April 23, 2015 5:45 am • EMERY COWAN Sun Staff Reporter
Final changes to a plan for forest restoration activities across almost 600,000 acres in the Coconino and Kaibab national forests have made the document one that even several of its initial critics say they can support.
“Hopefully this is the resolution of the timber wars here,” said Robin Silver, co-founder of the Center for Biological Diversity, which was one of the parties that filed objections to the Forest Service’s plan late last year.
But after months of negotiations with multiple objectors, Forest Service officials on Friday signed the first of at least two Environmental Impact Statements covering the 3.2 million-acre Four Forest Restoration Initiative. This initial EIS, five years in the making, gives the go-ahead for prescribed fire, mechanical thinning, stream restoration and other activities across the two northern Arizona forests.
The final negotiations between the Forest Service and objectors also produced several additions to the 4FRI plan that bolster Mexican spotted owl monitoring, increase protection of big trees and clarify how the project will interact with grazing on the forest.
The final hurdle in the process was a two-and-half-month objection resolution period during which Forest Service officials met with eight parties that filed objections to its draft final EIS, released in November. The goal was to resolve objections early in order to avoid litigation after the final 4FRI plan was approved.