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Lessons Learned from an Unprecedented Experiment in Collaborative Forest Management
Will Price

Since the creation of the National Forest System, how we manage our forest resources in light of many competing interests has been a flashpoint for debate and controversy. The Lassen, Plumas and Tahoe National Forests of northern California are no exception. In the last two decades this landscape, comprising more than 3.1million acres (4,885 mi2), has been the testing ground for a new way of incorporating stakeholder interests and ideas in planning and management. This happened through an Act of Congress, the Herger-Feinstein Quincy Library Group Forest Recovery Act of 1998 (HFQLG Act), but began well before this time through the efforts of a coalition of local interests who had become frustrated with the conflict dominating management of these forests.

The first seeds for the emergence of the Quincy Library Group (named for where they came to regularly meet) were planted by local environmental groups during a period of heavy timber harvesting throughout the California Sierras. The total volume of timber harvested from the Sierra Nevada National Forests in 1988 was 1.29 billion board feet, compared to 183.6 million board feet in 2010 (Charnley and Long 2013). In the mid-1980’s, environmental groups were pressing the USDA Forest Service and the timber industry, through any means possible, to reduce harvesting and to take streamside areas, old-growth, and roadless areas off the timber-base. Their plan, presented to the Forest Service in 1986 by the Friends of the Plumas Wilderness, was considered as a management plan alternative in the Forest Service’s forest planning process, but was subsequently rejected.

California spotted owl nestling on the San Jacinto Mountains courtesy William LaHaye Soon afterwards however, timber harvesting began to decline—slowly at first, because the anticipated volume was not there, and quickly as soon as the Forest Service began to deal with the recommendations of a report on the status of the California spotted owl, or the “CASPO” report (Verner et. al. 1992). The forthcoming CASPO guidelines and change in the White House widened interest in constructive dialogue and potential collaboration. So in 1992 a company forester, a county supervisor, and an environmentalist first met to discuss how to ameliorate the conflict, which had destabilized the community and escalated hostilities toward leaders of various interest groups (Gutierrez et. al. 2014). Through subsequent meetings the gathering swelled to 30members who regularly met in the town library in Quincy, California. They sought to establish a consensus policy that would appropriately balance timber harvesting, forest restoration, and protection for sensitive species, especially the California spotted owl. By the fall of 1993, QLG had adopted its Community Stability Proposal, which was presented for consideration to the Forest Service. The plan included silvicultural prescriptions intended to reduce fire susceptibility and severity, protection priorities (e.g. for streams and California spotted owls), and a roadmap they thought could accommodate prior management guidance and priorities (e.g. the Scientific Analysis Team’s guidelines, Small Business Administration set-asides, and others).

The proposal was hailed as a cure-all by its supporters and a potential model for locally-driven collaborative management across the West. However, some in the Forest Service and several national environmental groups were skeptical of the proposal, especially worried about the precedent it set for how public land management decisions are made. Their concerns only escalated when, after engaging the Forest Service Chief and Forest Supervisors for the three National Forests, QLG representatives went to Congress (Marston 1997).

QLG presented its Community Sustainability Proposal to their elected representatives as a “win-win” solution for management of National Forests. The group won the support of then-Congressman Wally Herger (R-CA) and Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA), who led efforts in their respective bodies to gain bipartisan support. After contentious debate, the proposal became the main language of the HFQLG Act of 1998, passing 429 to 1 (Rep. Ron Paul of Texas voted against it).

The HFQLG pilot project authorized in the HFQLG Act was to run for five years, from 1999–2004, at which time its success would be evaluated by an Independent Science Panel (ISP). The pilot project was extended in 2003 and again in 2008, and ended on September 30, 2012. The charge established by Congress in the Act was for the ISP to determine “whether, and to what extent, implementation of the pilot project under this section achieved the goals stated in the Quincy Library Group Community Stability Proposal, including improved ecological health and community stability.”

The Pinchot Institute convened the ISP, bringing together a group of scientists representing an appropriate range of disciplines necessary to conduct the two-stage review. The first phase occurred in 2008, when the ISP reviewed the Forest Service’s monitoring program. The second review began in October 2012, 16 days following the expiration of the pilot, and was completed in 2013 (Pinchot Institute 2013).

The reviews included many types of inquiry, and were by no means limited to the formal documentation of the HFQLG pilot project compiled by the Forest Service in their annual reporting to Congress. Panelists reviewed published literature, unpublished reports, associated source materials, and raw data—provided by many sources from within and outside the agency. Both stages of the review also included extensive consultation with key stakeholders, especially current and former members of QLG, through in-person meetings, phone interviews, and surveys.

