The main architect of northern Arizona’s Four Forest Restoration Initiative is set to retire later this month. Wally Covington, a forestry professor at Northern Arizona University, has been a pioneer of modern forest management for more than five decades. KNAU’s Ryan Heinsius reports.
Covington became a leading voice in the growing field of forest ecology and was an early proponent of prescribed burns and thinning to reduce catastrophic wildfire. He founded NAU’s Ecological Restoration Institute and helped craft the Four Forest Restoration Initiative, also known as 4FRI, which aims to thin 2.4 million acres in Arizona over the next two decades.
Covington made the leap to forestry on a trip out West while on a break from medical school in the early 1970s. He received his doctorate from Yale University and moved to Flagstaff to teach at NAU and study ponderosa pine forests. Covington says he sees foresters as public servants.
"Healthy functioning ecosystems that are not a liability but an asset to current and future generations. That’s what we’re working toward … If I could live for 1,000 years, I’d like to see us be there within the next 200," he says.
Covington will officially retire later this month and is in talks with NAU about staying on as an emeritus professor. The Ecological Restoration Institute is currently interviewing candidates to take over as director.