Case in Point: Multi-products and multi-markets—An integrated economic development strategy
Ten to 20 years ago, along the Mogollon Rim in east-central Arizona, a timber and wood products industry thrived. In Eagar, a Stone Corp. timber mill employed more than 100 people, and the pulp mill at Snowflake purchased significant amounts of chips. This kept many people working in the woods and in processing raw materials. Today, the sawmill at Eagar is closed, and the pulp mill uses only recycled paper.
From the public lands perspective, including the White Mountain Apache Homelands and the Apache-Sitgreaves (A/S) National Forest, what do you do with thousands of acres of overstocked stands of ponderosa pine, many of which face an unnatural stand-replacement fire? (Recall that one of the largest fires in the West, the Rodeo-Chediski, occurred there and on the White Mountain Apache Reservation in June 2002.) If you were Jim Andersen, former RCA Coordinator for the A-S NF, you think “plaid.” “Plaid” was Jim’s way of saying multi-products and multi-markets. Plaid is one way of overcoming community and forest dependence on one product, one source of revenue and jobs, one means of utilizing resources that need to be removed from a stagnant ecosystem.
Under the general auspices of the Arizona Sustainable Forests Partnership, coordinated through the Little Colorado Resource and Conservation District based in Holbrook, Arizona, several businesses and community organizations are working in concert to address a problem that is larger than any single agency, organization, or business can solve alone. Walker Bros., a multi-generational logging company located in Eagar, has returned 18 jobs to the region after becoming equipped to mechanically thin high volumes of small diameter material. About half of the material in the form of clean chips is transported to Forest Energy Corp. in Show Low to manufacture stove pellets. At the old Stone sawmill, efforts are underway to bring a biomass steam turbine on-line, which will produce electricity and be linked to the grid.
Outside of Springerville, just north of Eagar, Imperial Laminators is producing a laminated highway guardrail that has passed U.S. Department of Transportation standards for safety and resiliency. It could utilize significant volumes of two-by-six lumber. Imperial Laminators is also developing a number of laminated beam products for use in post and beam construction.
Just northwest of Show Low, Neil Brewer, another multi-generational wood worker, is producing a wide range of products from peeled poles, to a panelized log home system, to house beams and landscaping mulch. The Town of Eagar has taken over the old Precision lumber mill, and is developing an industrial park oriented especially to wood processing. In the Pinetop-Lakeside area near Show Low, three prescriptions have been implemented on the Blue Ridge Demonstration Project. Ed Collins, the District Ranger on that portion of the A/S NF, and Steve Campbell, with County Extension, have been working with private landowners in the area to establish collaborative relationships with multiple interests through the Natural Resources Working Group to improve forest health and reduce fire risk.
No one has struck it rich yet. It is not yet clear that all the visions and ideas are going to work out exactly as planned, but for the first time in a while there is hope. It is starting to look like the capacity of small wood processing businesses can mature enough to utilize the thousands of acres of fire prone lands surrounding the rapidly urbanizing communities on the Mogollon Rim.
More and more people are thinking “plaid,” and finding new ways to share the forest stewardship problem, build a diversified market, and take better care of the lands and their communities. A healthy optimism is being created by the many partners, and being rallied by Herb Hopper through the Little Colorado RC&D. The group, working through the Arizona Sustainable Forest Partnership, seems to be achieving success through teamwork, multiple solutions, strong community leadership, innovation, and collaborative entrepreneurship by taking a strategic approach to economic sustainability and forest restoration.