Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) today sent a letter to U.S. Forest Service Chief Thomas Tidwell expressing concern about the slow pace of wildfire prevention efforts in Arizona. In the letter, Senator McCain identifies one Forest Service contractor in particular, Good Earth Power Arizona (GEPAZ), which has only thinned 8,332 acres despite being halfway through its ten-year forest stewardship contract, according to Forest Service data.
“GEPAZ is now 5 years into its contract but has treated only 8,332 acres out of the total 58,731 acres awarded to it since 2012,” writes Senator McCain.
The senator calls the progress “profoundly disappointing” and warns that it “subjects large swaths of my state to an excessive risk of catastrophic wildfire.”
Senator McCain’s letter asks the Forest Service for feedback on a number of options that could accelerate forest restoration work, including terminating the existing contract with GEPAZ and issuing a new request for proposals (RFPs) for stewardship contracting in northern Arizona.
The Forest Service awarded a forest stewardship contract to Good Earth Power to conduct forest thinning in northern Arizona under the agency’s Four Forest Restoration Initiative (4FRI). The company said it would turn the harvested wood product into biofuel. The stated goal of 4FRI is to mechanically treat more than 300,000 acres of federal land in Arizona to reduce wildfire risk.
Dear Chief Tidwell:
I write with deep concern about the slow pace of Phase 1 of the Four Forests Restoration Initiative (4FRI). Industry-supported forest restoration projects are key to wildfire prevention in Arizona. The success of 4FRI is among my highest priorities.
As you know, 4FRI Phase 1 revolves around a 10-year mechanical-thinning contract between the Forest Service and Good Earth Power AZ (GEPAZ) located in Williams, Arizona. GEPAZ is now 5 years into its contract but has treated only 8,332 acres out of the total 58,731 acres awarded to it since 2012. In Fiscal Year 2015, the Forest Service implemented an “acre-for-acre” contract modification that bars GEPAZ from receiving any additional NEPA-ready acres until it completes work on its existing assigned acres.
With less than 5 years remaining on its contract, I am concerned that the acre-for-acre arrangement may not be sufficient to guarantee a drawdown of GEPAZ’s deficit. This development would be profoundly disappointing and continue to subject large swaths of my state to an excessive risk of catastrophic wildfire. With this in mind, I respectfully request that the Forest Service provide answers to the following questions by Friday, March 24, 2017.
1. How does the Forest Service intend to address the current Phase 1 backlog and ensure that GEPAZ recovers schedule?
2. In the view of the Forest Service, is GEPAZ’s recovering schedule even possible at this point? Please explain your answer.
3. Does the Forest Service believe that GEPAZ’s failure to perform as required under the Phase 1 contract give rise to a basis for the Forest Service to terminate that contract for cause?
4. What consideration is the Forest Service giving to a request by Eastern Arizona Counties Organization for it to issue a new Request for Proposals for Phase 1 that would have the Forest Service contract directly with the industrial base for the clearing of smaller parcels of land? Please explain your answer.
5. What is the Forest Service doing to pursue a rebalancing of unused acres to “East Side” contractors as appropriate.
I note with gratitude your efforts to enhance staffing and resources in Region 3 to accelerate NEPA reviews and the issuance of task orders there. I would, however, appreciate an update on the successes and challenges that you have encountered in your efforts there.
Thank you for your attention to this matter and I look forward to your response to this inquiry.
United States Senator