Originally Published: April 26, 2005 5 a.m.
PRESCOTT – Prescott National Forest officials are excited about a rejuvenated timber market in the Prescott area.
"We had a really drastic shift and we're able to start selling wood," Forester Ian Fox said.
The shift occurred in early winter as heavier snows in the higher elevations around Flagstaff and the White Mountains slowed logging operations, and companies started looking for work on the lower Prescott Forest, Fox said.
And when they came looking, Pres-cott had plenty of timber to offer, thanks to the completion of studies on the 29,000-acre Boundary Project in the Prescott Basin and other projects to reduce unnaturally dense stands of timber and brush.
"It was kind of like saying, 'Build it and they will come,'" Fox said. "We had planned and prepared, we just hadn't had any success."
The snow now is melting off in the higher country, but Fox and timber program manager Gary Wittman are confident that companies will continue bidding on Prescott-area projects. Regional markets also have improved, Fox said.
The Prescott Forest planned to cut 8,600 ccf (hundred cubic feet) during this fiscal year that ends Sept. 30, but was able to up that number by 2,100 ccf and therefore get extra Forest Service money for it. Also thanks to the forest's preparation work, it received extra money to prepare another 500 acres for sale in the coming fiscal year, and conduct stand exams on 4,500 acres.
The stand exams will consist of collecting data on areas that forest officials already treated to see if they met their objective of restoring the fire-dependant ecosystems, Fox said.
The higher-elevation forests also tend to have larger trees, but the Prescott Forest trees are perfect for the needs of some companies such as Southwest Forest Products, which wants trees smaller than 16 inches in diameter for its wood pallets, Fox said.
Southwest Forest Products logs its own wood for its pallet mill in Phoenix. It also is sending wood to its new site near Ash Fork along Old Route 66 where it plans to build a mill, so Prescott is well centered between those locations.
"Now that they're back here, they're really finding that the Prescott meets their needs," Fox said.
Several local logging and milling companies also exist, including Jade Services, Central Arizona Milling and Dakota Logging.
The huge Boundary Project would have allowed the Prescott Forest to seek authorization for a new type of long-term Forest Service contract called a stewardship contract.
However, it's not necessary to get locked into a 10-year commitment now that the forest is getting regular bids on its timber sales, District Ranger Ernie Del Rio said.
"We think it's a great tool to have," Del Rio said of the relatively new stewardship contract concept. "We just haven't needed it."
By selling the wood, the forest also is producing money for local schools and the county government through the Forest Service's Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program. And it gets to keep some of the timber sale revenues to improve its timber stands after thinning projects, Wittman said.
The Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest has signed a 10-year stewardship contract with a local partnership that guarantees the company at least 5,000 acres of logging annually.
Right now, the A-S Forest has to pay the company an average of about $450 per acre to thin the forest, but by October 2007 the forest should make money on the contract, A-S Forester Kerry Nedrow said.
Such large contracts can constrict available forest health project money in the Southwestern Region since it needs to hold onto a pool of millions dollars in case the forest can't meet its commitment.
But the region has to have money to cover its cancellation clauses on all its timber sales, and that money eventually becomes available, said Marlin Johnson, assistant director for forestry in the region.
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