Thoughts and observations on the development of collaborative forest management efforts in Plumas County.
For several years now, the focus of national forest management by the USDA Forest Service has been collaboration to restore forests at a landscape scale. Congress passed the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program (CFLR) legislation in 2009.
When the CFLR legislation became law the Quincy Library Group, one of the first collaborative groups to focus on national forest restoration, had already been influencing landscape-scale efforts in the Northern Sierra Nevada for 17 years. After 15 years the Herger-Feinstein Quincy Library Group Forest Recovery Act (HFQLG) ended in 2013 and while the QLG continues to meet monthly Forest Service restoration results on national forests have decreased dramatically with management efforts now largely focused on work in the Storrie and Moonlight Fire areas as a result of millions of dollars in settlement funds. The Forest Service is now largely reacting to past fires instead of proactively trying to create fire resilient forests and reduce the severity of the next fire.
Sensing the need to continue to provide local input on national forest management in Plumas County the Plumas County Fire Safe Council requested Secure Rural Schools Title II funds through the Plumas County Resource Advisory Committee to develop a proposal to the CFLR program so that we are prepared when the next Forest Service request for proposals is announced. Even if another CFLR request for proposals does not happen our collaborative work can serve to positively influence national forest management, as demonstrated by the Quincy Library Group and other collaborative groups in the Sierra Nevada and across the west.
During February and March the Plumas County Fire Safe Council will conduct a series of community outreach meetings in collaboration with the Plumas National Forest and the Almanor Ranger District of the Lassen National Forest. The goals of the meetings are to promote the need for local citizen involvement in national forest management, to describe the benefits of the CLFR process and to learn what is being done now to restore local national forests. A new website has been created to support the Plumas County collaborative effort: www.plumascollaborative.org
As a participant in the QLG process when I contemplate another citizen-based community collaborative effort to engage in national forest management, I have to reflect upon that once-in-a-lifetime experience. The QLG process was not without controversy. The QLG members were trailblazers who had the foresight to recognize that our forests were at increasing risk of high-severity wildfire. They understood the need to thin the forests that had grown overly dense as a result of decades of landscape-scale fire suppression. The QLG was among the first to promote a “strategy at an appropriate pace and scale”. They recognized that restoration work will require a wood products industry infrastructure and fought to preserve it. Rather than reiterate the saga here I recommend that one read the Pinchot Report at qlg.org.
A side issue of great relevance to the issue of forest management is the recognition that the hundreds of thousands of acres thinned as part of forest restoration on both public and private land can’t happen today with the loss of several northern California biomass electrical generation plants that created 50 megawatts of electricity each hour. This green energy infrastruture was and is critical to forest restoration. Without it the Plumas County Fire Safe Council fuel reduction program and the Forest Service ability to create resilient forest landscapes is greatly challenged.
National forest direction and management is the responsibility of all Americans, after all we all own the land. The various federal laws that guide national forest management create a complicated bureaucratic landscape that a former Forest Service Chief suggested has lead to “analysis paralysis”. Citizen engagement in national forest management is not for the impatient or weak of heart. It is downright frustrating to put it mildly! But if we are going to restore the national forests to a fire resilient condition it is up to us to be involved.