4FRI Agreement Signed

Here’s the link to an Arizona Daily Sun story.

On paper, they are all starting on the same page.

Now comes the hard part: finding the money and implementing one of the most ambitious forest restoration plans in the country.

More than 20 organizations — some of them past legal adversaries — signed a memorandum of understanding Wednesday in Flagstaff with the U.S. Forest Service for the restoration of 1.5 million acres across four forests: Coconino, Kaibab, Apache-Sitgreaves and Tonto.

The sheer size of the project had signatories grasping for superlatives.

“At hundreds of thousands of acres, you can just about manage for every kind of wildlife except grizzly bears,” said Wally Covington, executive director of NAU’s Ecological Restoration Institute. “This gives you the scale to protect watersheds, create wildlife habitat and attract viable businesses that can use the excess trees, provide jobs and stimulate local economies.”

The Coconino and Kaibab forests, the first in line to be treated, had a 750,000-acre action plan released last month. The public comment period continues through March 11.

A decade ago, Flagstaff-area forest officials, scientists, business groups and conservationists launched a plan to thin and restore 100,000 acres that is ongoing.

But public funding has been scarce, and the wood-products industry has said the scale of the harvesting is too small — a 20-year guaranteed wood supply is needed to justify private investment in a strandboard plant, which would pay for the thinning and other treatments.

The so-called Four Forests Restoration Initiative addresses that concern by prescribing thinning and controlled burns across the entire ponderosa pine forest. That had Pascal Berlioux, president and CEO of Arizona Forest Restoration Products Inc., anxious to get started Wednesday.

“Collaboration does not accomplish enough if it does not translate into action,” Berlioux said. “It is now time to cross that last bridge and complete the planning and contracting processes that will allow appropriate-scale industry to build a small-diameter tree utilization infrastructure capable of offsetting treatment costs and funding landscape-scale restoration in northern Arizona.”

Some of the conservation groups that signed the agreement Wednesday have tangled in the past with the Forest Service and even each other over standards for protecting wildlife habitat and sustainable harvesting. But they appeared to have called a truce Wednesday.

“Today marks a turning point for northern Arizona’s forests and the communities and species that call them home,” said Todd Schulke, forest policy analyst at the Center for Biological Diversity. “After a century of ecosystem decline, the long-overdue restoration envisioned by the Four Forest Restoration Initiative will set forested landscapes on a path of recovery. We’re excited to be part of that endeavor.”

Among other signatories were the Northern Arizona Loggers Association, the Grand Canyon Trust, and the Nature Conservancy of Arizona.

Here’s a link to the 4FRI website.

12 thoughts on “4FRI Agreement Signed”

  1. Derek, I think that’s a great question.

    Since I am not familiar with Arizona nor Montana, I should be in an ideal position to generate some hypotheses.

    1. Montana has fewer acres of the ponderosa type where the concept of vegetation “restoration” is so clear (fewer trees, underburning =good). Like other states, they have those pesky lodgepole and spruce-fir types where what is the right thing to do “ecologically” is not so clear (there is really no such thing as the “right” vegetation, but that’s a post of its own). Perhaps Arizona is more like the Black Hills in that respect.

    2. Wally Covington’s charismatic leadership in seeking solutions, coupled with his scientific legitimacy.

    3. That cultural thing some Montanans have about being the land of carnivores. I’m not making fun of it, but perhaps there are fundamentally different values between people who make up the composition of Arizona and Montana.

    I’d be interested in hearing from someone who has experience in both parts of the country.

  2. I wish these guys well, but I have a few further thoughts.

    –The only sentence that means anything in this Kumbaya press release is “a 20 year guaranteed wood supply is needed to justify private investment…” As Colorado shows, it’s easy for the USFS to “dumb down” an EA and crank out the timber sales. It’s not so easy to process the timber. I’d like to see the meat and potatoes of such a guarentee. How would such a guarantee be structured. Will the USFS be bonded and pay off the 250 million dollar loan for an OSB mill if the mill closes because of supply problems? There have been 20 year supply agreements in the past-how did they pay off?

    In fact, I find it rather ironic that a 20 year “pulp wood” supply agreement with a mill in Snowflake AZ ran out shortly before the CBD shut down the timber industry. The pulp mill “thinned” 15,000 acres/year of “small diameter trees”. The New OSB plans to thin 25,000 acres. I guess we’ll have to wait a few years to see if any bankers want to throw in with the CBD and make this viable. It doesn’t matter if the present leadership swears off litigation-all that matters is that they could start at any time. In fact they recently had a 30 page appeal of a timber sale which was quietly “dropped” a week after the Schulz fire. They have a well known track record of shutting down the timber industry. They have no track record of cooperating with the timber industry-for 20 years. I guess the jury will be out for a couple more years.

