Navajo County Supervisor David Tenney shares his concerns about a major forest-thinning contract that was recently awarded to Pioneer Forest Products by the U.S. Forest Service.
Ted Simons: Good evening, and welcome to "Arizona Horizon," I'm Ted Simons. Dense, overgrown forests have fueled massive wildfires that have destroyed much of northern Arizona in recent years, and thinning the forest is a critical step. That's a major goal of the Four Forest Restoration Initiative, or 4-FRY, a 20-year plan to thin 2.5 million acres of Ponderosa pine in northern Arizona. Last month the U.S. Forest Service selected Pioneer Forest Products to start the process. Not everyone likes the choice. Here to share his concerns about the project is Navajo County Supervisor David Tenney. Thank you for joining us.
David Tenney: Thank you, glad to be back.
Ted Simons: We've had you on before talking about 4-FRY. Your involvement with 4-FRY? One of the stakeholders?
David Tenney: Actually I have been avid in the movement toward 4-FRY before it became an actual acronym, if you can call it that. We've been advocating for this for the better part of five years. We've made numerous trips to Albuquerque, to D.C., to the national office of the Forest Service, doing everything we can to move this process along. As you know with the fire 10 years ago and last year with the Wallow Fire, we can't afford to see it burn anymore. Landscape scale restoration is needed, 2.4 million acres.
Ted Simons: Everyone is kind of working together on this.
David Tenney: Correct.
Ted Simons: The first contract now goes out to Pioneer Forest Products. What do we know about this company?
David Tenney: Well, unfortunately not as much as I and several others would like to know. We know a little bit, one of the partners or principals, if you will, is a man from Arizona I know, I've got a meeting scheduled with him for day after tomorrow. We will discuss a little more what they plan to do, to try to learn more about what needs to be done. But not a whole lot is done. They have not been as present or in the forefront of the collaborative process and the stakeholder groups. Kind of been in the background in my opinion or my estimation, so we don't know a lot about them. The principal, the owner of the group, we've never met him here in Navajo County. We should have a meeting next week with Herman Hawke.
Ted Simons: With that many questions, what was the bidding process like? What do you know of the bidding process?
David Tenney: Unfortunately we don't know as much as we would like to. We have made requests to the Forest Service and they know we want more information. We would like them to explain to us why some of these questions we have are yet unanswered. There are some concerns, and when I say we, I don't just mean we at Navajo County. Richard Lander from Greenlee County, many of the environmental community have questions that really need to be answered about why this contractor was selected, and how we can find those answers to get everyone back on the same page and moving forward.
Ted Simons: They are selected again to thin the forest and do landscape restoration, if you will, regarding how many acres of forest land?
David Tenney: The first project is 300,000 acres, 30,000 acres a year for 10 years. That is the first contract. There will be more contracts forthcoming over the next several years. Theirs is a 300,000-acre contract.
Ted Simons: I think the idea among many stakeholders was concentrate on the smaller trees, because they need to be moved. Is this company in line with that kind of thinking?
David Tenney: Well, we're not sure. They say they are, yet I know the environmental communities, the environmental stakeholders I have come to know real well through the process, they have their doubts. One of the principals in the company used to work at the Forest Service in their timber department and has been at odds with the environmentalists, in the years through the timber wars, as to what is a big tree, what isn't, when you should cut it and when you shouldn't. They are skeptical. The reason that concerns us, I come from a sawmill and timber background in my family. I don't mind seeing a big tree occasionally or quite often on a log truck. If we don't have the environmental community buying in, it could torpedo the effort. It could kill the whole thing if we don't have the environmental community stay at the table, we could end up with another timber war, if you will.
Ted Simons: One of the principals involved in pioneer timber products is an ex-Forest Service senior official? That's raising some eyebrows?
David Tenney: It has, particularly amongst the environmental community. If they start sending any signal they might pull away from the table, how can we be successful if we don't have all partners at the table. There's one of the partners who worked until about three and a half years ago at the regional office in Albuquerque, which is where this decision was based out of.
