The U.S. Forest Service is seeking partnerships with states and private organizations to help protect forested areas from wildfires, while also providing jobs and recreation for the folks who live near those areas.
These partnerships are needed, according to U.S. Forest Chief Tom Tidwell, because his agency is trying to manage 60 million acres in need of restoration. And they’re trying to do it with 40% fewer staff and dollars than he had a decade ago.
“There are 44 million homes adjacent to or near national forests,” Tidwell said, and they’re at risk of being destroyed by fast-moving wildfires that can be prevented. “That’s a lot of wildland-urban interface,” he added.
“We’re focusing on putting our limited resources in the best places to make a difference.”
“There are 44 million homes adjacent to or near national forests.”– U.S. Forest Chief Tom Tidwell
“We need to focus on large landscapes, where we’re treating private land and national forest at the same time,” Tidwell said.
“And we really need to focus on the outcomes we’re after – healthy, resilient forests that withstand disease outbreaks, fires, drought conditions that we’ll all face in the future. That’s the thing that produces economic activity that sustains communities and eliminates some of the conflict we’re seeing. That’s something we’ve been trying to address for decades in the agency.”
However, Congress will have to decide if more resources or personnel will be allocated. This fall, both the House of Representatives and Senate will consider separate bills that could impact forest service resources.
According to Tidwell, the agency is watching several Congressional bills that might impose timber harvest requirements on some or all national forests.
But “when you focus on harvest, that sends the wrong message,” Tidwell said. “It sends the message that timber is what you’re focused on, versus improving forest health or ecological resilience.”
Instead, he believes, the public must have “opportunities to be engaged in the decision-making process.”