Eastside Restoration Frequently Asked Questions

What is Accelerated Restoration About?

1) What is Ecological Restoration?

Ecological restoration is the process of assisting the recovery of an ecosystem that has been degraded, damaged, or destroyed. (Excerpted from FSM 2020.5, the 2012 Planning Rule, and Society for Ecological Restoration.)

 2) What is the Eastside Restoration Strategy?

The eastside restoration strategy is a Regional commitment to focus on the urgent need to restore dry forest landscapes in eastern Oregon and Washington. All forests are working to accelerate restoration on their landscapes, and the region has committed additional resources that are working in the forests of the Blue Mountains.

 3) Eastside Restoration is:

  • An effort to prioritize, select, and initiate large landscape planning projects in a different way
  • A value-added process that will enable cross-pollination of landscape-scale lessons-learned from collaborative groups throughout the Blue Mountains and eastside of Oregon and Washington.
  • Based on building resiliency back into our ecosystems, communities, and economies
  • Is best science-based
  • Engaging local Forest/District/Community participation, institutional knowledge, and experience of the selected project area

4) Isn’t Accelerated Restoration just a new name for the same forest management practices? What is different about this effort?

This is not forest management as usual. We are intentionally trying to try some different ways of doing business, in an intelligent fashion, to accelerate the amount of forest restoration in the Blue Mountains. To accomplish this, we have:

Hired a dedicated interdisciplinary team of 5-7 very experienced natural resource specialists to plan restoration in the Blue Mountains at a larger, landscape scale. Team members are located in Pendleton and La Grande.

Remained engaged early and often with the existing place-based collaborative groups, and worked with a coalition of these collaboratives to select the highest priority large-scale projects and identify the best ways to collaborate across these four National Forests.

Discover what tools, methods, or approaches are necessary to plan at a larger scale.  Develop these tools, methods, and approaches, and then demonstrate how they can be used – not just in the Blues, but across the entire range of dry forests.

Maintain direct, deliberate connections to—and counsel from—the forest science community. The Pacific Northwest Research Station, University scientists, and NGOs are well-engaged.

Use innovative tools to implement projects, with the entire range of contracting authorities at our disposal.

5) Are the Blue Mountains the only area in the northwest with accelerated restoration activities?

No, there are a variety of approaches that forests are taking to address the need for accelerating the pace and scale of restoration, based on their local collaborative relationships, available resources, and restoration needs and priorities.  Some forests are making a conscious choice to increase the size of their restoration planning areas in order to complete fewer, but larger, project plans.  There are 5 Forests in the region that contain Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Projects (CFLRPs), totaling about $10 million per year for implementation of collaboratively-developed restoration projects.  From the Colville Forest in NE Washington to the Fremont-Winema in SE Oregon, the National Forests are all working hard to get more work done with the resources available.  

5) What is an accelerated pace? How fast/much is "accelerated"?

At the current pace of restoration, it will take at least 30 years to treat all of the lands that are currently in need of restoration, and by that time, the lands that are currently in decent condition will need to be restored, and then some. In other words, our current pace is not keeping up with forest growth. If we double the amount of restoration, we can keep pace with forest growth, but we are still a lap behind! This does not necessarily mean that we will double the amount of commercial timber harvest, or double the amount of prescribed burning, or double the amount of small tree thinning, because there are real economic, ecological, and practical limits to how much work can or should be done.

6) What will Accelerated Restoration projects look like?

The Blues Team has been working since October of 2013, and has nearly finished their work on their first project, the Lower Joseph Creek Project on the Wallowa-Whitman NF.  This project area is about 100,000 acres in size, and through thinning and prescribed burning will treat more than 50,000 acres of this landscape (13,000-21,000 acres of thinning and about 45,000 acres of high priority prescribed burning).  By working through this analysis, the team was able to build relationships with collaborative members, tribes, and forest staffs, and was also able to begin to build the tools necessary to plan at an even larger scale.

