Submitted: The Two Sides Team October 28, 2014
The forest products sector is a major tool for getting long-term sustainable forest restoration work done.
This article by Craig Rawlings originally appeared on the Forest Business Network website on October 21, 2014.
As a National Coalition Steering Committee Member for the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration (CFLR) Program, I watch with considerable interest at the uneasy developments unfolding around Arizona’s Four Forest Restoration Initiative (4FRI), which is one of 23 CFLR projects in the U.S. And it’s not just me. All eyes are on Arizona as evident by countless articles in the last year, including the comprehensive commentary from High Country News describing potential botches in the 4FRI effort and The Arizona Republic’s recent article on forest sector businesses drastically affected by 4FRI’s lack of momentum.
The effort is — on paper — a national model for CFLR’s and longterm landscape stewardship projects. But as 4FRI restoration work has merely trickled over the last 2 years to the point of stopping altogether, the fragile Arizona wood products industry is perilously close to the point of no return. As U.S. Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake said at an Arizona conference I spoke at last weekend, “when that investment goes, it likely doesn’t come back again.”
Whether restoration efforts falter or succeed however, let’s keep one thing in mind as an industry — collaborative forest restoration isn’t about saving an industry, it’s about saving forests. I’ve made a living my entire adult life in the forest products sector and I always believed that if you saved the industry, you saved the forests. Boy, was I wrong. It only took me about 30 years to figure out that putting forests first in a collaborative environment is the key to saving ecosystems, communities, and industry.
In saying that however, I hear from land managers and environmentalists every day that the forest products sector is a major tool for getting long-term sustainable forest restoration work done. With catastrophic wildfires grabbing headlines and half of a growing U.S. population depending on clean water supplied from increasingly unhealthy forests, our industry has never been more necessary or relevant than it is today. If our industry, our politicians, and the general public can learn to put forests first, we’ll all be the better for it.