By now, the people of Northern Arizona have heard about a large forest restoration project we call 4FRI (Four Forest Restoration Initiative), a truly unprecedented effort to restore the health and ecological function of our beautiful Northern Arizona forests. The overall goal of this initiative is to restore the ponderosa pine forest across portions of the Kaibab, Coconino, Apache-Sitgreaves and Tonto National Forests, an area encompassing 2.4 million acres. The size and scope of 4FRI are beyond anything the Forest Service has tried before anywhere in the nation. Because of that, there are inevitable challenges — both social and ecological — that we have to face if we want to move forward.
One of those challenges was attracting and selecting a contractor to implement treatments as part of the 4FRI effort. The Forest Service selected and awarded the contract to Pioneer Forest Products in May. Since then, some individuals and groups that we see as integral to the success of 4FRI have raised concerns. I will only address one of the concerns that has been expressed publicly.
Some concern has been expressed about the agency’s process of selecting a contractor for the restoration contract. I want to emphasize that the selection process we followed is established and dictated by the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR). This is a process that all federal governmental agencies must follow. We took the responsibility of evaluating the contract proposals very seriously and recognized the importance of getting it right. This is a large, complex project and we took a substantial amount of time with the review and evaluation process to ensure our efforts were thorough and complete. Forest Service accountants and auditors from our national headquarters verified and reviewed the submitted proposals according to FAR.
Because of the magnitude of this contract, additional reviews were undertaken, such as obtaining the expertise of Forest Service subject matter experts in wood products to review and substantiate the recommendation made by the Technical Evaluation Board. I am confident of the skills and knowledge of the Technical Evaluation Board, the Financial Audit Team and the Contracting Officer who performed the grueling work to ensure that we get the best value for the government and the public, and accomplish important restoration work.
While I understand that there are those who believe a different company should have been selected for this first phase contract, I know that the Forest Service proceeded with due diligence in the selection of Pioneer. It is important that we move forward because the health of our forests and the safety of our communities depend on this restoration work proceeding.
We are all deeply invested in the success of the 4FRI effort. It is only through continued collaboration and an intense focus on the end goal that we will be able to ensure that the common objectives of the Forest Service, environmental groups, community members and others are met.
For more information, go to www.fs. usda.gov/4fri.