The acreage being offered up on timber sales currently is not enough wood for guys like me to go after.
Ten years of the Four Forests Restoration (4FRI) Phase I ends across Northern Arizona in May. After a decade of missed targets, frustration increased among local forest thinning contractors when 4FRI’s two-year Phase II Request for Proposals process was canceled last fall.
“It was decided to change the approach to a blended one. Instead of awarding one big contract to a single company (NewLife Forestry), the new 4FRI Phase II will leverage funding with partner organizations and timber companies,” said Coconino National Forest Stewardship Staff Officer Amber Dorsch.
With nine of Arizona’s 10 high priority fire risk areas, including around Flagstaff, located in the 4FRI footprint, a Forest Service report released last year details new information suggesting that on average, only 40% to 50% of a planning area’s acres need to be strategically treated to reduce 80% of exposure to wildfire risk. Both mechanical thinning and prescribed burning will be focused on approximately 135,000 “high priority” acres around communities most at risk.
Coconino National Forest Timber Program Manager Ben De Blois explained that 4FRI is receiving $54 million to implement this new strategy over Coconino, Kaibab, Tonto and Apache-Sitgreaves national forests overall. “Work on the Coconino will include partnerships with the Flagstaff Watershed Protection Project, City of Flagstaff and Coconino County to test new treatment innovations on 65,000 acres, including the Walker Hill area north of Flagstaff. Assessments will be made on how to optimize work on another 178,000 acres that previous projects have struggled to treat.”
“Going forward, the approach will be to match the right implementation tool to the right areas,” said Dorsch. “Stewardship and service contracts will focus on areas with steeper terrain or where small biomass material needs to be removed, with the Forest Service paying contractors for that.”
In the Flagstaff area, 4FRI is working with several contractors. “Companies have to bid on contracts for saleable timber,” said Coconino National Forest 4FRI Acting Public Affairs Officer Adam Livermore.
However, remodeling 4FRI’s Phase II structure has made life difficult for forest contractors. Bob Lee and Sons, based in Prescott, has been thinning forests on public and private land across Northern and Central Arizona since the early 1980s. “The way Phase II is being administered has created a hardship,” said owner Dale Lee. “The acreage being offered up on timber sales currently is not enough wood for guys like me to go after. And so now we’re getting in bidding wars for the sales that do come up,” Lee said. “Driving from Williams via I-40 down Lake Mary Road, you see thousands of acres needing treatment. I’d like to see 10,000 acres offered up in the next 60 days to address this problem. My company has enough inventory to get us through the end of this year, but after that it’s looking pretty grim if things don’t change. The folks at the Forest Service that I work with day in and day out know what needs to happen, but I think staff at the regional and national level don’t understand the hands-on logistics of the situation.”
Perkins Tßimber Harvesting is another company dealing with changes in forest thinning for fire prevention. The family business has been in operation for 56 years, logging around 2,000 acres per year. “For us, a big challenge has been large stewardship thinning contracts for Arizona State Land and The Nature Conservancy ending recently,” said owner James Perkins. Like other companies, he now has to bid competitively for timber sales.
“We recently bought two sales totaling 4,000 acres in the Parks area and 400 acres by Munds Park,” he said. “The cost is typically around $120,000 for 2,000 loads of wood – about $60/load, before the trees are cut and milled.”
To cope with increased costs, Perkins has increased the volume of timber he cuts and set up his own sawmills in Williams – a small one opened in 2018 and a second larger one a year-and-a-half ago. “It means we can keep our 26 employees working year-round by milling timber we have in the yard when the forests are closed to logging,” he said. “Having our own sawmills means we can bring a tree from the forest to saleable lumber within a week.” FBN
By Diane Hope, FBN