A to Z: A New Approach to Funding Forest Restoration

The Colville National forest once stood tall and healthy. But like most of our western forests, years of old growth harvesting and the whole-sale removal of natural wildfire transformed it into a powder keg waiting to go up in flames. Today, the Colville National Forest stands as a gold standard for forest restoration and collaboration. Why is that? They have tackled the first ever privately funded forest restoration project in the U.S.

In the past, all restoration projects had to be put out to bid. Before any restoration projects can be bid and funded, a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) study has to be conducted. These studies are costly and can actually prevent many of the Forest Service’s needed restoration projects go to bid at all. Since there is a lot of back and forth, many projects are not completed and forests are becoming overgrown and not well managed. New solutions and changes needed to be made in order to protect the forests we all love.

That’s when a new, never-been-done pilot program was introduced to help get these restoration projects going. The premise of this program is that the contractor would then be responsible for the cost of the NEPA study rather than the Forest Service. In turn, the contractor gets the timber to use and sell at their disposal and the forest receives much needed restoration practices.

This particular pilot program came to be know as the A to Z project and it is the first of its kind to bring together industry and conservation leaders who all have the same love of the forest. There was minor litigation that was pushed upon this project but the Northeast Washington Forest Coalition (NEWFC) filed intervener status to assist with court proceedings. The court looked at the file and premise of the pilot program and cited a collaborative approach. This allowed progress on forest restoration to continue moving forward.

“The Northeast Washington Forestry Coalition is considered one of the most successful collaboratives in the entire US. Around 2003, both industry and conservation came together on the foundation that we all love this forest. We all have that in common.” said Tiana Luke of Conservation Northwest and a presiding member of NEWFC.

Northeast Washington is the gold standard in restoration and collaborative thinking and the A to Z project is proof of that. “A to Z was a true public private partnership of innovation, some risk-taking, and a lot of learning.” cited U.S. Forest Service Chief, Vicki Christiansen. “If we don’t change our model of how we do business, we’re never going to be able to improve the conditions of our forests.”

Mitch Crane