4FRI Update:Controversial Forest Restoration Contractor Draws Vote Of Support

Helicopter on Wallow Fire
Here’s an article in the Payson Roundup from Saturday. Below is an excerpt.

Gila County Supervisor Tommie Martin — one of the driving forces in the 4FRI movement — was among those openly questioning whether Pioneer had the financing or expertise to undertake the massive thinning project, which depend on the contractor building bio-fuel plants and mills that could turn a profit on millions of saplings and small trees.
#Locked in a campaign for re-election now, she says her doubts about Pioneer’s financing remain — but the effort now relies on Pioneer’s success. Martin has played a leadership role in the effort to convince the U.S. Forest Service to thin fire-prone thickets on the outskirts of Rim Country communities. She has also spearheaded the effort to post water-filled bladders strategically throughout the region to enable fire trucks and firefighting helicopters to quickly fill up storage tanks to contain brush fires.
#Meanwhile, other recent developments have advanced the effort to use a revitalized timber industry to thin millions of acres in Northern Arizona where a century of grazing and fire suppression have created an overgrown, tree-choked forest.
#Tree densities across most of the ponderosa pine forests of Northern Arizona have increased from perhaps 30 per acre to closer to 800 per acre in the past century, according to researchers from Northern Arizona University. A once-open, fire-adapted forest now generates an increasing number of massive crown fires, which threaten to incinerate forested communities.
#It costs up to $1,000 per acre to thin and burn off the slash piles, which means it would cost taxpayers about $6 billion annually to thin those forests by hand. The 4FRI approach would give private contractors a guaranteed 10- or 20-year supply of mostly small-diameter trees as an inducement to invest millions in building mills and power plants that could turn a profit on the vast oversupply of small trees.
#The 4FRI approach could get a boost in November if Flagstaff voters approve a $10 million bond issue to raise money to support forest-thinning projects in the Lake Mary watershed. Backers say that a crown fire that killed all the trees and scorched the soil would result in a dramatic increase in silt building up in Lake Mary, endangering Flagstaff’s already precarious water supply.
#The Schultz Fire two years ago demonstrated the risk to the city. The fire roared through an area that had been earmarked for a 4FRI project. The monsoon rains that followed caused mudslides that inflicted millions of dollars of additional damage on homes.

However, the Forest Service adopted many of the recommendations of the Stakeholder Group, but refused to commit to the preservation of most of the larger trees. Forest Service biologists reasoned that in some areas those larger trees exist in relatively dense clusters.
#That refusal to set a clear size limit on the trees caused concern among some members of the Stakeholder Group, including Martin — who found herself in the unusual position of agreeing with the Centers for Biological Diversity, which had spent years suing to block timber projects on the grounds they continued to target the big, fire-resistant trees.
#The selection of Pioneer after almost two years of study and delay initially posed a near-mutiny among the Stakeholder Group. Pioneer actually offered to pay the Forest Service millions less for the bid than did the contractor who had spent years working with the Stakeholder Group. Moreover, Pioneer omitted any money for monitoring whether the thinning projects had the desired impact on wildlife and watersheds.
#Martin also raised concerns about whether Pioneer had enough financing — and a business plan that would yield a profit on turning small trees into energy and into furniture.
#Forest Service officials in the Southwestern Regional Office in New Mexico made the selection, without direct input from the Stakeholder’s Group.
#Pioneer has said it remains on track to start work in the spring. Marlin Johnson said the company will start off with already-prepared timber sales and send the wood it harvests to existing mills, while the company continues to line up financing for its own mills.
#The company plans to build a 500-acre plant near Winslow, which will convert small trees into finger-jointed materials, like furniture and other wood products. The company also plans to build a bio-diesel fuel plant, which would turn brush and scraps into diesel.
#Johnson noted that Western Energy Solutions/Concord Blue USA will build and operate the bio-diesel plant.
#However, Pioneer has yet to announce any firm commitment for financing of the thinning projects or the Winslow plant.

I’ve heard many times that groups think “you should never take big trees,” e.g. diameter limits But if big trees are in a clump, and you are trying to thin trees, then to get fewer trees in the clump you would have to take out big trees. I’d be interested to have a discussion with someone with this point of view and see what their side of the story is.. that is.. the “no big trees” point of view.

14 thoughts on “4FRI Update:Controversial Forest Restoration Contractor Draws Vote Of Support”

  1. Interesting how the subheading of the article, “However, doubts linger about massive thinning project” wasn’t included in any of the re-posting to this site.

    Also, Sharon, regarding your desire to have a discussion RE; diameter limits.

    The concept of diameter limits comes directly out of the actions of the US Forest Service, timber industry and their political supporters over the past 70 years or so. Basically, since about 1950 onward, there was a concerted effort by the Forest Service and timber industry to “get through” all those ancient, old-growth forests on public lands. The Forest Service and timber industry were pretty successful in this effort to rid America’s public national forests of ancient, old-growth forests as evidence by the fact that less than 5% remains.

