A collaborative group of loggers, community development groups and conservationists working in coordination with the Forest Service will receive a second round of federal funding to advance forest restoration and forest employment in Montana.
The Southwestern Crown Collaborative announced $3.5 million will be distributed to three National Forests in Montana as part of the “Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program,” which provides a decade-long investment to collaborative forest restoration efforts across the country.
According to supporters of the program in Montana, another year of funding will allow forest restoration work to advance in portions of the Lolo, Helena, and Flathead National Forests. When combined with match dollars, supporters say funds are putting more Montanans to work in the woods, restoring degraded water channels, and helping protect private property from wildfire.
“In a time when forest contractors and mill workers are struggling to make ends meet, this program expands work opportunities and allows workers to plan for the future,” said Gordy Sanders, Resource Manager at Pyramid Mountain Lumber in Seeley Lake.
Funding for the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program is allocated on a year-by-year basis by Congress as part of the federal budget process. The second year of funding survived any severe budget cuts and the program has received support by local elected officials in Missoula County and in Congress by Sen. Max Baucus, Sen. Jon Tester, and Rep. Denny Rehberg.
“The Southwestern Crown Collaborative is to be commended for working proactively to create jobs and conserve and restore the natural resources that make the area so special,” said Jean Curtiss, Chair of the Missoula County Commissioners. “We hope Congress can continue to back this home-grown initiative and support an investment which will have local and nation-wide benefits well into the future.”
Last August, the Southwestern Crown Collaborative was one of ten groups nation-wide to receive initial funding to break ground on the new program. The first year’s funding will be used this summer, in combination with matching funds, to employ local contractors and improve 138 miles of roads and trail, combat noxious weeds on 15,000 acres, reduce hazardous fuels on 1,630 acres within the wildland-urban interface (WUI), and restore 3,150 acres of forests outside the WUI.
According to Jim Paris of the Lincoln-based, Ponderosa Snow Warriors, the program has augmented their capacity to control invasive species. “This program has enabled us to expand our efforts to combat noxious weeds in partnership with the Lincoln Ranger District, and we look forward to keeping this work going in the future,” he said.
The Collaborative says the second year of funding will bolster that work in months to come. Specifically, they predict the new funds will be used to treat roughly an additional 10,000 acres of weeds, improve 7,000 acres of wildlife habitat, restore 30 miles of streams, upgrade 15 stream crossing structures, improve 350 miles of road and trails, reduce fuel loads on 4,500 high-risk acres within the wildland-urban interface, and restore 3,900 acres of forests outside the WUI.
“This will help us deliver on our promise we made one year ago,” said Gary Burnett, Executive Director of the Blackfoot Challenge and member of the Collaborative. “This is a good sign of things to come over the next decade.”
The group’s new website, www.swcrown.org, will allow the public to track the status and location of upcoming restoration projects in Montana funded through the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program and match dollars. A new interactive map allows the public to see how separate Forests Service districts are working in coordination across a very large landscape.
According to Debbie Austin, co-chair of the Collaborative and Supervisor of the Lolo National Forest, “The hard work of the Southwestern Crown Collaborative is allowing the Forest Service to expand implementation of this important large landscape restoration project.”
In addition to creating immediate jobs, members of the Collaborative say the program is also a long-term forest investment, eventually reducing ongoing forest maintenance costs to taxpayers in the future.
“Restoring deteriorating forest roads that leach sediments into our water supplies and reducing the risk of expensive wildfires are proactive investments that end up saving money in the long-term,” said Scott Brennan, co-chair of the Collaborative and Deputy Director of The Wilderness Society in Montana.