Thinning Contract is Monumental Task (4FRI!)

Forest Service photo of 4FRI
Forest Service photo of 4FRI

Thanks to Craig Rawlings and Forest Business Network for this one..Also thanks to Apache Sitgreaves for easy access to photos on Flickr.
Check out their site here .. the albums are interestin, including a couple on fires and post-fire flooding.

Here’s the link and below are some quotes.

However, Horner said, “It’s a really monumental task to build an infrastructure to cover the acres we need to do. Rather than saying, ‘Let’s get out there and start moving a few acres,’ we’re trying to build the infrastructure so we can do 40,000 acres a year in the next two or three years. We’ll need 300 trucks a day. You don’t snap your fingers and have trucks show up. It’s the chicken and the egg thing. What we’re striving for is to build that infrastructure for us to leap off and hit those acres at a level that if we achieve it, is going to snap a lot of people’s necks.”

But that means not only marshaling 80,000 truck-trips annually on forest roads, but financing a network of mills and biofuel operations to handle the huge quantities of wood from small trees growing in thickets four to 20 times the natural densities.

In the short term, Good Earth will rely heavily on selling saw timber, processed through existing mills. That means selling the wood from trees 14 to 18 inches in diameter will generate the profits needed to remove the massive amount of even smaller trees and brush.

“Ultimately, there needs to be a big processing facility to deal with a low value product. A lot of the basic elements are in place — there are some existing logging companies and a lot of trucking resources, also markets that do exist.”


The revelation that most of the initial contracts will depend on finding existing mills and the profits from the larger trees touches on one of the most controversial elements of the Forest Service’s effort to implement the 4FRI approach, originally developed by a coalition of loggers, environmentalists, forest researchers and local officials. That stakeholder group broke decades of deadlock and finger-pointing by agreeing to focus on trees smaller than 16 inches in diameter. The group wanted the Forest Service to accept a flat diameter cap, but the Forest Service decided it needed more flexibility — including an ability to take larger trees. While agreeing the 4FRI approach should leave as many large trees as possible, the environmental assessment will consider the impact of taking larger trees both to achieve certain goals like creating more meadows and to help the contractor turn a profit on the contract.

“There hasn’t been any analysis that says were going to cut any old trees,” said Fleishman, having earlier suggested 18 inches would represent the upper size limit of trees cut under the contract. “This is the largest environmental impact statement in the history of the Forest Service, and we should have it out in September” which is nearly a year behind earlier schedules. “The focus is going to be in the middle size tree — and the 15-18 inch diameters are the bulk of that. If we start cutting large, old trees — we’ll be in court so fast” as a result of legal challenges by environmental groups that supported the original concept with a 16-inch diameter cap. “This is a social issue,” he concluded.

Horner said Good Earth ultimately wants to use the millions of tons of biomass from the forest to produce energy — including jet fuel. But it won’t have the technology of the plants to do that for some years. “Their core business is creating energy from waste. But this will take years. The technology is not yet perfected for commercial production levels. So it comes back in the short term to saw lumber — solid wood products like poles and posts, really common things that have established markets. On the biomass side, it means grinding up trees and brush to create products that are really common — mulch, compost” and things like decorative bark for landscaping.

Arizona remains well positioned to feed such wood materials into many regional markets. “We’re optimistic we’re going to break the code. One of the most important things is to add as much value (to the wood products) as close to home as possible. Pine lumber continues to be a very valuable resource, so we’re looking at that as well. How do we make good quality wood out of what would otherwise be low quality.”

5 thoughts on “Thinning Contract is Monumental Task (4FRI!)”

  1. Well, of course they are going to be cutting old trees. No one is going to shed a tear over cutting a 130 year old 12″ dbh tree, tucked underneath a bigger and better tree. I’ve always been against blind diameter limits. An 18″ dbh tree, loaded with mistletoe, is a good tree to cut. I do think that, in exchange, there should be some other rigid guidelines for taking those larger trees.

    This makes me wonder just who is doing the selections. Are they going to hire an army of inexperienced temporaries to make those decisions? Are they going to have a “Designation by Description”, where loggers cut the trees that meet that description? How about monitoring during logging? Are they just going to do spot checks, to make sure of contractor compliance? With all those acres, does the Forest Service have the manpower to implement 4FRI? Do they have the expertise to pull it off, in the field? I think that the Forest Service doesn’t want to answer those questions.

    • Diameter limits are arbitrary and capricious. Why NOT cut an old geezer pumpkin partly shading two twelvers ready to release? Or an almost-punkin?

      • Well, for one, a 130 year old 12″ dbh tree isn’t going to release the way we want it to. For two, the bigger tree is probably more vigorous and a better leave tree. Of course, it all depends on the situation, including the marking prescription. It’s not a good thing to ignore the rules, just because of one’s personal perceptions and beliefs. Similarly, just because a tree has a larger diameter, that doesn’t make it a better tree to leave, as the eco’s want. It does seem that the eco’s want to remove ALL discretion from Forest Service employees, in favor of ignoring all other forest outcomes. Sometimes, it seems like the eco’s want to remove forestry from the forests, altogether. Yep, that fits in perfectly with the “whatever happens” meme.

  2. A comic opera. They talk of finding 300 trucks…when they should be talking about finding $200 million to build a couple 100 MMBF capacity sawmills. Even the Sultan of Oman doesn’t want to go into partnership with the CBD. The bio fuel fantasy is just that. The USFS should have awarded the contract to the OSB proposal…so it could have died on the vine from lack of investors. Of course, with housing starts at 1,000,000 under the Obama six year recovery plan…far below the historic 1.5 annual…that could have something to do with it. Oh..but that’s right…it’s the “hollowing out of the middle class” by class inequality…and of course the cure for that is raising the top tax rate back up to 80%..right? And then we’ll enjoy the utopia France has…who wouldn’t want their kids living with them forever since they can’t find a job.

    Meanwhile…Skyline logging is coming to the Flagstaff Watershed! (link below). Fascinating stuff here. Flag isn’t exactly a hotbed of tea party activists…it to rewarded Obama with the majority vote. Let’s see, the last I heard…the Schultz fire has cost local, state, and Feds $150 million in mitigation. Of course this will never happen. Plans rolled up and put on shelves in the same cavernous warehouse where the Ark of the Covenant “hums” away in its crate.

    It’s very do-able. Even by the USFS, We do half that every year…in the exact same ponderosa forest…where 80% of the trees cut are under 14.” You’re right Sharon…the Neiman’s are the only ones to rescue the beautiful people from themselves…but I don’t think they care to be partners with the CBD either. Another decade and another few fires ought to break their back of the bunglers.

  3. Common sense will never prevail. As a young timber cutter I was set loose on a 40 acre patch of private timber in Idaho. The private foresters wanted a diversity of species left and about a 50 foot seed tree spacing. There was a mix of Doug fir, piss fir, Larch, Spruce and an occaisonal Ppine.

    ALL the spruce had root rot so I killed all of them…the forester bitched at me until he saw the stumps .


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