Today, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) announced a new partnership with the American Forest Foundation (AFF), and a combined $5 million initial investment, to address catastrophic wildfire risk across 3.5 million acres of private land in order to protect water supplies for Western communities.
“With the threat of longer and less predictable fire seasons, we can’t take our attention off the need to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire and restore health to our forests,” stated USFS Chief Tom Tidwell. “Collaborating with private and family landholders to conduct this critical restoration work reduces the threat of wildfires to our communities and protects lives and property.”
“A significant portion of the West’s water supplies, for both drinking water and agricultural uses, originates in or passes through forested watersheds,” said Jason Weller, Chief of NRCS. “Catastrophic wildfires pose a significant risk to both water quality and quantity for our communities. We’re excited to launch a public-private partnership that engages the forestland owners and managers that are committed to voluntarily restoring and improving healthy forestland conditions. Voluntary conservation on these private lands will not only reduce the wildfire threat, but will go a long way towards securing water supplies for more than 22 million Westerners.”
AFF, a national forest conservation organization, specializes in conservation and stewardship on private and family lands, working through partners to help landowners keep their forests producing the resources Americans count on - clean water, wildlife habitat and sustainable wood supplies.
Last fall, AFF released a report, Western Water Threatened by Wildfire that examined the ownership patterns of high wildlife risk lands in important watersheds that help supply clean water. The analysis found that across the West nearly 40 percent of the high wildfire risk acres in these key watersheds are actually on private and family-owned land. Further analysis found that the majority (81 percent) of the risk on private lands, or 3.5 million acres, is concentrated in specific landscapes across just 16 percent of western counties.
This new public-private partnership will provide $5 million in funding to support work in six priority landscapes across the West, aiming to restore more than 11,000 acres in the first two years. A portion of the funds will help AFF, a leading expert on reaching and engaging landowners, and partners including state forestry agencies, conduct outreach and education to 17,500 private and family landowners in important water supply watersheds. These funds leverage other federal and state investments for forest restoration. The remainder of the funds will provide cost-share dollars directly to landowners in one of the project landscapes, the Upper South Platte Watershed in Colorado.
“We have found in the West that private landowners are ready and willing to address wildfire risk, yet only a small portion have been able to act,” said Tom Martin, President and CEO of AFF. “With support and resources, we can get more landowners addressing this challenge. We’re excited to bring our expertise to the table and do our part to help private landowners take action that not only protects their land, but also helps the larger community continue to have clean water.”
Projects associated with partnership:
- Upper South Platte Watershed, Colorado: A five-county landscape southwest of Denver, comprised of mixed ownership that supplies roughly one-third of Colorado residents with their drinking water.
- Rocky Mountain Front, Montana: A two-county landscape across mixed ownership at the headwaters of the Missouri River and primary water source for the Great Falls area.
- Blue Mountains, Oregon: Four northeastern counties of Oregon, a mix of range and forest land across ownership types and whose waters support the farming, ranching and salmon populations.
- Sierra Nevada region, California: A two-county (Mariposa and Tuolumne) mixed-ownership landscape that contributes to the drinking water for several California city centers.
- California: An additional project will be selected in California, a state where nearly 3 of every 5 acres at high risk from wildfire in important watersheds are privately owned.
Four Corner States (AZ, CO, NW, UT): An additional project will be selected in this region where more than 600,000 privately-owned acres in important water supply watersheds, merit forest restoration.