The next project the team is tackling is the Blue Mountains Forest Resiliency Project (BMFRP).  This project has a primary aim of restoring the role of fire to the ecosystems of this part of the region, with two main approaches:

  1. In dry forest types, prescribing the thinning and burning necessary to move large areas of the landscape towards desired condition, as defined by our understanding of historical conditions and the effects of anticipated climate change. 
  2. In other forest types, stand treatments located in very strategic locations in order to facilitate the potential use of wildfire to restore forest landscapes.  The idea is to create a network of treated stands in locations well suited as locations to safely work a fire edge, so that wildfires (and prescribed fires) can be safely and effectively managed to burn over ecologically-relevant scales (tens of thousands of acres).

Because the work of the Blues team is in addition to the work of the four National Forest staffs, the project area will not overlap areas currently in the planning process by any of the forest or district interdisciplinary teams.   

7) Will sawlogs be produced, or will most of the forest products be biomass for other purposes?

It is true that much of the excess material on the landscape is smaller than typically used for sawlogs, and the focus for restoration is removal of this excess material.   Therefore, the restoration projects will produce both biomass and sawlogs.

 8) How much wood are we talking about? How much is coming off these lands now?

On the Malheur, where Accelerated Restoration is underway, the Forest ramped up their annual program of sold timber volume from 34MMBF in FY2012 to almost 70MMBF in 2014.

While the intent is to is to increase the amount of forest restoration occurring on all of the eastside forests, we do not yet know how much of an increase in thinning acres, prescribed burning acres, timber volume, or watershed restoration acres will result from the Blues team work.  The Lower Joseph EIS, the first NEPA document produced by this team, projects removal of excess commercially-sized trees from approximately 10,000-16,000 acres.   

 9) Is Accelerated Restoration connected to travel management planning?

No. Accelerated restoration will not make travel management planning decisions.

Why is Accelerated Restoration important?

10) Why here? Why now?

After more than a century of active fire suppression and evolving timber management practices, more lands have become more vulnerable to uncharacteristic outbreaks of insects, diseases, and wildfires, especially in dry, fire-adapted forests. The current pace of active forest restoration with thinning and prescribed burning is not keeping pace with forest growth. In addition, the economic livelihood of several communities is threatened by the potential closure of sawmills, bringing with it the loss of jobs of not only millworkers, loggers and truck drivers, but also teachers, store clerks, fuel suppliers, county road crews, and more.

11) Is an accelerated pace just another way to increase commercial harvest?

No. An acceleration restoration strategy is driven by the compelling need to restore ecological resilience to eastside forests. Resilient forests can withstand natural disturbances and provide goods and services such as clean air, clean water, and wildlife habitat, as well as a sustainable level of timber. But restoration focuses on what is left behind—the improved condition of the land—rather than what is removed from the land.

12) Why is the Forest Service concerned about the forest products industry now? A number of mills on the Eastside have closed despite agency management of the forests.

Effective restoration requires the infrastructure and workforce that the timber industry provides. The Forest Service has a long history of working with the forest products industry: We cannot afford to lose the forests, and we cannot afford to lose the infrastructure. However, the management of federal forest lands by the Forest Service is driven by a number of factors, including legislation, case law, budget appropriations, and ecological conditions.

13) Why is it important for the Forest Service to increase the pace and scale of active management to support the forest products industry?

Every time a mill closes, people lose jobs, and in eastern Oregon communities, the economic effects of mill closures can be devastating. The loss of a mill also means there is less equipment and workforce in place to do the work of forest restoration, in jobs that reach well beyond the cutting, hauling, and milling of commercial timber.

Where Will Accelerated Restoration Occur?

14) How will the Forest Service prioritize acres for restoration?

We started this accelerated restoration emphasis by producing a map entitled “Active forest restoration need by watershed on national forest lands, Pacific Northwest Region”, which was intended to show where restoration needs are greatest.  Since then, the Forest Service and the Nature Conservancy have cooperated to produce another assessment of restoration priority needs in the region, reiterating the importance of restoring eastside forests where fire exclusion and past management practices have altered stand structure, composition, and function. 

