There are two recent news stories by Adrian Skabelund of the Arizona Daily Sun. Here’s an excerpt:
According to the Forest Service, the decision to cancel the contract was made after officials decided the current contract didn’t sufficiently meet the needs of industry partners, making it too risky to be successful.
In its most recent form, the contract included 520,000 acres that a company would be brought on to thin. But the Forest Service could not give companies the necessary assurances that they would be supported should something occur that reduced the total number of acres.
In this article there are some critiques of the process:
Worsley said a contract that would involve huge investments in new infrastructure on the part of industry partners, without the knowledge that the Forest Service would cover the cost if disaster struck or funding ran out, was the big issue.But Worsley said it shouldn’t have taken this long before the Forest Service knew whether could make those guarantees.
“That’s something that they should have known upfront and should have either not started the RFP or ended it much sooner, before there was significant investment of time and dollars by those that bid into the RFP,” Worsley said. “So to me, if the Forest Service was never prepared to do that, to actually guarantee this, then this was a bit of a disingenuous process anyway.”
We’ve met Brad Worsley before on The Smokey Wire, as he wrote this guest post last summer. I’d have to disagree with Brad based on my own experience. With any large governmental organization, there are lots of moving parts. Sometimes you don’t really know until you ask, and then find out that that person really needs to ask someone else. Or that person leaves and a new person comes in with different views. Or what is agreeable in abstract and innovative, can run aground when it becomes concrete and specific. I can understand how that way of doing business (or not doing business, as sometimes can be the case) is very frustrating for external folks (as it is for internal folks, but they get paid the same no matter how convoluted the process is).
But Kohrman and other forest officials suggested that the Forest Service is open to moving forward in other ways depending on the feedback of industry partners and stakeholders.
“We know, lessons learned, that we designed this effort in kind of a black box mode and we don’t want to do that again. We want to design it in a very transparent, open way, where everyone can show up and offer what their needs are and their objectives,” Kohrman said.
That’s what Jim Zornes said in his comment on the previous post. He can’t talk about it due to the black-box nature of the FARS. Which makes it tough for any of us to see what the problem is, or to propose solutions. Should they give up on the contract and go another way?
That point was most succinctly voiced by Grand Canyon Trust Executive Director Ethan Aumack.
“The cancellation of the most recent RFP combined with the fact that we’ve seen less than 5 percent of the first contract treated with less than one year left in the contract provides us two very clear and convergent signals,” Aumack said, adding that he believed managed and controlled burns may be the best way for 4FRI to move forward.
While industry partners would always be part of the solution, Aumack said, he didn’t want that side of 4FRI to hold back forest treatments across the board.
“I believe our large landscape objectives restoration would need to be met will need to be met by using relatively limited, strategically placed mechanical thinning treatments and fire at a much more extensive level than we had originally planned,” Aumack said.
Assuming Aumack’s quotes are correct, I think the Forest’s point of view expressed yesterday is that many fuel treatments and prescribed burns are going ahead anyway. To embark upon such a change would require possibly a new EIS, and we all know how long those can take. Assuming people agree with the “more fire” approach and don’t sue..
I also wonder, though, whether “fire at a much more extensive level” is very practical given burn windows, possibly getting narrower due to climate change, and perhaps the need to do mechanical treatments in some areas before fire can run through (without killing everything). And of course there is more smoke and carbon released from burning in the atmosphere, so conceivably that strategy might be worse for climate change (mitigation and adaptation). There are also the concerns of neighbors about WFU and to a lesser extent, prescribed fire. Another interesting aspect of the current approach is that (if successful) the USG could make up for some costs with removing vegetation, including taxes at a variety of levels, whereas prescribed fire is an ongoing cost (and yes fire crews buy clothes, eat and pay income tax). But perhaps the USG is in a situation where ongoing costs are not a concern…just kidding.
To be clear, I’m not arguing against burning, I’m definitely an all-of-the-above person. I just think we will need all the tools in the toolkit, and then some.