Restoring Arizona’s Forests

The information below was provided by Future Forest LLC, which manages the White Mountain Stewardship contract on the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests. For more information, visit http://www.futureforest.info.

The Schultz fire and other recent forest fires near Flagstaff in the Coconino and Kaibab National Forests are key reminders of a dire need and the true benefits to restoring Arizona’s National Forests. Reports suggest that the cost of fighting a fire far outweighs the cost of restoration. “As for the recent Schultz Fire in the Coconino National Forest near Flagstaff, suppression costs approached $9 million and the rehabilitation work is pegged at nearly $3 million,” said Paul Summerfelt, Fire Management Officer, Flagstaff Fire Dept. “But, now we’re experiencing flash flood warnings on the fire area with heavy rains and very high winds.  The disaster only gets worse.”

As residents of Flagstaff brace for the potential disaster of mudslides, many residents of Arizona are reminded of the devastation left behind from the Rodeo-Chediski fire in 2002, the largest wildfire in Arizona’s recorded history. Many residents who call the White Mountains home and even those from the valley who have second homes on the mountain feel comforted knowing the forest service is proactive in their efforts to protect communities from the threat of wildfires with the White Mountain Stewardship Project. “I witnessed the devastation of the Rodeo-Chediski fire first hand and I will never forget the devastation and the fear from my neighbors as the fire raged forward and no one knew if their home would survive,” said Pinetop-Lakeside resident Cheryl Smith. “I feel like I can breathe a sigh of relief knowing the forest service has people out there working in the forest to ensure our forests are safe.”

The White Mountain Stewardship Contract (WMSC) was awarded to Future Forest LLC of Pinetop, AZ back in 2004 by the USDA forest service. The 10-year contract was developed partially as a result of the Rodeo-Chediski fire. Under the WMSC, Future Forest is charged with managing the reduction of tree density of 150,000 acres of Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest over the 10-year term.  The WMSC is the first and still the largest forest service stewardship contract in the nation. “The White Mountain Stewardship is important for so many reasons. It will not only help keep our forests healthy and safe, but will also develop a sustainable economy by creating hundreds of jobs in the region,” said Future Forest Partner Rob Davis. “The White Mountain Stewardship project is a perfect example of how the value of benefits far outweighs the cost of restoration.”

The project has created/preserved more than 300 jobs since its inception. Along with these jobs, the wood residue collected has been used in large part for renewable thermal energy in the form of wood pellets, heating hundreds of thousands of homes throughout the country.

Recently, a collaborative effort between the U.S. Forest Service and other natural resource agencies, communities, environmentalists, scientists, foresters, ranchers and private industries was formed to develop the Four Forest Restoration Initiative (4FRI). The purpose of the initiative is to accelerate the ecological restoration of 2.4 million acres of ponderosa pine forest over a 20 to 30 year period in northern Arizona’s Apache-Sitgreaves, Coconino, Kaibab and Tonto national forests.  The 4FRI initiative is expected to serve as a model to restore ecosystems across the West, setting our forests and economies on a path of recovery and leaving future generations with healthy landscapes.

“While fire has always helped shape the land, today’s fires are not those of the past. They are often hotter, more destructive and more dangerous to fight. One reason for the difference is that many of today’s forests have unprecedented levels of flammable materials including: dense thickets of small trees, underbrush, needles and leaves,” said Molly Pitts, Co-Chairman of the Governor’s Forest Health Council, and Executive Director of Northern Arizona Wood Products Association. “By protecting our forests from unnaturally intense and severe fires, forest restoration initiatives help improve the condition of our public lands, protect communities and wildlife, increase firefighter safety, protect water supplies and preserve our quality of life.”

For more information about the White Mountain Stewardship project visit www.fs.fed.us/r3/asnf/stewardship/ , www.futureforest.info or follow us at www.twitter.com/whitemtnsteward .

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