These analyses helped us focus initially on the Blue Mountains forests, but clearly show the restoration needs elsewhere in the region as well.   Part of the eastside restoration strategy is to encourage the innovations that are going on across the region while we make a deliberate effort to explore large scale planning methods and approaches in the Blues.

15) Do other national forests need Accelerated Restoration, in addition to the Blue Mountain forests? If so, when will that start?

Absolutely. The other eastside national forests of Oregon and Washington are in similar condition to the Blue Mountains, as well as national forests in other regions of the country. Our intent is to start with this Accelerated Restoration strategy in the Blue Mountains, learn what works and what does not, and use that learning to spread an Accelerated Restoration program across other parts of the Region.  At the same time, each Forest is developing their own approaches to accelerating restoration, suitable to the ecosystems, communities, and local capacity.  Part of the eastside strategy is an emphasis on sharing these good ideas from one part of the region to another.

16) Will restoration work start where risk of wildfire to communities is highest?

The risk that wildfires present to communities is certainly a high priority, and Forest Service land management actions on the eastside have shown that emphasis over the past 10 years. Where more treatment is needed to protect communities, that work will be planned and implemented, regardless of the accelerated restoration strategy. However, the restoration strategy is more than treatments in the wildland-urban interface. By treating lands in the backcountry, wildfires should be less intense and easier to manage, presenting less risk to communities away from the backcountry.

17) Will additional funds for Accelerated Restoration on the Eastside mean regular programs of work on the Eastside and elsewhere in the region will receive less funding?

We have developed a funding strategy that pays for the Accelerated Restoration planning work without impacting Forest-level programs, mostly through the use of national office carryover funds. There is a great deal of interest from the national office, the governor’s office, and the congressional delegation to see this effort succeed. Still, there is no guarantee that funding for this accelerated effort on the eastside won’t have impacts on other forests or programs.

When Will Accelerated Restoration Happen?

18) Has Accelerated Restoration begun?

We began this effort in late 2012 by engaging the local collaborative groups and National Forest staffs to learn how we might do things differently. Since then, we have also developed a small interdisciplinary planning team organization, named an eastside coordinator, team leader to oversee the efforts in the Blue Mountains, hired an interdisciplinary team, and reached out to identify potential sources of funding. We have also engaged the research community to be sure we are using the best available science in our assessment of conditions and restoration needs.

19) When will the forests be restored and the need for Accelerated Restoration end?

In a practical sense, since forests continue to grow, and fires, insects, and diseases continue to exist, forest restoration is never complete. The location and type of restoration work could indeed shift over time, with more forest maintenance burning, for example, and less mid- and understory thinning needed as individual stands are treated. There will always be some dense, overgrown stands of trees, however, as some forested areas were in this condition even under historical fire regimes.

20) When will employees know that Accelerated Restoration work is planned for their forest?

First, we should all be pursuing opportunities to increase the pace and scale of forest restoration work where it is needed. The Malheur National Forest employees know that Accelerated Restoration has already started, as they are seeing an increase in acres treated and in planning, as well as an increase in staffing.

Embarking on Accelerated Restoration in the rest of the Blue Mountains has meant engaging the public collaboratives early in the planning process.  Blue Mountains collaboratives helped determine the projects that the accelerated restoration planning team would work on first, and team members have been participating in meetings of all of the collaboratives.  We have also met with each of the Forest leadership teams as we begin the second, cross-forest project. 

How Will Accelerated Restoration Proceed?

21) How will Accelerated Restoration impact other national forest uses and access? Will parts of the national forests be off limits?

The Accelerated Restoration strategy is not intended to restrict public use or access any more than any other forest management activities. Yes, some areas will be temporarily closed to public access for safety reasons (for example, during a prescribed burn or active timber harvesting), but the Accelerated Restoration strategy is not intended to make travel management planning decisions.

22) How will Accelerated Restoration impact northern spotted owl and other species?

As with any federal action, it is the policy of federal agencies to prevent any harm to any species listed as threatened or endangered, and it is also the policy to avoid any action that would cause a species to become listed as threatened or endangered. There are no northern spotted owls known to exist in the Blue Mountains, but there are listed fish species, and the restoration project will include an assessment of impacts to these species and consultation with regulatory agencies.

