Innovative new partnership will accelerate much needed restoration work on public and private lands

Tommie Herbert, U.S. Forest Service, and guest author Leigh Madeira, Blue Forest Conservation
November 27th, 2017 at 3:00PM

A picture showing an overgrown forest; a thick, gree forest with lots of brush, shrubs and trees.
Decades of aggressive fire suppression have left many Western U.S. forests overgrown. Thinning brush, shrubs, and trees can help return forests to a healthier state and reduce the risk of fires. (Forest Service courtesy photo.)

Decades of aggressive fire suppression have left many Western U.S. forests, like those in California, overgrown and susceptible to wildfires of increasing frequency and severity.

These fires endanger lives, communities, and wildlife habitat and compromise both water and air quality. And what many are unaware of is the fact that fifty percent of California’s water supply originates on National Forests.

Removing brush, shrubs, and trees can help return forests to a healthier state. The U.S. Forest Service has identified over 58 million acres of land in need of such restoration treatments to address the risk of severe fire. However, this work is not being implemented at the needed pace for a number of reasons, including limited funding.

One way to treat more acres more quickly to enhance watershed health is through cost-sharing partnerships that leverage resources from the private sector, the Forest Service, and other beneficiaries like downstream utilities. To that end, the Forest Service has announced a national Memorandum of Understanding with Blue Forest Conservation (BFC).

A picture of heavy flames burning the side of a heavily forested hillside.
Forest density contributes to the increasing frequency and severity of wildfires, like the 2013 Rim Fire in California pictured here. (U.S. Department of Agriculture courtesy photo.)

BFC is an Oregon public benefit company  with a mission to apply innovative financial tools to forest restoration activities across the Western U.S. Through this unique partnership, the Forest Service will explore how BFC’s Forest Resilience Bond  can promote stewardship and restoration activities on public and private lands.

“Our ability to create and manage conditions for resilient communities depends on innovative funding models,” said Forest Service’s National Partnership Office Director, Jacqueline Emanuel. “We see signs of tremendous potential through our pilot efforts with BFC and the Forest Resilience Bond.”

Private investors are an unlikely yet critical ally whose interests can be aligned with those of the Forest Service. The Forest Resilience Bond provides a framework for the agency to leverage private capital to accelerate restoration treatments across densely forested landscapes. Because the model has the potential to be used as a restoration tool across multiple Western landscapes, the Forest Service will pilot the Forest Resilience Bond in California.

"There is a lot of interest from investors to fund projects that benefit the environment and local communities,” said Zach Knight, managing partner of BFC. “At the same time, there is a demonstrated need for capital if we hope to reach our conservation goals. The Forest Resilience Bond is designed to help bridge that gap by working with both the Forest Service and investors to accelerate investment in restoration across the Western U.S."

A photo showing a group of people standing, listening to two forest service employees in the front of the group.
Blue Forest Conservation, The Forest Service, National Forest Foundation, and members of the local Dinkey Collaborative share insights on forest health in California. Forest Service courtesy photo.

This innovative public-private partnership will enhance the agency’s capacity for shared stewardship, build its expertise in outcome-based performance measurement, and connect urban and rural communities while promoting environmental and economic resilience.

"This partnership will improve forest health, support job growth in rural communities, and provide more opportunities to get wood from overly-dense forests out to market," said Regional Forester Randy Moore of the U.S. Forest Service’s Pacific Southwest Region.