In 2002, the Rodeo-Chediski Fire burned 468,000 acres in the White Mountains of Eastern Arizona. The loss of 400 homes was a wake-up call for local communities situated among the pine forests that extend from the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest and White Mountain Apache Tribal lands to the communities. Four county governments pooled their money to complete community fire plans that seamlessly span the wildland urban interface (WUI) across the White Mountains. A citizen-based Natural Resources Working Group has been providing collaborative input to forest management for eight years.
The White Mountain Apache Tribe had already accelerated their thinning and burning programs around the communities. Based on the WUI boundaries and priorities set forth in the plan, the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest determined that there were 150,000 acres of ponderosa pine forests in the WUI that were seriously overstocked and vulnerable to catastrophic fire and insect attacks.
The forest offered a ten year stewardship contract to thin at least 150,000 acres. Contract goals were to treat all the pine within the WUI, support local economies, reduce the per-acre treatment cost, and encourage new wood fiber industries by providing a commitment of wood for ten years. Because this was the first long-term stewardship contract offered in the country, many issues had to be addressed and resolved prior to its formal offering.
The Forest is using the Healthy Forest Restoration Act’s environmental assessment tools to streamline environmental analysis. Environmental organizations are supporting the contract and a multiparty monitoring board has been established for the project.