Northern Arizona's mountainous forest region is about to get trimmed down and cleaned up. Arizona's Four Forests Restoration Initiative (Initiative) was awarded a $2 million grant from the U.S. Forest Service on Aug. 17, the largest grant made under the newly created federal Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program. The Initiative is the result of a coalition between the timber industry, environmentalists, and local communities to restore healthy ecological values in Northern Arizona's ponderosa pine forests, including 2.4 million acres of the Apache-Sitgreaves, Kaibab, Coconino, and Tonto National Forests, while also boosting rural Arizona’s economic growth and fire safety. Forests in the Western United States have been ecologically degraded by overly aggressive fire suppression practices as well as misguided forest management policies, with unsustainable levels of timber harvesting and cattle grazing in the earlier part of the last century followed by the opposite extreme of unduly restricted logging and grazing. As a result, dense thickets of smaller, younger trees have grown up in place of old-growth trees, and the forest floor is buried in needles and leaves. With this overabundance of natural fuel, forests are all too vulnerable to high-intensity, catastrophic fires that reach the forest canopy and spread at a devastating pace –- witness June's Schultz Fire near Flagstaff. Tightly packed trees are also more susceptible to disease and insect attack. Forest restoration projects, including the Four Forests Restoration Initiative, use mechanical thinning to reduce dense tree stands and introduce low-intensity, ground-level fire, a vital part of a healthy ecosystem.

Gov. Brewer praised the $2 million grant as a "win-win by cleaning up the forests and removing the dangerous kindling and turning it into a useful commodity by creating products for the state and putting people back to work." The governor also noted in her press release that the small-diameter roundwood removed from the forest may be manufactured into guardrail posts for use by the Federal Highway Administration. U.S. Representative Ann Kirkpatrick (D-AZ) believes the Initiative will create over 600 jobs.

Read this article on the Four Forests Restoration Initiative from the Payson Roundup.