ENTERPRISE — The Wallowa Whitman and Umatilla national forests will receive $2.7 million to improve forest resiliency, reduce long-term costs of fire management and improve watershed conditions across Northeast Oregon and Southeast Washington.
Alyssa Cudmore, Forestland Program manager and coordinator for Wallowa Resource’s My Blue Mountains Woodland Partnership, said the total investment could exceed $40 million over the next 10 years, if Congress continues to fund this program.
“We are deeply excited that the Northern Blue Mountains Collaborative will be receiving funding from the Collaborative Landscape Forest Restoration Project this year after being ranked the top proposal from across the country,” she said.
Congress created the Forest Restoration Project funding in 2009, intended to support large-scale forest restoration projects and benefit local communities using collaborative approaches to solve forest health problems.
“In particular, we are very excited about the CFLRP’s ability to implement all lands’ shared stewardship of forest restoration and fires resilience projects across the Northern Blues landscape,” Cudmore said.
Many of the challenges forests and communities face today, such as severe wildfire, invasive species, insects and disease, she said, don’t adhere to boundaries and don’t stop at fire lines.
“In order to prepare our forests to withstand these natural disturbances we need solutions that cross boundaries regardless of who owns the land,” she said.
The $2.7 million will only be used for projects on federal land managed by the U.S. Forest Service. However, this investment will help leverage other funding for projects on tribal and private land adjacent to Forest Service-managed public land.
According to Cudmore, these treatments will reduce overstocked forests with timber harvest, thinning and prescribed fire, creating landscapes and communities that can better endure wildfire. All of this will ultimately support vibrant, local economies, healthy watersheds and healthy forests with reduced wildlife risk, she said.
Cudmore said the concept of shared stewardship of the land was evident throughout the grant proposal, and emphasized that there were many partners involved in its creation and the prioritization of projects. The project is supported by the Forest Service, the counties within the Umatilla and Wallowa-Whitman national forests, and industry and conservation groups like Wallowa Resources, one of the lead organizations that worked on the grant application.
Executive Director Nils Christoffersen said the Northern Blues Collaborative, with its founding members serving since 2012, recognized an urgent need and has long aspired to scale up the collaborative’s early success to address restoration and rural economic revitalization in projects, such as the Lower Joseph Creek project in Wallowa County and the East Face project bordering Union and Baker counties.
Included in the funding is money to pay for monitoring Forest Service timber harvest, thinning and prescribed burning projects. Baker and Wallowa counties are looking to employ youths and young adults to learn forest monitoring techniques.
“We’re excited that partnerships continue to expand and deepen as we pursue all lands shared stewardship across Northeast Oregon and Southeast Washington,” Christoffersen said. “We look forward to the opportunity this will create for the next generation of land stewards to gain jobs and experience in caring for this special place.”
Lindsay Warness, Woodgrain Millwork in La Grande’s forest policy and environmental manager, said she was looking forward to working with the Forest Service and using the funding to develop projects that are beneficial and meet the social, economic and ecological needs of both forest and communities that depend on them.
“This is an exciting opportunity to increase the pace and scale of restoration in our area, as well as provide economic benefits to our local communities,” Warness said.
According to Mike Billman, Oregon Department of Forestry’s Northeast Oregon Federal Forest Restoration program coordinator, the funding will be instrumental in fuel reduction and forest restoration projects vetted through the environmental planning process, but still in need of funding.
“The Wallowa Whitman and Umatilla national forests have huge backlogs of acres needing treatments and increased funding will certainly help in attaining some level of catching up,” Billman said. “It has been truly inspiring to watch the stakeholder partnerships form and step up in the process of preparing the CFLRP proposal and now draw together to begin implementation.”