Restoration program reduces megafire risks, says report
Written byPHIL TAYLOR, Greenwire
A collaborative forest restoration program in 2011 created about 550 jobs, generated commercial timber and reduced the risk of megafires across 123,000 acres, according to new Forest Service data released this morning by a broad coalition of environmentalists, businesses, local governments, tribes, water suppliers and others.
The take-home point, program supporters said, is that it costs much less to thin and burn overstocked forests today than it costs to fight catastrophic wildfires when they erupt.
"This program proves there is a safer and cheaper way to reduce the risk of megafires and improve the health of our forests," said Laura McCarthy, of the Nature Conservancy. "We can do something to reduce the real harm these megafires are bringing to our people, water and wildlife."
In addition to fuels reduction, the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration (CFLR) program -- a bipartisan initiative approved as part of the 2009 public lands omnibus package -- last year decommissioned 50 miles of eroding forest roads, cleared 11,000 acres of noxious weeds and improved 300 square miles of wildlife habitat, according to the agency's data.
The program, which enjoys broad support, was funded at its maximum authorized amount of $40 million this year. The House Appropriations Committee last month passed a bill to keep funding level in fiscal 2013. The Senate is yet to release its own proposal.
The program last year included 10 forestry projects in nine states. In February, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced more than a dozen new collaborative restoration projects made possible in large part by the 2012 funding boost (E&ENews PM, Feb. 2).
The report comes weeks after firefighters battled two of the most destructive wildfires in Colorado's history. The High Park fire near Fort Collins and the Waldo Canyon blaze outside Colorado Springs destroyed roughly 600 homes and forced thousands of residents to evacuate. Long-term damage to habitats and water supplies continues to be assessed.
Lawmakers have touted CFLR as one of many possible ways to reduce the severity of future wildfires (E&E Daily, July 12).
"CFLR projects are cost efficient, mostly because of their long time frame and larger scale," said Scott Brennan, of the Wilderness Society, in a statement. "Selected projects are assured 10 years of funding as long as appropriations are available, which provided certainty for businesses, their banks and other investors, time for workers to be trained and become skilled and for product markets to be developed and expanded."
The projects, which encourage traditional adversaries including the timber industry, conservation and local officials to collaborate on projects, typically include forest thinnings, invasive species removal and road decommissionings.
They are designed to combat threats like wildfires, bark beetle infestations and climate change.