    Anyway, those actions and year’s of continued mistrust has consequences and results in other actions…in this case, some citizens and activists calling for the US Forest Service to stop cutting old-growth or the big trees. So, hence you get the concept of diameter limits.

    For some of us, the simple fact that the Forest Service and the timber industry already pretty much eliminated all of the old-growth in this country is reason enough to say “enough is enough…here’s a diameter limit to help prevent more abuse and ecological degradation. Seems to me that with nearly all the old-growth gone saying we shouldn’t have a diameter limit because there might be some clump of 5 trees somewhere that may benefit somehow from having one or two of the trees removed, but the trees are all over, say 20”, really misses the point and might be an example of not seeing the forest for the trees.

    P.S. Also, not sure if it’s my computer, but the formatting on many of your posts is really hard to follow and hard on the eye. Is there a way to fix that in the future…thanks!

    Reply
    • Come on Matt…this is pretty weak.

      First, if you really think the FS is out to “hog-and-log” as in decades past, you apparently haven’t kept up with current events and initiatives designed to ensure that doesn’t happen again. I’m disappointed. A comparative analysis of currently operating mills designed to handle small diameter material and biomass vs. the big headrig mills would be interesting…the trend is and has been towards increased utilization of the small diameter trees for a while. At least here in our geographic area, but somehow I think you know that. The timber industry has adapted.

      Second, please cite your source when you say: “The Forest Service and timber industry were pretty successful in this effort to rid America’s public national forests of ancient, old-growth forests as evidence by the fact that less than 5% remains.” – I can tell you we are swimming in old growth. Biggest threat to and loss of OG is fire in our area. But I think you probably know that too…

      Third, please cite some “best available science” that identifies a specific diameter as a proxy for OG, thus necessitating “diameter limits.” I am truly interested in knowing how diameter limits are not arbitrary and capricious. I know the science well and it can’t be done.

      There are a number of variables that factor into whether or not a particular stand will ever achieve the old growth habitat characteristics that old growth associated species depend on. What a waste of time to narrow the options to “diameter limits” because of PAST management practices. Real OG is pretty cool and (at least in our area) pretty safe….not many mills can handle it or even want it. Geez…we even have collaborative efforts and project level discussions to make sure OG is protected. Too bad you don’t want to recognize them.

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  2. My bet is that any argument for “cut no big trees” will be based (1) on the assumption that the F.S. will mark for cutting healthy, vigorous big/old trees to “sweeten the cut” and (2) on the assertion the big/old and dead trees standing in place are more valuable (definition?) to the ecosystem (including humans?) than the same trees would be if harvested and used to fill human needs. Both the assumption and the assertion are arguable and unprovable. Let the debate begin and let Gaia be the judge.

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  3. 1) I agree with you, Matthew.. however from the article, I wasn’t really sure about the content of the “doubts”. It was clear that one was the diameter limit. Do you mean the below paragraphs? if so, I can add them.

    The selection of Pioneer after almost two years of study and delay initially posed a near-mutiny among the Stakeholder Group. Pioneer actually offered to pay the Forest Service millions less for the bid than did the contractor who had spent years working with the Stakeholder Group. Moreover, Pioneer omitted any money for monitoring whether the thinning projects had the desired impact on wildlife and watersheds.

    #Martin also raised concerns about whether Pioneer had enough financing — and a business plan that would yield a profit on turning small trees into energy and into furniture.

    #Forest Service officials in the Southwestern Regional Office in New Mexico made the selection, without direct input from the Stakeholder’s Group.

    #Pioneer has said it remains on track to start work in the spring. Marlin Johnson said the company will start off with already-prepared timber sales and send the wood it harvests to existing mills, while the company continues to line up financing for its own mills.

    #The company plans to build a 500-acre plant near Winslow, which will convert small trees into finger-jointed materials, like furniture and other wood products. The company also plans to build a bio-diesel fuel plant, which would turn brush and scraps into diesel.

    #Johnson noted that Western Energy Solutions/Concord Blue USA will build and operate the bio-diesel plant.

    #However, Pioneer has yet to announce any firm commitment for financing of the thinning projects or the Winslow plant.

    2. As to the blog formatting, I don’t know… Could you send me a screen shot? I could put more spaces between lines..

    3. Finally, I don’t really believe what you said “the Forest Service and timber industry were pretty successful in this effort to rid America’s public national forests of ancient, old-growth forests as evidence by the fact that less than 5% remains”. I guess that’s because I used to work on the old growth issue (for the 95 never-published RPA program) and realize that “old growth” has different meanings in different parts of the country (yes, and the definition can be highly contentious, even within one part of the country). Also, the Forest Service is not the only disturbance.. fires, hurricanes etc. knock down “old growth” trees even if we had agreed on what “old growth” is. And the forests in my neighborhood are the age they are because of the demand for railroad ties (ponderosas) and the age they are (lodgepole) until they get too old and MPB munches them. In this country, I’m not sure they ever got to be “ancient” under pre-European fire conditions.

