New restoration approach could save forest industry

By Peter Aleshire
WHITE MOUNTAINS — Granted, getting up your hopes for the 4-Forest Restoration Initiatives (4FRI) is just a little like Charlie Brown trying to kick the football, with Lucy grinning at him like a crazy person.

Still, the most recent developments point to potenial improvements. This might really work out well for the struggling wood products industry in the White Mountains.

The Four Forests Restoration Initiative is the most ambitious forest restoration effort in the country, with the goal of thinning tree densities on more than 2 million acres of ponderosa pine forests in Arizona from perhaps 1,000 per acre to more like 100 per acre. Environmentalist, local officials, loggers and foresters agreed that a combination of prescribed burns and small-wood logging operations restoring the forest and returning low-intensity wildfires to their natural role. In the process, 4FRI hopes to reduce catastrophic wildfires, protecting watershed and saving forested communities. The project include much of the Kaibab, Coconino, Tonto and Apache-Sitgreaves national forests. However, the effort has floundered in the past seven years for lack of infrastructure and a market for the wood slash that constitutes half of the material to be removed — the biomass.

Novo Power President Brad Worsley says he’s feeling optimistic the 28 megawatt biomass-burning power plant in Snowflake may stay in business, now that the Forest Services has released the Rim Country request for proposals (RFP) on some 800,000 acres in dire need of thinning.

“I’m happy with the RFP, mainly because they continue to prioritize the biomass – that was really big,” said Worsley.

The wood products industry spawned by the decade-long White Mountains Stewardship Project accounts for hundreds of jobs in an area beset by unemployment and low growth rates. The shutdown of coal-fired power plants combined with the earlier shutdown of mills has thinned the job supply further.

But if things go just right – the Forest Service’s new flexibility and emphasis on getting rid of the could prove an economic boon to the White Mountains.

And that’s in addition to keeping the whole place from burning down.

Source: New restoration approach could save forest industry – White Mountain Independent, 2019-09-24

‘Chip and Ship’ Project Aims to Speed up Forest Restoration in Northern Arizona

By Ryan Heinsius
Jeff Halbrook, a research associate with ERI, takes me on a tour of what’s fondly known as the chip-and-ship pilot project at Camp Navajo near Bellemont.

“It’s all little stuff, down to like a three-inch knop or so,” he says.

A huge mechanical claw scoops up several ponderosa pine logs and feeds them into an industrial chipper. Thousands of wood chunks are blasted into a large shipping container.

“It goes anywhere from one to four to three, up to seven small ones can just kind throw in that little jaws there,” he says.

The logs were recently cut from the Coconino National Forest near Flagstaff. A crew of six has been working for days to pack the containers as tightly as possible with the shredded chips.

“So, they’re finished with that one and then they’ll back around here and start filling this first container, and then it’s kind of like a little dance out there,” Halbrook says.

“It goes anywhere from one to four to three, up to seven small ones can just kind throw in that little jaws there,” he says.

The logs were recently cut from the Coconino National Forest near Flagstaff. A crew of six has been working for days to pack the containers as tightly as possible with the shredded chips.

“So, they’re finished with that one and then they’ll back around here and start filling this first container, and then it’s kind of like a little dance out there,” Halbrook says.

“As these markets develop and these techniques are refined, we’re able to do more acres, and we’re way behind the eight ball on our ability to manage acres,” says Rich Van Demark, a forester with the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management.

“As soon as we can build to that capacity with all the pieces that it takes, that’ll get us to that level of management that we need to match up to our forest needs … But at least it’s going in the right direction,” he says.

4FRI managers eventually want to treat 50,000 acres a year, which would produce a million-and-a-half tons of biomass annually. The chip-and-ship program could export a third of that by sending hundreds of shipping containers to Asia for at least the next decade.

Source: ‘Chip and Ship’ Project Aims to Speed up Forest Restoration in Northern Arizona – KANU Arizona Public Radio, 2019-08-26

Amazon fires, deforestation could eventually affect Arizona forests

By Alex Devoid, Arizona Daily Star
As the Amazon burns, a bad situation could get worse for forests in Arizona.

“The relationship is very clear,” said Don Falk, a professor at the University of Arizona.

Deforestation in the Amazon accelerates changes in global climate. And these changes eventually affect forests close to home.