23) How can the Forest Service accomplish NEPA analysis and documentation on a larger landscape scale when it takes years to get the work done on smaller projects?

That is exactly why we are trying this out – to learn whether or not working at a larger scale brings about economies of scale in planning projects. We believe there is not necessarily a direct relationship between the size of the project and the amount of time it takes to plan the project. Planning time may be more related to the complexity or the controversy associated with a project.

Collaborative groups of diverse local stakeholders will be critically important in large-scale NEPA analysis. Collaboratives help identify needs and potential points of conflict and develop solutions that could otherwise prolong the NEPA process or delay project implementation. Ongoing involvement by line officers is also critical to the success of landscape-scale project planning.

24) Will the Forest Service have to hire more people to accomplish Accelerated Restoration?

Yes. We hired a small dedicated interdisciplinary planning team of seven people to focus solely on Accelerated Restoration projects in the Blue Mountains. We have also started the process of hiring an interagency crew to help accelerate the preparation of areas for contract thinning and timber sales.   

25) Will Accelerated Restoration impact regular forest employees and their programs of work?

There will be some impact, but the bulk of the restoration project planning will be done by the interdisciplinary team dedicated solely to Accelerated Restoration in the Blue Mountains. The best analogy is that of an incident management team brought in to manage a fire. The incident management team consults early and at regular intervals with Forest staff, but the Forest expects the incident management team to handle most of the fire management workload while Forest employees continue the regular programs of work. The difference is that the Accelerated Restoration planning team will not “take over” a project already being planned by a Forest or District – our intent is to add to the work already being planned.

26) Where will the money come from in this time of budget constraints?

This is high priority work, and our intent is to plan restoration projects at a different, larger scale – potentially resulting in a lower cost per acre restored.

27) Will Accelerated Restoration be accomplished through stewardship contracting?

Yes, stewardship contracting is one of the tools on the workbench. It is particularly useful for forest restoration projects that generate a range of sizes of trees to be removed. Stewardship contracting authority allows the agency to retain revenues from stewardship contract timber sales to fund forest and rangeland restoration activities, such as watershed and habitat improvements. Revenues from other types of timber sales go directly to the U.S Treasury. Stewardship contracting is especially useful in restoration because it focuses on end results—the condition of the land—rather than what is removed from the land. Long-term stewardship contracts also provide sustainable, predictable sources of local employment in rural areas.

28) What is meant by National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Efficiencies?

For several years, the Forest Service has been developing and testing innovative approaches to improve NEPA project planning. Examples of NEPA efficiencies include:

  • Large scale NEPA – Expanding the area analyzed by proposing projects with high collaborative support and a focused objective
  • Focused NEPA – Starting with a narrowly focused purpose and need, which limits the scope of analysis.
  • Adaptive NEPA – Useful for projects with rapidly changing conditions, such as insect or disease epidemics, or invasive species infestations. The proposed action includes a suite of management actions for each set of changing conditions; implementation proceeds after a decision without new NEPA.
  • Iterative NEPA – A proposed action is changed and refined through collaboration, resulting in less analysis of a broad range of alternatives.
  • eMNEPA – Using technological tools for more efficient mailing list management, document management, and content analysis.

29) What are the advantages of large, landscape-scale NEPA analysis?

Landscape-scale NEPA can get more project acres through to decision and ready for implementation per NEPA process. This scale of planning may also better match natural disturbance regimes, allowing for patterns of vegetation across the landscape to better emulate those present before the modern era. 

Landscape-scale NEPA absolutely depends on strong collaborative relationships, connections to science, and broad agreement about the purpose of the project.

30) What are the disadvantages of large, landscape-scale NEPA analysis?

The larger-scale analysis can create legal vulnerabilities for a variety of reasons, such as effective effects analysis at the larger scale, considering an adequate range of alternatives, and conducting sufficient surveys and inventories to inform the decision and meet Endangered Species Act and cultural resource obligations. While effective collaborative relationships are a cornerstone of successful landscape scale NEPA, a decision remains vulnerable to challenge by a minority opposition. Larger-scale NEPA would require considerable attention to reduce these potential risks.