    –The CBD seems to think they have the USFS over a barrell. They seem to think that all the public demand to “thin” will preasure the USFS to bend to their demands. I think many in the USFS know they won’t get the blame. Perhaps many are not to anxious to bale out the CBD. I think it is the CBD who are over a barrell. What I do know, is when the next half million acre fire blows through Arizona’s forest, that OSB mill better be up and thinning or Congress will put an end of to NEPA litigation on WUI timber sales. That would go a long way to “guaranteeing” a supply.

    –I hope Enviro’s can handle the truth of the “pre-settlement” forest in Arizona. This is a forest that is known for it’s very low density. 20-30 trees/acre. Thats no different from a shelterwood harvest. Someone called one of Covingtons “restoration harvests” a clearcut. The 16″ diameter limit? Ironically, when comparing present stand inventories to those done in 1910, there’s actually more 16″ diameter trees now, more 18″, more 20″. Slightly less 24″ today, from .4/acre to .3/acre. I’m sure there are many acres now where there are none, but keep in mind that the “old growth” of today was only a young tree in 1910. How many trees grew into old growth with fire suppresion? If the CBD doesn’t want to restore the ecosystem back to 20 16″ TPA, then who is now tampering with the “natural” ecosystem to suit their own goals?

    A big part of me would like to see this whole thing fail.A part of me thinks the best thing for forestry would be for another half million acre fire to burn through Arizona or to have the people of Bozeman drink bottled water for 6 months because their municipal watershed cooked off. But I like to think a bigger part would like to see them succeed. Like I’ve said before, forestry wins either way. And my inner conflict reflects an outer conflict that pretty much sums up what this blog is all about.

  3. Where have we heard this before?

    But public funding has been scarce, and the wood-products industry has said the scale of the harvesting is too small — a 20-year guaranteed wood supply is needed to justify private investment in a strandboard plant, which would pay for the thinning and other treatments

    I’ll be interested to see where this goes, and also to see who stands in opposition not only to the “guarantee”, but also to the recently signed “memorandum of understanding.”

    Anybody have the list of 20 who signed?

  4. Dave- I heard it in the early 80’s when we had a mountain pine beetle epidemic in central Oregon and tried to get an OSB plant in Chiloquin. Maybe the time, and the collaborative spirit, is right – today, in Northern Arizona. Sometimes, in policy as in life, timing is everything.

    There are contact numbers on the 4FRI website, I’m sure you could get a copy of the MOU.

  5. Just a quick note Sharon. Montana has a lot of ponderosa pine. Poderosa was the log of choice for Anaconda Copper(probably a little of that in your cell phone today). The Bitteroot is famous for it’s Ponderosa. I think something like 35% of the habitat on the Lolo is “moderately warm dry” where Ponderosa and Doug Fir thrive. Something like 30% of the Beaverhead, which is drier, is in “warm dry” habitat. A lot of these habitats shared the same “density” as Arizona(perhaps not a little).

    Now I’m going to describe a perfect win-win situation. These low elevation habitats were all logged a hundred years ago. There is no old growth habitat. Very little to be controversial about (maybe Elk winter Habitat).I mentioned awhile back about the “pig in the python” of 100 year old trees that are moving through the age class table. This stuff is now merchantable. A lot of it is in these “low elevation warm dry” habitats. With the advent of “mechanized feller buncher” logging, these “smaller” diameter trees can be economically thinned.(no clearcutting in Ponderosa or doug fir). On top of it, these low elevation forests are the ones that are really adjacent to the WUI.
    A couple thoughts:
    –you couldn’t find a more politically “least controversial” place to log.No clearcutting, no old growth, land is all “cutover” land.Perfect restoration opportunity.
    –With the WUI, you couldn’t find a more politically “attractive” place for enviro logger collaboration.
    –with mechanized logging, and close proximity to roads, its economically attractive. You know how to find USFS land on “google earth”? Look for all the “private land” thats been thinned around the edges. It’s obvious it was economical for the private landowners and mills to thin it. “Plum Creek” has commercially thinned most of it’s 100 year old “Anaconda cutover” lands to densitys that are similar to pre-settlement(of course not to the same size).
    –Who doesn’t love to see the “release” of the remaining trees after a commercial thinning. The tree rings double. After a thinning today there would be 75- 100 year old 12″ DBH trees/acre. In 20 years they would be close to 16″ trees. At the present “unthinned” rate it would take another 100 years to reach that size.
    –The pig in the python. Now maybe Pinchot’s cries of “timber famine” were the first case of doomsday environmental hyteria.
    But I find it ironic that after 6 generations of foresters made it their lifes work to put out fires to grow these trees for us, we want to let them all burn.

