Catastrophic wildfire and the flooding that often follows a destructive wildfire represent the number one public safety risk for Coconino County’s citizens and communities. Strong community support and regional cooperation exist to move initiatives, such as Four Forest Restoration Initiative (4FRI) and the Flagstaff Watershed Protection Project (FWPP), forward. However, significant implementation challenges remain. Two critical areas needing attention are: 1) Supporting and expanding forest industries in our region; and 2) Improving regulations to address the no-to-low value timber that dominates our Ponderosa Pine forests.
In response to these critical needs, I have proposed a Forest Restoration Coordinator position to my colleagues on the Coconino County Board of Supervisors. The coordinator position will support forest products industry development and provide leadership and innovation to regional restoration initiatives.
Without viable forest products industry, landscape scale restoration cannot succeed. Coconino County can assist forest industries by bringing expertise and capacity to support efficient timber harvesting on public lands. For example, the county has significant expertise and experience in road building, road maintenance and managing transportation infrastructure. Assisting with survey boundaries, managing contracts, GIS skills, securing permits and purchasing heavy equipment are all areas of county capability.
The Forest Restoration Coordinator will facilitate industry recruitment and interface with local and regional economic development partners to support new and existing forest industry. As thinning and restoration work moves around our forests, it is critically important that industry infrastructure – from mills, to staging, to decking, to chipping areas – reflects an effective work flow.
The county is also moving forward with development of a forest industry incubator to strategically connect the range of forest products within the industry – from soil amendments, biomass generation, to bark mulch to small-dimensional products to more conventional lumber production – for financial viability of restoration efforts.
A critical component of restoration success revolves around utilization of no-to-low value biomass. My office, the county and local partners are advocating for a biomass electric generation facility, or another end user for millions of tons of the no-to-low value woody biomass in our forests.
Finally, the Forest Restoration Coordinator will advocate for restructured U.S. Forest Service (USFS) processes and procedures to better serve our restoration goals. Regulation and administration of timber coming out of the forest needs to reflect the value of that timber. For example, Forest Service data indicates that just 25 percent of all the timber in the 4FRI project has positive value while 75 percent has no-to-low value.
Coconino County is at the forefront of creatively supporting forest restoration on public lands and allowing for a forest system where, once again, natural fire can play its beneficial and productive role. My colleagues and I on the Coconino County Board of Supervisors look forward to bringing energy and innovation to address our most pressing public safety problem. Our county and our communities cannot afford another Schultz Fire and subsequent severe flooding. FBN
By Art Babbott
Art Babbott serves on the Coconino County Board of Supervisors representing District 1.