The Payson Town Council unanimously approved a resolution calling on the Forest Service to move quickly to embrace the Four Forest Restoration Initiative (4-FRI) to protect vulnerable communities from the kinds of ravenous wildfires that this month have consumed more than 700 square miles of forests near Alpine.
“This is critical to a long-term solution,” said Payson Mayor Kenny Evans. “The four biggest fires in Arizona history have all occurred in the last decade. This is a warning sign that things will be even worse if we don’t take action.”
The council resolution joins with Scottsdale in calling on the League of Arizona Cities and Towns to support the plan to revive the timber industry to thin more than a million acres of Arizona forests.
The Forest Service recently put out requests for proposals from timber companies bidding on a 10-year contract to thin 30,000 acres of overgrown forest in the Tonto, Coconino, Kaibab and Apache-Sitgreaves forests. The initiative is backed by a coalition of environmental groups, public officials and timber companies who hope that modern mills and power plants can make a profit on the thickets of small trees that pose a grave fire danger to many Arizona communities — including those in Rim Country.
The council hopes that the resolution will spur a movement among cities and towns to pressure the state and the Forest Service to make forest restoration and thinning a top priority.
The Wallow Fire spread to more than 500,000 acres and forced the evacuation of some 10,000 people from Greer, Alpine, Springerville, Nutrioso and other communities.
Firefighters said the fire stopped along several sections that had previously been thinned.
The council discussion detoured quickly into an aggravated discussion of Forest Service policies that prevented the harvest of charred trees after the 2002 Rodeo-Chediski Fire, which forced the evacuation of Show Low and was the biggest fire in state history until the Wallow Fire displaced it last week.
“Are we hoping this would move the government enough to allow logging camps to open in those burned out areas” to cut the burned trees? asked Councilor Ed Blair.
Evans recalled the failure of the Forest Service to act in 2002 after the Rodeo-Chediski Fire before the decay of the wood made the estimated 4 billion board feet of timber unusable.
“They got a bill through Congress to add 150 positions so permits could be issued. But the Forest Service used that money to hire 140 public information officers to tell us what a good job they’d done. So it’s still out there. Those trees fall over and it’s a major problem. So it’s a great idea (to harvest the burned timber), but it’s not going to go anywhere unless we do something. Even when they had a law signed by the president, they said not even the president can waive those rules.”
He said voters and local officials must insist that the federal government now move to restore forests to a healthy and sustainable condition through use of a revived timber industry.
“The Four Forest Restoration Initiative is the last, best hope to bring some sanity to this process of mismanagement that’s been going on for a century,” Evans concluded.