White Mountain Stewardship Project – Apache-Sitgreaves NF, Arizona

White Mountain delimberIn August 2004 a collaborative effort between citizens, scientists and conservation organizations, and agencies came together to embark upon an experiment in cooperative planning and monitoring of forest thinning on the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. A 10-year Stewardship Contract was awarded to thin 150,000 acres of primarily small diameter ponderosa pine trees, emphasizing Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) areas surrounding communities in the White Mountains of Arizona. This region has been the site of contentious disagreements about the appropriate way to manage forests that are at great risk due to human settlements and fire regimes that are out of synch with natural ecological processes. A large arson-caused fire in 2002 burned 400 homes and sparked increased demand to address overstocked stands resulting from over harvest over a period of many decades in a region where the forests grow back slowly and the climate is increasingly dry and warming.

The contract was awarded to Future Forest, LLC, a local partnership of WB Contracting and Forest Energy Corporation. This Stewardship contract is designed to restore forest health, reduce the risk of fire to communities, reduce the cost of forest thinning to taxpayers, support local economies and encourage new wood product industries and uses for the thinned wood fiber.

Collaboration with state and local organizations, citizen groups, and conservation organizations such as the Center for Biological Diversity was critical during the process of developing this stewardship project and critical for seeing this important work done. Community Wildfire Protection Plans covering all of the communities near the Forests were completed, prioritizing forest restoration treatments. Collaboration with citizens and conservation groups has resulted in 70,500 acres of NEPA analysis completed in 2005-2006 with no appeals, or litigation and only 1 objection filed, which was easily resolved.

White Mountain log deckThe 10-year guaranteed supply of wood fiber enables wood product businesses to invest in equipment designed specifically to treat and mill small diameter wood. Six Forest Products Laboratory grants of $250,000 each have been awarded to White Mountain-based businesses in the last two years.

One half of the trees being thinned are between 5” and 9” in diameter. The federal funds invested in these enterprises reduce the cost of forest restoration treatments and make landscape-scale treatments possible. Prior to the Stewardship contract, forest restoration costs were up to $1,100 per acre. The thinning cost is now approximately $550 per acre, depending upon the treatment prescription.

Products created from the thinned wood fiber include wood pellets for home and industrial heating, animal bedding and compost materials, wood moulding, structural lumber, paneling, wood pallets and biomass to generate electricity.

Currently, 35,166 acres have been treated, with an additional 14,553 acres in progress. A multi-party monitoring board is evaluating the project's effects on wildlife and other resources and measuring the project effectiveness.

Below, you can read the 2010 Executive Summary of five years of data collection on economic, social, administrative, and ecological indicators, along with recommendations for the future. The full report (14 MB) is available from The Nature Conservancy's Arizona website.

Sitko, S. and S. Hurteau. 2010. Evaluating the Impacts of Forest Treatments: The First Five Years of the White Mountain Stewardship Project. The Nature Conservancy. Phoenix, Arizona. (2.69 MB PDF)

You may also wish to read the individual monitoring reports at this Forest Service website.