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Approaches to accelerating restoration: there is no one size fits all

Posted by Renee Magyar on December 12, 2016

The Forest Resiliency Project is just one approach for accelerating the pace and scale of restoration

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East face of the Elkhorn Mountains on the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest. Photo by Jamie Knight, Oregon Dept of Forestry

The Blue Mountains Restoration Strategy is focused on addressing the overstocked forest conditions on the Ochoco, Umatilla, and Wallowa-Whitman National Forests. Similarly, many other forests are impacted by a confluence of stressors, including uncharacteristic wildfire and outbreaks of insect and disease, which are exacerbated by a changing climate. Restoration of these landscapes is critical to maintaining and enhancing ecological and community benefits  provided by productive, resilient forests. If we want to promote a healthy and productive forest, we must consider and experiment with different approaches that address this dilemma while meeting our obligations to be consistent with laws, regulations, and policies.  

The Forest Resiliency Project is one attempt to accelerate the pace and scale of restoration planning. This project is an experiment that tests what is needed for a forest manager to make an informed decision, using the best available science and modeling methods to inform a large landscape-scale analysis that discloses resource impacts from proposed activities. This project was intentionally designed at a large scale, across 1.2 million acres (total) on portions of the Ochoco, Umatilla, and Wallowa-Whitman National Forests. 

While this blog series has focused on ways the Blue Mountains Restoration Strategy team is attempting to create NEPA efficiencies with the Forest Resiliency Project, this is not the only effort in the northwest actively addressing the restoration need. In fact, there are a variety of restoration efforts taking place across the Pacific Northwest region of the Forest Service. Some forests are making conscious choices to increase the size of their restoration planning areas or are trying new approaches  to accelerate project planning by completing fewer, but larger, project plans. 

What are some of these other efforts going on around the region? In the Blue Mountains, the Malheur National Forest is piloting a complementary effort similar to the Blue Mountains Restoration Strategy. By bringing on new employees for planning and implementation, and dedicating time and resources to restoration, the Malheur has made a significant investment in accelerated restoration, success working locally with two collaborative groups and an ongoing ten year stewardship agreement with local industry. 

A collaborative forest restoration group monitors thinning activity on the Malheur National Forest. Photo by U.S. Forest Service
A collaborative forest restoration group monitors thinning activity on the Malheur National Forest. Photo by U.S. Forest Service.

Regionally, five Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Projects (CFLR) are underway on  the Deschutes, Okanogan-Wenatchee, Malheur, Colville and Fremont-Winema National Forests. The CFLR program was established to encourage collaborative solutions for restoration on priority forest landscapes. Forests in the Pacific Northwest with CFLR projects have increased their fuel treatments by 43% since 2010 when the CFLR projects were designated (compared to an overall 10% increase regionally), and have increased timber volume sales 14% (compared to a 7% regional increase). Selective harvest is not the only treatment in place on these forests. CFLR funding also goes toward mechanical treatment of small trees and prescribed burning following the timber treatments. 

The Joint Chief’s Landscape Restoration Partnership is another effort to increase restoration and improve the health of forest ecosystems, which is a shared funding partnership between the Forest Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). The goal of this partnership is to restore lands across large public and private landscapes, reduce wildfire threats to communities and landowners, protect water quality and supply, and improve habitat for at-risk species. In 2016, five Joint Chief’s Projects were selected for funding in the Pacific Northwest on the Wallowa-Whitman, Colville, Okanogan-Wenatchee, Deschutes and Rogue-Siskiyou National Forests. One of the selected projects was the East Face of the Elkhorn Mountains, on the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest. This project was a partnership between the Forest Service, Oregon Department of Forestry, Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife, NRCS and the Bureau of Land Management. Federal officials signed a decision notice for this project this summer. Fuels reduction work is being implemented on the East Face of the Elkhorn Mountains Project on federal, private, and state lands. 

Other projects, like the Mill Creek A-Z Project on the Collville National Forest, are using creative and innovative approaches to complete planning. The Mill Creek A-Z Project includes 4,500 acres of commercial thinning, 4,000 acres of prescribed burning, 1,600 ft. of stream habitat improvement, and replacement of three culverts. This project is unusual in that all phases of the project, from pre-NEPA through implementation, will be completed under a 10-year stewardship contract. 

The Mill Creek A-Z project is treating forest vegetation to more closely reflect historical tree species, spacing, size classes, & improve tree vigor, reduce the threat of severe wildfire, reduce susceptibility to insect and disease, & reduce threats to life property & public safety
The Mill Creek A-Z project is treating forest vegetation to more closely reflect historical tree species, spacing, size classes, & improve tree vigor, reduce the threat of severe wildfire, reduce susceptibility to insect and disease, & reduce threats to life property & public safety. Photo by U.S. Forest Service.

These are just a few examples of the many great innovative planning efforts taking place around the Pacific Northwest to accelerate the pace and scale of restoration. No matter the method, engaging communities in these projects is essential to achieving a truly resilient landscape. Successfully accelerating the pace and scale of restoration absolutely depends on strong collaborative relationships, connections to science, and broad agreement about the purpose of a project. By working together, learning from each other’s successes and learning from each other’s mistakes, we can accomplish far greater work than could ever be accomplished by working alone.

We hope you have enjoyed this blog series. We are excited to announce that Sustainable Northwest and the Forest Service have agreed to continue this partnership for the Features from the Blue Mountains Restoration Strategy. Look for more articles in 2017! 

Do you want to know what others are saying about this project? Find out more by visiting the public reading room. Additionally, you can find notes from recent public engagement sessions on the project public engagement website.