Apr 272012

By Linda Kor —

While Navajo County anxiously awaits the outcome of the Four Forest Restoration Initiative (4FRI) contract, a presentation by Wayne Fox, Assistant Dean and Director of the Center For Business Outreach at Northern Arizona University (NAU) and Diane Vosick, Director of Policy and Partnerships for the Ecological Restoration Institute at NAU to the Board of Supervisors on April 24, helped clarify the economic impact the forest treatment endeavor could have on the county.

The 4FRI is a collaborative effort of government, private and special interest groups that aspires to thin one million acres across the national forests of Northern Arizona over a period of no less than 20 years. These forests consist of the largest contiguous ponderosa pine stand in North America, spanning the Apache-Sitgreaves, Coconino, Kaibab and Tonto National Forests. Recent wildfires such as the Wallow Fire, which claimed approximately 538,999 acres, and the Rodeo-Chediski, which claimed approximately 467,000 acres of these forests were unable to be controlled due to the overgrown forest conditions. The efforts of the 4FRI collaboration is geared to the thinning of these forests for preservation and protection of plant life, wildlife, structures and people living within those areas.

This effort also includes the award of a contract to one of two entities currently being considered by the U.S. Forest Service to process these thinnings that will also provide an economic stimulus. One is Arizona Forest Restoration Products, which hopes to build an oriented strand board (OSB) facility, and another is Pioneer Forest Products, a company looking to convert the timber into non-commodity, high value lumber, panels, furniture, cabinetry, specialty components and energy producing products. If either should be awarded the contract, they intend to build their new facilities in the City of Winslow, bringing hundreds of new jobs to the area.

An analysis report compiled by the NAU Ecological Restoration Institute and presented by Vosick and Fox shows what the anticipated economic impact on the economy would be due to this undertaking, exclusive of the contract award. The public sector workforce, made up of U.S. Forest Service personnel, is estimated to require 69 individuals. The study shows that the required positions are already in place and the existing personnel are generally adequate to meet the annual needs of project.

The private sector workforce will fill the on-site and labor needs of the project such as mobilizing, cutting, skidding, de-limbing, slashing, loading and other jobs. These jobs can be filled by numerous local, regional and, in some cases, out-of-state employers. It is estimated that approximately 422 full-time equivalent (FTE) employees will be needed to meet the 50,000-acre annual treatment goal. These figures do not include employees that will be needed to fill positions for whichever company is awarded the 4FRI contract. The report states that with the current employment figures and estimated labor needs it is reasonable to estimate that about 300 new FTEs in forest treatment will be created at full build-out of the 4FRI treatment plan. Qualifications needed to fill those positions were explained as skills common to construction workers and heavy equipment operators.

Since the initial treatment of the forests will start at a smaller scale and build up to 50,000 acres annually, this graduation will allow for recruitment and training for these individuals. The required skills can be obtained through on-the-job training, with specialized training obtainable through local community colleges such as Northland Pioneer College.

Supervisor David Tenney thanked Vosick and Fox for their presentation and reiterated the impact the outcome of this endeavor will have.

“This means hundreds of jobs through the thinning of the forests and hundreds more as a result of the award of the contract. With the increase in small business demand due to more people, we’re looking at as many as 1,000 new jobs to our area,” stated Tenney, who added that the preservation of homes and property through this endeavor would save millions.