A Need for Creative Forest Management – Arizona Capitol Times
Arizona’s forests are in poor health. They are too dense and prone to disturbances such as catastrophic fires, drought and insect outbreaks. Restoration activities can reduce the risk of severe fires and flooding from fires, however, small diameter trees and biomass thinned from forests to improve forest health have little or no market value, and the capacity The forest products industry is limited in the region. The lack of industries and markets for forest products has delayed large-scale forest restoration efforts.
At the same time, many homes in the Navajo Nation and the Hopi Reservation in northern Arizona are not connected to the electricity grid and depend on coal and wood for heat. The closure of the Navajo power plant and associated coal mine in 2019 left many tribesmen vulnerable to energy uncertainty, and Covid has exacerbated this home heating crisis. Transitioning homes from charcoal to firewood for heating and cooking is possible as a transitional fuel source, and forest restoration on lands of the national forest system can generate an abundant supply of fuelwood. However, connecting the dots between forest restoration projects and wood stoves in tribal communities is complex.
To address these challenges, organizations across the state have come together under the Wood for Life program to facilitate the delivery of a sustainable and substantial amount of firewood to tribal partners from forest restoration projects on the islands. lands of the forest system. The goals of Wood for Life are to provide a long-term source of firewood for local tribes through forest restoration efforts; reduce fuels on a forest scale; and strengthen relationships.
In response to the closure of the plant and the growing demand for firewood, local national forests began to organize field trips to support the tribes’ wood collection efforts, but the transport of wood was an obstacle. . In early 2020, the National Forest Foundation began working to coordinate partners and raise funds to pilot timber transportation efforts, with the goal of building relationships, overcoming challenges, and managing costs associated with transportation. . Whole logs were delivered to several tribal communities where they were cut by local volunteers and distributed to community members.
Since these initial efforts, interest and momentum for Wood for Life has grown steadily. The program now consists of a network of more than 20 partners who have collectively supplied, delivered and processed around 1,500 cords of wood in one year.
In order to maintain this momentum, the Wood for Life network focuses on three main elements:
1. Wood supply
Through Wood for Life, wood supply has been secured through restoration projects administered by National Forests and agreements with implementing partners. National Forests have identified wood supplies on forest system lands and linked these sources to tribal partners through a variety of scales, types of agreements and authorities. During the Covid pandemic, National Forests provided free firewood tags through existing authorities. The Forest Service is currently developing new authorities specific to tribal timber use, and forests will need to determine appropriate limits. Forest system agreements with partners have helped expand the scale of Wood for Life.
The costs and logistics of transporting small diameter trees from national forests to the Navajo Nation and the Hopi Reservation emerged as major obstacles. Many transportation methods can be used, each with varying costs and efficiencies. Supporting sustained transportation is a key challenge to facilitate Wood for Life. Transportation needs include equipment, volunteers, funding, and business models that support the economy and investment of tribal communities. Equipment for transporting and loading firewood is also required. Unloading equipment could be used to unload standard log trucks on tribal lands. Partner organizations have helped meet the needs, but longer term solutions are needed.
3. Processing and distribution
Once the wood is delivered to communities, it must be processed and distributed. Tribal partners from local communities determine where the wood is unloaded and stored. It is cut into smaller lengths and divided by volunteers or paid teams, like the Ancestral Lands Conservation Corps teams. Since firewood is an extremely valuable resource on tribal lands, the partnership and leadership of tribal communities is essential to navigate and develop equitable processes on the ground and to communicate strategies within the Wood for Life partnership. Increasing processing and distribution capacity, including unloading and splitting equipment, will help sustain and intensify the Wood for Life effort.
Partners in the Wood for Life network are working diligently to build capacity and scale up efforts, and explore innovative longer-term solutions, including sustained financial support and various business models. There are several potential opportunities to use existing policies, funding and incentive mechanisms to sustain and develop Wood for Life, and the next steps are to establish commitments for wood sourcing and processing, to expand the training for the development of firewood projects, to conduct strategic planning with tribal governments and to explore national policies and funding opportunities. To find out more, visit: https://www.nationalforests.org/regional-programs/southernrockies/wood-for-life-tribal-fuelwood-initiative
Sasha Stortz is the Arizona Program Manager for the National Forest Foundation. Melanie Colavito, PhD, is Director of Policy and Communications for the Ecological Restoration Institute, Northern Arizona University.