The U.S. Forest Service has abruptly canceled its contract process for the second phase of the Four Forest Restoration Initiative. It throws the next steps of the large-scale thinning project into a state of uncertainty. KNAU’s Ryan Heinsius reports.
The Forest Service had hoped to award the 20-year contract over the summer and updated its requirements nearly a dozen times to add more certainty for companies bidding on the job. But the agency Tuesday cited significant financial risk to potential contractors and announced it would reevaluate details of the project. The second phase of 4FRI would treat more than 500,000 acres vulnerable to catastrophic wildfire in Arizona.
Some members of Congress were quick to blast the Forest Service’s decision. Democratic U.S. Senator Mark Kelly worries it’ll slow down crucial thinning treatments, and Democratic Congressman Tom O’Halleran says it jeopardizes forest health and public safety.
4FRI is among the largest forest restoration projects in the U.S. and seeks to eventually treat nearly 2.5 million acres on the Apache-Sitgreaves, Coconino, Kaibab and Tonto national forests. But delays in the contract review process and a lack of a forest products industry in Arizona have hampered the project and the initial phase has fallen well short of its goals.