Good Earth Power has started a nearly 1,000-acre thinning project in Rim Country, one of the first projects in the eagerly awaited Four Forest Restoration Initiative (4FRI).
The Christopher/Hunter-Mercer Task Order will help provide a buffer zone to protect Christopher Creek and other communities from wildfires.
The Campbell Group will manage the thinning project — one of the few in Rim Country included in the first batch of 4FRI contracts.
The Forest Service is still working on a massive environmental impact statement on some 300,000 acres, which Good Earth will thin in the next decade. However, to get work started, the Forest Service gave out contracts on about 15,000 acres on which it has already completed necessary environmental review.
The Campbell Group (TCG) is managing the restoration contracts for Good Earth under the terms of the unprecedented thinning contract, which backers hope will provide a way to reinvent the timber industry and thin millions of acres of fire-prone forests at no cost to taxpayers.
Ultimately, Good Earth hopes to develop new mills that can turn small trees and slash piles into fuel or furniture. For now, it will have to rely on existing mills — which means burning much of the wood harvested for electricity.
“Everyone involved is very excited to have restoration work actively begin in the forests,” Good Earth Power CEO Jason Rosamond said. “This is the first step in a long-term project that will produce many great benefits to the entire region.”
TCG Director of Operations Stephen Levesque also announced this week that Steve Horner would assume the role of Area Manager in Arizona in January. Horner has worked for the Campbell group since 2009 and managed 165,000 acres of forestland in coastal Northern California. In that role, he directed landscape-scale restoration activities designed to advance the growth of diverse and healthy forests.
Campbell has long operated as a land broker for forestland nationally.
“We are pleased that Steve will lead TCG’s work in Arizona,” Levesque said. “His restoration knowledge and experience engaging stakeholders will enhance TCG’s ability to implement forest restoration projects in the region.”
Good Earth Power AZ, LLC oversees the Arizona operations of Good Earth Power, an international consortium with interests in the construction, energy, communications and land development sectors. The company’s seeks to develop unique technologies to drive self-sustaining growth in developing communities and nations, mostly through energy projects. For more information visit www.goodearthpower.com.
The Campbell Group is a timberland investment advisory firm founded in 1981 to acquire and manage timberland for investors. TCG manages 3.2 million acres in the U.S. and Australia, which makes it one of the largest timber investment managers in the world. The firm has more than 300 employees across the United States and Australia. For more information visit www.campbellgroup.com.
GEPAZ and TCG will share a regional office at 1645 S. Plaza Way in Flagstaff that is expected to open in January.
Horner has also in the past managed nearly one-half million acres of forestland in Northern California. Prior to joining TCG, Horner spent 20 years working with a family-owned timberland company and five-years with a large integrated forest products company, both in Northern California.
The start on even the initial projects represents a welcome step forward after close to two years of inaction on a project considered essential to reducing risks to Northern Arizona Forests.
The number of mega fires had increased dramatically in the past decade as a result of a severe drought that caused widespread tree deaths in forests whose densities have increased from about 50 trees per acre to more like 1,000 trees per acre in the past century.
A group of loggers, environmentalists and local officials pioneered the 4-FRI approach, which focuses the trees smaller than 16-inches in diameter across millions of acres of Ponderosa Pine forest. Loggers said they needed long-term contracts and reliable supply of wood to recover the millions they would have to invest in new technologies and mills to make a profit on the small trees.
The Forest Service initially awarded the 4-FRI contract to Pioneer Forest Products, over the objections of some of the developers of the approach – including Supervisor Martin and the Centers for Biological Diversity. Critics questioned Pioneer’s business plan, which included turning the small trees into finger-jointed furniture and diesel fuel. After holding the contract for about a year, Pioneer concluded it couldn’t get financing to build the mills it needed to process the wood. Instead, Pioneer sought and obtained Forest Service approval to sell the contract to Good Earth, which had a long track record with energy projects in Africa and elsewhere but little experience in U.S. logging operations.
Good Earth mostly adopted Pioneer’s business plan, with an emphasis on a still-experimental method of turning wood slash and debris into jet fuel.
The Centers for Biological Diversity has filed a sweeping Freedom of Information Request for all the documents related to the award of the contract to Pioneer and the transfer of that contract to Good Earth. The Center has raised questions about whether the award of the contract was influenced by the involvement of Marlin Johnson, a former Forest Service forester who has partnered first with Pioneer then with Good Earth. The Forest Service awarded the contract to Pioneer for reasons never fully explained, although Forest Service analysts have said Pioneer had a superior business plan to the other company, which actually offered to pay more and include monitoring of the effects of the thinning projects.
Good Earth promised to get started quickly on already reviewed thinning projects, mostly in the Kaibab and Coconino forests. The Forest Service often completes the environmental review of projects like the Christopher-Hunter-Mercer project then waits to get money to actually do the thinning work.
Trying to use hand thinning and controlled burns to restore some 2.6 million acres of Ponderosa pine forests to something approaching pre-settlement conditions could cost billions. Several studies have suggested that even then the projects could prove cost-effective if you take into account the cost of wildfires and the additional water that would flow into streams and rivers.
The 4-FRI approach raises the possibility the thinning projects would cost the taxpayers nothing, while generating local jobs and restoring forest health.
The Forest Service has released the draft of an environmental assessment of the full 300,000 contract. The Forest Service hopes to use a new approach to timber sales that would give the contractor much more latitude to mark trees to create a much more diverse forest that would include meadows, clearings, more flowing streams, thick patches for wildlife and a diversity of tree ages and types.
However, the Forest Service prescription will likely face challenges because it does not include the “large tree retention strategy” developed by the original 4-FRI group, including Supervisor Martin. That approach would leave standing almost all of the trees greater than 16 inches in diameter. Studies suggest such large trees generally more than 150 years in age constitute roughly 3 percent of the trees in a typical stretch of Ponderosa pine forest.