Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) Director Kelly Susewind, USDA Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen, and Regional Forester Glenn Casamassa signed a Shared Stewardship Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), calling it a model for other states to follow. The MOU, only the second of its kind in the nation, establishes a framework for Washington state and the USDA Forest Service to work collaboratively toward mutual goals and effectively respond to the increasing suite of challenges facing communities, landscapes, and natural resources across the state. The partnership will work together to improve forest health, a cornerstone of clean water and abundant wildlife habitat, and create exceptional recreational and outdoor opportunities across the state. Authority Comments “The challenges we face transcend boundaries,” said Chief Vicki Christiansen. “This agreement strengthens and advances an already strong partnership between federal and state agencies in Washington state. Working together, we can ensure that we’re doing the right work at the right scale to improve forest health, reduce wildfire risk, and benefit local communities.” To tackle wildfire and forest health crisis partnership between Washington state and the USDA is required “Wildfire, forest health, and habitat loss are not issues that respect property lines,” said Commissioner Hilary Franz. “To truly tackle our wildfire and forest health crisis, at the pace and scale this crisis demands, we need a strong partnership between Washington state and the USDA Forest Service. This agreement ensures that our response will be unified, well-coordinated, and deliver maximum benefit for the people.” “Washington’s fish and wildlife are facing real challenges,” said WDFW Director Kelly Susewind. “Large-scale collaborations like this are critical if we are to preserve our native species. It is encouraging to have the state’s three largest landowners come together in this new agreement and work more effectively to promote healthy wildlife and ecosystems in Washington.” Memorandum of Understanding Summary The MOU establishes a framework to allow the State of Washington and the USDA Forest Service to collaboratively advance shared priorities, coordinate investments, and implement projects on a landscape scale across Washington. Under this Shared Stewardship strategy, agencies will focus on forest and watershed restoration projects that improve ecosystem health, reduce wildfire risks, and benefit fish and wildlife habitat, among other priorities. The “Shared Stewardship” MOU is just the second of its kind in the nation, serving as a model for other states. Idaho was the first state to sign such an agreement (December of 2018). The MOU builds on strong, existing partnerships, such as the Good Neighbor Authority agreement between DNR and USFS. Signed in 2017, the Good Neighbor Authority allows DNR to conduct forest health work on federal lands. A Good Neighbor Authority agreement with WDFW signed in January this year provides additional opportunities. The agreement supports Washington state goals and existing plans, such as DNR’s 20-Year Forest Health Strategic Plan, which will restore the health of 1.25 million acres of federal, state, private, and tribal forest. By working together, the agencies will maximize resources and create the efficiencies needed to return Washington’s forests to health, which is a cornerstone to healthy wildlife habitat and clean water. This partnership creates a unified voice on issues before Congress and the state Legislature.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture will invest more than $12 million this year to mitigate wildfire risk, improve water quality and restore healthy forest ecosystems through targeted projects on both public and private lands in nine states. Since 2014, USDA has invested $213 million in 69 Joint Chiefs’ Landscape Restoration Partnership Projects, which focus on areas where public forests and grasslands intersect with privately-owned lands. Vicki Christiansen, Chief of the Forest Service, and Matthew Lohr, Chief of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, highlighted 13 new projects where the two agencies will work hand-in-hand with agricultural producers and forest landowners to improve forest health using available Farm Bill conservation programs and other authorities. Landscape Restoration Partnership Enables NRCS and the Forest Service for financial assistance collaboratively to help reduce wildfire threats "Forests stretch across the landscape—public, tribal, and private lands—and these projects aim to enhance, treat, and accelerate forest restoration to improve the health and diversity of these forests,” said Chief Christiansen. The Joint Chiefs’ Landscape Restoration Partnership enables NRCS and the Forest Service to leverage technical and financial assistance collaboratively alongside agricultural producers and forest landowners to help reduce wildfire threats, protect water quality and supply, and improve wildlife habitat for at-risk species. “With the help of USDA, producers can improve their forestry operations while realizing many other benefits, including mitigating impacts from wildfires, improving water quality, and wildlife habitat,” said Chief Lohr. About the Projects: The 13 new projects include Bradshaw Cross Boundary, Arizona Western Arkansas - SE Oklahoma Woodland Restoration, Arkansas Central Sierra Recovery and Restoration, California Rural Community Fire Projection and Forest Management, California Yreka