New federal funds foster engagement in management of public forests

A waterfall in Pisgah National Forest, northeast of Asheville, North Carolina. (© Beth Young)

Although the news was overshadowed by the government shutdown, Congress got something important done before wrapping up in December. With passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program (CFLRP) budget was reauthorized. This program provides priority forests like Pisgah National Forest with funding for science-based landscape restoration projects that engage the public through a collaborative process.

Collaborative restoration projects are an improvement on traditional forest management in two important ways. First, they have a different goal of improving the health and native diversity of forests that have been degraded by past logging through restoration efforts, rather than through commercial timber projects. Second, they have a different process by including conservationists, recreation users, and other key stakeholders in planning from the very beginning.  

The Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program is the future of national forest management – making better decisions that promote ecological and social sustainability by involving the people who know the forests best. At a time when the Forest Service is facing political pressure to cut the public out of public lands decisions, we’re glad that Congress remains committed to this innovative and important program.”

—Sam Evans, Asheville-based Senior Attorney and Leader of SELC’s National Forest and Parks Program

In western North Carolina, this program has been key to shifting the focus of forest management on the 192,000-acre Grandfather Ranger District in the Pisgah National Forest to an emphasis on landscape restoration projects. Highlights of the Grandfather project include prescribed burns in fire-adapted forest communities, which have restored habitat for rare species and reduced wildfire risk; treatment of hemlocks at risk from the invasive wooly adelgid; restoration of pine and oak forests; removal of non-native invasive plants from the Wild and Scenic Wilson Creek; and benefits to local economies.

Reauthorization of the program was welcome news to the Nantahala-Pisgah Forest Partnership, which hopes to build on the lessons from the Grandfather CFLRP to engage the public early and improve management across all 1.1 million acres on the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests. Representing a variety of key stakeholder interests – including conservation groups, recreational clubs, forest product businesses, wildlife, angling, and hunting organizations – the Forest Partnership seeks to find win-win forest management solutions. The partnership was formed by grassroots stakeholders to foster civic engagement and provide recommendations to the Forest Service. While partnership members bring different priorities for national forest management, they all agree that strong public involvement is good for public lands.

“The Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program is the future of national forest management– making better decisions that promote ecological and social sustainability by involving the people who know the forests best,” said Sam Evans, Asheville-based Senior Attorney and Leader of SELC’s National Forest and Parks, and a partnership affiliate. “At a time when the Forest Service is facing political pressure to cut the public out of public lands decisions, we’re glad that Congress remains committed to this innovative and important program.”

Specifically, Section 8629 of the Farm Bill extends the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program through 2023 and increases the funding authorization from $40 million to $80 million. This authorization allows the Forest Service to extend funding for current collaborative projects beyond the normal 10-year maximum on a case-by-case basis if the projects continue to meet eligibility guidelines. The reauthorization provides wide reaching economic, ecologic, and recreation benefits to public lands and the rural communities that often surround them.

“These opportunities cannot be seized without collaborative efforts like those formed through the CFLRP and we are encouraged to see federal support for this expanded,” says Sophia Paulos, Economic Development Director of Graham County, North Carolina and partnership member. 

“The Grandfather Project is an exciting example of how the U.S. Forest Service can receive collaborative input from a diverse set of interest groups and channel that energy into large-scale habitat management accomplishments,” says Chris Coxen, District Biologist for the National Wild Turkey Federation and a partnership member. “Collaboration is hugely emphasized under the new Forest Plan and the Grandfather Project is a perfect example of what successful projects should look like once the new plan is implemented.”

In the Southeast, SELC has long participated strategically in well-functioning collaborative groups, such as the award-winning George Washington National Forest Stakeholder Collaborative, which resulted in broad support for a variety of long-term planning goals for Virginia’s forests, from wildlife habitat to wilderness. With strong participation from the conservation community and progressive Forest Service leadership, these partnerships can meet ecological needs and strengthen the social fabric around our public lands.

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