even early logging in the Southwest didn't average trees much over 30" in diameter. So really, compared to the Pacific Northwest, this was never a huge lumber industry.

But now we are looking at harvesting that can take advantage of small trees. Strand board, pellet stove fuel, bio-fuels for electricity generation, latillas, etc. These are all great uses for small diameter trees that can rid our forests of these fire fuel dangers and produce jobs at the same time.

I think this is what the 4 Forest Initiatives is about, and from what I read a number of environmental groups are on board too.

So let's think about a way forward that can provide profitability and jobs and save endangered species too. The two aims can be compatible.

Posted: Sunday, July 17, 2011
Article comment by: Mav Rick

Hey John........Look up the meaning of clear cutting and then report back. The definitive sentence,"They when (went) in and took out what NEEDED to be cleared". Must be something different in the northwest?

Posted: Sunday, July 17, 2011
Article comment by: Colette Merchant

You say Southwest Forrest went in and "clear cut" No, they did not. Clear cutting was never allowed.. Mike can prove that one to you. The Forrest service marked the trees Southwest Forrest Ind. and Merchant Timber Fallers were allowed to cut, if they cut unmarked trees they were in BIG trouble. I have seen the forrest's that Southwest had contracts on. To name one of many all along at the top of 89A when you come out of Oak Creek Canyon was logged by them.. How does that forrest look to you? Clear cut? Nope, you can still see the old stumps they cut back in the 1980's but the forrest is healthy and beautiful a lot of the younger trees there are from the re seeding done by Southwest..In fact they had to go in the past few years and thin out some of it, I believe that was Riblin's outfit that did that for the Forrest service after the Rodeo–Chediski happened on the Rim.. There is a lot of misinformation out there, if you want the truth ask witnesses, ask one of the many loggers who lost their jobs as a result of the spotted owl in Az and can tell you the true story and back it up with pictures of how things were done.. We have plenty..

FYI, did you know we have more timber now in our country than we did in the early 1900's? True, look it up.. That is a large part in thanks to the very old outlawed practices of clear cutting being allowed, and re seeding that has gone on by the logging company's..

There is a happy medium on reasoning here, taking all of the trees is wrong, but not cutting any of then for decades now is dangerous!

Posted: Friday, July 15, 2011
Article comment by: Dont B. Deceived

Beware. Once again the litigious, anti-capitalist pseudo-conservation community is trying to take advantage of the crisis situation they created to pit timber producers against the ranching industry by holding out a carrot.

They did this in Pima County's Sonoran Desert "Conservation" Plan where they pitted the developers and realtors against the ranchers who rightfully own the beautiful private lands this same den of liars claimed to be "protecting." The carrot was the false hope of obtaining a ESA Section 10 permit that would allow "take" of alleged endangered species habitat. Today, 8 years later and having agreed not to build on some 90% or more of the private land available, the developers still do not have their illusory Section 10 permit. All the developers have is a higher cost to build in a weak housing market.

The "For Fry" plan specifically blames livestock grazing as a key cause for the buildup of shrubby forest fuels, and while this claim is founded only on the unmanaged grazing practices of more than a century ago, the statement is made as if to blame modern, managed grazing practices for causing wildfires. Nothing is mentioned in the plan of the peer reviewed research that indicates managed grazing keeps dry fuels in check, which is to say the plan is unscientifically biased against ranching. The plan goes further to state that after the excess wood is cleared out the forests will be "restored" and exclusively non-exotic species will be allowed to live under its canopy (a statement implying cattle will be prohibited). This is further confirmed by the statement that the four forests will be managed under the recovery plans for the critical habitat areas designated for the Mexican Spotted Owl and the Northern Goshawk. Both of those recovery plans exclude cattle. If this plan is allowed to move forward unquestioned, and eventually the Forest Service approves reintroduction of cattle, of course, you know what will happen next--the CBD does what the CBD does best-file a lawsuit demanding an injunction against cattle grazing. Once they have divided two multiple use industries against each other and weakened the ranching industry they will find a new excuse to sue to end forestry.

Posted: Thursday, July 14, 2011
Article comment by: John A. Bond

Dear Collette:

You said:

"They when in and took out what needed to be cleared, sold it for profit, and re-seeded.. That all came to an abrupt stop with the spotted owl"


That is what is known as "clear cutting" and it had a devastating environmental impact upon the areas in which it occured. Not just the trees but the flora and fauna that was destroyed in the process not to mention all of the other wild life negatively impacted by such irresponsible logging operations.

Posted: Thursday, July 14, 2011
Article comment by: Colette Merchant

Thanks to the environmentalists,caring more about the spotted owl(I have never seen even seen one in my 42 years in Arizona) we now have less of our beloved beautiful forests and danger of loosing more.. What once was the largest stand of ponderosa pines in the USA! My husband and father in law were loggers for Southwest Forrest Ind.. My father in law for 44 years.. They when in and took out what needed to be cleared, sold it for profit, and re-seeded.. That all came to an abrupt stop with the spotted owl.. After years of neglect, and sloppy slash pile burning of our forests we now all can see the result of putting a bird above the wilderness, and people! Open the forests up to logging again and this problem will be solved!

Posted: Tuesday, July 12, 2011
Article comment by: John A. Bond

The article states:

"Previously, the loggers had cleared out the smaller trees and brush while harvesting the big ones."


Isn't this clever. See, folks, where I grew up, the Pacific Northwest, this was called what it truly was:

Clear cutting of forests. A truly ignorant and environmentally stupid way of logging that left huge bald spots all over the mountains and led to the destruction of habitat and erosion of soil etc.

It has been rightfully rejected as unsustainable logging practices that lead to far greater long term economic damage than can be justified to harvest the trees.

Obviously, the idea trying to be sold here is that a private/public partnership will lead us to less fire danger and more profit for the private corporations that exploit the environment with little care for the after effects of their carelss logging practices that "rape" the land for profit.

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