This stand of treated acres on private forest is an example of what the Wallowa-Whitman Forest Collaborative would like to accomplish with proposed forest restoration near Anthony Lake. (Jenny Rainhardt photo)
Federal sequester cuts Wallowa County forest restoration funding by 48 percent
ENTERPRISE — The federal government sequester cut 48 percent of Wallowa County’s forest restoration funds, but monies set aside in the 2012 budget for schools and roads were preserved.
The government’s sequester, which went into effect late last winter, left in question money known as Secure Rural Schools, or Title I, as well as Title II funding given to counties to control weeds, reduce fuels and provide forest contractual jobs.
“No one was sure what the final dollars were going to be. The thought was, any change would give same percentage to each one,” said Bruce Dunn, president of the county’s Natural Resource Advisory Committee.
Yet, instead of taking funding out of both programs, money for schools and roads remain intact, while Title II funding was cut nearly in half.
“The Forest Service indicated they were going to release some funds by July 19. Shortly after that, we were notified to review priorities because of the reduction in available funds,” said Nils Christoffersen, director of Wallowa Resources and Committee member said.
Dunn said reviewers tried to keep a “viable amount of money” attached to the various projects.
“We did the best we could,” he said.
Christoffersen said the first agreement with the federal government was executed last week for $21,000.
“The money will pay for us to do work in August, September and October, to get more forest reconnaissance done, and fund the the final pieces of editing for the watershed assessment and further field surveys to advance the top priority forestry and riparian projects between Coyote Campground and Table Mountain,” Christoffersen said.
Money has also been set aside to further elk nutrition research, weed control and fuel reduction.
“Our funding was reduced from what we thought we were going to get by $50,000,” Christoffersen said. “The total impact of the sequestration, including $10,000 lost from the Department of Treasury for renewable energy incentives, cost Wallowa Resources $60,000.”
Dunn and Christoffersen were involved in a series of forestry-related meetings at the end of July, starting with a five-forest collaborative meeting.
“It was supposed to be an informational exchange and knowledge gathering for all the individual collaboratives,” Dunn said.
Representatives from two collaboratives on the Malheur, the Ochoco, the Umatilla and the Wallowa-Whitman came together for two days in Baker City.
“Everybody is a little different,” Christoffersen said. “The Wallowa-Whitman has the big one and underneath it is the Wallowa County Natural Resource Committee. The Malheur divides between north and south and the Umatilla has a collaborative.”
The expected outcome of these collaboratives is to increase efficiencies and get more acres treated.
“All the forests can ride on the coattails of this thing and get more work done,” said Christoffersen.
During the Wallowa-Whitman’s monthly collaborative meeting, the group toured what the Whitman and La Grande districts are calling the “East Face Project.”
Dunn said there were six stops at different elevations, including an elk management site at Pilcher Reservoir, which is a state wildlife area adjacent to the forest.
“Part of the project will include reduce stocking density and reduce elk pressure on the private lands by providing more forage,” Christoffersen said.
The tour went up higher in elevation to look at increasing forest density and its transition from light loving trees to shade tolerant trees which increases fire risk and less species diversity.
“The tour provided context to what we’ve been talking about in our meetings and allowed all the stakeholders to look at a piece of ground,” Christoffersen said. “There we could provide site specific comments and opinions, which gave us more opportunities and broader areas of agreement.”
Dunn said the tour gave an opportunity to “look at the condition on the ground and the project became more workable. It was a good tour.”
Christoffersen said a lot of the differences in the meeting room softened when the stakeholders could see forest conditions on the ground.
“The stops were well planned and we had good background information and a good briefing at each site,” Christoffersen said. “There was enough time for a lot of different perspectives to be heard.”
The collaborative will go into Lower Joseph Creek for a similar tour on Aug. 28.
To continue the work the Wallowa-Whitman Forest Collaborative has started, Christoffersen said the Pacific Northwest Regional office of the Forest Service may have found some money to continue staffing the collaborative.
“We believe we should shortly be getting $24,000 to cover staffing and various needs to support this collaborative as a part of this broader investment to support collaboration and accelerated restoration for the next year,” he said.
At present, private forest lands are the primary contributor to the local timber industry. Lindsay Warness of Boise Cascade has said by 2015 they will need a 25 percent increase in volume to keep the mills running.
“This is our last chance,” Dunn said. “ What it boils down to if you really want to have restoration in the future you have to increase the volume. If the volume goes away, we will lose processing facilities and the logging infrastructure and then we become like (Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Arizona). No mills and no loggers.”
Dunn said soon Hancock’s lands will be out of saw timber production.
“We will be at a reduced level of saw log production in the very near future and the only available wood base that’s out there is the Forest Service,” Dunn said.