Ted Simons: Interesting. All right. What is cellulosic biodiesel? I understand this company is going to use the wood, the trim from the Arizona forest, to make this -- it's an experimental project, isn't it?
David Tenney: From what I've been able to ascertain, it is. It's been tried in our country and other countries. To our knowledge we've not yet been able to find anybody able to do it with any amount of success. When you're talking 30,000 acres a year, you're talking about 300,000 tons of limbs and needles and branches to be disposed of somehow. If it cannot be converted into biodiesel, what does the Forest Service intend to do with all that slash, that would just lay on the forest floor and become more of a fire hazard.
Ted Simons: Is there a plan B at all?
Ted Simons: What happens if this ends up not working.
David Tenney: I sent out an open letter a week ago asking the Forest Service that question.
Ted Simons: And nothing as yet?
David Tenney: We will be having a meeting and information for us next week.
Ted Simons: They are going to produce something, I know they are talking about 500 some odd jobs outside of Winslow, that area, and we don't even know the commercial value yet, do we?
David Tenney: Well, we don't. Being a supervisor in Navajo County, and the fact that Winslow is in Navajo County, we are hoping it's going to be very successful. Not only thinning the forests, but from an economic standpoint. That's one of the things we're concerned about. I'm very fearful of anyone pulling away from the table and maybe tipping the scales against this working, because we can't afford for this not to work, Ted. We have got to have this work. The management practices in the forest over the last 20 years have not worked, as you've seen in these catastrophic fires that we've had. If this blows up, I don't know when we'll ever get it back. We need to know these people can be successful with the products they tend to manufacture.
Ted Simons: It sounds like it was winnowed down to two companies.
Ted Simons: It was dedicated to the smaller trees and this sort of thing. Why was Pioneer chosen if it's an experimental project they plan to produce? It's not even local. If everything seems to be curious or maybe a conflict of interest, it may alienate some stakeholders and take the 4-FRY into a direction you don't want to it go, why in the world was the company chosen?
David Tenney: I wish I knew the answer. I wrote a letter last week asking those exact questions. Hopefully the Forest Service will be forthcoming with that. We understand one of the other bidders bid about $9 million more to the government for the acreage. We understand there was a bid that offered up $500,000 a year for the monitoring of the project. If it is not funded what does the Forest Service intend to do to fund the monitoring? That was a key component, we're going monitor this and let science help us through this as it goes. We need to know what the Forest Service plans to do.
Ted Simons: Again, the other finalist was willing to pay more to do this work, and was willing to pay something at least to monitor ecological impact of the work. And yet the other company was chosen. And I understand the other finalist that was not chosen, the Arizona company, they are disbanding. They have no reason to exist. If that's the plan B, plan B has just left the farm.
David Tenney: That's my understanding. From what I've been able to ascertain, $14 million over the 10 years left on the table. And company B, if you don't have that contract, no reason to exist anymore and they may not be there. We need answers and need to be assured. The residents of Navajo county are concerned and want to know, is this going work.
Ted Simons: Last point: The Forest Service from what we have heard, and obviously we haven't heard much more than have you -- they describe this as an appropriately scaled community-based industry. Make sense?
David Tenney: Well, appropriately scaled, yes. We've gotta get the scale up, we're going for the 300,000 acres first thing. Community-based? It remains to be seen. If you don't have the support of the environmental community or the governmental community and the citizens at large, is it really community-based? And it'll struggle if we don't get that. That's what we're looking for.
Ted Simons: Would this have been a better second contract, do you think, than a first contract?
David Tenney: Quite possibly. I knew a lot more about the other bidder because they have been very forthcoming to us as a county board. I don't even qualified to make that judgment, I just don't know enough about them.
Ted Simons: We will have the Forest Service on next week and talk with them about some of the things we talked to you about.
David Tenney: It's my 25th anniversary, can I tell my wife I love her?
Ted Simons: Congratulations, you son of a gun, congratulations.
David Tenney:Navajo County Supervisor;