According to a newly published monitoring report, the Oregon Department of Forestry’s Federal Forest Restoration Program is reducing fire risk and providing jobs in the woods for local communities. The innovative program, which uses a collaborative approach with federal and local partners, is delivering results in three important ways:

  1. Supporting federal forest collaboratives.
  2. Delivering current scientific finding to improve understanding of forest restoration.
  3. Using the state’s workforce to reduce the risk of wildfire and restore resiliency to federal forests.

Researchers from the Ecosystem Workforce Program at the University of Oregon, Oregon State University and the USDA Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station pored over numbers in the report to determine the program’s impact. According to the monitoring report, the program invested $4.41 million of state funds and leveraged an additional $3.5 million from the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management through projects under Good Neighbor Authority, which allows ODF to sell federal timber to offset the cost of needed restoration projects.

These investments resulted in:

  • Grants to 12 collaborative groups that helped prepare project-level restoration plans totaling 859,174 acres of federal forestland across 32 different planning areas resulting in:
    • 40,000 acres of forest restoration, timber sales, pre-commercial thinning and piling of fuels;
    • 25,000 acres of pile burning and about 3,800 acres of broadcast burning;
    • Approximately 210 million board feet of timber sales that supported 486 jobs harvesting or processing timber and 610 jobs in other sectors.
  • Technical assistance and scientific analysis projects including:
    • Three studies examining historic forest fire and ecological conditions;
    • Outreach, communications and storytelling support for three forest collaboratives.
  • Investments in Forest Service and BLM projects that resulted in:
    • 2.2 million acres surveyed by LiDAR;
    • 9,759 acres of NEPA surveys (heritage and botany);
    • 2,550 acres of non-commercial fuels and prescribed fire treatments;
    • Two contracted NEPA Categorical Exclusion projects covering 9,093 acres.

Why a state program to restore federal forests? During Governor Kitzhaber’s administration, state and federal land management officials recognized that the status quo was not working. Citing increasing wildfires, stagnant rural economies and declining forest health, the Oregon Legislature created ODF’s Federal Forest Restoration program to pioneer new ways of getting things done. Rather than lawsuits and bureaucratic silos, the program employs a collaborative “all lands, all hands” approach.

The program takes aim at a very large problem. Wildfires are getting bigger and fire season is lasting longer. According to the Governor’s Council on Wildfire Response, an estimated 5.6 million acres of Oregon’s forests and rangelands need some form of active restoration, such as prescribed burning, fuels reduction and restoration thinning. These treatments can slow fire’s spread and provide important jobs for rural communities.

These investments also created longer duration jobs for both ODF seasonal employees and local forest contractors. Each year, ODF hires hundreds of seasonal firefighters. The program uses ODF crews during the winter and spring months to conduct fuels reduction and restoration work thereby decreasing fire risk and lengthening employment for seasonal employees. These ODF crews accomplished an additional 3,370 acres of thinning and prescribed burning as well as 6,370 acres of commercial and non-commercial project preparation work including layout and tree marking.

Lastly, the report highlights the benefits of state and federal agencies working together on forest restoration.

“The Federal Forest Restoration Program is a model for inter-agency cooperation. When state and federal agencies, communities, and forest contractors work together, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”, said Kyle Sullivan, ODF acting federal forest restoration program lead.

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