Group efforts lead to forest $$

Written by Sean Janssen, The Union Democrat September 13, 2012 02:10 pm

A new approach to developing work projects in national forests is bringing in millions of dollars and producing results throughout the Stanislaus National Forest in Tuolumne and Calaveras counties.

In response to the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Act legislation of 2009, groups were formed to represent a wide variety of interests including government, private industry, environmentalists and tribal representatives. 

 

The process seeks to avoid costly litigation that has increased the price tag and amount of time necessary to complete restoration and improvement projects on vast tracts of public land.

“We knew that to move forward and be successful, that the Forest Service would not be as successful without its partners,” said Groveland District Ranger Maggie Dowd.

In Calaveras County, the Amador-Calaveras Consensus Group combines 42 partners and has succeeded in acquiring $14.6 million during the next 10 years for projects both in the Stanislaus and the El Dorado National Forest in Amador County. The first annual $730,000 grant was announced in February and the Cornerstone Project as it is called was just one of 10 to receive funds nationally.

In Tuolumne County, a group called Yosemite Stanislaus Solutions was formed about two years ago. Dowd said the group, a bit younger than the ACCG, hopes it will ultimately succeed in funding a project of similar scope on 450,000 acres that includes 174,000 acres of land that were burned in the Stanislaus Complex Fire more than 25 years ago.

“This project would be concentrated on thinning areas replanted after that Stanislaus Complex fire and be first timber products removal since replanting,” said Mike Albrecht, who represents the pro-logging advocate Tuolumne County Alliance for Resources and the Environment to the YSS.

Dowd said that fuels reduction along with stream rechanneling, new culverts for roads, eradication of noxious weeds and other restorative work is planned in the area.

Dowd said the YSS has already succeeded in producing the Reynolds and Two Mile environmental assessments for smaller-scale restorative work in the Groveland and Mi-Wok ranger districts.

There are 25 members of the YSS who take a seat at the table during planning meetings but there is greater activity than merely sitting and talking, Dowd said.

“It’s going out into the field and looking at a landscape together, addressing one another’s concerns,” she said.

Dowd expects the YSS to remain largely intact beyond just securing project funding.

“When you develop those relationships, they continue and they stay engaged,” she said.

Calaveras County Supervisor Steve Wilensky, who has been involved with the ACCG from its beginning, said local forests are beginning to reap tangible benefits from funding of what has been dubbed the Cornerstone Project. 

Crews from the Calaveras Healthy Impact Product Solutions group are completing work this week on the Alpine Rack project above 8,000 feet elevation and work is getting under way on the “Arnold Shred,” improving fire protection for the town of Arnold in the Calaveras Ranger District, he said.

“So far, every piece of work has gone to local contractors,” Wilensky added.

For many years, what little did get done in the forest went to out-of-area companies that rarely employed local workers, he said.

Like Dowd, Wilensky said the collaborative approach was susceptible to initial skepticism about the time involved and feasibility of getting such diverse interests on the same page. He said that skepticism has proved to be unfounded.

“This was one of the most heavily-litigated forest areas in the state. So far, there has not been a single lawsuit filed” related to the Cornerstone Project, Wilensky said. “It expedites things in the long run. We’re now clearing out projects at a tremendous clip ... there is more work being done than has been done in the forest in a long time. Each year, the goal is to increase the scale and the pace.”