A Utilization and Restoration Connection
The following summarizes issues of the ecology of forest restoration and the understandings of those in the research, support, and implementation of restoration harvests.
" Forest restoration focuses on returning low-level fire to its core role, and on protecting the oldest trees and promoting the growth and development of new generations of old trees. It also must consider other native plant species besides pine trees; it must consider restoration of native wildlife composition and densities; it must consider nutrient cycling and hydrology; it must address concerns about invasive species. For it to succeed at meaningful landscape scales it must also be linked to work such as the removal of roads and the restoration of springs, wet meadows, and open, grassy park- lands, most of which are severely degraded throughout the Southwest. Finally, if it is to become a lasting part of the social landscape, restoration must benefit and sustain human communities.
Given this complexity, it is no wonder that there has been and will continue to be a tension between those who focus on the dangers from large-scale fire and hence advocate for large-scale restoration, implemented swiftly, and those who would take a slower approach. The brakes on restoration are many. If restoration presents all the promise of a broad, interdisciplinary endeavor that uses a wide range of human capabilities, it is also - for many of the same reasons - fraught with difficulty. Residents often oppose prescribed burns. Some environmentalists, concerned about potential profiteering by a reestablished wood products industry, oppose commercial thinning treatments. Land managers face bureaucratic inertia, red tape, and litigation that can delay projects for years - sometimes for so long that conditions change sufficiently so that the entire inventory, project planning, and environmental review process becomes outdated and must be begun again, causing a lack of follow-through to implementation that stifles the creativity and flexibility needed to conduct restoration. Congress continues to appropriate far more funding for fire suppression than for restoration treatments that will ultimately (but often not immediately) reduce suppression costs. Many rural communities and workers lack the capital, equipment, and skills needed to carry out the needed work. Markets for the small-diameter timber removed from thinned forests often do not exist, necessitating public funding for thinning" .
-Friederici, Peter (Ed.) 2003. Ecological Restoration of Southwestern Ponderosa Pine Forests, (ix-xx), Washington , DC : Island Press.
Strictly from an evaluation perspective, it is clear that on-the-ground restoration has not occurring at rates that many had hoped for when the FCSFP process began. However, this should not be considered failure. Rather, the number of acres that have been treated, which have increased during the years, are merely a measure of current progress, a register of the current reality among several other measures of broader progress.
Note that in relation to this description of progress, many FCSFP grants were made to businesses that were not directly involved in on-the-ground restoration projects. Increasingly, funding was made to support business development, and increasing capacity to utilize timber and produce various products. For example, FCSFP funding support purchases of a resaw, a chain flail chipper, parts for a fire log manufacturing plant, and many other equipment purchases. All of this, it can be said with some confidence, has helped to build capacity to conduct forest restoration.
Many projects are associated in some way with restoration-related goals, but it is worth asking the question why the FCSFP was not more directly involved with specific restorations. Two explanations emerge. One, only a small number of actual restoration projects have gotten underway during the past few years. Networking the right people and accessing public lands are two of the challenges to achieving progress in thisrealm.
Second, obstacles make efforts to conduct restoration very costly and time consuming. It has made better sense to turn energies towards activities that are in better positions to be productive. This is what seems to have occurred in the case of the FCSFP and many of its grant recipients. Attention has shifted from on-the-ground restoration to what is determined achievable and constructive, that is building economic capacity for the future.
By 2004, more on-the-ground activity was occurring in comparison to the earlier years of the FCSFP, when interim, capacity-building, activities were emphasized. These included taking advantage of National Fire Plan dollars to conduct fuel reduction in wildland/urban interface lands, purchase equipment, and developing a more entrepreneurial approach to a commercial industry that provides fuel-reduction and defensible-space services on private land. As mentioned before, the work on private lands is providing benchmarks for observing the effects of thinning over time. This serves a research purpose that can help project realistic outcomes on public lands relevant to restoration harvesting.
The capacity building is where the real story is. Grant recipients of FCSFP funding are part of a Four Corners wide multi-level effort to build a new economic and physical infrastructure that is positioned to utilize small-diameter pine and other wood products of restoration thinning work.
What is occurring is a continual building of knowledge that in the long-term could be viewed as contributing to more actual restoration. For example, the number of silvicultural prescriptions being developed for specific values and localities and being tested has increased over time. The kinds of landscapes in which they are being tried out are more numerous, too. Projects in Arizona and New Mexico particularly are demonstrating and monitoring prescriptions. These include the Blue Ridge Demonstration Project near Show Low and the Millsite project near Silver City . Individuals in Colorado are hoping to develop opportunities to conduct demonstrations that utilize restoration prescriptions appropriate for the location.
Infrastructure development is taking place, both physically and economically, in planning for eventual access to forests to do restoration harvests. This is being led by entrepreneurial-minded business people in the region, many of whom are FCSFP partners. Developments in infrastructure and relationship building suggest that capacity for conducting efficient and effective utilization and on-the-ground restoration is stronger.
Optimism endures, judging from the persistence of the entrepreneurial efforts to develop new products, new low-impact harvesting equipment, new manufacturing machinery, and new strategies for community awareness and support. These reflect a capacity-building momentum based on the expectation that access to public forests for raw timber will ultimately materialize. The merging of the contexts of ecology, economy, and community will continually need to be addressed as people work to solve the challenges and evolve greater, common understandings.
"FCSFP was not about physically pursuing treatment on the ground, restoring a forest with individual projects. It was about helping to restore a forest by developing the industrial infrastructure, community based economic infrastructure, to make it possible and sustainable. It's a very important part. Because as the FC Partnership has developed rural economies, businesses, to enhance utilization, that in turn has improved the opportunity to accomplish forest restoration. Long way to go. But that's the direction we have been moving in."
-Al Hendricks, Arizona Department of Fire and Aviation Management, April 28, 2004