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Arizona Moves Forward Without New OSB Plant

Arizona Moves Forward Without New OSB Plant

Story by Dan Shell,
Managing Editor

At first glance, the scene sounds like the beginning of a good ol’ Western movie: The black-hatted outsider moves in at the last minute and snakes out the local boys who had built up years of goodwill hoping to be awarded a long-awaited business opportunity.

Yet in the story of Arizona Forest Restoration Products (AZFRP) losing out on a major northern Arizona forest stewardship contract to Montana-based Pioneer Forest Products after years of painstaking groundwork with a variety of groups and interests (page 16), there are no real black hats. And despite the lost opportunity to build the westernmost OSB plant in the U.S. and close to key Southwest markets, the good news is badly-needed forest health restoration work in the region will go forward on a scale never seen before on public lands in the U.S.

But it is an interesting story, covering coalition building, dueling economic visions, federal bureaucracy, community development and a ponderosa pine ecosystem in desperate need of restoration work from thinning to riparian zone protection and much more.

That’s the reason we decided to devote the space to a story about an OSB plant that apparently will never exist. That and because of our ongoing communication line with former AZFRP CEO Pascal Berlioux, who contacted Panel World years ago to inform us about what they were doing, then sent periodic updates on AZFRP’s progress in building support for its proposal among Four Forest Restoration Initiative (4FRI) stakeholder members.

The 4FRI project came about after Arizona federal lands officials, seeing vast acreages hammered by wildfires during the past decade, had to come up with a new way of addressing forest health conditions in the state. But the traditional timber sale-by-sale process wouldn’t make much of a dent in the 2.4 million acres across four national forests that need thinning and restoration work.

That’s why AZFRP’s OSB proposal was important: By focusing on small timber, the operation sought to avoid another traditional timber sale problem with sawmills in the inherent pressure to cut larger logs that, right or wrong, inevitably leads to court and nothing getting done in the woods. Also, AZFRP had gained unprecedented agreements (for what they’re worth) and support from major environmental groups for its OSB plant proposal that would in turn pay for the forest health restoration work that organizations on all sides of the issue agree need to be done.

Instead of an OSB plant to utilize the small-diameter raw material coming off an unprecedented 300,000 acres over 10 years in the first of several large-scale stewardship contracts, the Forest Service chose a sawmill operation producing edge-glued panels for door and window stock, plus an associated biofuel plant. Some of the reasons why make for quite interesting reading.

Yet while some have questioned federal actions in awarding the contract, the good news is that in this story, the forest products industry guys—sawmillers and OSB producers alike—are the ones wearing the white hats as they ride to the rescue and provide the investment that’s making the 4FRI restoration work possible.

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