They’re driving longer, warmer and more intense wildfire seasons, he said. And they’ve already fueled unprecedented wildfires in Arizona and across the West.

Tropical forests like the Amazon rarely burn when left to nature, but fire has always had a place in the life cycle of forests in Arizona.

Low-intensity fires in Arizona historically cleared the forest floor, limiting the accumulation of wildfire fuel, while leaving mature trees standing.

In the 1880s, people and livestock started interrupting fire’s place in this cycle, Falk said. Then U.S. federal policies suppressed wildfire for decades staring in the 1920s, allowing fuel to accumulate. Changes to global climate dried it out with drought and higher temperatures.

In the worst cases, flames jumped from the ground to the crowns of densely packed trees.

They engulfed old-growth forests, spreading faster and more destructively through more forest than ever before.

In 2002 and 2003, for example, it happened in the peaks above Tucson on Mount Lemmon during the Bullock Fire and then the Aspen Fire. Since then, hundreds of thousands of acres have burnt this way in Arizona.

The Amazon is an important buffer against the warming climate, which has created the conditions for these unprecedented fires. It absorbs around 2 billion of the 40 billion tons of carbon dioxide emitted globally each year.

At least a quarter of the stored carbon on earth is concentrated in tropical forests like the Amazon, which grow on barely 12% of the earth’s land, Falk said.

Forests fires across the globe may contribute to climate change by burning carbon these forests store, according to a 2015 study by researchers from universities across the country.

As the Amazon burns, for example, it absorbs less carbon dioxide.

Meanwhile, more billows from the flames, warming the planet by trapping heat inside the atmosphere.

“It’s a double hit to the global climate system,” Falk said.

Source: Amazon fires, deforestation could eventually affect Arizona forests- tucson.com, 2019-09-06

U.S. Forest Service announces massive RFP to clear out Arizona forests

By Victoria Harker
The United States Forest Service took the first step to issue one of the largest RFPs in the history of the agency to attract industry to Arizona to clear out Arizona forests to reduce damage when wildfires erupt.

In the contract is a call for much-needed biomass industries to remove and burn the massive amount of debris here, said Jeremy Kruger, chief executive of the Four Forest Restoration Initiative (4FRI) for the Forest Service.

“We have a biomass bottleneck,” Kruger said. “Viable biomass utilization is currently the biggest obstacle to accelerating the pace of mechanical forest restoration treatments.”

With the longest contiguous pine forest in the world, northern Arizona is a prime location for reforestation industries as well as facilities that can burn woody forest debris – biomass – and transform it into energy for the electric grid.

Currently, there is only one biomass facility in the state, NovoBio in Snowflake.

Attracting industry has been the biggest challenge. A policy approved by the Arizona Corporation Commission last year also is designed as a shout out to attract biomass plants to the state.

Forest Service to spend $550 million over 20 years

Kruger said the first step of the RFP, a presolicitation notice, was issued July 10 to alert qualified vendors.

The Forest Service plans to spend $550 million over the next 20 years on reforestation. Business and industry will play a key role in this effort by harvesting, processing, and selling wood products.

The RFP calls for awarding contracts to companies to mechanically thin 605,000 to 818,000 acres of forests in Northern Arizona. The RFP will be available to both small and large businesses and seeks proposals that are “sustainable, innovative, feasible, and cost-effective to increase the pace of the scale of forest restoration.”

Source: U.S. Forest Service announces massive RFP to clear out Arizona forests – AZ Big Media,2019-07-31

Some Success In Pine Forests With Managed Wildfires

By Melissa Sevigny
The U.S. Forest Service allowed fire to burn more than 73,500 acres in northern Arizona last year. New research examines how well these “managed wildfires” restore healthy, historical conditions to ponderosa pine forests.

Scientists with Northern Arizona University’s Ecological Restoration Institute examined 10 large burned areas on the Coconino and Kaibab national forests. Ecologist David Huffman said managers allowed these areas to burn during the last decade to meet multiple restoration goals.

“Wildfire is difficult to control and manage for precise effects — sort of a blunt tool,” he said. “So we need to understand what it’s doing out there in terms of changing forest structure.”

The study found moderate-severity fires met two-thirds of the restoration goals. This was the only type of fire that restored tree density and canopy cover to historical conditions.

Source: NAU Study: Some Success In Pine Forests With Managed Wildfires – AZPM, 2017-02-01