Forest Service Reveals New 4FRI Strategy

USDA Forest Service Chief Randy Moore announced new funding and a redesigned strategy for the Four Forest Restoration Initiative (4FRI) during a visit with elected officials in Arizona in November. The agency is committing $54 million in fiscal year 2022 to accelerate implementing high-priority projects on 135,000 acres over the next 10 years. The funding will also address annual road and bridge maintenance.

“The Forest Service is increasing the scale of our investments into the 4FRI project, and we’re getting started sooner than previously planned,” Moore says. “This strategy will focus our forest maintenance work to reduce wildfire danger in the 4FRI project area where wildfire is most likely to place homes, communities and infrastructure at risk.”

The key decisions from the 4FRI Restoration Strategy include:

—Immediately prioritize and expand the highest-priority, partnership projects to significantly reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire to communities on approximately 135,000 acres (i.e. Bill Williams Mountain, Flagstaff Watershed Protection Project, CC Cragin, Sierra/Anchas).

—Immediately implement current plans which provide approximately 300,000 acres over 20 years to maintain existing industry.

—Treat 86,000 acres using prescribed fire and non-commercial thinning (over 20 years) on the Tonto and Kaibab national forests.

—Conduct a rapid assessment and optimization effort using the best available science to assess approximately 300,000-350,000 acres (over 20 years) on the Coconino and Kaibab national forests, with treatments assessed to prioritize which acres to treat to reduce the risk of wildfire the quickest beginning in FY2023.

—Focus on resolving and improving conditions for industry success by addressing factors like cost and risk reduction, incentives, market conditions, availability of raw material, transportation plans, and fire liability risks.

4FRI is an effort to restore 2.4 million acres of forests on the Apache-Sitgreaves, Coconino, Kaibab, and Tonto national forests in northern Arizona over the next 20 years. The 4FRI footprint includes six out of 10 of the highest priority firesheds in the Southwestern Region. It also includes nine of the 10 high-priority fire risk areas in Arizona. Watersheds on the four forests supply water uses including municipal, domestic, irrigation and industrial uses for millions of people in the Phoenix metropolitan area.

4FRI efforts also seek to expand local industry, increase jobs and support local economies. The new strategy is reportedly a collaborative effort between the Forest Service, its key partners and 4FRI stakeholders and is broadly supported by industry and local communities.

In September, the Forest Service canceled a Phase 2 Request for Proposal (RFP) and bid selection process involving stewardship and treatment of 520,000 acres. Two companies were apparently the primary bidders—one proposing to build a sawmill and the other an OSB plant. A Snowflake, Ariz. biomass fueled electricity plant, Novo Power, participated in both of those bids to take the biomass resulting from the two projects.

It’s unclear how those proposed projects fit into the FS strategy.

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