On Nov 20, I attended a meeting of the Four Forests Restoration Initiative (4-FRI) at the Coconino National Forests Supervisors Office. 4-FRI is a collaboration of four national forests in Northern Arizona and a collection of other stakeholders who are committed to reducing the risk of catastrophic wildfire in our region. In its 10-year history, 4-FRI has had several accomplishments in reducing fire risk and protecting watersheds, yet still faces challenges related to the rate at which different regional forests can be treated.
Private companies contract with the Forest Service to cut and remove or burn small to medium diameter trees. Currently, these contracts run for 8 years; however, in order to get private companies to commit to a contract, they need assurance that their investment in building infrastructure and hiring workers will last longer than 8 years. The Forest Service is re-writing their RFP to extend the contracts to 20 years. In addition, the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) has worked with the Forest Service and approved use of larger trucks which are the only way to economically transport the timber to mills and market.
Currently, these private contractors are producing 2.2 million board feet/year (bd.ft./yr.) with an estimated 100 m bd.ft. needed to be cut within the State of Arizona. Due to the massive fires in California, Gov. Newson has declared a “State of Emergency” and order that cutting trees and fuels reduction proceed as quickly as safely possible. Members of 4-FRI have asked that Gov. Ducey also declare a “State of Emergency” and thereby provide additional funding to reduce the fuel load in our forests and better protect citizens who live in or near forests and/or shrub environments. Unfortunately, Gov. Ducey has not responded to this request.
In addition, efforts are underway to get the Arizona Corporation Commission and public utilities to join the efforts to reduce forest fuels and thereby better protect their infrastructure and responsibility to provide for citizens’ safety. Once again, neither the ACC nor the utilities have acted on the requests. If a cooperative agreement could be struck between the ACC, public utilities, and the private contractors to reduce fuels and build additional infrastructure, that would reduce smoke from burning slash that has no economic value and greatly reduce the risk of a catastrophic fire.
Finally, in a conversation with local Forest Service individuals, it was suggested that Coconino County could immediately help reduce fire potential in our region. If the empty County trucks driving up to Cameron could be filled with ~ 12-18” logs from cut timber, those logs could be used to help Navajos who cook with and heat their Hogans with firewood. The County trucks would then be filled with trash, as is mandated and currently happening, prior to returning to the landfill for trash disposal. This means accomplishing two objectives that are independently budgeted for and likely saving both parties money while increasing efficiency.
With your help, I will work as your County Supervisor to make these types of cooperative agreements happen between different governmental agencies and industry partners regardless of political party. Our forest health is our greatest health risk, and we need leadership that will reduce that risk while restoring our forest to a healthier status.
Please contribute to my campaign to serve you. Thank you for your support! ~ Bryan Bates