I think having the Campbell Group as the subcontrator on the Four Forests Initiative stewardship contract is a very good thing, and answers critics who noted that Good Earth Power has no experience with forestry in the US (it had focused, so far, on Africa.
Article from Greenwire:
Major forest-thinning project switched to billion-dollar international company
Good Earth Power AZ LLC took over the Forest Service contract from the former contractor, Pioneer Forest Products Corp., last month. On Thursday, Good Earth Power appointed a subcontractor, the Campbell Group, to thin 300,000 acres of forests across four national forests in Arizona over the next 10 years.
Over the long term, the Four Forest Restoration Initiative (4FRI) seeks to treat 2.4 million acres from the Grand Canyon to the New Mexico border over the next 20 years to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires. It is the largest stewardship project in the Forest Service’s history.
The Forest Service announced the transfer from Pioneer to Good Earth Power last month. The first phase of the project was initially granted to Pioneer in May 2012, but the company expressed difficulty in securing funding for the work.
In the year-and-a-half since the award, the company has treated only about 900 acres on the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests. Pioneer eventually asked the Forest Service for a novation, or a transfer of the assets and liabilities of the contract to another firm.
“It’s very clear that they have the financial backing available to secure the contract,” Henry Provencio, 4FRI team leader for the Forest Service, said of Good Earth Power. The new contractor is a subsidiary of an international firm with headquarters in Oman. The Campbell Group, the subcontractor, manages 3.2 million acres, worth $6.1 billion in timberland assets, in the United States and Australia.
Good Earth Power is evaluating existing mills and infrastructure in the region to identify which projects will be best suited to use the wood thinnings, said a spokeswoman for the company. The company plans to use some of the thinned wood waste in a biofuels treatment plant and is looking to complete a pre-feasibility study by January.
It’s likely that Good Earth Power will pick up on Pioneer’s plans to install a 30-million-gallon-per-year wood-to-biodiesel plant using technology developed by Concord Blue USA, an international waste-to-energy firm. This worries Todd Schulke, a senior staff member and co-founder of the Center for Biological Diversity, a stakeholder in the 4FRI process and critic of Pioneer.
“It’s really unclear if Good Earth Power is any more substantial than Pioneer was,” he said. “They’re making all of these proposals that don’t add up.”
Green group worries about endangered species
4FRI was implemented as a partnership among the Forest Service, the private sector and environmental advocacy groups around the Kaibab, Tonto, Coconino and Apache-Sitgreaves national forests. Forest Service policies over the last century have restricted thinning in these forests.
A combination of dense ponderosa pine forests and dry conditions due to climate change has increased the wildfire risk and severity in the Southwest (ClimateWire, March 22).
The Center for Biological Diversity has voiced concern that the Forest Service may be using 4FRI as a way to profit from Arizona’s forests, rather than as a technique to reduce large wildfires. The Forest Service’s plan to trim forests into “clumps” of trees, rather than a flammable tangle of woods, could harm the habitat of endangered species like the Mexican spotted owl, the group asserts.
Schulke also questioned the company’s ability to use local Arizona mills — which are suited for large-diameter timber — for the small trees that are cut in the thinning process.
Good Earth Power “will work to support local mills and their existing capacity, identify what other capacity may be needed and then work on a plan for manufacturing growth,” said the spokeswoman for the company.
Last year, critics accused the Forest Service of a conflict of interest in granting the contract to Pioneer, as the company’s chief consultant, Marlin Johnson, was a former Forest Service supervisor.
The Center for Biological Diversity and the Grand Canyon Trust, conservation groups and stakeholders in the 4FRI process, had backed Arizona Forest Restoration Products Inc., with whom they had signed a memorandum of understanding in 2009. Pioneer’s bid for the contract was about $9 million less than AFRP’s (Greenwire, June 8, 2012).
In the last two months, Good Earth Power has released nine new task orders to thin 15,219 acres of the 300,000-acre contract.