Report finds 'zone of agreement' key to getting work done on forests

rbarker@idahostatesman.comDecember 4, 2013 

More than 130 million board feet of timber has either been harvested, sold or is in planning for sale due to the collaborative efforts of nine forest groups across Idaho, a new report shows.

The report, compiled by the Idaho Forest Restoration Partnership, made up of foresters and conservationists from industry and environmental groups, says projects that fall within a “zone of agreement” can be done with little opposition. But it urges the federal government put up more funds and approve projects quicker so that logging and other fuel treatments can be done faster.

Will Whelan of the Nature Conservancy and Rick Tholen of the American Society of Foresters were scheduled to testify Wednesday before the Idaho Legislature’s Interim Committee on Public Lands. But Whelan stressed the partnership doesn’t want to see collaboratives held up as an alternative to proposals to transfer federal lands to the state or the establishment of forest trusts to manage federal forests.

“We’re not trying to set these collaboratives up as a shield,” Whelan said.

Tholen said the Society of American Foresters is advocating even more changes in federal environmental laws like the National Environmental Policy Act to reform forest management than partners like the Nature Conservancy or the Wilderness Society support. But collaborative groups like the Payette Forest Coalition are having success that the Forest Service can build on for a wider program in the future.

"These collaborative groups are advocates for action," Tholen said.

In addition to logging, tens of thousands of acres of forest restoration projects have been done that make forest more resilient and able to thrive in the face of increasingly large fires.

The zone of agreement includes:

Focus on restoring forest resilience in light of decades of fire suppression and other changes.

Focus on restoration in lower elevation, dry forests and fuels reduction in the wildland-urban interface.

While there is emerging agreement on restoration objectives in the moister, high elevation forests, where fire is less frequent but more intense, there is not consensus on what to do.

Timber mills, logging trucks and the skilled people to run and invest in them are essential to the restoration effort.

The Idaho Roadless Rule helps avoid past controversies.

The project result not only in jobs and forest products but also water quality, wildlife habitat, and recreation opportunities.

The Forest Restoration Partners propose the Forest Service and Congress fully fund the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program that has brought millions for work in Idaho forests. It also urged Congress keep funding hazardous fuels reduction and quit raiding budgets to fight fires, permanently reauthorize the stewardship contracting program that allows the Forest Service to use the proceeds from logging to pay for restoration.

The Forest Service itself should support collaborative groups and improve how it gets the work that falls within the zone of agreement, done, the report said.

Below: Economist Randal O'Toole of the Cato Institute explains his land trust alternative for managing national forests.

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