17:41 PM

SRP partners on proposal for large-scale forest thinning

Protecting Salt, Verde watersheds critical for northern Arizona, Valley.

SRP is one of five partners, along with the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (BOR), the Arizona Commerce Authority and the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management (DFFM), involved in the process of developing the Four Forest Restoration Initiative's (4FRI) Phase Two Request for Proposals for landscape forest restoration. The USFS on Sept. 16 issued the 4FRI Phase Two solicitation, intended to result in one or more large-scale, long-term stewardship contracts that will help ioncrease the pace of restoration in northern Arizona.

The RFP process is a significant announcement not only for northern Arizona but for the state of Arizona and the Valley, where SRP is the largest provider of water and power. In 2018, SRP embarked on new partnership with the four partners to develop a large-scale forest restoration RFP to promote a sustainable industry. This unique partnership, to what has traditionally been solely a USFS process, ensured the RFP was thoughtfully crafted and well-informed. The five partners assembled a team comprised of a wide range of experts including foresters, forest product experts, data and financial analysts, timber contracting officers, policy and acquisitions specialists, lawyers and economists. The partners are dedicated to moving rapidly while ensuring we’re deliberate and thorough given the complexity involved. SRP, BOR and DFFM will participate in the evaluation of proposals that are submitted and provide recommendations to the USFS on contractor selection.

To understand why SRP is so involved, it's first important to understand why forest health matters to the greater Phoenix metropolitan area as a whole. Forests in northern and eastern Arizona are the lifeblood of SRP's water supply. The runoff from rain and snow that fall on those forests flows downstream, filling reservoirs on the Salt and Verde rivers. When those forests are healthy, they protect winter snowpack, preventing it from melting too fast, and filter runoff so that water flowing into reservoirs is clean and relatively free of sediment. SRP’s watersheds are in five national forests with almost 60% of the land area within the Salt and Verde River watersheds and 100% of the East Clear Creek watershed being managed by USFS. SRP operates and maintains the federal reclamation project’s seven reservoirs and associated water works that provide a reliable and sustainable water supply to municipal, agricultural and industrial customers in the greater Phoenix metropolitan area.

Unhealthy and overgrown forests on National Forest System lands are fuel for large catastrophic wildfires that affect the health of the Salt, Verde and East Clear Creek watersheds. Massive wildfires make average precipitation events extremely destructive; accelerating flood flows and runoff, eroding soils, depositing sediment into water storage reservoirs, and ultimately causing hundreds of millions of dollars in increased treatment costs and reduced water storage capacity.

National forest managers from the Kaibab, Tonto, Coconino and Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests initiated 4FRI, a multi-party collaborative effort aimed at reducing forest fuel loads, improving forest health, and improving wildlife and plant diversity. The 4FRI area includes more than 2.4 million acres of which more than 1 million acres need mechanical thinning. The goal of 4FRI is to mechanically thin 50,000 acres per year. The health of these watersheds and prevention of catastrophic wildfire is critical to the long-term sustainability and reliability of SRP’s water supplies and infrastructure.

The solution is to strategically thin excess small-diameter trees and brush that overcrowd modern forests – the result of dated forest management policies that emphasized extinguishing all fires. Historically, small fires were a natural part of the ecosystem in Arizona's forests, removing excess vegetation and improving soil conditions. The problem is now so large that millions of acres of Arizona forest are at risk of severe fire and in need of strategic thinning. But forest product industry resources to address the problem are in short supply.

Thinning work has been slow to take root because of a lack of industry infrastructure and low-value material -- and the problem isn't contained to the National Forests System lands that are the focus of 4FRI. Private, state, tribal and U.S. Bureau of Land Management lands are also affected. To address this SRP is working with various groups, including the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the Ecological Restoration Institute at Northern Arizona University, the Nature Conservancy, the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management, the White Mountain Apache Tribe and private industry, to seek joint solutions.

Here are some additional areas that are unique about this RFP that may pique industry’s interest:

1. The amount of available acres. This is largest USFS forest thinning offering. At full production, awarded contracts will seek to mechanically thin between 605,000 and 818,000 acres over 20 years within six separate Sub-Areas located in portions of the Apache-Sitgreaves, Coconino, Kaibab, and Tonto National Forests.

2. The Service Work Items such as cutting, skidding, decking, hauling, and slash operations will be priced separately from the timber value; traditionally these items are priced together.

3. In this RFP we’re giving offerors the flexibility to define the timber sizes they would utilize and their prices. Traditionally we’ve defined timber sizes.

4. Offerors can submit separate proposals involving multiple volumes of material required and acres treated within or across Sub-Areas.

5. This RFP offers a variety of optional work items such as steep slope logging and sale preparation work. Offerors can provide prices on these optional items either in a standalone proposal or in their larger proposal.


About the 4FRI Phase Two RFP

For more details about the 4FRI Phase Two RFP, announced Sept. 16, see the USDA news release: