Forest Service considering plan to thin up to 1 million acres of ponderosa pines in northern Arizona

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PHOENIX (AP) -- The U.S. Forest Service is considering a landmark proposal that could allow as many as 1 million acres of ponderosa pines in northern Arizona to be thinned over the next two decades.

The plan aims to restore forest health while minimizing the risk of catastrophic blazes such as the Rodeo-Chediski Fire, which charred more than 468,000 acres and forced the evacuation of thousands of residents in June 2002.

Backers of the state-led initiative -- including the timber industry and environmental groups -- are calling on the federal government to nearly triple the amount of overgrown forest it thins each year.

Thinning is currently limited by the high costs involved, which run to over $10 million annually in Arizona.

The proposal aims to ease the Forest Service's financial burden by substantially increasing the role of private industry in the thinning efforts.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)