Which comes first — our forests or our industry?

Which comes first - our forests or our industryAs a National Coalition Steering Committee Member for the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration (CFLR) Program, I watch with considerable interest at the uneasy developments unfolding around Arizona’s Four Forest Restoration Initiative (4FRI), which is one of 23 CFLR projects in the U.S. And it’s not just me. All eyes are on Arizona as evident by countless articles in the last year, including the comprehensive commentary from High Country News describing potential botches in the 4FRI effort and The Arizona Republic’s recent article on forest sector businesses drastically affected by 4FRI’s lack of momentum.

The effort is — on paper — a national model for CFLR’s and longterm landscape stewardship projects. But as 4FRI restoration work has merely trickled over the last 2 years to the point of stopping altogether, the fragile Arizona wood products industry is perilously close to the point of no return. As U.S. Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake said at an Arizona conference I spoke at last weekend, “when that investment goes, it likely doesn’t come back again.”

Whether restoration efforts falter or succeed however, let’s keep one thing in mind as an industry — collaborative forest restoration isn’t about saving an industry, it’s about saving forests. I’ve made a living my entire adult life in the forest products sector and I always believed that if you saved the industry, you saved the forests. Boy, was I wrong. It only took me about 30 years to figure out that putting forests first in a collaborative environment is the key to saving ecosystems, communities, and industry.

In saying that however, I hear from land managers and environmentalists every day that the forest products sector is a major tool for getting long-term sustainable forest restoration work done. With catastrophic wildfires grabbing headlines and half of a growing U.S. population depending on clean water supplied from increasingly unhealthy forests, our industry has never been more necessary or relevant than it is today. If our industry, our politicians, and the general public can learn to put forests first, we’ll all be the better for it.

Craig Rawlings

Craig Rawlings is the President & CEO of Forest Business Network and has over 30 years experience in the forest products industry as an entrepreneur and technical consultant. He can be reached by calling 406.240.0300 or by using our contact form.


  1. Howdy Craig,
    Thanks for this story and your comment on it. What a cluster the 4FIR is. All of us in the small timber industry are so forutnate to have such a knowledgable and dedicated person as yourself to keep us updated on the industry. From the first time you came down to consult us about 12 years ago or more when you were with MCDC(?) when we first started our SDL business, we were impressed with your dedication. This was when we took on doing that crazy 160 page fuels reduction contract application form. Even then we were getting hints at how inefficient this program was. Hopefully, your wisdom will be considered by USFS, BLM, etc. in getting the fuels reduction efforts turned into a viable industry so many contractors, including us that have dropped out can be able to restore jobs for all those we have had to lay-off, most everyone, except a couple of part-time log peelers over the years. We still have some of our fuels reduction equipment sitting in “moth balls”. For the last 10 years we have had to put most of our focus on our wildland firefighting contracting with our engines and tenders. Thanks again for all your efforts in behalf of the small timber industry.
    Happy Trails,
    Jim Farley, Gen. Mgr.

  2. Craig Rawlings says

    Thanks for the kind words Jim, hope you and Starr are doing well! ~ CCR

  3. Craig, Please understand I’m not pickin at ya but man I dont understand you one bit. You are completely wrong about the forest’s vs the industry. It’s kinda funny how you said it took you 30 years to understand that saving the forests comes first, when it has taken about 30 years for the Timber Industry in the west to just about be non existent. It is non existent in the state of Arizona except for the Apache who manage their forests. So you come across to me as one who, although you are settin fine and purty with your profession, fails to see that a forest with no industry to manage it, is like the farm with no farmer to tend it and produce it. Arizona’s 4FRI’s has got to be one of the biggest jokes ever on the taxpayers of this country and depending on somebody like High Country News to get it straight and true is flat out an outrage,, if ya read it with any common sense forestry outlook or just plain old forestry science. How come in the much more liberal state of Colorado compared to Arizona are sawmills running and the Forest service has Stewardship Contracts and sawlog sales? Wy in Saratoga, Wyoming a mill that sat since 2003 was reopened and is getting enough Federal Sawlogs to run and has chip markets even though the UP rail line to the nearest siding is gone? Unlike Arizona, which still has a green forest, The Med bow from Elk Mountain clear to the ski runs at Brekenridge, Colorado is beetle killed dead. Don’t ya think their was a plan 30 years ago to shut the Industry down in Colorado,Wyoming, Arizona, Utah, Idaho, Montana? Hell yes! And it’s by the same people with the same mentality who are running the 4FRI. It is the individual districs who know what the hell to do on the ground that are still barely making an effort in Colorado and Wyoming. And thats because Industry stood up. Craig,I’m sorry to see you bought into it. Rather you should be completely outraged at whats going on with 4FRI and standing up for this industry that is plumb dead in Arizona. You will not see the likes of a Gary Ervin, owner of Saratoga LLC haul ass for Arizona to build an infrastucture or someone like him until you see the Sultan of Good earth Power go home broke and the Forest Service bleeding like the Med Bow was when Gary stepped in at Saratoga. I’ll guarantee ya one thing tho, their will be some sawlogs in the mix and the reporters wont be staring at those big ole yellow belly pines over on the grand canyon rims. I sure hope it all don’t burn in Arizona before Industry has a chance but why the hell does McCain sit there and say if that investment goes away, it may never come back. Hell, it aint even there to begin with. It’s your buddy Jim Farely, you and me who are making that investment and frankly it is a totally waste of our dollars.
    Tom Mahon

  4. Craig Rawlings says

    Thanks Tom, I always enjoy and respect your commentaries ~ CCR

  5. Jack Mahon says

    Dear Craig

    You and Julie Altemus wouldnt listen to me in 2012, I hope you will take serious note of what my son Tom Mahon has written in your coment section on Arizona 4 FIRI. Tom had his dream taken from him as a contract logger/forester in Colorado and Wyoming three years
    ago. Tom was productive and smart but the game has been rigged against small business contracting for a long time now.

  6. Craig Rawlings says

    Hi Jack – Hope you’re doing well and I still have your letters from 2012 to refer to from time to time that you wrote to Julia and me. ~ CCR