Suspicious Of Forest Thinning Contract

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My name is Tommie Cline Martin and I am a county supervisor for Gila County, Arizona, and a member of the Four Forest Restoration Initiative (4FRI) Stakeholder Group.

Perhaps as important in this conversation, however, is my personal and professional background. My great-grandparents came by wagon into what is now the Payson-Star Valley area in the late 1800s, and my family has lived here from then until now.

When they arrived, they found a healthy, functioning, productive land and, as a family, we have watched it deteriorate and die under federal direction and management ever since.

It was in protest of this direction and management that led me into a 25-year career in holistic resource management with work throughout the American West, western Canada, northern Mexico and eastern Africa — primarily in Somalia and Ethiopia. It is from this perspective that I offer the following comments about the recent 4FRI contract announcement.

Our public land forests are dead and dying by any honest measure due to 100 years of failed federal policy and management direction of and by the United States Forest Service (USFS).

From start to finish, the 4FRI Request For Proposal (RFP) process is an absolute reflection of that failed policy and clearly perpetuates the process right down to the final selection of a contract that appears to include a crony that, as a high-ranking USFS employee, helped craft and establish that very wrong policy and management direction the last number of years.

I, along with a number of others, were asked over the last 6-plus years to help forge a new “social license” for the USFS whereby we can collectively begin a new direction to let forest product begin to pay for forest restoration — a “let the forests earn, not burn” idea; a “let the product pay for its own way out of the forest” direction.

Through the 4FRI collaborative, one element to achieve this is a “Large Tree Retention Strategy” agreement that was critical in reaching this new social license, but that the USFS (and their apparent contractor insider) do not agree with under their current “Desired Future Condition” rhetoric. This strategy was one of the primary differences between the two contract finalists — one of the contractors fully supported the strategy, the winning contractor did not.

To me, this smacks of the USFS wanting to have their cake and eat it, too — and it will ultimately blow up on all of us.

In my opinion, the contract that was selected is bogus in several ways.

If in fact, an agency insider who was involved in setting policy and advising potential contractors in the process and knew the particulars of the other bidding proposals, then “retired” and helped craft the winning bid is true, this is a perversion of our public trust at the highest level.

It is bogus in that the winning bid ballyhoos two main products that simply are little more than laboratory ideas at this time:

Cellulosic Biodiesel: A process that already represents several spectacular government subsidized business failures, the latest a business called Range Fuels.

Milled Dimensional Lumber out of very juvenile Knotty Pine — if a lasting, structurally sound product could be made this way out of this source, the southeastern United States would be bustling with their plantation forests where the wood is easy pickings.

In my opinion, this is just another demonstration of the Obama administration’s uncontrolled need to select for and prop up subsidized green energy at any cost and their inherent failure to understand how to create jobs without having to subsidize them.

A subsidized job is not a job ... it is just another government paid position.

It is bogus in that the USFS’s RFP process tried to compare as equal the 4FRI’s social contract of an agreement among all stakeholders on how to proceed, and how to modify as conditions change — with the administration’s social agenda of following a dogma to achieve a stated goal, without regards to cost, change in conditions, or possibility of success.

And, finally, this contract award also repeats the pattern of the USFS actions in Arizona 10 years ago with their White Mountain Stewardship Contract where the USFS had two contractors to choose from — one that was a solidly business-based proposal and one was a social agenda-based proposal.

They picked the agenda-based contract — just as they have now — and have spent the last 10 years propping up their choice with grants, additional subsidies and shenanigans to save face ever since.

Don’t get me wrong — some good was achieved and some homes were saved during the Wallow Fire as a result — but not a fraction of what could have been accomplished was accomplished after 10 subsidized years — to the tune of millions of taxpayer dollars — to cut a product that could have and should have paid for its own way out of the forest.

It is my prediction that the USFS will spend the next 10 years following this same path with this latest contract — if it lasts that long. I expect them to begin by cutting big trees in the USFS “existing shelf stock” and may well be out of business or the contract be put on hold before they ever get to the small stuff — which is the threat to our remaining, sickly forests.

I desperately hope I am wrong — Gila County and what remains of our sad, sickly, highly fire-vulnerable public lands forests absolutely needs 4FRI to be successful.

I believed, and still do, that the Arizona business-based AZFRP proposal offered the strongest possible model for getting this work done in an economically, socially, and ecologically responsible fashion.

I am shocked, to tell you the truth, that the Forest Service selected an out-of-state, relatively unknown bidder (who is proposing to pay an estimated $6 million for the contract) over AZFRP (who was proposing to pay an estimated $10 million). Obviously, I have questions about the direction our forest management is going (and not going), questions about the way this decision was made (and not made), and questions about Pioneer Associate’s qualifications to get this important work done, and I’d like real answers — and not the soft shoe routine we have so far been subjected to.

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