Under Secretary Announces 15 Restoration Projects and a $37 Million Investment
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced today nearly $37 million in investments to mitigate wildfire threats to landowners and communities. This is the second year of a partnership between the U.S. Forest Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to help improve the health and resiliency of forest ecosystems where public and private lands meet.
Joined by partners at an event in Idaho, Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment Robert Bonnie unveiled the 15 Chiefs' Joint Landscape Restoration Partnership projects for 2015. Located across the country from Washington to Vermont and Arizona to Ohio, NRCS and Forest Service will invest $10 million in new projects to improve conditions on public and private lands. One new project is in the Upper North Fork region near Gibbonsville, Idaho designed to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire to communities along a portion of the Highway 93 corridor.
"By leveraging the technical and financial resources of both agencies, this coordinated effort is helping to restore lands across large landscapes regardless of whether they are on public or private lands," Bonnie said. "Our successes from the 2014 projects demonstrate that these partnerships make a difference on the ground and we are grateful for the cooperation of several partners."
Bonnie noted that in some cases these new projects build on last year's efforts. The partnership made investments in 2014 that will result in conservation improvements to over 266,000 acres. NRCS and Forest Service will provide an additional $27 million to continue work on 2014 projects.
In addition to NRCS and Forest Service investments, partners are contributing more than $5 million in the 2015 projects over three years in financial, technical and in-kind services. These 15 new projects, coupled with the 13 announced last year, will help mitigate wildfire threats to communities and landowners, protect water quality and supply, and improve wildlife habitat for at-risk species in high priority landscapes across the US.
For example, USDA support in 2014 enabled Tim Fisher of the Oregon East Face of the Elkhorn Mountains Partnership, to open up the tree canopy on 232 acres of private land which will reduce the risk for wildfire, help with soil erosion, and allow the trees to grow taller and stronger making them more marketable.
"Our agencies are being proactive to make sure conservation work flows seamlessly from private to public lands, ensuring crucial wildfire and water concerns are addressed and allowing people, like Fisher, to preserve their family lands," NRCS Chief Jason Weller said.
"Strategic investments across landscapes help create resilient forests, grasslands and watersheds while sustaining communities," said Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. "Treating lands to reduce wildfire threats is a smart investment that will protect vast areas of land and potentially save of millions of taxpayer dollars."
2015 Projects include:
Idaho – Upper North Fork Project: Idaho's Upper North Fork is a great example of a project that provides a big benefit for a small investment. Fires often spread from private property onto public lands where they are difficult to control and become wildfires. The fix is to stop fires at the point where they start, before they have a chance to spread. However, many private landowners do not have the technical knowledge or funds to treat hazardous fuels on their property. This project targets private lands where fires have a high probability of starting and adjacent National Forest lands where they will initially spread. Treating fuels in these areas is relatively inexpensive and protects a vast area of public land. Implementing this simple solution would be unlikely without coordination among the partners.
Hawaii – Koolau Forest Protection: The Koolau Mountain forests supply groundwater for the Pearl Harbor Aquifer—used by over 40% of the population of the State of Hawaii. Unfortunately, groundwater levels in the aquifer have declined by half since 1910. Protecting the aquifer from further decline is vital for Hawaii's sustainability and economy. The Koolau Mountains also has one of the highest densities of rare and endangered species in the world including the beloved 'elepaio bird, the Hawaiian hoary bat, tree snails, insects and plants – many of which exist nowhere else. By removing invasive species and fencing out feral pigs, this project will help protect water quality and supply for communities and agriculture and improve habitat quality for at-risk species while allowing native Hawaiians to use the forest for their traditional customs.
South Carolina – Indian Creek Woodland Savanna Restoration Initiative: In 2004, the Indian Creek Woodland Savanna Restoration Initiative restored woodland savanna habitat on 8,300 acres of the Sumter National Forest as well as 7,700 acres of private land. Funding from this year's announcement will help accelerate woodland savanna restoration, reduce wildfire risk and enhance water quality on 21,000 acres of public land and 19,000 acres of private land. The restoration will also provide crucial habitat for important and declining grassland birds, including Northern Bobwhite, Loggerhead Shrike, Prairie Warbler and Bachman's Sparrow.
Today's announcement was made possible by the 2014 Farm Bill. The 2014 Farm Bill builds on historic economic gains in rural America over the past five years, while achieving meaningful reform and billions of dollars in savings for taxpayers. Since enactment, USDA has made significant progress to implement each provision of this critical legislation, including providing disaster relief to farmers and ranchers; strengthening risk management tools; expanding access to rural credit; funding critical research; establishing innovative public-private conservation partnerships; developing new markets for rural-made products; and investing in infrastructure, housing and community facilities to help improve quality of life.