LITTLE ROCK, ARK., FEBRUARY 16, 2016 AT 10:45 AM EST - style="margin: 0in 0in 0pt;">USDA Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment Robert Bonnie today announced a federal investment of over $40 million for restoration of forests near growing communities to reduce wildfire threats, protect water supplies, improve wildlife habitat and support rural economies. This is the third year of the Joint Chiefs’ Landscape Restoration Partnership between the U.S. Forest Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to improve the health and resiliency of forest ecosystems where public and private lands meet.
“The health of our forests and our rural communities very often go hand in hand,” Bonnie said. “USDA works with other public and thousands of private landowners through a range of programs and partnerships to decrease the threat of wildfire, restore forest habitat and increase economic and other opportunities for the families and businesses that make their homes near woodlands.”
Bonnie unveiled 11 new Joint Chiefs projects totaling $7 million for 2016 and committed additional investments totaling nearly $33 million in 27 projects launched in 2014 and 2015. Local partners plan to invest up to an additional $11 million in financial, technical and in-kind assistance for the 38 projects.
The announcement was made at the annual meeting of the Arkansas Association of Conservation Districts, where Bonnie highlighted several projects that demonstrate the power of this kind of partnership. Bonnie said, “By taking an all-lands, all hands approach, Forest Service, NRCS, and countless partners are demonstrating that smart, proactive investments to restore forests yield extraordinary benefits for landowners, communities and taxpayers.”
Now entering its third year, the Arkansas & Oklahoma Woodland Restoration (AOWR) project covers parts of the Ozark St. Francis and Ouachita National Forests and adjoining private lands. Most of the forestlands within this project area are increasingly susceptible to stressors like recurring periodic drought, native and non-native forest insects, and the impacts of climate change. This project focuses on restoring a more resilient, open woodland structure to increase water quality and quantity, improve habitat for federally listed species, reduce the threat of and intensity of wildfire, improve forest health, and provide environmental education.
In its first two years, the AOWR partnership has established more than 376,000 feet of firebreaks on private lands, restored more than 36,000 miles of stream habitat, treated roughly 60,000 acres for invasive species and improved wildfire mitigation, water quality and wildlife habitat on nearly 42,000 acres through EQIP partnerships with private landowners. In 2016 the agencies plan to contribute more than $2.8 million to finalize the project.
“Recognizing that different regions have unique challenges and resources, the President has called upon the federal government to act creatively in order to become more responsive to the ideas and concerns of local leaders and citizens,” said Bonnie. “The Joint Chiefs partnership is one of the many ways USDA is working with local partners to help meet the increasing challenge of protecting communities, watersheds, forests and woodlands from the devastating and increasingly expensive impacts of wildfire and other threats.”
Other 2016 Projects highlighted include:
California – Trinity Community Protection and Landscape Restoration Project: Over the past decade, fires have burned over 300,000 acres in the southern part of the Klamath-Siskiyou Bioregion, continually threatening local communities, wildlife habitat and watershed. This project supports the ongoing work of local partnerships to protect communities from wildfire and restore ecological processes, while also enhancing habitat for at-risk species.
Louisiana – Longleaf Pine Partnership Project: This project will implement cross-boundary restoration to expand the continuity, health and resiliency of the long-leaf pine ecosystem on U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Department of Defense and private lands, and will reduce the threat of wildfire to local communities and provide water quality protection.
Tennessee – Joint Watershed Restoration Project: This project will help improve water quality and the resiliency of the forest ecosystem and at-risk aquatic ecosystem in an area spanning 1,328,733 acres by focusing on outreach and education, reducing sediment loads, improving water quality, removing non-native invasive species, restoring riparian forests, increasing flood resiliency and aquatic organism passage, improving wildlife habitat, and improving forest management through private landowner assistance.
Since its start, $104 million has been invested through USDA’s Joint Chiefs’ Landscape Restoration Partnership to reduce wildfire threats to communities and landowners, protect water resources, and improve habitat for at risk species. Summaries of all projects selected can be found on the NRCS website.
Since 2009, USDA has invested more than $29 billion to help producers make conservation improvements, working with as many as 500,000 farmers, ranchers and landowners to protect over 400 million acres nationwide, boosting soil and air quality, cleaning and conserving water and enhancing wildlife habitat. For an interactive look at USDA's work in conservation and forestry over the course of this Administration, visit http://medium.com/usda-results.