Arizona forest deal winner now taking heat: Arizona Sun

I got this from the Forest Business Network here.

Here’s the link to the story in the Arizona Sun.

Below is an excerpt:


The only real question is who should do it.

Wally Covington, head of the Ecological Restoration Institute at Northern Arizona University, said he likes the choice and that it’s time to get to work.

“I think we’ve got it together pretty darned well here,” he said. “… We’ve got to get the excess trees off the landscape before the outcomes that are worse than the very worst clear-cut can propagate across the landscape.”

So does Paul Summerfelt, a longtime city of Flagstaff firefighter and president of the Greater Flagstaff Forest Partnership, which has successfully pressed for less dense and healthier forests around Flagstaff.

“It’s a win in that we finally have a contract, which has been a long time coming. It promises to bring a lot of wood-related jobs into northern Arizona irrespective of who the contract winner was, and it restores the forest,” he said.

And so does Steve Gatewood, who has worked elbow by elbow with Summerfelt for years to try to thin forests here.

Environmental groups do have a case history to stand on when thinking the agency won’t do the minimum it promises, he said.

But this is a big departure from past thinking for the Forest Service, in his view.

“They’re actually talking about interspaces and openings and savannas and that kind of stuff,” Gatewood said.


Opponents are guilty of sour grapes, says the main person planning the Four Forests Restoration Initiative, as this big thinning idea is called.

“Obviously, several folks aren’t happy with the selection. And to be honest, there’s a lot of misinformation being spread by those folks,” said Henry Provencio, head of the implementing the project for the Forest Service.

The Center for Biological Diversity was first in denouncing the decision earlier this month, saying the U.S. Forest Service went with the bidder offering to send a lesser amount of money to the U.S. Forest Service for reasons that aren’t clear.

“On the one hand, they’re saying they can’t afford to monitor endangered species, such as the spotted owl … and on the other hand, they’re saying they’re going to reject $5 million for monitoring. It makes no sense,” said the Center’s Taylor McKinnon.

The Forest Service hasn’t released any of the bids to the public, but it has released its criteria for winning.

A business’ willingness to remove limbs and fine matter, its past performance, references from others, its business plan, its impact on local communities and the amount of money per acre it offered to the Forest Service were all considerations, according to documents sent to bidders.


Among Pioneer’s partners is Marlin Johnson, a former administrator in the U.S. Forest Service who retired from that agency a little more than four years ago, Johnson said.

That was before bids for this project were submitted.

The Center for Biological Diversity faced him in court sometimes, and it asserts that he intends to log big trees from other areas and use them to feed a big mill.

Johnson says otherwise: His mill won’t be able to accept trees bigger than 16 inches in diameter, he said.

He or any other winning business would have to cut whatever trees the Forest Service wants removed, he said, and sell the bigger ones to other businesses.

“We won’t legally be able to tell the Forest Service: ‘Oops, you want that 20-inch tree cut? We won’t do it,'” Johnson said.

The project triggered extra scrutiny within the Forest Service.

“As soon as we knew that Marlin was a participant, I asked for a review by our ethics branch …” and then also one in Washington. “I knew that would come up,” said Corbin Newman, regional forester for all national forests in the Southwest.


He says the debate over who got the contract is obscuring the bigger picture.

“I want folks to realize: Let’s have a little concern about who got it and who didn’t, but let’s also have a little concern about restoring Arizona’s forests,” Newman said.

The other three bidders have until the end of Friday to appeal the bid decision.

Arizona Forest Restoration Products did not respond to phone calls on Tuesday or Wednesday.

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