Discussions are underway to determine ways to expand the workforce in Arizona to meet the urgent need to thin overgrown forests. The Nature Conservancy co-hosted a workshop in Flagstaff that included Pioneer Forest Products, Arizona Commerce Authority, community colleges, Native American tribes, wood harvesters and workers, community leaders and others to identify resources, assess needs and identify ways to meet those needs.
With more than four million acres of Arizona forests in urgent need of restoration, scaling up is critical. The U.S. Forest has issued the first contract to thin 300,000 acres in ten years. “The wood workers of the future will not be clearing our forests, they will be creating them in ways that will benefit people and nature,” said Patrick Graham, the Conservancy in Arizona’s state director. “To get to the scale and speed necessary to save our forests and communities, improve wildlife habitat and protect water supplies, we need more workers with new skills and knowledge.”
The wood products industry in Arizona has been depressed for decades. Ensuring jobs for the work that lies ahead is imperative for its rebound. Pioneer Forest Products, the company chosen for the U.S. Forest Service contract, is part of the effort to turn things. “We expect to create over 250 jobs with on-the-ground work as well as hauling the timber removed from the forest,” says Marlin Johnson of Pioneer Forest Products. “We need to invest in developing skilled Arizona workers now so Arizona workers are ready to hit the ground running as the project ramps up.”
Processing trees removed from the thinning project will largely be done in Winslow, where Pioneer will build a plant. Pioneer’s partner, Western Energy Corporation, will process wood chips at that same location. These plants may require over 500 employees. Most of the training to operate complex machines at the plants will be provided by the machine manufacturers. However, there is a need for more general employee training which is where the community colleges will step in.
"The Arizona Commerce Authority will play an integral role in this partnership with its workforce and training resources," said Sandra Watson, Interim president and CEO, Arizona Commerce Authority. "This project is an integral part of restoring the lumber and wood product industry in Northern Arizona and will boost local economies through the creation of new jobs and infusion of capital investment."
To achieve the forest thinning needed on such a large scale, the combination a powerful workforce and innovative technology is required. “Instead of manually marking trees across hundreds of thousands of acres, we’re working with the U.S. Forest Service to develop equipment that can capture tree location and structure from a dashboard tablet in their cabs, saving time selecting trees for harvest,” added Patrick Graham. “To take it a step further, we want to be able report on-the-ground work in real time which reveals effectiveness, reduces costs and helps maintain a steady stream of wood supply.”
By combining resources, technology and expertise, this partnership can have lasting results. “Thinning small diameter, low value wood is essential yet challenging. It’s important we do it in a way that private industry, like Pioneer, can invest in the workers and equipment and make a profit. The restoration work will not only protect our communities, it will also help them prosper.”
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.
The Nature Conservancy in Arizona