Obama admin vows to speed restorations, increase timber harvests
Phil Taylor, E&E reporter
The Obama administration announced plans to accelerate today the restoration of 193 million acres of forests and grasslands, a proposal expected to significantly increase timber harvests.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack also announced more than a dozen new collaborative restoration projects made possible in large part by a boost in 2012 funding.
The projects, which are outlined in a new report, will include forest thinning, invasive species removal and road decommissionings. They are designed to combat threats like wildfires, bark beetle infestations and climate change.
They are also designed to bolster logging jobs by increasing timber harvests 25 percent by 2014.
“These efforts will increase our ability to fight fires effectively,” Vilsack said in a conference call this afternoon with reporters. “This is about jobs. It’s about proper restoration. It’s about safer communities.”
Most of the new projects will be funded under the collaborative forest landscape restoration program, an initiative established in 2009 by Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) as part of an omnibus public lands bill.
The program received its maximum allowed $40 million this year, up from $25 million in 2011.
Vilsack said the Forest Service will be funding 13 new restoration projects, on top of the 10 projects that were approved for funding in 2010.
Activities will include thinning for wildfire reduction, stream restorations, road decommissioning and replacing culverts for fish passage as well as prescribed fire, said Mary Wagner, associate chief of the Forest Service. The agency expects to increase the acres it mechanically treats by 20 percent over the next two years.
“That’s well supported by the collaborative, science-based approaches the … projects are using,” she said.
The collaborative program has garnered support from environmentalists, timber groups and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. Bingaman and Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo (R) last fall successfully urged colleagues to boost CFLR funding from $30 million to $40 million (E&E Daily, Nov. 10, 2011).
Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), the Senate’s second-ranking Republican, last summer credited the program’s Four Forest Restoration Initiative in Arizona — a $3.5 million project that will treat up to 50,000 acres per year of southwestern ponderosa pine — for reducing the severity of wildfires in his state. The Center for Biological Diversity, a frequent litigant against forest projects, has also endorsed the initiative.
The new projects to receive CFLR funding are:
•Burney-Hat Creek Basins Project in California, $605,000.
•Pine-Oak Woodlands Restoration Project in Missouri, $617,000.
•Shortleaf-Bluestem Community Project in Arkansas and Oklahoma, $342,000.
•Weiser-Little Salmon Headwaters Project in Idaho, $2,450,000.
•Kootenai Valley Resource Initiative in Idaho, $324,000.
•Southern Blues Restoration Coalition in Oregon, $2.5 million.
•Lakeview Stewardship Project in Oregon, $3.5 million.
•Zuni Mountain Project in New Mexico, $400,000.
•Grandfather Restoration Project in North Carolina, $605,000.
•Amador-Calaveras Consensus Group Cornerstone Project in California, $730,000.
In addition, the following three projects were approved to receive Forest Service funding in 2012:
•Northeast Washington Forest Vision 2020 in Washington, $968,000.
•Ozark Highlands Ecosystem Restoration in Arkansas, $959,000.
•Longleaf Pine Ecosystem Restoration and Hazardous Fuels Reduction, De Soto National Forest, national forests in Mississippi, $2.7 million.