Wild & Scenic Mokelumne Update

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Forest program moving ahead despite proposed budget cut
Photo: Reuben Childress
Regular readers of the Focus will recall updates on our involvement in the Amador-Calaveras Consensus Group and the group’s success in securing federal funds for local national forest projects through the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Act. The local “Cornerstone” project began in 2012. Since then, Foothill Conservancy staff and volunteers have participated in collaborative efforts to develop local projects that reduce fire danger, restore streams and meadows, repair roads, and create jobs in the Eldorado and Stanislaus national forests.

Last year, President Donald Trump’s budget removed all of the funding for the Collaborative Forest Landscape Program. In response, the ACCG drafted letters to our federal elected officials, Rep. Tom McClintock, Sen. Kamala Harris and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, supporting funding for the CFLR program. Fortunately, in the fiscal year 2018 omnibus appropriations bill signed March 23, Congress authorized the program at its full $40 million level.

Funding of programs like this are ever-more important due to a number of pressures currently faced by our national forests. Overall Forest Service budgets have been significantly reduced, and hiring freezes have kept ranger districts from hiring staff to perform needed work or filling vacancies left by promotions and retirements. In addition, the Trump Administration has raised the expected timber targets for forests nationwide, clearly expecting more work to be completed with less funding and fewer staff.

In 2017, the Forest Service’s Region 5 (California and Hawaii) timber target was set at 756 million board feet (a board foot is a one-inch thick and 12 inches square). According to Deputy Regional Forester Barnie Gyant, that has been raised to 888 million board feet for 2018. The targets are expected to rise by 8 percent in 2019 and another 6 percent in 2020. In 2017, the region reported being able to only meet 78 percent of its targets.

Recently, National Forest Supervisors Laurence Crabtree of the Eldorado National Forest and Jason Kuiken of the Stanislaus National Forest spoke to the ACCG about these regional challenges and how the forests are required to work toward these goals. Data from forests working with collaborative groups across the country show that collaboration helps increase the pace and scale of forest restoration and thinning work. As a result, the Forest Service has been given some new tools for doing this.

The 2018 budget bill includes a new provision that will allow national forests to carry out hazardous fuel reduction projects up to 3,000 acres in size, provided the projects are developed with a collaborative group like the ACCG. The projects will be allowed to proceed with a significantly lower amount of environmental analysis than is normally required, which is a concern to environmental groups. With this new authority given to the Forest Service, it’s critical that environmental groups like ours be at the table to ensure that proposed projects are ecologically sound.

For more information, give Watershed Conservation Associate Reuben Childress a call in our office at 209-223-3508, or send him an e-mail.

THE FOOTHILL CONSERVANCY  |  35 Court Street, Suite 1   Jackson, CA  95642  |  209-223-3508