Two shades of green: Vilsack funds rural jobs that revitalize forests

Forest scientists walk through lupine flowers in fire burnt forest in Idaho. Photo by John McCarthy.

Pop the cork on the champagne — U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has given The Wilderness Society another reason to celebrate. Thanks to a secretarial decision announced on Aug. 13, communities in nine states will soon see more jobs, healthier forests, clean water and more abundant wildlife.

That good news comes in the form of $10 million from the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program. The Wilderness Society successfully sought funding for projects in the states of Montana, Idaho and Colorado. Regional staff members worked with local communities to develop proposals for restoration work while policy analysts in the Washington office advocated for funding the program.

Funds will be matched by existing Forest Service budgets and partners’ contributions. An estimated, 80 percent of the first year’s funds will be used to attain workers, engineers, contractors, equipment and supplies directly from the private sector. The 10 restoration projects are slated to begin immediately.

Creating jobs in Idaho

Clearwater National Forest in Idaho. Courtesy Forest Service-Northern Region, Flickr.At 1.4 million acres, the Selway-Middle Fork Clearwater Project in Idaho represents exactly the kind of future The Wilderness Society hopes to see when it comes to restoring forests — work developed by public-private partnerships that create a wide variety of jobs. The Clearwater effort, which received $1 million, encompasses everything from land managed heavily for past timber harvest, pristine roadless land and vast tracts of the Selway-Bitteroot Wilderness. The intent of the project is to restore ecosystem function and help create jobs in the Clearwater Basin. Controlled burning, mechanical thinning, noxious weed treatments, road decommissioning, road improvement, culvert removal and other tools will all be used to restore the land.

“The Clearwater Basin has been the battleground between conservationists and the timber industry in Idaho for decades,” said Idaho’s Brad Brooks, a regional conservation associate for The Wilderness Society who is one of many colleagues working more with Forest Service specialists to design and implement scientifically sound restoration plans. “This restoration proposal is a major milestone in ending the decade’s long battle over how to best manage public lands. It wasn’t always easy, but it was worthwhile. The project is also projected to create around 380 jobs over the life of the project, which is a big deal in communities with double digit unemployment.

Restoring stream and forest habitats in Montana

Highcountry in the Crown of the Continent in Montana. Photo by Bruce Andre.Right next door, Montana’s Southwestern Crown of the Continent, covers nearly 1.5 million acres — approximately 70 percent of which is public land. According to Vilsack’s announcement awarding the $1.2 million grant, it is one of the most biologically diverse and intact landscapes in the western U.S., supporting 250 bird species, 63 species of mammals, five species of amphibians and six species of reptile. Restoration will focus on stream and forest habitats degraded by past management practices. Job-generating activities such as controlled burns and natural ignitions will be used to restore species composition and structure. Removal of exotic species followed by planting of native species will be used to restore the landscape. Bridge and culvert replacements and upgrades, road restoration and upgrades, removal of fish barriers and stream channel manipulation are also included.

“We’ve got great work planned but in order to fully realize it, we need this to continue to be a priority for congressional funding,” said Scott Brennan, The Wilderness Society’s forest program director and a co-chair of the collaborative group that developed the proposal. “Creating a sustainable economy through the science-based restoration of our national forests is a whole new way of doing things.”

Lower wildfire risk in Colorado’s forests

Colorado Front Range map.In Colorado, the Front Range Landscape Restoration Initiative, located in the Arapaho, Roosevelt, Pike and San Isabel National forests, seeks to increase resilience and lower wildfire risk in a ponderosa pine forest ecosystem. The roots of that project’s $1 million grant win can be traced in part to work done by The Wilderness Society on behalf of the collaborative group to map restoration priorities.

“This funding will allow work to proceed to protect the safety and health of people and natural areas from damaging fires,” said Greg Aplet, a Denver-based senior forest ecologist with The Wilderness Society. “These projects, which include cutting and removing overgrown trees and brush and using controlled burns, have been widely agreed upon by local governments, federal agencies and conservationists for years but have lacked the funding to proceed until now.”


Click for a larger version of the map.

The Wilderness Society’s Cecilia Clavet contributed to this report.

Forest scientists walk through lupine flowers in fire burnt forest in Idaho. Photo by John McCarthy.
Clearwater National Forest in Idaho. Courtesy Forest Service-Northern Region, Flickr.
Highcountry in the Crown of the Continent in Montana. Photo by Bruce Andre.