Senators, industry leaders explore ways to restore AZ forests at SRP “Healthy Forests, Vibrant Economy” conference
The critical state of Arizona’s overgrown forests took center stage at SRP’s “Healthy Forests, Vibrant Economy” conference last week, as industry experts, political heavyweights and state leaders converged to share perspectives and explore solutions.
U.S. Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake capped off the two-day event – which featured speakers from the National Forest Foundation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Arizona State Forestry Division and SRP – by stressing the severe impact forests and wildfires have on Arizona’s water supply and economy.
“Fire and water are Arizona’s two most important issues,” McCain said. “I’m not sure the … people in Arizona recognize how serious this can be. The status quo is not acceptable.”
Arizona’s forests have grown unnaturally dense and prone to disastrous wildfires – especially in the drought conditions we see today.
How do fires affect our watershed? The runoff that flows into water reservoirs from the damaged forest land after a fire can not only contaminate the water we drink, but also decrease storage capacity as a result of sedimentation.
Clearly, Arizona forests are in desperate need of a trim.
According to McCain, the Four Forest Restoration Initiative (4FRI) – a major effort to thin 50,000 acres of forest annually for 20 years across the Tonto, Coconino, Apache-Sitgreaves and Kaibab national forests – is the best opportunity to restore these forests.
Unfortunately, this important thinning work is being delayed by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process, which can take over a year to approve forest lands for thinning.
Senator Flake said Arizona has done well in the past planning its water future, and he wants that to continue and not have the federal government act unless it’s done in a facilitating way.
The conference highlighted many opportunities to overcome these obstacles and heal Arizona’s forests.
Craig Barrett and Bill Possiel of the National Forest Foundation, joined Robert Bonnie, Under Secretary, Natural Resources and Environment, U.S. Department of Agriculture, on a panel focused on the importance of public-private partnerships.
“Forest restoration is not just an Arizona issue, it’s important across the country,” Bonnie said. “People are looking to Arizona as a model for forest restoration.”
Barrett said lots of pieces have to come together to solve these issues. “I’d love to see venture capitalists find ways to get more value out of the forests,” Barrett said, to help finance the forest restoration process.
The Northern Arizona Forest Fund (NAFF) is a new way SRP is working to restore Arizona forests and protect our watershed. It’s a partnership between SRP and the National Forest Foundation that gives Arizona businesses and residents an easy way to invest in the lands and watersheds they depend on. Learn more about the exciting initiative in this news release, or donate here to support the fund.