Supervisors from counties ravaged by two of the worst wildfires in state history discuss their support of the Four Forest Restoration Initiative.
Ted Simons: The Wallow Fire has now burned nearly 480,000 acres in eastern Arizona, making it the largest wildfire in state history. The devastation is providing traction for advocates of large-scale forest restoration projects. Here to talk about the concept is Navajo county supervisor David Tenney, who serves as president of the county supervisors association of Arizona, and chairman of the Greenlee County board of supervisors, Richard Lunt. Good to have you both here. Thanks for joining us. I want to start with you, Richard. This is happening in your county. Give us a brief update of what's hang. Is there any optimism on this fire yet?
Richard Lunt: Yes, it's now 20% contained. It's devastating, the northern part of our county is now gone. The forest that I enjoy going up fishing and hunting, my grandchildren, my great grandchildren will probably finally begin to see a forest that can be something that you'd want to go visit.
Ted Simons: We talked about this at length on Monday. Monday's program dealt with the four forest restoration initiative at length. And so I want to piggyback a little bit on what we talked about Monday with the idea of keeping -- trying to keep these kinds of fires from happening again. This restoration initiative, the biggest of its kind in the country, it is something that could work?
David Tenney: Ted, it absolutely is. That's the reason that I've not been involved in anything in the seven years I've been a supervisor to the magnitude I've been in the involved in the forest restoration initiative. My family has a logging background on both sides, my mother and my father's side going back about three generations. My "The Great Debaters" grandfather brought in the first sawmill into Arizona. We've been in it that long. And after the Rodeo-Chediski fire, something we realized something's got to be done. 20, 30 years of timber wars and mismanagement of the forest has put us in the point where these catastrophic fires will continue unless we do something proactively to keep them from happening. And there is a plan that will work.
Ted Simons: Having you two gentlemen on was designed to show there is some political legitimacy to this particular initiative. How important is to show that legitimacy?
Richard Lunt: It's very important. You know, what makes this so much different than any other thing that has been done before is we have the environmentalist at table. We have the forest service, we have the state agency. And you know what? We're all singing from the same sheet of music. We realize we have to get industries into the forests to help clean up, something that there's not enough money in the treasury, but there is enough money in the economy for solutions.
Ted Simons: You mentioned your family, you come from a logging background.
David Tenney: Yes, sir.
Ted Simons: And there's always been such tension between loggers trying to go for old growth, environmentalists saying go for the smaller trees, the underbrush. Business is involved, is included in this initiative. Correct?
David Tenney: It is. Richard mentioned some of the stake hold there's have been at the table through this restoration initiative, and the environmental community is at the table, and industry is at the table. There are companies out there that are saying they are ready to come forward with a plan to the forest service, they've been waiting on the forest service to issue a request for proposal. They're saying they are ready, willing, and able to thin the forest on a landscape scale between 30-50,000 acres a year. There's industries saying they're ready to do that.
Ted Simons: These are different industries than the ones that wanted old growth and nothing else.
Richard Lunt: Oh, yes. Another thing I think that's real important, Dave and I was just at a Western Interstate Region, which brings in all the western states in the western part of the United States. And everybody, once they found out that we were from Arizona, they were asking about this initiative. This thing will work, we've got to make it work. And it will change the way that we manage public plans or forest service.
Ted Simons: Talk about the white mountains projects. Because that's -- it seems like it's almost a template for what the forest restoration initiative, a template for that would be, kind of a small version of that.
David Tenney: Yes it is, the difference is, like you say, it's a small version, there have been between 5 and 10,000 acres a year with action of 15,000 acres a year on that contract. They're averaging more like seven or eight. The difference is doing it on that small of a scale, they've needed government subsidy. The government has been paying them X amount per acre to get that done. The new model is due to the larger scale to where industry can do this at no cost or even revenue earning for the forest service to where the federal government does haven't to subsidize it.
Ted Simons: Would you need -- would supply guarantee these things to attract business and keep business up there?
Richard Lunt: You bet. Any business, if they're going to invest $300 million to set up an infrastructure, then you know what? They need term and they need supply. And they need that guaranteed. And that's what this project will do.
Ted Simons: We talked about political legitimacy and having people that are in public office elected office behind this as well. You got industry, you got environmentalists, the forest service, a lot of folks are on board, a lot of stakeholders. Talk about the congressional delegation. What are you hearing there?
David Tenney: We're getting good support in Congress. Congressman Paul Gosar is behind this. He meets regularly with the chief of the forest service. I got a call from his chief of staff today informing me of the fact the RFP came out from the forest service today on this project. That is great news. Great timing to be talking about this today when that request for proposal just came out today. Senator Kyl, Senator McCain, congressman Flake, all of them have shown support to this project. Absolutely.
Ted Simons: Support for the project, but what does the project need? What kind of money is involved here, how would it be raised? Talk to us about the cost.
Richard Lunt: You know what it needs, it needs -- it needed this RFP, the request for proposal, now it needs contracts so that industry can bid on those contracts and then get doing projects in our forests on a large scale. That's what it needs.
David Tenney: The other thing it needs is Congress has got to appropriate the appropriate money through the forest service to do the planning. The industry will come in and do the harvesting of this timber at no cost. At least that's our plan. We'll see what the bids say. But it makes money to plan. The environmental studies, to clear all of this acreage, that takes millions of dollars to do it across the 2.5 million acre forest. That's where the forest service needs a commitment and they need help from Congress and the department of agriculture to funnel that money there, our point is funnel it there, clean it up, you don't spend near as much suppressing fires.
Ted Simons: When I hear about this type of planning and research that needs to be done. I'm thinking time, we don't have that much time. The forest is burn can. What kind of time frame are we looking at?
Richard Lunt: Hopefully they have 60 days now to review -- the industry does have 60 days, and hopefully come this fall we'll have some contracts out and maybe work can start within a year or two.
David Tenney: Some of the bigger companies are saying within a couple years they get their infrastructure in, they're ready to start cutting trees. So award a contract this Fall. Probably within two to three years were cutting trees.
Ted Simons: Treating 1 million acres. 1 million acres over the next 20 years, is that really doable?
David Tenney: Yes.
Ted Simons: You think it's really doable?
David Tenney: Absolutely. And guess what? That's right at the acreage we've burned in the last eight years between the Rodeo Chediski and the Wallow Fires alone. We can't afford to burn it when we have companies willing to invest the money, put 600 people to work, put $200 million more into the economy, it absolutely will work. We've got to push this forward.
Ted Simons: Gentlemen, good to have you here. Thanks for joining us.
Richard Lunt: Thank you.
David Tenney: Thank you, Ted.