Implementation of 4FRI draws near

Arizona ponderosa pines and lupine Photo by Michael O'Hara

Stakeholders of the Four Forest Restoration Initiative (4FRI) – a 2.4 million-acre effort to restore Arizona’s ponderosa pine forests – are eagerly awaiting implementation of the project’s first phase.   In August 2011, the U.S. Forest Service released a Request for Proposals for the largest stewardship contract in Forest Service history.  The agency now expects to select a contractor before spring.  Over the next 10 years, this contractor will conduct 300,000 acres of restoration-based thinning.  To offset treatment costs, the contractor will establish a wood product manufacturing facility that can utilize the small-diameter trees harvested under the contract.

4FRI aims to perform one million acres of restoration-based thinning across 2.4 million acres of northern Arizona’s national forests over the next twenty years at minimal cost to the federal government. Historically, forest restoration treatments have cost the Forest Service $500-$1000 per acre to implement.  However, by working at larger, landscape scales, 4FRI will create a dependable, long-term wood supply, attracting new industries that can generate enough revenue from the utilization of harvested materials to cover much of the expense associated with treatment implementation.

The success of 4FRI hinges on contractor selection for this first stewardship contract.  If the selected contractor is able to cost-effectively perform restoration treatments, the recipient will presumably receive subsequent contracts for an additional 700,000 acres of forests in need of thinning – completing 4FRI over the next twenty years.  As the Forest Service, Grand Canyon Trust staff, and other 4FRI stakeholders continue planning 4FRI activities – identifying areas most in need of restoration work – all are hoping for a well-reasoned and expeditious contract award.

Wallow Fire smoke plume 2011 Photo by Apache-Sitgreaves NF

As 4FRI moves into implementation, Trust staff and 4FRI stakeholders are recognizing two needs: the need to educate the public about forest restoration, and acquire additional funds to support 4FRI efforts.

Public education is crucial to 4FRI’s success.  Forest restoration will bring many direct and indirect benefits to Arizona residents, but those benefits will be accompanied by certain inconveniences.   For instance, the removal of small-diameter trees from the forest will necessitate widespread harvesting activities and increased logging traffic, at levels unfamiliar to most Arizona residents.  Additionally, the return of frequent, low-intensity fire to the landscape, which is needed to maintain the health of restored forests, will likely increase the number of smoky days in Arizona.  We believe it is vital that the 4FRI Stakeholder Group proactively reach out to soon-to-be effected residents, explaining what can be expected and the necessity for and benefits of these activities.

Although the cost of restoration-based thinning is expected to be absorbed by industry, 4FRI will require additional funding to support complementary restoration activities (e.g., wildlife habitat improvement, spring restoration, and aspen protection projects) and to ensure long-term ecological monitoring and oversight.  Over the next several months, Grand Canyon Trust staff and other 4FRI stakeholders will work with industry partners in a statewide attempt to generate much needed funding.

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