The United States Forest Service took the first step to issue one of the largest RFPs in the history of the agency to attract industry to Arizona to clear out forests to reduce damage when wildfires erupt.
In the contract is a call for much-needed biomass industries to remove and burn the massive amount of debris here, said Jeremy Kruger, chief executive of the Four Forest Restoration Initiative (4FRI) for the Forest Service.
“We have a biomass bottleneck,” Kruger said. “Viable biomass utilization is currently the biggest obstacle to accelerating the pace of mechanical forest restoration treatments.”
With the longest contiguous pine forest in the world, northern Arizona is a prime location for reforestation industries as well as facilities that can burn woody forest debris – biomass – and transform it into energy for the electric grid.
Currently, there is only one biomass facility in the state, NovoBio in Snowflake.
Attracting industry has been the biggest challenge. A policy approved by the Arizona Corporation Commission last year also is designed as a shout out to attract biomass plants to the state.
Forest Service to spend $550 million over 20 years
Kruger said the first step of the RFP, a presolicitation notice, was issued July 10 to alert qualified vendors.
The Forest Service plans to spend $550 million over the next 20 years on reforestation. Business and industry will play a key role in this effort by harvesting, processing, and selling wood products.
The RFP calls for awarding contracts to companies to mechanically thin 605,000 to 818,000 acres of forests in Northern Arizona. The RFP will be available to both small and large businesses and seeks proposals that are “sustainable, innovative, feasible, and cost-effective to increase the pace of the scale of forest restoration.”
“We’re taking an innovative approach and expanding and introducing new innovation and technology,” Kruger said about the project. “We’re hoping to attract industry that will do the same.”
Second phase of massive reforestation project
The RFP is the second phase of a project to attempt reforestation at a scale never seen before.
The 4FRI spans 2.4-million-acres on the Apache-Sitgreaves, Coconino, Kaibab and Tonto national forests. Since 2010, the Forest Service and the other 4FRI stakeholders have spent more than $220 million in reforestation in the region.
The 4FRI project is a collaborative effort between the Forest Service, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Arizona Commerce Authority, Arizona Department of Forestry, Salt River Project, and private organizations to protect Arizona citizens, structures, natural areas, streams and lakes from high-intensity wildfires.
By clearing out forests, fires burn at much lower intensities and are easier to manage, Kruger said.
Industry to bring jobs, revenue to rural areas
The second phase is expected to create hundreds of new jobs and tax revenue for rural communities in the region.
During the first phase,13,000 acres were thinned out, generating over $150 million in economic development benefits including $50 million in labor income, Kruger said.
A recent report by the Audubon Society shows that Arizona waterways generate $13.5 billion a year into the economy and support 114,000 jobs. About $3.2 billion of that occurs in the four northern counties.
Reforestation is critical to keep Arizona forests healthy and safe for communities and outdoor enthusiasts, Kruger said.
“What we saw in (Paradise) California last year was shocking with 11,000 structures burned and 90 people were killed,” he said. “We want to avoid that. We want an ecosystem that is resilient to forest fire.”