Four Forest Initiative expected to create 300 new jobs

Economists working with the Ecological Restoration Institute at Northern Arizona University predict the nation’s largest forest restoration effort will create 300 full-time private-sector jobs.

The Four Forest Restoration Initiative is an ambitious effort to treat 2.4 million acres of overcrowded ponderosa pine forest across the Mogollon Rim—50,000 acres annually—during the next 20 years.

“The initiative is one of the best examples of sustainable economic development I have seen in Arizona,” said Wayne Fox, assistant dean at NAU’s W.A. Franke College of Business and director of the Arizona Rural Policy Institute. “It is impressive to see stakeholders who have not traditionally always been in philosophical agreement come together for the common good.”

The Four Forest Restoration Initiative brings together conservationists, scientists, industry representatives and community leaders from 20 stakeholder groups as well as the U.S. Forest Service to work toward restoring the Apache-Sitgreaves, Coconino, Kaibab and Tonto national forests. The agreement is designed to accelerate large-scale restoration across the Mogollon Rim, which would reduce fire threat while creating sustainable forest industries.

NAU’s Rural Policy Institute was commissioned to study how many jobs in the wood harvest sector will be needed to achieve the initiative’s goals. Results reveal the likely workforce will include 69 Forest Service positions that are already in place and 422 private-sector wood processing jobs. Of these 422, the study says about 300 will be new. The initiative will generate hauling and manufacturing jobs as well; however, those jobs were not analyzed in this study.

Forest thinning is labor intensive. However, since the 1980s, the forest-based workforce and infrastructure, such as timber mills, required to accomplish the goals of the 4FRI have largely decreased. Researchers say to be successful the 4FRI project will require a skilled workforce and new infrastructure investments.

“This analysis provides encouraging news for northern Arizona where unemployment remains high. It is a true win-win situation that we can create hundreds of jobs and reduce the threat of unnatural wildfire to our communities and forests by moving forward on forest restoration,” said Coconino County supervisor Mandy Metzger.