Environmentalists Cautiously Optimistic About Four-Forest Initiative

May 21, 2014

(Photo courtesy of the United States Department of Agriculture)
Forests like the Apache-Sitgreaves in Arizona could benefit from some help.

Environmental groups say they’re cautiously optimistic about the state of the Four-Forest Restoration Initiative. The common goal of fire-risk reduction is keeping the program’s stakeholders playing nice.

The idea is to reduce the risk of wildfire by allowing commercial loggers to remove small trees from four National Forests in Arizona. The U.S. Forest Service is working with its second contractor after the first one failed to raise enough money required for the project.  

Todd Schulke is with the Center for Biodiversity. The group has been disappointed with what they call the Forest Service’s lack of focus on habitat protection in the project. But, he says things could be shifting.

Schulke explains that hiring the new contractor and more open discussions have improved the relationship between the agencies over the last month.

"We’re cautious about it because it’s very unclear where those discussions are going and what those decisions will be at the end of the day," said Schulke. 

Now the biggest problem is the lack of acreage available to treat, according to Arizona Senator Jeff Flake.

"And part of the problem is the ready acreage that we had was consumed by the Wallow Fire and so we are kind of starting from scratch again," said Flake. 

The project encompasses about 2.4 million acres of Arizona Forest land. Officials with the forest service say it’s the largest forest restoration effort of its kind. 

It is separate from the 182,000 acres targeted for thinning on Tuesday.