The Four Forest Restoration Initiative (4FRI) is currently the nation’s largest collaborative effort designed to restore ecosystems in United States forests. The four National Forests involved with this project, Coconino, Kaibab, Apache-Sitgreaves and Tonto, are poised to see a significant change potentially affecting more than just the environment. It is also anticipated to have a viable economic impact on the communities that are intertwined with them.
From the south rim of the Grand Canyon and across the Mogollon Rim all the way to the beautiful White Mountains, Northern Arizona is filled with an abundance of ponderosa pine forests. The unfortunate reality is that this lush land has also been overgrown and degraded with an unsustainable level of historical land use. The trees, which are unhealthy and thin, are in the continuous and increasing threat of catastrophic wildfires.
“4FRI is a collaborative effort between the Forest Service and more than 40 organizations,” stated Forest Service biologist and 4FRI team leader Henry Provencio. He explains that the intention of the project is to restore the ecological resilience and functionality of these 2.4 million acres of forests. He reports that the specialist reports and most of the draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) is now complete. Most of this is currently available for the public to view. The DEIS, which is likely going to see an early 2013 release, will evaluate the restoration of the landscape of Kaibab and Coconino forests adding up to nearly one million acres in size.
“The Forest Service announced its selection of Pioneer Forest Products as the contractor to perform treatments on the Apache-Sitgreaves, Tonto, Coconino, and Kaibab forests as part of the 4FRI effort. The contract, which is for 10 years, will see restoration-based thinning for 300,000 acres of land, improve the health of the forest, reduce the risk to communities from wildfire, create jobs, and improve local economies,” Provencio explained. He also said that the Forest Service has identified well over 50,000 acres in out-year or “shelf stock” projects that can be used to feed the 4FRI contract with Pioneer Forest Products.
“Pioneer plans to begin receiving logs at its Winslow, Ariz., mill during the summer of 2013.”
Senator Sylvia Allen expressed her excitement about the project, as someone who has made rural economy a staple of her platform, indicating that this could be great for Northern Arizona.
“For the last 10 years, the taxpayer has paid for what little thinning has taken place in our forest. 4FRI provides that private industry will pay for the removal of the fiber then create different products from that fiber which will fuel our economy,” Senator Allen said. “It is critical that 4FRI is successful and we realize jobs and an improved economy in Navajo County and the state. Our forest health will greatly improve and help to stop the catastrophic fires that are destroying our ponderosa pines. Restoring private markets and developing natural resources is the key to returning prosperity to our country. 4FRI is just one small but important step in that direction.”
Pioneer Associates, based out of Billings Mont., has stated that they are up to the large task at hand and it is projected that the project will bring in as many as 1,000 jobs over the course of the next 10 years. Pioneer CEO Herman Hauck explained that the project will start off small and “slightly ease up” over the course of the next two years.
“We anticipate 200 to 300 jobs in forestry, and 500 to 600 jobs at the Winslow facility,” he said. He also stressed that he would like to see locals used to fill positions, but this would largely depend upon the qualifications of those applying.
“We still need to train all the people, acquire equipment and work out shipments. We are excited to hire local individuals that apply for positions, but they must meet requirements.” He said that the Winslow plant will have three shifts and run five days a week.
“There are two segments, log and sowing, and there will be somewhere between 30 and 50 people per shift.” It is expected that at least 30,000 acres per year will be logged, adding up to approximately 800,000 tons of materials. The first year will likely see somewhere between 5,000 to 7,000 acres, the latter being about half of the annual goal of 15,000 acres. According to Mike Cooley of Cooley Forest Products and consultant for Hauck on the project, there will be 20 kilns in place to process the wood and nine finger-joint lines. Hauck stated that in addition to producing bio-fuel, which was created from the waste material, it is intended that a variety of other products will be crafted ranging from wood doors and window frames to furniture and 4×8 wood panels.
“Funding is lined up now, and we have a letter of intent for 50 percent of the products created,” Hauck continued. “This is a U.S.-based company that is interested, and we are in discussion with others as well.” Hauck would not yet identify the name of the company, or the others with which they are in talks.
It will still take about a year for the first log to be cut, and there will be three phases, with the final phase bringing nearly 250 jobs to the sawmill alone. An independent company prepared an economic impact report for Pioneer Associates showing the Winslow facility, resting on 311 acres not far from the airport, will see an estimated $57 million in economic output. $18 million will be in labor income. According to the report, an additional $157 million will be created annually in Navajo and Coconino counties, with $41 million being created in labor income.
The tax impact will also be substantial, amounting to $5.5 million for the facility construction and an additional $12.7 million for the annual production. With tax revenue down from closures like the Snowflake paper mill in Navajo County, this will be a welcome addition. These totals are also direct effects, and do not include the effects that other businesses will see with the growth.
Hauck stated that the Winslow facility was selected because of its central location to the four forests that will be treated, as well as the shipping corridor of I-40 that can easily be utilized. This will enable Pioneers products to be available on a local, national or even global market. FBN