    If you’re out there Mathew, this would be a great place to start.

  6. Derek-

    What you say about p pine in parts of Montana reminds me of the west side of the PNW where it appears people have a zone of agreement about thinning old plantations so the trees will get to be old growth sooner.

    In Colorado, we have a zone of agreement (not 100% of course, but pretty much) about defensible space for communities, both in p pine country where we do thinnings and in areas of dead lodgepole.

    In Arizona, it appears that they have a zone of agreement (but I don’t know the exact nature).

    I’d like to hear the perspective of other Montanans on their ponderosa country.

  7. Dave-If I recall, The contracts you mentioned were simply “up for renewal”, and the USFS (Clinton) decided not to renew them. I recall reading a press release where both parties to the “Shelton sustained yield “unit agreed to go their seperate ways because the USFS couldn’t hold up their end.

    Nothin makes my eyes glaze over more than “contract law”, but I’d love to know the “trigger language” in those old contracts. I communicate with a couple old school forest supervisors, I’ve been meanin to ask them. I would imgagine in those days they were more worried about the “contractor” not fullfilling his end of the contract-not the USFS. That has certainly changed. Now it’s the USFS that needs to post a bond. Everything has a surety bond. The “Good will” of the USFS doesn’t cut it any more(no offence).

    • Each of the long-term timber agreements succeeded in one respect and failed in most. They succeeded in giving a few businesses access to cheap public timber by eliminating (e.g., Tongass and Shelton) or reducing (Lakeview) competition. They failed to sustain jobs or harvest levels. Shelton, which was unique as the only public/private land contract, fell apart when Simpson Timber, having cut-over the south end of the Olympic National Forest, realized that it could log its own lands included in the agreement much faster by withdrawing from the contract. The Tongass long-term contracts collapsed when the economically (i.e., subsidized enough to finance road construction) profitable spruce and hemlock was logged out. The Lakeview/Paisely unit, which was often the victim of timber purchaser collusion to fix prices (notwithstanding the limited competition), collapsed when three of the four local mills could no longer compete with larger, regional players in the softwood lumber market.

  8. One thing that may be unique about the “Arizona experience” is that the timber industry virtually disappeared which had the effect of eliminating expectations rooted in past practices that were nonviable ecologically and politically. Then new players emerged who were willing to turn a page and consider taking only what is needed to accomplish real restoration.

    If this factor does play a large role in the success of the Arizona project, then it seems to indicate that the continuity of the timber industry in other regions may be an impediment to building sustainable solutions simply because their clouded memory of the “good old days” makes them unable to give up their expectations about logging large trees in the future.

    This pattern may be playing out in Oregon. Eastern Oregon has lost most of its timber industry and the few mills that remain seem relatively willing to adapt to an approach which removes timber volume as a byproduct of restoration. However, the timber industry in western Oregon remains relatively robust and seems intent on logging federal old growth in spite of the obvious conflict with restoration goals.

    This problem is fueled by the clouded memory that people have of the past. They remember the “booms” and forget the “busts.” and what seems even stranger — they think they can log their way out of the current recession even though it has everything to do with demand and almost nothing to do with log supply.

    • In California, the Forest Service has been working without logging old growth and without clearcutting since 1993, tree. The one new idea that the Forest Service has been trying to use is the Quincy Library Group. Those new collaborative projects were recently litigated and it is not surprising that it is back to the drawing board. Good old Chad Hanson wants to make the forests into snag patches, in favor of his non-endangered buddy, the black-backed woodpecker.

      The only recent booms we’ve had here in California were blooms of insect salvage and fire salvage. SPI has a solid monopoly to get the Federal timber in much of California. However, even with this monopoly, several of their small log smalls are shuttered until better business conditions arrive, and more Federal timber is available. So, the remaining open mills require long, expensive hauls. More and more National Forests don’t have open local mills to sell their excess logs to.

      So, the clock is ticking and forest health continues to spiral downward. This is the time for the “eco-industry” to find ways to make our forests better, under existing economies and budgets. Otherwise, we’ll have more and more vistas of snags and brush. More and more “homeless birds”. More and more severely-impacted watersheds. And more and more losses of ESA habitats.

      Tick, tock, tick, tock, tick, tock


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