    I’m interested in the source of your figures.

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  4. The only question of any importance is whether these guys can find investors willing to pony up 200 million dollars to build the milling infrastrucure. We’ll know in 6 months whether investors are willing to go into “partnership” with the CBD. The CBD is the Damocles Sword hanging over the head of any investor. When the dirt starts flying, you can bet the CBD will be trying to run the show, and the veiled threats of litigation “if you don’t play ball” won’t be far behind. The 4FRI “contract” is absolutely no guarentee of supply. Nobody invests money with the intent to fight it out with the government for years over a breach of contract claim. If they can’t find investors…it will be a pivotal moment.We’ll soon see how much the CBD has poisoned the well. Who knows, Maybe a billionaire will come to the rescue. I wish them well.

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    • Hmm. the mistrust Matthew speaks of seems to go both ways..But you gotta respect the people (from all sides) that are taking the risk and trying to find common ground and move there.

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  5. Oh, and as far as “old growth” is concerned. Before the Wallow fire, the Apach-Sitgreaves NF 2009 draft management plan classified 20% of the forest as “Large tree closed canopy,” which sounds like Mexican spotted owl habitat too me. The “plan” estimates that 100 years ago only 5% was in that catagory. The vast majority of “old growth” was in low density (20-35 TPA) stands mixed with all age classes…hence the recent shift in management from “even age” to “uneven age.” This wasn’t owl habitat hence 90% of the forest wasn’t spotted owl habitat. You can “save” the old growth for the sake of looking at it, but don’t claim that it was owl habitat. The 1987 ASNF management plan called for “commercial thinning” on 20,000 acres/year.They were already making the shift to young growth management. The forest “pre-commercial thinned 20-30,000 acres/year throughout the 60’s-80’s, which means those trees were reaching “merchantable size.” You know the commercial thinning I’m talking about…it was the thinning that was done on 35,000 acres of the White Mountain stewardship Program. It was the thinning that Todd Schulke of the CBD praised for reducing fire severity on the Wallow fire. It was also the thinning that his group prevented from happening on 300,000 acres of the 1,000,000 acre ASNF in the last 15 years. Like shootin fish in a barrell.

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  6. We have been dealing with rigid diameter limits for almost 20 years now. They do not make scientific sense, in the forest. They also can negatively impact forests by establishing “sacred trees”, never to be cut, forcing the harvest of fire-resistant pines, instead of diseased and overstocked larger white firs. “Pining” for a pre-man forest is sheer folly, and we have seen the many destructive outcomes of letting whatever happens, happen.

    As far as old growth goes, there is old growth around every corner, here. Within our cutting unit today was an estimated 66″ dbh sugar pine, with young bark!!! There is no lack of old growth in the forests where i work!

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  7. Clumps of large trees are common feature of natural forests. “Clumpy, gappy, patchy” is a set of descriptive terms often applied to the distribution of trees in ponderosa pine ecosystems. For example: http://i49.tinypic.com/29c9yyh.jpg Thinning that spaces out every individual tree and eliminates clumps would be imposing an unnatural spatial distribution.

    Reply
    • Tree- usually people have express their reason for thinning trees in the purpose and need of their NEPA document. Either to make the trees more resistant to drought, so they can grow to be older and larger, or for fuels treatment. There might be other reasons as well.

      But whether it is “natural” seems a bit beside the point, especially if you believe that current conditions are influenced by climate change, and, hence, “unnatural.”

      Also, if the stand is “old growth” the stand will still be “old growth” with fewer, but possibly healthier, “old growth” trees.

      Reply
    • Our marking prescriptions specifically mandate embracing clumps and gaps, yet many think they should get that way “naturally” (as in taking maybe a century). And yes, there ARE other benefits to thinning projects. American Indians managed their forests, so “nature” has less to do with pre-European forests than some people think.

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  8. It might be interesting to have a video of one of your projects showing what a tree you would mark if there were no diameter limit and why, and would show what the actual stand looks like. As you know, a picture is worth 1000 words.. a video that shows a variety of perspectives would have to be worth even more.

    Reply
    • My crew boss would never let me do such a thing, on government time. She doesn’t like the idea of me even posting here.

      If there were no diameter limits, We’d really only take a few of those oversized trees, anyway. There is rarely any need to cut bigger pines, unless they are loaded with mistletoe, and causing problems with the other desirable pines left in the stand. What we would really cut more of is the very decadent and diseased white firs, which will break off where giant rotting cankers are. Such allowances would have to be very regulated. For example, if such a poor white fir were hindering the health and vigor of a younger large pine, you could take the fir out. We are already doing some similar things with “releasing” oaks. One of the goals is to seriously reduce the density of those flammable white firs and incense cedars. That would help with forest resilience, and increase the percentage of fire resistant pines.

      Reply
      • Yes, well, I wasn’t thinking of “government time,” although it begs the question of “if diameter limits are not “the best science” shouldn’t the government be trying to tell its story through the latest technology?” Is it anyone’s paid job to tell the story?

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