Jason Rosamond appears to have a grand vision. The way he frames it, his company’s project in northern Arizona will merely begin by saving the area’s sprawling ponderosa pine forest from a century of mismanagement and record-breaking wildfires. Then it will eradicate a leading cause of poverty on a troubled continent 10,000 miles away.
“Our intention,” he told an eager audience packed into a conference room in the Navajo Nation’s Twin Arrows Casino near Flagstaff last October, “is to solve the energy crisis in Africa.”
Dozens of environmentalists, local politicians, small-business owners, scientists and bureaucrats listened closely, with a mix of skepticism and hope. They were local stakeholders who had helped create the project that Rosamond was now linking to Africa: the largest, most ambitious forest restoration ever attempted in the U.S., targeting a dangerously overgrown swath of four national forests — a total of 2.4 million acres — stretching from the Grand Canyon to the New Mexico border. Their Four Forest Restoration Initiative, or 4FRI (pronounced “four-fry”), aims to remove half the trees in much of the area, while establishing an ecologically sustainable timber industry, processing small-diameter trees at no cost to the government—the dream of many Western forest restoration projects.