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Forestry Proposal Clears First Hurdle Towards Millions in Federal Funding

Forest Vision 20/20 Would Create Needed Jobs in the Tri-County Area

March 3, 2011--In late February, the Forest Service regional office in Portland gave an initial green light to a proposal for a large-scale forest restoration project that would be a boost to northeast Washington’s timber economy.  If successful, the proposal, called the NEW Forest Vision 20/20, would bring in over 31 million dollars over 20 years to help implement shovel-ready forest restoration projects on the Colville National Forest and other lands in the Kettle Range Mountains.  It was submitted under the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program (CFLRP) as a collaboration of the Northeast Washington Forestry Coalition, the Colville National Forest, and other partners including the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, Washington Department of Natural Resources, and the American Forest Resource Council.

“A concerted effort is needed to restore forest health, reduce fuel loads that could threaten our communities with wild fire, and create needed jobs in the woods and mills in northeast Washington—this proposal is a big step in the right direction,” said Russ Vaagen, Vice President of Vaagen Brothers Lumber.

NEW Forest Vision 20/20 is matched against other proposals from national forests across the country.  A citizen’s advisory committee will review proposals and recommend a slate of finalists to the Forest Service Chief, who is expected to make a final decision in early May.  In addition, Congress will need to authorize project funding for 2012 and beyond with funds being divided among chosen projects nationwide.

Preparation of the proposal was overseen by a 13-member team that included national forest leadership and members of the timber and conservation community. It would increase forest health and restoration treatments in Ferry County, including thinning, reforestation, and prescribed burning.  The proposed work would also help protect private property from wildfire, restore water quality and fisheries, control the spread of invasive plants, improve recreation infrastructure, and restore vital habitat for big game and other wildlife. The NEW Forest Vision 20/20 spans almost a million acres, of which 497,583 are Colville National Forest lands, but also includes portions of the Colville Indian Reservation and substantial blocks of state forest, private industrial and non-industrial timberland, and large working ranches.

“This Forest Vision 20/20 proposal is truly a visionary effort that will benefit our forests, wildlife, and economy across the Tri-county area,” said Vaagen.  “The Forestry Coalition has been laying the ground work for this proposal through multi-stakeholder collaboration for the past eight years, and we’ve put together one of the most solid plans in the nation that deserves serious consideration back in Washington D.C.” 

Job Creation is a Top Priority for Many Forest Vision 20/20 Partners

For many involved with the development of the project, the potential for creating jobs and economic growth in local communities is top on their minds. Most of the 20/20 Vision project area where loggers and other forestry professionals would be working is in Ferry County, where the official unemployment rate is at least 12.7%. Most of the processing infrastructure, where the processing of the timber that will be generated by the proposal will be done, is in Stevens County, where the unemployment is at least 13.9%.  

If funded, this project will positively affect local communities by providing a flow of logs and fiber that support northeast Washington’s timber industry. That industry provides hundreds of family wage jobs just in restoring forest health on public lands.  The expected investment from CFLRP dollars in this 10-year project is estimated to have an annual impact of creating 528 full and part-time jobs, worth up to 9 million dollars in income for the region, including new logging and mill jobs, as well as restoration, monitoring, and other specialist jobs with the Forest Service, private contractors, and the Curlew Job Corps. 

The Colville National Forest estimates that approximately 210 million board feet or 42,000 log trucks full of material would be harvested and utilized from national forest lands during the life of the project, which would support the regions vibrant local infrastructure including eight sawmills, a plywood plant, three pulp and paper mills, three pellet processing plants, and a wood biomass energy production facility.  One hundred percent of the material from the proposed treatments can be utilized locally.

The proposed forest thinning treatments are also expected to result in approximately 2.8 million dollars a year in fire fighting cost savings, as the thinned forests, largely near homes and towns, would lower fuel loads and be less prone to large wildfires, which are extremely costly to fight.

Eight Years of Forest Collaboration Set the Stage for Success

Collaborations on the Colville National Forest were singled out by the Department of Agriculture Secretary Vilsack as a “model for the nation” at a forest policy speech in August, 2009. If conflict and controversy have typified the area’s past, common ground best describes the shared 20/20 Vision for the forest’s future. Conservation, timber and community interests have over the past eight years collaborated as the Northeast Washington Forestry Coalition (Forestry Coalition ) on the successful completion of approximately two dozen large restoration projects, all of which have been implemented without appeal or litigation.

“The approval of this proposal creates funding for implementation of the Tribal Forest Protection Act to provide buffers between Tribal and Federal lands,” said John Stensgar, chair of the Natural Resources Committee of the Colville Business Council. “This proposal creates protection from wildfires and other forest health issues while providing employment opportunities for the communities.”

A testament to the strong relationships, trust, and commitment that have been built amongst Forestry Coalition members around collaboration over the management of the Colville National Forest, local conservation organization representatives played a crucial role in the development of the Forest Vision 20/20 proposal.  Conservation Northwest’s David Heflick, a resident of Orient, personally contributed hundreds of hours to this comprehensive proposal.

"In my seven years of doing collaborative work on the Colville, I've never seen conservationists, the timber industry, and the Forest Service work together more diligently than on this project,” said David Heflick, a Forestry Coalition Board member with Conservation Northwest. 

“Protecting our remaining wilderness lands for the future is a top conservation priority and a critical component of a balanced forest management plan for the Colville National Forest, but conservation interests have also been heavily invested in developing responsible forestry proposals like Forest Vision 20/20," added Heflick.  “We can have both wilderness and a vibrant timber community, and we need both to keep collaboration moving forward over the next twenty years and beyond.”