Forest, rangeland report seeks collaboration in management

(Martin Kidston/Missoula Curren

Gov. Steve Bullock unveiled a new report this week, proposing to review land management and find ways to improve forest health through greater collaboration between agencies and stakeholders.

Released during the annual meeting of the Western Governors Association in Whitefish, the National Forest and Rangeland Management Initiative also looks to the Western economy and the jobs that depend on the region’s natural resources.

“Although balancing competing interests in the West is difficult, we know it’s possible to provide economic opportunities for our citizens while conserving and protecting the spectacular landscapes that inspire residents and visitors who travel across the world to experience them,” Bullock said.

Bullock, who was appointed chair of the Western Governors Association last year, has urged the governors to pursue the National Forest and Rangeland Management Initiative.

The initiative comes with wide-reaching goals, including a review of existing forest management practices to determine their strengths and weaknesses. It also calls for a detailed look into the role collaborative groups play in landscape restoration and reversing converging trends that threaten the region’s landscapes.

“Our wildfire seasons are longer and more expensive, and they present increasing risks to the public and firefighters,” Bullock said. “Our forests and rangelands face unprecedented threats from insects, disease and invasive species. As the health of these lands declines, we risk not only our quality of life, but fish and wildlife habitat, clean and abundant sources of water, and the diverse economic opportunities that are inextricably tied to them.”

Despite the challenges, Bullock said there is precedent in collaborative efforts, such as Montana’s Forests in Focus Initiative. That effort has invested more than $2 million to jump start 27 federal projects aimed at reducing the threat of wildfire, supporting more than 3,000 jobs and producing more than 160 million board feet of timber.

“Equally important, we’re building a foundation of greater cooperation that will help achieve even more in the future,” Bullock said. “I’m confident this (new) initiative will inspire further commitment among Western governors and our partners to continue working together, in a bipartisan way and on a collaborative basis, to promote the health and resilience of our forests and rangelands.”

The National Forest Health and Rangeland Management Initiative has assembled a team of experts and stakeholders from across the West to share insight on land management practices, and to identify improvements that could enable Western states to develop healthy and resilient landscapes.

The report includes both administrative and legislative recommendations that touch upon a number of areas, including a reformation of federal wildfire budgeting practices. It also looks to greater management partnerships while prioritizing resources to ensure a coordinated effort between federal, state and local governments.

“The recommendations in this report are not exhaustive – nor do they offer quick fixes,” Bullock said. “The problems we face took decades to develop, and the solutions will take patience, dedication, and persistence from all partners to implement.”