Major thinning is ramping up on northern Arizona’s national forests. As Arizona Public Radio’s Ryan Heinsius reports, the work represents the early stages of the biggest-ever U.S. forest restoration project.
This week, the Alder Project began in the Black Mesa Ranger District about 30 miles northwest of Show Low. About 1,300 acres of the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests will be thinned as part of the second Four Forest Restoration Initiative project in the area.
The so-called 4FRI plan involves large-scale thinning on four Southwestern forests: the Kaibab, Coconino, Apache-Sitgreaves and Tonto. The initiative is designed to lessen the danger of wildfire and restore forest health through thinning and fuel removal. 4FRI is currently in its first phase, which will treat about 300,000 acres over the next decade.
Last year, the original contractor for 4FRI, Pioneer Forest Products, failed to secure funding for a sawmill as part of the project. And, according to the Arizona Republic, the company had thinned less than 1,000 acres of forest after a year-and-a-half of work. As a result, last fall the U.S. Forest Service awarded the contract to Good Earth Power AZ LLC. According to the deal, Good Earth will thin about 30,000 acres per year.
Restorative work on all four forests is ongoing. In addition to the 10 4FRI projects begun last year, a dozen more have been proposed to begin in 2014 totaling more than 26,000 acres.