USA — ARIZONA – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack held a national media conference call on Feb. 2 to announce a new report that outlines a strategy to speed up the pace of forest restoration that includes job creation and watershed restoration.
Last month he announced the new Forest Management Plan and the new plan is called “Increasing the Pace of Restoration and Job creation on our National Forests.”
Part of the plan includes increasing funding for 10 new projects nationwide, as well as continuing with 10 current programs. The funding for the current projects was $24 million for last year and that will increase to $40 million this year and include the new projects which are called the “Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration” program.
An additional $4.6 million will be used to support other high priority restoration projects.
“Whether the threat comes from wildfire, bark beetles or a changing climate, it is vital that we step up our efforts to safeguard our country’s natural resources,” Vilsack said.
The number of forest acres that will be treated will be expanded by 20 percent over the next three years and will include strategies for fuel reductions, reforestation, stream restoration, road decommissioning, forest thinning and harvesting, multi-use, prescribed fire and other techniques.
Asked about whether this would include increasing general logging activities for wood products, neither Vilsack nor Forest Service representative Mary Wagner would confirm that regular logging activities would be restarted except as it relates to thinning projects. Altogether, the Forest Service estimates this will increase the amount of forest products sold in 2014 to 3 billion board feet, up from 2.4 billion board feet in 2011.
The main objectives of this announcement were to stress collaborative efforts to increase job opportunities and safety for local communities, expand local stewardship contracts as well as lengthening the contracts, reduce paperwork, speed the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) process, provide clean water, and address the bark beetle infestation.
Vilsack identified several major threats to the forests that include wildland fire, climate change, beetle epidemics and invasive species.
Other questions were asked about specific projects in some of the states.
Only one of the 10 current projects and none of the 10 new projects is in Arizona. The Four Forests Initiative will continue to be funded for the Coconino, Kaibab, Apache-Sitgreaves and Tonto Forests.
The other nine current projects are: Selway-Middle Fork Clearwater Project, Idaho; Southwestern Crown of the Continent, Montana; Colorado Front Range, Colorado; Uncompahgre Plateau, Colorado; Southwest Jemez Mountains, New Mexico; Dinkey Landscape Restoration Project, California; Deschutes Skyline, Oregon; Tapash Sustainable Forest Collaborative, Washington; and Accelerating Longleaf Pine Restoration, Florida.
The new projects and their funding amounts are:
Burney-Hat Creek Basins Project, California – $605,000