The final report of the ISP (available at http://www.pinchot.org/qlg) is technical in nature, reflecting the goals established by the QLG and the HFQLG Act, and the panel took great care to avoid attributing reasons for successes and failures when these reasons could not be substantiated. Overall, the ISP identified nine key findings addressing the resourcemanagement issues affected by the pilot project and about which Congress wanted to learn:
  1. The pace and scale of HFQLG pilot project treatment implementation did not meet expectations for the supply of wood fiber or the number of acres treated.
  2. The pilot was unable to provide local economic stability through an adequate and continuous supply of timber to local mills.
  3. The pilot leveraged significant external funding and support contributing to positive social and organizational changes within the agency.
  4. Implementation of the pilot fire and fuel management treatments typically reduced localized fire severity and had benefits for fire suppression activities.
  5. Fuel reduction and silvicultural treatments, where implemented, helped develop all-age, multistory, and fire-resilient stands, but it is uncertain how these treatments affected ecological integrity at the landscape level.
  6. California spotted owl nest and roost sites were protected during implementation of the pilot, but the project ultimately failed to assess if there were adverse environmental impacts to the owl population resulting from treatments.
  7. The pilot successfully implemented measures designed to protect water bodies, but scientific studies did not adequately determine how treatments affected water resources, and the pilot project treatments did not protect streams and riparian areas from the impacts of catastrophic wildfire.
  8. Protection measures, management strategies, and monitoring activities helped reduce some adverse environmental impacts.Other impacts, including to some species of concern, were uncertain because scientific evaluations were uneven, ineffective, or not completed.
  9. The pilot expanded and supported existing wetland and riparian restoration activities, but did not implement a new program of water resource protection and management referenced by the HFQLG Act.
One of the foundational precepts of the Community Stability Proposal was support for the local economy through projects within the pilot area. The proposal and the subsequent legislation set ambitious targets that were meant to increase the pace and scale of work across the forests using methods that would create fire-resilient conditions, and protect and restore wildlife habitat. In this sense, it was supposed to achieve a “triple bottom line” by protecting the environment, providing jobs, and contributing to the welfare of local communities.

In the end, the HFQLG pilot project did not achieve these goals. Harvesting and employment decreased over the period of implementation. The status of the California spotted owl is still uncertain, and more importantly, the pilot’s effects on spotted owls has yet to be determined. Furthermore, over the course of the thirteen years the hard-won truce between local environmental groups and the QLG dissolved. In some way this dissolution happened at the outset, when the “win” represented by the passage of the HFQLG Act, was perceived by some to diminish the need for further engagement and compromise. Challenges to pilot project treatments mounted over the years; and while appeals and litigation involved only a small minority of projects, they reportedly changed the complexion of the planning process.

Members of the Independent Science Panel on the Plumas National Forest courtesy John Gunn The feedback given to the Independent Science Panel suggests that many factors accounted for the pilot project’s shortcomings— involving the actions and attitudes of all stakeholders involved, including the Forest Service. The agency clearly had difficulty meeting the demands of the pilot, a situation not helped by frequent changes in leadership on the three forests (i.e. 11 different Supervisors during the pilot project). Nevertheless, feedback from stakeholders and the Forest Service suggested that there was greater support for the HFQLG pilot project in the later years of implementation. This was partially a result of new science published in agency publications (North et al. 2009). This renewed emergence of support perhaps reinforces the value of science-based dialogue that was an essential component of the plan developed by the Friends of the Plumas Wilderness, and later the Community Stability Proposal.

The collaboration that led to the Quincy Library Group’s Community Stability Proposal has been celebrated as a potentially transformative approach for federal lands management. Whereas the HFQLG pilot project originated through an unprecedented type of collaboration, it also represented an unprecedented type and level of federal investment (approximately $300 million over 13 years). Despite these precedents, full implementation was not accomplished in the twice-extended term of the HFQLG Act. The degree to which local economic stability has been accomplished or how the California spotted owl and other species of conservation concern will fare over the long term has not been answered. However, where implemented, the pilot project treatments helped reduce the damaging effects of wildfire. The treatments also produced some much needed local economic stimulus, perhaps muting what was a general decline in employment and the broader economy.

What the pilot project was able to accomplish helped demonstrate some of the potential of collaborative engagement. Yet, after more than a decade it cannot be considered the model for how institutions and collaborative partnerships achieve the complex outcomes of promoting forest health and economic stability while maintaining environmental values. Throughout the country there are situations demanding new models of collaboration and management to enable restoration and adaptation to climate change, at a massive pace and scale. The efforts of those who envisioned and influenced the HFQLG pilot project—the Quincy Library Group, companies, scientists, environmental groups, the Forest Service, and others—offer valuable lessons on what can be avoided and what should be emulated across the country in order to meet this challenge.

Will Price is Director of Conservation Programs at the Pinchot Institute in Princeton, NJ. He was a member and the coordinator of the HFQLG Independent Science Panel. The views expressed are those of the author and not a formal statement of ISP findings.