In addition, large scale NEPA is different – agency staff, collaborative members, and others are not used to planning at this scale, and may be uncomfortable with the approaches and methods of planning and analysis necessary to work at this scale.  

31) Will Endangered Species Act consultation be different on larger landscape-scale project areas than on smaller project areas?

Programmatic consultations have litigation risks since they often cover large landscape areas. It is harder to prove “Not Likely to Adversely Affect” as compared to “Likely to Adversely Affect”.

Who Will Be Involved?

32) Why is the Forest Service taking a collaborative approach in Accelerated Restoration?

We have discovered that working with collaboratives results in better, more broadly-supported projects that manage the public’s lands. Members of collaboratives have gained a greater understanding of the complexities that drive national forest management decisions. Likewise, agency people have gained a greater appreciation for the public’s wants and needs from the land when planning and implementing forest projects with place-based collaborative groups. More specifically, collaboratives help identify needs and potential points of conflict and develop solutions that could otherwise prolong the NEPA process or delay project implementation, allowing restoration activity to proceed within a timeframe that is better ecologically and economically. Consequently, this model of public involvement could result in more acres treated for restoration (more prescribed burning and thinning) and more wood products available for milling.

33) What about private jobs? Will most new employees be federal employees brought in from other areas of the country?

The federal employees that are brought in to plan this work will be among the best available, regardless of where they are currently located. However, the economies of local eastside communities should be strengthened through jobs created by restoration work.

34) Where are these collaboratives?

In the Blue Mountains, there are collaborative groups working on all four national forests. These are separate collaboratives, although some members do participate in more than one group. The Accelerated Restoration strategy on the Blue Mountains is working with  all of these collaboratives, as well as with a coalition of these collaboratives that has been convened by the county commissioners in eastern Oregon.   

35) Who are on these collaborative groups? Can anyone participate?

The collaboratives are made of—and led by—people who are interested in what happens on the national forests. The groups contain a broad range of interests. All collaborative meetings are open to the public. Collaborative groups lead an open, fair, and inclusive social process that will evolve over time to build resiliency into landscapes and communities for future generations.

36) Who are some of the partners in Accelerated Restoration?

Industry groups, conservation organizations, community-based organizations, livestock growers, motorized and non-motorized recreation interests, other federal and non-federal agencies, and local and county governments.

37) What are partners doing that will help increase the pace and scale of Accelerated Restoration?

These are public lands, and our experience has been that involvement of the public in developing projects on their land results in a stronger course of action with broader support. Projects developed in this collaborative fashion tend to have fewer objections and court challenges, and are therefore more likely to move forward without delays, which can be costly economically, socially, and ecologically.

The State of Oregon, the universities, and several non-governmental agencies are all pitching in to accelerate this work, and they synergy that comes from these different partners working together 

38) Is the State of Oregon engaged in Accelerated Restoration on federal forest lands?

Absolutely.  The Forest Service has an active, strong relationship with the Governor’s Office and the State Forester. In 2008, the Governor of Oregon created the Federal Forestry Advisory Committee Implementation Working Group (known as the Federal Forest Working Group, or FFWG). Through FFWG, the State works with the Forest Service to facilitate the implementation of the Oregon Board of Forestry’s recommendations on management of federal lands.

In the 2013-15 biennium, the state of Oregon committed $2.885 million to accelerate the pace and scale of eastside forest restoration, through the financial and technical support to collaboratives as well as direct assistance to planning and implementing projects on federal lands.  State funds have been used for data collection, landline surveys, layout and marking of areas for contract work, collaborative facilitation and administration, modeling, and program monitoring.  This has made a huge difference, and state support has spread to all eastside forests in Oregon.  

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Highlights

  • Lower Joseph Creek Restoration Project
    The Lower Joseph Creek Restoration Project proposes to restore, maintain and enhance forest and rangeland resilience to natural disturbance and contribute to the local economic and social vitality of the 98,000 acre area on the north end of the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest.