The Colville Experiment

This sounds like an interesting approach. Here’s the news story.

COLVILLE, WA – Today, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (WA-05) held a Summit with a panel of local business and community leaders involved in the Colville National Forest to discuss how to more effectively utilize Forest Service land to promote healthier forests, reduce the risks of forest fires, and strengthen rural economies.

Congresswoman McMorris Rodgers said, “The Colville National Forest is the economic engine for our Northeastern Washington counties and healthy forests mean healthy communities. Of the 1.1 million acre Colville National Forest, over 300,000 acres are bug infested. In addition, it has the potential to bring more jobs, recreation and increased local revenue to Ferry, Stevens, and Pend Oreille counties.”

The federal government made a promise over a century ago to actively manage our forests and provide 25% of revenues for schools and counties impacted by National Forest land. But declining timber harvests has meant dramatically less revenue.

McMorris Rodgers is an original sponsor of H.R. 1526, Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act. It directs the Forest Service to meet specific harvest levels in certain areas, will help improve forest health and prevent catastrophic wildfires, extends supplemental Secure Rural Schools payments for one year, and would improve local forest management by allowing counties to actively manage portions of National Forest land through the creation of “Community Forest Demonstration Areas.”

The bill is expected to be on the House Floor this fall.

McMorris Rodgers has also been working for the past two years to initiate an innovative public-private partnership in the national forest.

The “A to Z” Mill Creek Pilot Project sets up a 10-year contract on 50,000 acres in the Colville National Forest. It allows a private company to use private dollars for everything after the timber sale is laid out, including the pre-sale environmental requirements and NEPA. With private funds and local management, the Colville National Forest can be managed for healthier forests and stable, sustainable revenue.

According to McMorris Rodgers, the Washington Department of Natural Resources produces seven times the timber from one-quarter of the acreage as the Forest Service in Washington state.

“The Forest Service should work with the timber industry to create jobs and revenue at a time when they are badly needed, while still protecting the environment and ensuring a sustainable harvest. This pilot project will show how it can be done, and I want Ferry, Stevens and Pend Oreille counties to be model for the rest of the country.”

The winning bid will be announced in September.

15 Comments

  1. RE: H.R. 1526, Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act.

    From The Wilderness Society:

    [The Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act] would establish “Forest Reserve Revenue Areas” as a replacement for the current Secure Rural Schools (SRS) county payments program, simultaneously creating a legally-binding logging mandate with no environmental or fiscal feasibility limits, and reestablishing the discredited 25% logging revenue sharing system that was eliminated over a decade ago with the creation of SRS.

    Public participation and Endangered Species Act protections would be severely limited
    . The bill creates huge loopholes in NEPA and such biased ESA requirements that in practice these laws would almost never meaningfully apply. For example, any project less than 10,000 acres would be categorically excluded from environmental analysis and public participation, and the Forest Service would be required to submit a finding that endangered species are not jeopardized by any project, regardless of its actual effect on the species.

  2. Update: Here is the FedBizOpps info on the contract:

    The resultant contract will be a Requirements stewardship contract utilizing the authority granted under Section 347 Omnibus Consolidated Appropriations Act of FY 1999, as Amended by Sec. 323 of P.L. 108-7, 2003. The intent of this contract is to manage a piece of Forest Service land from the planning stage through completion of all product removal and service work activities.

    The Contractor shall furnish all labor, materials, equipment, supervision, tools, transportation, operating supplies, and incidentals necessary to perform the work in accordance with the specifications and provisions and clauses of the contract.

    Work may include, but is not limited to, meeting requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), unit layout, cruising, marking, road and trail maintenance; work to improve soil productivity, habitat for wildlife or fisheries, or other resource values; setting prescribed fires; removing vegetation to promote healthy forest stands, reduce fire hazards, or achieve other land management objectives; restore and maintain wildlife and fish habitat; and control noxious and exotic weeds and reestablish native plant species. Work to be performed will depend upon product value and available funding.

    The Forest Service maintains all inherently governmental functions such as selecting the preferred alternative.

    No payment shall be made for NEPA services and no stewardship credits shall be accrued for NEPA work. In the event that the preferred alternative is a no action decision, the Contractor will not receive any payment for performing NEPA services. The risk for performing NEPA and pre-treatment services lies with the Contractor.

    Once a final NEPA decision is made by the Forest Service and if the decision is to perform restoration activities, the Government may issue task orders against the base contract and these activities will either be paid with appropriated funds or the value of the products removed will be traded for the restoration activities. Each task order will be negotiated with the prime contractor using the contractor’s detailed cost breakdown, market research from similar projects in the geographical area and by comparing the cost to the Contractor’s unit prices from the base contract.

  3. We are back to the basic issue. The current forest management we have on our federal lands amounts to very little and is basically controlled by the environment community. If they don’t like a timber sale or project they will protest it. The treat of a lawsuit is enough to make the federal forest managers to roll over. Thus we have the situation were very little timber is harvested from our federal forests and the timber that is harvested in under such strict restrictions that very little economy is created by it. Also just the process of selling timber or any project is so laborious and expensive that it sometimes seems counter production.
    (I don’t think everything done in our forests needs a NEPA document.)
    This has resulted in the devastation to our local rural economies and doesn’t seem to have done our forests any good either. So we are being forced to look for solutions. The environmental community has proven that basically they position is no harvest of federal timber. A position I disagree with. I think to keep our forests healthy and green we need to stop burning them up and actively harvest timber.
    Our current federal forests policies in Southern Oregon look like this. One or two large thinning sales a year that are bought basically by one company. Two large forests fires that are basically being managed for “resource benefit”, which means everyday thousands of trees are being killed by fire because “fire is good for the forest”. Most likely none of these trees will ever be made into anything but bug trees. And the forest rangers and supervisors spend all their time in meetings in the city. Anyway, it not working very well and we need some kind of change.
    We need a plan that takes timber harvest seriously and divides this timber harvest up into small sales of different species and different age groups. Were the local people are allow to participate in the management and harvest of the peoples forests. Thus creating economy and healthy forests at the same time. It can be done.

  4. Any proposal or legislation that dictates by law or Congressional edict how much timber must be harvested from any national forest (or portion thereof) in a year is utterly foolish and unacceptable to me. And I believe will be shot down by the Senate.
    All this is political posturing by Rogers to assure reelection. She is no friend of the forest. The Colville NF supposedly had a working group of citizens functioning well to resolve management conflicts. Rogers’ efforts to mandate management as she sees it seems totally unnecessary.

  5. HR 1526 is yet another attempt to circumvent environmental laws. While it may actually pass the House it won’t get anywhere in the Senate. The A to Z project, which I support as a member of the NW Washington Forestry Coalition on the Colville, has potential to actually have better NEPA and outcomes than the Forest Service is currently capable of doing. It is the same Republicans who have cut funding to the Forest Service (and many other agencies) who them blame them for not doing their jobs.

  6. So Mike, the FS can’t talk about it because it’s in contracting. Could you explain why it is different than the standard way of doing business and why the Coalition expects better outcomes from this approach?

    Sorry, all I didn’t mean to talk about HR 1546 whatever, but it happened to be in the same story.

    • Sharon, The contractor will be required to collaborate, which means that conservation issues will have to be vetted. The contract will begin very early in the process, pre-scoping, which means more transparency as the project is developed. As it stands now the Forest Service often spends 2-3 years developing projects before the public is ever involved, and as a result the options for significant changes are lost. Thanks, Mike

  7. Mike,

    Thanks for the input, however I’d go easy with the statements like “the A to Z project…has potential to actually have better NEPA and outcomes than the Forest Service is currently capable of doing”. I know that is the contention of the advocates who pushed this thru but only time will tell if all the subs can pull it off. It will no doubt be interesting to follow. I hope the NEWFC can help the “successful” contractor design a good project that will withstand objections (appeals). At least you have good project areas to work with…(I loved the outhouse races in Onion Creek)

    Speaking of appeals, I have a few questions for you…

    It appears that TLC has appealed about 9 projects in R1 in the last two years, compared to about 2 in R6 where you are located. Do you attribute this to collaboration? What I found interesting in brief scan was that AFRC seemed to have appealed just as many projects as the “enviros” (don’t anyone take offense) in R6.

    My broad-brush observation is that R1 is heavily vested in collaboration, has lots of appeals/litigation and has no real industry representation…yet in R6 collaboration isn’t quite (my observation only) as prevalent and has lots more industry appeals. Why the increased number of TLC appeals in R1?

    Can you offer insight? I am genuinely interested. Also, has there been a personnel change at TLC recently? I don’t see JJ on your site anymore.

    • JZ, at the risk of sounding like Bob (!), what does TLC stand for? Tender Loving Care? The Learning Channel?

      I don’t know about AFRC but other timber industry folks have told me that they appeal so they won’t be left out during appeal (or objection) negotiations. Otherwise, so I hear, the FS tends to settle the appeal sometimes leaving the project not meeting the original Purpose and Need (in their view, of course).

    • Regarding your question about appeals, we have not found reason to appeal projects on the Colville and the Umatilla is the only other forest in R6 that we work on much. In R1, there are often more ESA issues, and the collaborations we are involved in are not as advanced as the the Colville one. Jeff has left the Lands Council.

  8. I think the learned participants in this forum know, on reflection, how utterly meaningless this kind of comparison is, across differing land bases and without consideration of impacts:

    “According to McMorris Rodgers, the Washington Department of Natural Resources produces seven times the timber from one-quarter of the acreage as the Forest Service in Washington state.”

  9. TLC – The Lands Council: http://www.landscouncil.org/ Their beaver solution is actually pretty darnded cool. Hope everyone will check it out.

    Makes sense about the industry, although when I read thru most of their appeals it seemed that their challenges don’t leave a lot of room for “upward” negotiations, i.e. adding more to a decision vs. the classic dropping of acres in an appeal resolution….but I’m limited in first-hand experiences there. Perhaps you, Andy or others might have a different observation?

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