Healthy forest program expands timber hauling areas to lessen fire risk

After the largest wildfire in state history burned more than 538,000 acres in eastern Arizona in 2011, public agencies teamed up with private timber companies to create the Healthy Forest Initiative to reduce fire risk.

One of the initiative’s first acts was to ease weight restrictions on certain state highways to help timber companies remove small trees and other vegetation that could fuel catastrophic fire. An estimated one million acres of dry tinder needs to be cleared from Arizona forests.

Beginning in Jan. 2020, the initiative will allow trucks to haul more weight in an expanded area to better clear out the woody debris. The hope is that the new rules will also attract wood product manufacturers to Northern Arizona.

“This program will be a great benefit for Arizona’s existing wood products industry and our state’s ability to attract additional large scale wood products manufacturers,” said Keith Watkins, senior vice president of the Arizona Commerce Authority. “These industries are key elements in increasing the pace and scale of Arizona’s forest restoration.”

Started in 2014, the Healthy Forest Initiative partnership has not only helped restore forest health, it has created jobs and boosted the economies in eastern Arizona.

To attract industry, the initiative offers many tax incentives to qualifying companies including tax exemptions on qualifying equipment, parts and fuel; employment income tax credit for jobs created and workforce training.

Healthy Forest Initiative partners include the Arizona Commerce Authority, Arizona Department of Transportation, Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management, Arizona Eastern Counties Organization, Salt River Project and the timber-hauling industry.

Under the original program, timber industry trucks could haul up to 90,800 pounds on nine state routes between Payson and New Mexico to sawmills, pellet plants and other facilities in the White Mountains. Now, the area covered by the Healthy Forest Initiative has been extended west to Camp Verde and north to Winslow and Holbrook.

Beginning Jan. 1, trucks can haul up to 91,000 pounds if they have a sixth axle to distribute the added weight. The six-axle design, known as a Tridem configuration, reduces the impact on roads and bridges to the same as trucks hauling 80,000 pounds, the maximum weight allowed on most state roads. Trucks without the sixth axle will be limited to 80,000 pounds.

Pascal Berlioux, executive director of the Arizona Eastern Counties Organization in Show Low, said the initiative has had a positive impact on the environment while boosting the region’s economy by $221 million and supporting 190 jobs.

“The project has allowed the restoration treatment of 50,378 acres of Ponderosa pine forest and watershed in the White Mountains,” Berlioux said. “Over 1.3 million green tons of small diameter logs were processed to fund forest restoration and over 1 million green tons of hazardous fuels were removed.”

Tax incentives are available for certified businesses that harvest, process or transport qualifying forest products including:

  • Transaction Privilege Tax Exemption (TPT Exemption) on purchased, leased and rented qualifying equipment; construction contracts, repair parts and fuel.
  • Use tax exemption on qualifying equipment purchased out-of-state, equipment repair parts and fuel.
  • Arizona Employment Income tax credit earned over a three-year period for each net new job created, totaling up to $3,000 per employee.
  • Workforce Training Income tax credit earned over a three-year period for each new employee trained, totaling up to $9,000 per employee.

Victoria Harker

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