July 16, 2018

Weekly Column: Backing Collaborative Forest Management

The U.S. Forest Service reports that between 2010 and 2016, Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program (CFLRP) projects resulted in the treatment of more than 2.4 million acres to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires and the maintenance of 630 miles of trails.  The agency also found that $1.2 billion in local labor income, and an average of 5,180 jobs were created or maintained each year nationwide through CFLRP projects.  Each fire season, the threat of wildfires bears down on many of Idaho’s forested communities—much of which have also been hard hit by limited job opportunities.  Extending the reach of this program that supports forest health and related jobs makes sense.  Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) and I led a bipartisan group of senators, including fellow Idaho Senator Jim Risch, in introducing S. 2811 that would reauthorize and expand this program.  

This bipartisan legislation we introduced would significantly expand the benefits of CFLRP by extending the program through 2029 and increasing program resources.  The Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program supports collaborative and community-based forest management.  CFLRP requires various local stakeholders to collaborate, resulting in stronger relationships on the ground, better projects and decreased risk of conflict and litigation. 

Collaborative forest management practices provide Idaho’s stakeholders with the tools necessary to improve forest health, encourage responsible stewardship of public lands and foster resilient, rural economies.  Idaho is home to three CFLRP projects:  The Clearwater Basin Collaborative; Kootenai Valley Resource Initiative; and Payette Forest Coalition. 

I commend the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry for including a reauthorization and expansion of CFLRP, as provided in the legislation I led, in S. 3042, the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, known as the Senate version of the 2018 Farm Bill.  The committee favorably reported the 2018 Farm Bill out of committee with broad, bipartisan support, and the Senate recently passed the Farm Bill by a vote of 86 to 11.  Differences between the House and Senate versions of the Farm Bill will now need to be worked out in a House-Senate conference for final consideration of the legislation.      

I have supported collaboration to resolve natural resources challenges because, although difficult, it works.  The Government Accountability Office reported, “Several benefits can result from using collaborative resource management, including reduced conflict and litigation and improved natural resource conditions, according to the experts.”  I have often stressed that collaboration does not require a sacrifice of principles but does require a commitment to problem-solving and a willingness to understand each other’s objectives. 

This legislation builds on ongoing efforts to promote locally-driven solutions directed at our environment and public lands and ensure forest managers have the tools necessary to best manage our natural resources.  This effort includes the recently enacted bipartisan fix to wildfire funding that Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) and I worked together for more than five years to enact.  President Trump signed into law a provision that will enable agencies to respond to wildfires as they would any other natural disaster and end the debilitating practice of fire borrowing.  This will help improve the health of our natural resources. 

I look forward to building on the momentum of the wildfire funding fix enactment and working to enact the expansion of the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program that enables collaborative problem-solving as a means of creating long-lasting, workable solutions in managing our national forests.  Doing so will broaden the useful tools for improving the health of our forests. 

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