On the edge of what promises to be another hot, drought-fueled wildfire season, timber companies working under the U.S. Forest Service’s expiring 10-year White Mountain Stewardship Project are running short of wood.
Eastern Arizona loggers and mill operators told two Southwest senators touring the woodlands on Tuesday that they need faster access to timber to be profitable, and they fear losing more of the forest to a devastating fire this summer.
The White Mountain Stewardship Project expires in August. Its goals are to thin overgrown forests, provide business-creation and job opportunities and prevent megafires like the 538,000-acre Wallow Fire that swept this area in 2011.
That fire consumed 56,000 acres of timber that had been approved for sale, or enough to supply Eagar-area mills for more than two years. Mills now lack timber because of the Forest Service’s legal and regulatory requirements for surveying, marking trees and examining effects to endangered species and archaeological sites. Approving timber for sale typically takes at least two years.
“The (Forest Service) region and Washington, D.C., don’t understand that they need to catch up,” said Dwayne Walker, whose Future Forest company employs about 40 loggers and drivers. He took part in a tour with U.S. Sens. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., who said they hope to streamline the authorization process legislatively and by working with the Forest Service.