Pascal Berlioux’s passion is something this region could use right now: a solution for increasing the health of our forests. He has spent most of his time in Flagstaff working closely with people on all sides of forest issues, from scientists to environmentalists. If plans work out, Berlioux’s passion should translate to hundreds of jobs in the region and preservation of the ponderosa forests so many people revere.
In the wake of the state’s largest wildfire, many people are asking what can be done to save the forests that remain. If you ask that question of Berlioux, be prepared to hear his plan born after years of research and planning.
“There are only two options, and this is not a scare tactic. We either change the way we look at forest restoration or we are going to watch them burn. There is simply no alternative. We either do something or lose them,” he said.
Berlioux said his plan is to thin overgrown forests, which are so susceptible to catastrophic wildfires, and turn the wood into high valued engineered wood products such as Oriented Strand Board, widely used in construction.
He plans to locate a $300 million plant locally through his company, Arizona Forest Restoration Products, Inc.
If he is successful, it will represent a shift in the paradigm in how public lands are managed.
“What makes us different is we have come to discuss not from a scientific perspective, not from a environmental perspective, not from a business perspective. We have come to discuss from a execution perspective,” Berlioux said.
“We created AZFRP in 2006 to save the forest from being consumed,” he said.
At first thought, thinning a forest down to its natural 10 to 25 trees per acre shouldn’t be such a big problem. One wonders why traditional loggers are not sent in to let them have at it.
Berlioux says that it is not that simple.
“The problem is when you have to thin a forest, you are not logging trees in traditional logging. What you are logging is an incredible amount of small trees, which are simply too small for traditional loggers,” he said.
Finding something to do with these trees that gives them value is the key, because he says there are very few things that can be done with small diameter trees.
He proposes shredding them, gluing them together to make 4” x 8” boards, which is probably the most used construction material in the United States.
“We are in the investment phase right now,” he said.
Besides investors, he said he needs a long-term commitment from the Forest Service to allow his company on public lands to do their work.
“We have known for several decades that every time we get one of these catastrophic fires, we have more proof that our forests are in need of restoration.”
The Wallow Fire has burned more than 500,000 acres. The Rodeo-Chediski Fire in 2002, which at the time was the largest in Arizona history, burned more than half a million acres.
He said it is seldom that any fire now is less than 100,000 to 200,000 acres.
Berlioux said the problem has arisen because the policy of land management over the last century is that all fire is bad.
“There was a misguided national policy of putting out fires anywhere whenever [they] erupted. This is disregarding a natural cycle of low intensity fire that took place in the landscape for millions of years,” he said. “This was Mother Nature’s way of cleaning house.”
Plus, over-grazing took out the grass, which was a medium to burn at low intensity through the forest and old growth logging took out the last large trees so there is no competition for the sapling to spring up and grow up.
“The lack of fire, over-grazing and logging old growth and if you combine that with the effects of the drying climate, you literally have a fire bomb,” he said. “It is a problem we are facing. The forest is in extremely unhealthy condition, gravely departed from historical conditions.”
“We [Arizona Forest Restoration Products] are not doing it for the money. Money is not a goal. The money is a requirement to make it happen,” Berlioux said.
The company is comprised of Berlioux, Don Walters, a Flagstaff resident and the John F. Long family, well known in Arizona.
Berlioux says the group has committed a lot of personal monies to the project to keep it going. “We have been a lone voice in the wilderness,” he said.
Berlioux, his wife and five children moved to the area in 2002. “We settled in Flagstaff. We love Flagstaff,” he said. FBN
To learn more, “http://www.azfrp.com/