USFS touts integrated restoration plan ahead of budget request

Posted: Apr 9, 2013

Written by

Phil Taylor, E&E
Hazardous fuels removal

A Forest Service pilot program that consolidates funding for several restoration activities last year protected 800,000 acres from the threat of catastrophic wildfire, the agency said just days before the administration is expected to ask Congress to expand the program nationally.

The agency's Integrated Resource Restoration (IRR) program -- which seeks to combine budget lines including hazardous fuels removal, timber cutting, and the removal of invasive species and fish barriers into one program -- also decommissioned 738 miles of roads and enhanced 933 miles of stream habitat, the agency said.

The agency since fiscal 2011 has asked Congress to combine the programs into one pot of funding so it can spend taxpayer money more efficiently, but appropriators have thus far been hesitant to act, expressing concerns over how the agency would be held accountable.

Congress in December 2011 for the first time authorized $146.4 million to implement the IRR fund as a pilot project in three regions.

"Integrated Resource Restoration allows us to be more efficient and strategic in how we manage our forests and grasslands," Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell said in a statement. "We see this program as a model for good management."

The agency will presumably again ask Congress to expand the authority nationwide, though Tidwell declined to discuss the budget request with Greenwire last month.

A year ago, House Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) said he would need to see "proof of concept" before expanding the initiative (Greenwire, Feb. 17, 2012).

"I realize you haven't had sufficient time to implement the pilot," he said. "Nonetheless, we look forward to seeing real, tangible accomplishments in the near future."

Today, the Forest Service said such results include improved conditions at the Pass Creek watershed in the Gallatin National Forest in Montana and the Waw'aalamnime Creek watershed in the Clearwater National Forest and the Bull Creek watershed in the Boise National Forest, both in Idaho.

"Under the program, landscape-level projects that would otherwise be piecemealed together over many years were funded in a single year with a single budget, providing program managers the flexibility to prioritize restoration projects," the agency said. "Program managers, instead of competing for individual program funds to pay for specific projects, are now looking for opportunities to integrate multiple restoration projects and priorities."

The Forest Service said it restored about 4 million acres of forestlands in 2012 but said IRR authority is important for helping it gird forests for climate change, catastrophic fires and invasive pests.

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