More thinning on the way in federal forests

2012-02-03 Ashley Bach

Just days after announcing new management rules for federal forests, the U.S. Forest Service said it was undergoing an ambitious series of 20 forest management and thinning projects around the country.

The two Washington projects are in the Colville National Forest and the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. What’s notable, according to KPLU Radio, is that the Forest Service is devoting millions to existing public-private partnerships that emphasize cooperation, rather than projects that have yet to get off the ground or that don’t have a wide variety of stakeholders.

(Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack) announced a new round of grants on Thursday for collaboration in national forests – all aimed at taking better care of the nation’s managed forests, with the ultimate goals of preventing expensive wildfires, promoting recreation and creating badly needed jobs in rural areas.

Forest Service Associate Chief Mary Wagner was at Vilsack’s side as he announced the grants during a conference call with reporters.

She says keeping the national lands that border on Canada healthy has been challenging.

Some stands of pine in Washington have become beetle infested and vulnerable to wildfires. In order to promote more healthy, resilient forests,Wagner says, the US is funding these collaborative efforts.

“To address climate impacts and how they are changing forests,” she explained.

In Colville, about $1 million will go for the first time to the Northeast Washington Forestry Coalition and in Okanogan-Wenatchee, a second year of funding will be granted to the Tapash Sustainable Forest Collaborative.

Gov. Christine Gregoire and Public Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark issued a press release saying how pleased they were with the project funding.

“This investment is good for our forests, and it’s good for our economic recovery,” Gregoire said. “This funding will help develop new models of sustainable management while creating jobs in rural parts of our state. I commend those involved in developing this proposal. Their collaboration has paid off.”

The thinning projects across the country come with a dose of reality though. The Forest Service pledged to increase its lumber production on federal lands from 2.4 billion board feet in 2011 to 3 billion board feet by 2014, a 20 percent increase.

According to the Redding Record-Searchlight:

(3 billion board feet) is, surprisingly enough given the housing bust and stereotypes about Democratic administrations’ tree-hugging priorities, more than any year since 2000. The 3 billion board-feet goal, however, is still a smaller harvest than most years in the Clinton administration — and less than one-quarter of the 1980s peak.

It’s probably fatuous to imagine that kind of timber cut could come back, but it’s an economic loss the rural north state and similar regions still struggle to replace.

We’re in a new world and the harvests of old won’t be returning anytime soon. Still, as the Redding paper points out, it’s important to recognize that the management of federal forests is changing.

At least the Forest Service is, slowly, trying to find a sustainable way forward. Every little bit helps.