SW Community Forestry Caucus

The Four Corners Sustainable Forest Partnership

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"The value of the FCSFP is that it created a coordinating group that earned the respect of the regional forester, and kept in touch with the tribes, businesses, and communities."

~John Waconda, FCSFP-BIA Tribal Coordinator

On one level of analysis, the Four Corners Sustainable Forests Partnership (FCSFP) can be understood as a working group or network that made available 5.5 million dollars of EAP and National Fire Plan funding over a five-year period. While it accomplished this important task, it also drew together, or became the focus of, a series of additional resources, technical assistance efforts, programmatic mandates, and institutional support. Taken together these begin to establish a more comprehensive support system required to address a complex set of needs and objectives in community restoration forestry.

In a very important sense, partnerships such as the FCSFP become a functioning network that connects a community, business, or land manager to a large network of organizations, programs, public policies, and development processes that support the work of community forestry. Let's say you are a small logging business or the city manager of a rural community. Perhaps you are a forester on a national forest, or the chief of a rural volunteer fire department. You often find yourself caught up in many confusing and challenging real-life situations:

  • You move to the state and simply need a few logs for your new furniture business, but can't get in the forest to harvest them;
  • The old saw mill has been idle for the past eight years and has become an eye sore to the city council, and most of the former workers have left the region or retired;
  • The last four times you offered timber sales of 500 to a 1000 acres, no one bid on them because they don't contain much in the way of commercial timber. The sales require a lot of thinning of small diameter trees that have little value;
  • As you drive around you see homes and cabins interspersed in a dense canopy of trees, with narrow connecting dirt roads where it would be criminal to send a volunteer fire fighter in a wildfire;
  • A study conducted in the watershed of the national forest over 10 years ago showed the tree density to be far above normal, making it prone to wildfire and disease, but you have no forestry staff to conduct the necessary environmental assessments to get approval to begin restoration work;
  • The last logging business in the region left three years ago for the neighboring state where timber was available on tribal lands and a private ranch; how do you get them back home to start the needed forest restoration work?
  • Five years ago the community got a wake-up call when a fire burned 37,000 acres of adjacent national forest lands, costing the city millions of dollars in lost economic activity;
  • .Unable to obtain timber on the national forest as in years past, you decide to retire from the logging business, lay off six employees, and sell your trucks; your wife is tired of being verbally assaulted by people waving protest signs as you drive out of the woods;
  • A 74,000-acre fire on the national forest near your community cost 44 million dollars to fight, saving over 330 homes, while 54 were burned;
  • After years of research you publish a report that indicates that over a million acres of federally managed forest lands require extensive restoration, but will cost upwards of $1200 an acre to thin and reintroduce a natural fire pattern.

Each one of these situations actually existed in specific communities in the late 1990's and the beginning of the twenty-first century in the Four Corners region. If you were one of the individuals, organizations, communities and land managers immersed in these situations you were looking for some sort of help, knowing full well that you could not solve the problems by yourself, or through your town or fire district or forestry organization alone. At these critical points, partnerships make a great deal of sense. At these points, you feel very alone if you don't have active partners.

What a partnership offers is a network of resources, information, capital, planning, peer support, and common goals and methods. They offer a place to get started, assistance with identifying and solving a problem, and partners to team up with who can share in the challenge and the reward of greater forest stewardship.

Without additional supportive partners and resource, situations like those noted above become insurmountable. As an individual you spin your wheels. Unhealthy forests become catastrophic tinderboxes. Forestry skills and capacities decline to a non-remedial level. Unless you work in tandem with others who share your concerns, the problems become even worse. If you are a resource manager on either public or private lands, you have no one to turn to get the needed management work accomplished. If you are a fire chief, you really know you need the cooperation of whole neighborhoods of residents. Whether you are a small businessperson, a mayor, a district ranger, or an ecological scientist, you realize more deeply than ever before that you need coalitions of other people, land management agencies, local governments, and policy makers to solve a pervasive problem of declining forest health.

Community forestry today remains an innovative enterprise, not a routine, institutionalized method. Even in 2004, it remains an emerging social and ecological process. While its outlines and basic directions are becoming clear, it is not yet a politically accepted means of forest management. Even some of its fundamental methods, such as stewardship contracting and adaptive management, are still being developed.


Lesson Learned

Much of the progress or growth within community-based forestry still comes from a hands-on approach, with continually emerging solutions drawn from a broad spectrum of learning.

FCSFP members prefer the hands-on approach to learning. Some of the best learning can occur on site, out in the woods, or in someone’s mill.

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