WASHINGTON, APRIL 20, 2015 AT 1:45 PM EDT - U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell said today that the Four Forest Restoration Initiative (4FRI), the largest landscape-scale restoration initiative of its kind, has reached a pivotal milestone towards achieving accelerated forest restoration on more than 500,000 acres of the Coconino and Kaibab National Forests and grasslands in Arizona. Coconino National Forest Supervisor Earl Stewart and Kaibab National Forest Supervisor Mike Williams signed the final decision document for the project's first Environmental Impact Statement on April 17th.
"The Forest Service is accelerating the restoration and management of our national forests, despite budgetary challenges, using innovative and collaborative strategies to work across large landscapes," said USDA Under Secretary for Natural Resources and the Environment Robert Bonnie, "The 4FRI project is one of the best examples of this approach, and we appreciate the hard work and participation of the many employees and partners who have worked to achieve this milestone."
"This is exceptional work of Forest Service employees and citizens who joined together to support this historic endeavor," said Tidwell. "This restoration work will contribute significantly to our efforts to sustain healthy, resilient landscapes. Support from these citizen groups will ensure we maintain this momentum for the long haul. That's what it will take to make a difference."
More than 30 stakeholder groups contributed significantly to the development of this phase of work, which also reflects public comments and input received throughout the process. Additional 4FRI restoration projects have already been and are being implemented across the Apache-Sitgreaves, Coconino, Tonto, and Kaibab National Forests. To date, approximately 300,000 acres have received some sort of restoration treatment as part of the initiative.
Chief Tidwell said signing the final "record of decision" for this phase of the restoration project is the result of four national forests and stakeholder groups joining together over five years to work on the largest landscape-scale restoration project ever analyzed in Forest Service history. This decision approves various restoration activities on over 586,000 acres of the Coconino and Kaibab National Forests including thinning; prescribed burning; watershed and road maintenance; grassland, spring, and stream channel restoration; and habitat improvements.
The 4FRI collaborative effort was started to restore forests ecosystems that support natural fire regimes, reduce the threat of destructive wildfire to nearby communities, and support sustainable forest industries that strengthen local economies.
4FRI represents unprecedented stakeholder engagement and participation. The 4FRI Stakeholders Group consists of individuals and groups representing local, county, and state governments; environmental groups, organizations, and institutions; and industry representatives. Their commitment to seeing these forests restored, and their continual engagement and participation throughout this process has been invaluable.
Restoring the health and resilience of our forests generates important values as well as economic benefits. 4FRI, and dozens of similar efforts, will help maintain a robust forest industry with benefits flowing not only to local communities but also to the Forest Service itself as the agency relies on local forest contractors and mills to provide the workforce to undertake a variety of restoration activities.
For additional information on the Four Forest Restoration Initiative visit www.fs.usda.gov/4fri.
The mission of the Forest Service, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the Nation's forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. The agency manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners, and maintains the largest forestry research organization in the world. Public lands the Forest Service manages contribute more than $13 billion to the economy each year through visitor spending alone. Those same lands provide 20 percent of the Nation's clean water supply, a value estimated at $7.2 billion per year. The agency has either a direct or indirect role in stewardship of about 80 percent of the 850 million forested acres within the U.S., of which 100 million acres are urban forests where most Americans live.