The Dinkey Landscape Restoration Project, which is being conducted at the Sierra National Forest, has been recently funded by the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program, which is administered by the United States Forest Service. “The purpose of the CFLR Program is to encourage the collaborative, science-based ecosystem restoration of priority forest landscapes.” More specifically, this program strives to “1) encourage ecological, economic, and social sustainability; 2) leverage local resources with national and private resources; 3) facilitate the reduction of wildfire management costs, including through reestablishing natural fire regimes and reducing the risk of uncharacteristic wildfire; 4) demonstrate the degree to which various ecological restoration techniques achieve ecological and watershed health objectives; and, 5) encourage utilization of forest restoration by-products to offset treatment costs, to benefit local rural economies, to and improve forest health”. Projects must occur primarily on National Forests.
I imagine that all large restoration projects funded by the federal government must have fairly strong scientific justification, and thus it is not surprising that the project I am focusing on (The Dinkey Landscape Restoration Project) is firmly rooted in current science; it relies heavily on the recent publication “An Ecosystem Management Strategy for Sierran Mixed-Conifer Forests” (North et al. 2009). Specific goals of this project include: 1) reduction of wildfire threat to neighboring communities via fuels treatments, 2) improvement of habitat for the Pacific fisher and the California spotted owl, 3) removal of invasive plants, and 4) collaboration among numerous stakeholders (ranging from environmental groups to timber companies to tribal organizations). The design of the project has clearly been influenced by numerous ecological concepts, including forest disturbance ecology, wildlife population dynamics, and invasion biology. Methods used to accomplish the stated goals consist primarily of prescribed fire and mechanical thinning (the latter of which will yield salable timber and presumably provide economic benefits to the local community). As an example of a specific target, the proposal claims that fireline intensities will be reduced by 80% (although it should be noted that the success of this objective cannot be completely assessed unless a large wildfire occurs within and beyond the restoration zone). Other goals will be evaluated via detailed monitoring and annual reporting, which is a requirement of the program. In the case of this specific project, monitoring will be conducted for at least 10 years, which is probably a long time frame for most restoration projects, but given the slow rates at which forests develop, even this interval may be too short to provide definitive answers. More details are provided in the full funded proposal.
Image: Spotted Owl, taken by US Fish and Wildlife Service (public domain)