Craggy Project, California Northern Front Range Collaboration Watershed Resilience Project, Colorado Mesabi Project, Minnesota Wildfire Adapted Missoula, Montana Elk Creek Watershed Restoration Partnership, Oregon Chiloquin Community Forest and Fire Project, Oregon Wonder Community Project, Wyoming Nolichucky / Upper French Broad Joint Watershed Restoration, Tennessee Buffalo Municipal Watershed Landscape Restoration, Wyoming Forestry Management Practices During the new three-year projects, landowners will work with local USDA experts and partners to apply targeted forestry management practices on their lands, such as thinning, hazardous fuel treatments, fire breaks, and other systems, to meet unique forestry challenges in their area. This year’s projects build on 17 ongoing projects launched in 2017 and 2018. Federal, state, and local partners plan to invest an additional $18 million through financial and in-kind contributions to continue existing projects. Successful Partnerships A partnership that has demonstrated success over the past two years is the recently completed Arizona Prescott Basin Cross Boundary Project which netted extraordinary benefits on private lands. This project helped protect 28,000 homes for more than 53,000 residents from wildfires, implemented land management strategies on 8,600 acres of public and private land, and improved critical habitat for the Mexican Spotted Owl. Similarly, the West Virginia Restoration Venture reduced wildfire risk by removing hazardous fuels using controlled burns on 962 acres of oak hickory forests. This project also improved water quality by establishing cover along 56 miles of stream, restored natural hydraulic processes by connecting 49 miles of stream, and planted 80,000 seedlings to enhance habitat for the threatened Cheat Mountain salamander, West Virginia northern flying squirrel, and snowshoe hare.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service (USFS) announced a new strategy for managing catastrophic wildfires and the impacts of invasive species, drought, and insect and disease epidemics. Specifically, a new report titled Toward Shared Stewardship across Landscapes: An Outcome-based investment Strategy outlines the USFS’s plans to work more closely with states to identify landscape-scale priorities for targeted treatments in areas with the highest payoffs. Reducing The Severity Of Wildfires “On my trip to California this week, I saw the devastation that these unprecedented wildfires are having on our neighbors, friends and families,” said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. “We commit to work more closely with the states to reduce the frequency and severity of wildfires. We commit to strengthening the stewardship of public and private lands. This report outlines our strategy and intent to help one another prevent wildfire from reaching this level.” Mitigating Wildfire Concerns are the rising size and severity of wildfires, the risk to communities, natural resources, and firefighters Both federal and private managers of forest land face a range of urgent challenges, among them catastrophic wildfires, invasive species, degraded watersheds, and epidemics of forest insects and disease. The conditions fueling these circumstances are not improving. Of particular concern are longer fire seasons, the rising size and severity of wildfires, and the expanding risk to communities, natural resources, and firefighters. “The challenges before us require a new approach,” said Interim USFS Chief Vicki Christiansen. “This year Congress has given us new opportunities to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with state leaders to identify land management priorities that include mitigating wildfire risks. We will use all the tools available to us to reduce hazardous fuels, including mechanical treatments, prescribed fire, and unplanned fire in the right place at the right time, to mitigate them.” Scope And Scale Of Critical Forest Treatments A key component of the new strategy is to prioritize investment decisions on forest treatments in direct coordination with states using the most advanced science tools. This allows the USFS to increase the scope and scale of critical forest treatments that protect communities and create resilient forests. The USFS will also build upon the authorities created by the 2018 Omnibus Bill, including new categorical exclusions for land treatments to improve forest conditions, new road maintenance authorities, and longer stewardship contracting in strategic areas. The agency will continue streamlining its internal processes to make environmental analysis more efficient and timber sale contracts more flexible. Stabilizing Environment Because rising rates of firefighter fatalities in recent decades have shifted the USFS’s approach to fire response The Omnibus Bill also includes a long-term “fire funding fix,” starting in FY 2020, that will stop the rise of the 10-year average cost of fighting wildland fire and reduce the likelihood of the disruptive practice of transferring funds from Forest Service non-fire programs to cover firefighting costs. The product of more than a decade of hard work, this bipartisan solution will ultimately stabilize the agency’s operating environment. Finally, because rising rates of firefighter fatalities in recent decades have shifted the USFS’s approach to fire response, the report emphasizes the agency’s commitment to a risk-based response to wildfire. The mission of the USFS, an agency of the USDA, is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations.