Governor Bullock: forest health and restoration are good investments
HELENA, Mont. – The Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation is providing close to one million dollars in state funding to Forest Service projects in Montana, to increase the pace and scale of efforts to improve forest and watershed health. State investments will be made in Forest Service projects in each National Forest in Montana, funding thirteen projects in eleven counties.
“Rather than promote the transfer of federal lands to the states, I believe we should help federal agencies succeed in managing lands under their jurisdiction,” said Governor Steve Bullock. “Growing the state-federal partnership is vital to meeting forest health challenges and the needs of our state’s rural communities. I’m pleased that through these project investments we are able to increase the impact of citizen collaboration on federal lands and increase the pace of forest restoration.”
This effort is a part of Montana’s Forests in Focus Initiative, and the funding comes from the state’s wildfire suppression account. Pursuant to legislation passed in the 2013 Legislative session, up to $5 million may be used every two years for fuels reduction, mitigation, forest restoration and purchase of fire equipment.
“We see our assistance in accelerating restoration on federal lands as an investment in forest management across ownerships” says John Tubbs, DNRC Director. “Wildfire and insect and disease outbreaks don’t stop at boundary lines. Federal lands in Montana make up over half of our state’s forested landscape — investing in them matters.”
Tubbs emphasized that these investments not only improve forest health, but will provide timber for the state’s forest industry, which is essential to managing federal, state, and private forest lands, and vital to many rural Montana communities.
“As a forester, it is hard to watch thousands of acres of our public forest land across the state severely impacted by wildfire and insect or disease activity,” says Paul McKenzie with F.H. Stoltze Land & Lumber Co. in Columbia Falls. McKenzie is optimistic about this effort, adding “These state investments are certainly a step in the right direction and appreciated by many people —including the forest products industry --- working hard to see results on the ground.”
Several citizen-based collaborative groups will benefit from the state funding, helping Montanans to actively engage in the design and implementation of specific Forest Service projects. One of the groups to receive funding is the Beaverhead-Deerlodge Working Group.
“The Beaverhead-Deerlodge Working Group is working with the Forest Service to restore forested lands in the Boulder Lowlands area. The state funding will help provide the capacity needed to significantly engage on the project" said Karen DiBari of the National Forest Foundation and facilitator for the group. “We appreciate the Governor’s efforts to strengthen the partnership between collaboratives and the Forest Service to get more work accomplished.”
“We are seeing direct, positive impacts on our National Forest System lands in Montana through enhanced collaboration across the state,” said David Schmid, Acting Regional Forester for the Forest Service’s Northern Region. “Our partnership with the state and the active participation of Montana communities is enabling us to move toward a sustainable pace of accelerated restoration.”
With the loss of funding under the Secure Rural Schools program and the importance of federal forest management to many Montana counties, this funding is seen as a needed boost to Forest Service projects and a welcome commitment from the State of Montana.
Sanders County Commissioner Carol Brooker participated in the collaborative process for the Little Eddy Farm Bill Project that will receive state funding. “We strongly encourage the State of Montana to lend support where possible to assist the Forest Service in successful planning and implementation of these collaborative projects” says Brooker. She stressed the economic benefits of resource management within her county.
Mo Bookwalter, USFS-DNRC Liaison, managed the grant process for these funds. She said the state received requests for almost twice the funds available. “We were encouraged by the quality of the projects we received. We are confident these funds will lead to healthier forests, earlier project implementation, and a greater return on investment”.
The 2014 Farm Bill provided an opportunity for governors to recommend priority areas on national forest lands for treatment to improve forest health and reduce wildfire risk. Governor Bullock nominated close to 5 million acres for this designation and nearly all were approved.
Projects receiving state funds had to meet specific criteria outlined in the Forests in Focus Initiative. In addition to involving a Farm Bill priority landscape, projects were ranked for citizen collaborative involvement, improvement to forest and watershed health, the production of commercial forest products, and/or enhancement of recreation opportunities important to Montana’s citizens.
More details on the Forests in Focus Initiative and Montana’s investments in federal forest management can be found at on the Forests In Focus page.
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