Sean Janssen, The Union Democrat

A federally funded forest restoration project in the Stanislaus and El Dorado national forests in Calaveras and Amador counties delivered major improvements in 2012, according to a U.S. Forest Service report.

The Amador-Calaveras Consensus Group Cornerstone Project, one of 23 projects nationwide to be awarded a total of $40 million through the federal Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Act, is designed to restore long-neglected forest lands.

The two national forests spent a combined $658,000 in CFLRA funds this year, matched by more than $433,000 in other Forest Service allocations, a $196,000 grant from the Coca-Cola Company and $67,700 worth of in-kind contributions from ACCG partners, which include a total of 42 small companies, government agencies, conservation groups and job training and social service agencies in the two foothill counties.

The funding allowed for the treatment of 678 acres of hazardous fuels, 558 acres of which were within the "wildland-urban interface," meaning they bordered on nearby homes; improvement of vegetation on more than 1,347 acres, management of noxious weeds and invasive plants on 163 acres, protection or improvement of more than 740 acres of water or soil resources, restoration or enhancement 4.2 miles of stream habitat, improvement of rangeland vegetation on more than 212 acres; support of 47.2 total part-time and full-time jobs; provided total labor income of more than $1.9 million and hiring and training of a timber-marking crew that can work on similar projects in the future, the report stated.

"The ACCG Cornerstone Project partners have a lot to be proud of," said Stanislaus National Forest Calaveras District Ranger Teresa McClung. "It's one of those rare win-win-win efforts, with a broad coalition of partners pulling together to accomplish real benefits for people, forests, water and wildlife. We're looking forward to getting even more done in the coming years."

"Through the ACCG Cornerstone Project we are helping to support business in our community by putting people to work providing marketable wood for manufacturing and bioenergy," added Robert Smith, manager of Smith Grinding Company, a partner in the ACCG.

In addition to mastication work on fire breaks, Smith, through association with Calaveras Healthy Impact Product Solutions and the Mother Lode Job Training organization, conducted hand clearing of brush and the removal of small diameter trees in the forest restoration work.

The ACCG Cornerstone Project was originally chosen for investment by a federally-chartered 15-member advisory panel to reduce the risk of uncharacteristic fire and threat of wildland fire to lives and property; restore forests, watersheds, meadows and streams to a healthy condition; create more-resilient forest conditions; restore tribal cultural sites; protect municipal water supply; create sustainable local jobs and improved social conditions; and reduce wildfire suppression costs.

Project activities include thinning, controlled burns, cultural site restoration, stream and meadow restoration.

Selected projects will look to receive funding until 2019, provided funding it is included in the federal budget each year.

"For too long, conservation groups, loggers and community organizations worked independently on local forest issues, and at times, conflict got in the way of good work on the ground," said Katherine Evatt, president of the Foothill Conservancy, another ACCG stakeholder. "Now we're seeing what working together can do for our local economy and communities as well as the forest, wildlife and water."