|Earlier this month, Sierra Institute hosted the fall SCALE meeting in Sacramento. Participants came together over two day to discuss the state of collaborative forestry in California, including updates on policies and new funding opportunities, the latest science and the forest plan revision process. Representatives of a dozen collaborative groups participated, and were joined by attendees from natural resource agencies, non-profit organizations and research centers. Participants from two collaboratives were involved for the first time: Smith River National Recreation Area Collaborative and the Feather River Stewardship Coalition. Many topics and ideas were discussed throughout the meeting, however five major themes emerged throughout.
The landscape has changed. We are going to see even more changes in the next few decades. Rather than focus on returning the landscape to a point in history, collaboratives need to decide on realistic goals for desired conditions of their forests. As Dr. Safford shared, moving forward we should focus on restoring processes, not replicating historical conditions, noting that “we learn when we fail.” That sentiment resonated with the audience and was repeated over the next day and a half. We can’t afford to do nothing, so we will need to try new things and be willing to make mistakes. Let’s try to develop courage among the group and our partners to try and risk failure, and establish a commitment to monitoring so we can learn from our mistakes. With the recent fires in Santa Rosa, it is clear that the rules of the game have changed.
The cycle of work is too slow. We’re in a race to treat the landscape before it burns. There is too little of the right kind of fire, and too much of the wrong kind. Collaboratives have watched wildfires burn through project areas after investing significant time and dollars in planning. Some, such as Yosemite Stanislaus Solutions, have had to change the scope of their work from fire prevention to recovery. The difficulty of getting projects planned, NEPA completed, and implementation accomplished a timely manner is ever more apparent.
Collaboration is here to stay. Collaboratives are powerful and they are making progress across the country. Many speakers and attendees commented that more collaboration is needed and that we are only going to address these challenges and increase the pace and scale of restoration by working together. The new Forest Service Chief, Tony Tooke, wrote the 2012 forest planning rule, and we expect collaboration will remain a key component of increasing pace and scale of forest restoration going forward.
The good news is that funding is coming. Money is being directed towards forest restoration at a scale we’ve never seen before, starting with $200 million for CalFire’s forest health program from the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund. There will be additional funding for upper watershed restoration, a possible public goods charge on water and the Parks Bond would support large scale restoration. The next round of GGRF monies will be just the beginning, especially if it produces desirable results. We need to be ready to put projects on the ground that make a difference.
We need to educate the public and decision makers about collaboration, restoration and good fire. Bill Craven, chief consultant for the CA Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Water, stressed the importance of increasing communication between collaboratives and rural communities and officials in Sacramento. Other comments throughout the two days highlighted a disconnect between what the public, especially the urban public, thinks a healthy forest looks like (lots of trees, no fire, and no logging) and what collaboratives and resource managers are trying to achieve. When a project is litigated by a national environmental organization, it tends to make headlines and draw support from the public, but as one attendee commented, “good collaboration is not breaking news.”
More information about the meeting, including notes and presentations, can be found here. The SCALE team at Sierra Institute is working to address some of the ideas put forth in the meeting wrap up, such as collaborative NEPA work, increasing Tribal engagement, and sharing information between collaboratives throughout the year.