Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Agreement Reached for Largest Restoration Effort in History

When the Western Regional Strategy Committee first hired me in 2012, one of my first instructions was to learn about the 4FRI Project in Arizona as it was considered at the time, to be a great demonstration of collaborative efforts.  So I did.  4FRI stands for Four Forests Restoration Initiative and sure enough, it's an impressive project - a 2.4 million acre landscape across four national forests.  

Once a healthy ponderosa pine dominant forest of about 50 stems per acre, it has grown to upwards of 1000 per acre.  If the Cohesive Strategy and efforts under the Collaborative Forests Landscape Restoration Program were going to prove successful, it would be here.  I winced a little at the time, knowing the history of landscape level projects that are typically hotly contested and litigated by a variety of stakeholders. 

Project Area in Arizona. Source: 4FRI.org

Fast forward to March of 2015...  “After five years of intense collaborative work, the Stakeholder Group would like to commend the U.S. Forest Service on the Final Environmental Impact Statement. The final analyses and decision honored or directly incorporated many of the recommendations provided by the Stakeholder Group." 

WOW!  THIS IS A BIG DEAL!  Read the full letter of support here.

Partners at the table included a range of stakeholders including the US Forest Service (the Coconino, Kaibab, Apache-Sitgreaves and the Tonto National Forests) and some of the big environmental dogs across the West such as the Center for Biological Diversity and the Grand Canyon Trust.  Also represented at the table - which came to be known as the 4FRI Stakeholder Group - were individuals; local, county and state governments; other environmental groups; organizations; institutions and industry.  

Together they committed to the collaborative process, knowing it would be slow and sometimes painful, ultimately focusing on the long-term restoration and health of this landscape.
  
Their efforts are paying off.  Several smaller projects on the landscape have been successful to date - improving forest health and habitat, and creating usable biomass.  The broad agreement on the details of this 1 million acre plan represents a major step forward for restoration of this landscape.  

"The Stakeholder Group feels that the collaborative work between all Stakeholders and the Forest Service Team had a very positive influence on the final analyses."  I hope we hear comments like this more and more in the coming years. 

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