Old growth Ponderosa pine

Stakeholders with the 4FRI forest restoration group have expressed concerned with the number of old-growth trees cut as part of the West Escudilla Project near Alpine.

The Forest Service may be cutting too many big, old-growth trees as part of the Four Forest Restoration Initiative (4FRI), according to key supporters of the effort to restore both the forest and the timber industry.

The massive 4FRI effort relies on a hard-won agreement between local officials, environmentalists and loggers to focus on the dangerous thickets of small trees on millions of acres of ponderosa pine forests in northern Arizona, while leaving the big, remaining, fire-resistant, old-growth trees in place.

But recent thinning projects have tested that agreement.

The latest issue is a letter sent by the 4FRI stakeholders group to the Forest Service expressing concern over cutting too many old-growth trees in the West Escudilla Project area in Apache County.

In a Nov. 14 story in the Arizona Daily Sun it was stated: “... the U.S. Forest Service made a decision out at the West Escudilla Project to cut down over 1,300 trees that were more than 150 years old, fearing an infestation of an invasive dwarf mistletoe. In response to the action, the 4FRI stakeholders released a letter, calling the treatment ‘inconsistent’ with their current practices.”

The Forest Service said it has allowed for the cutting of larger diameter trees (old growth) for parts of the West Escudilla Project to maintain a healthy forest and concerns over dwarf mistletoe infestation.

Minutes from a recent 4FRI meeting highlight some of the issues the stakeholders have with the Forest Service:

“The plan said removal of old trees will be rare, but the site shows removal of old trees is not rare ... stakeholders recognize the need for industry and that this is a bridge the gap treatment, however, cutting old growth is not acceptable ... the Forest Service doesn’t cut large trees for economic reasons but for restoration (said in response to a comment that industry members stated they need a few larger trees to make the economics work) … this cut is the most intense treatment the FS has done and the approach was defended, but the issue regarding old and large trees is acknowledged (FS) … cutting old growth trees is not part of restoration (4FRI) … ”

The stakeholders have asked the Forest Service to revisit its planned treatments to modify the trees they had marked for cutting. Reports indicate that a large number of old-growth trees have already been cut.

According to the letter sent by the 4FRI stakeholders group:

“Members of 4FRI have spent nearly two decades building the social license that made landscape-scale restoration a reality on Arizona national forests. There is broad stakeholder consensus and science for retaining old-growth trees, including wildlife habitat, increased genetic diversity, and potential increased fire and climate resiliency.”

Phone calls and emails to both the Forest Service and 4FRI were not returned as of press time.

Reach the editor at tbalcom@wmicentral.com

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