A Montana-based company won a contract Friday for the biggest-ever thinning project in U.S. history designed to restore northern Arizona forests to health. Pioneer Associates of Billings, Mont., will use the wood from 300,000 acres to feed a wood products mill that it plans to open in Winslow by the fall of 2013. Pioneer agreed to pay the U.S. Forest Service $6.6 million for the right to log the forests, about $22 an acre.
The mill will employ 600 people and cut ponderosa pines 5 inches in diameter and larger into pieces about a couple inches thick, with the pieces glued together and joined to form laminated panels. Those panels go into doors, windows and furniture.
“Really, the only way you can take this small wood and turn it into something valuable is through this process,” said Michael Cooley, a sawmill operator in Heber speaking on behalf of Pioneer Associates and its Arizona subsidiary, Pioneer Forest Products.
Mid-level jobs would pay some $26,000 to $32,000 annually, and the mill would be running at full capacity by 2015. Another 400 people would be employed logging and trucking on some 30,000 acres a year of Coconino and Kaibab national forests for 10 years. The first 5,000 acres will be logged this year.
The Pioneer contract is part of a 20-year plan to restore 2.4 million acres along the Mogollon Rim to a natural fire regime, reduce wildfire threats and create sustainable forest industries.