Building on recent funding that stepped up restoration work on national forests in Eastern Oregon, the U.S. Forest Service welcomes opportunities to join with the state in improving forest resiliency, the agency’s top Northwest official told the Oregon Board of Forestry on Wednesday.
“National forests are an important part of the landscape in Oregon, and are vital to environmental, economic and community health,” Kent Connaughton, the Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest regional forester, said. “I look forward to doing all we can, with the Board of Forestry and other partners, in charting the future role of these forests within that broader landscape.”
Connaughton briefed the board on the recently funded projects, totaling more than $6 million.
The funds were awarded in a national competitive process that required collaboration among multiple landowners, communities and interests. The participants in the funded projects made a compelling case, he said.
“The thrust of the work will be to accelerate restoration treatments that reduce fuels and increase protection to communities from wildfire,” Connaughton said. “The work will continue for 10 years, providing jobs and environmental benefits.”
Sixty percent of Oregon’s 30.4 million forested acres are federally managed, primarily by the Forest Service. Recognizing the importance of federal lands in Oregon’s broader forest landscape, the board has proposed a set of actions—at the local, state, and federal levels—to restore the health of these forests and to reinvigorate rural economies.
“The Board of Forestry strives for a healthy, sustainably managed forest resource across all ownerships,” board Chair John Blackwell said. “As part of that commitment, we’ll contribute however we can to the vitality of the federal forests.”
Governor John Kitzhaber has also identified federal forest issues as priorities, and is working with interest groups, Oregon’s congressional delegation, and state and federal agencies on solutions.
A long-standing policy of suppressing fire, a natural part of many forest ecosystems, combined with reduced harvests in recent years, has left many acres of federal forestland overcrowded, weak, and susceptible to insect and disease attack and to large, catastrophic wildfires.
Increasingly, conservation groups, the timber industry and other interests are finding common ground, working with the Forest Service locally on projects that involve thinning, timber harvest, and other work that provides environmental benefits, as well as much-needed rural economic activity.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Forest Service’s parent agency, announced $6 million in grants for such projects in Oregon’s Malheur and Fremont-Winema national forests. The collaborative projects are expected to create as many as 350 new jobs. The agency also renewed funding for restoration on the Skyline project in the Deschutes National Forest, allocating $800,000.