Charnley, Susan, and Long, Jonathan. “9.5 Managing Forest Products for Community Benefit” Final Draft 1/9/2013. http://www.fs.fed.us/psw/publications /reports/psw_sciencesynthesis2013/psw _sciencesynthesis2013_9_5.pdf. Accessed January 2014.

Marston, Ed. 1997. “The Timber Wars Evolve into a Divisive Attempt at Peace.” High Country News. September 29, 1997. http://www.hcn.org/issues/115/3656. Accessed October 2013.

North, M., Stine, P.A., O’Hara, K.L., Zielinski, W.J., and Stephens, S.L. 2009 An Ecosystems Management Strategy for Sierra Mixed-Conifer Forests. General Technical Report PSW-GTR-220. USDA Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Research Station, Albany, CA. 49 p.

Pinchot Institute for Conservation, 2013. Independent Science Panel Report: Herger-Feinstein Quincy Library Group Forest Recovery Act.

Verner, J., McKelvey, K.S., Noon, B.R., Gutiérrez, R.J., Gould, Jr., G.I., Beck, T.W. 1992. The California Spotted Owl: A Technical Assessment of its Current Status. PSW-GTR-133. Pacific Southwest Research Station, USDA Forest Service, Albany, CA.
Preparing for the Mid-term: Nearing Five Years of the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program
R. Patrick Bixler

America’s forests are undergoing changes unlike any seen before in human history. With each passing year, new precedents are being set for the extent and impacts of wildfires, and floods that often follow. Record areas of forest stands are dead or dying and in need of restoration in order to sustain the vital ecosystem services on which we depend. Moreover, climate change is profoundly shaping forests and actively altering species composition, productivity, availability of goods and services, and disturbance regimes (Vose et al. 2012). Forest conservation in the Anthropocene is going to require institutional arrangements that manage both public and private forests in a more collaborative, flexible, science-based, and adaptive way (Sample and Bixler 2014). Traditional institutional and policy frameworks are challenged by the task at hand. At the beginning of the 20th century our nation implemented the Weeks Act, a visionary law that provided a roadmap to conserve the nation’s forest and water resources. A century later, we look to build on that bold leadership by restoring forests, and the communities that depend on them, through collaborative and adaptive approaches to forest management.

The USDA Forest Service, as well as other federal land management agencies, are developing new tools and policy frameworks to enable an ‘all hands’ and ‘all lands’ approach to forest management. In 2010, USDA Secretary Vilsack announced that 10 landscape-scale restoration projects had been funded under the new Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program (CFLRP). Established by Congress under Title IV of the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009, this program supports landscape-scale ecological restoration on Forest Service lands to reduce wildland fire management costs, enhance ecological health, and promote the use of small-diameter woody biomass while bolstering collaboration throughout planning and implementation (Schultz et al. 2012). Specifically, the purpose of the Act is to “encourage the collaborative, science-based ecosystem restoration of priority forest landscapes;” to help achieve these objectives, collaboratives are guaranteed funding for ten years.
The Southwestern Crown CFLRP addresses restoration needs in the Blackfoot, Clearwater, and Swan River Valleys. Image by Meghan Brown

Along with the new National Forest System land management planning rule, the CFLRP is part of a longer-term shift in National Forest policy that has increasingly emphasized large-scale, collaborative, and adaptive planning. The CFLRP is one experiment in the emerging suite of new governance approaches that attempt to implement management activities in ways that are more flexible and adaptive, less hierarchical, and emphasize the role of collaboration and communities in setting goals and objectives on multiple-use landscapes. The CFLRP is aligned with these goals and objectives by promoting management that: 
  • Encourages ecological, economic, and social sustainability; 
  • Leverages local resources with national and private interests; 
  • Facilitates the reduction of wildlife management costs, including through reestablishing natural fire regimes and reducing the risk of uncharacteristic wildfire;
  • Demonstrates the degree to which various ecological restoration techniques achieve ecological and watershed health objectives; and, 
  • Encourages the utilization of forest restoration by-products to offset treatment costs, to benefit local rural economies, and to improve forest health.
To date, 23 CFLRPs that span the forests of the eastern and western United States have been funded through the program. The sites include a spectrum of ecological and social contexts from Arkansas, Mississippi, and Florida in the Southeast, to Colorado and Montana in the RockyMountains, to Washington State in the Pacific Northwest. California, Oregon, and Idaho each have three CFLRPs in their respective states. According to a 2012 annual report (Schwedler et al. 2013), in the first two years of implementation the 23 projects have cumulatively: 
  • Created and maintained 4,574 full- and part-time forest industry jobs; 
  • Generated nearly $320 million in labor income; 
  • Reduced the risk of mega-fire on 612,000 acres; 
  • Enhanced clean water supplies by remediating 6,000 miles of eroding roads; 
  • Sold 95.1 million cubic feet of timber;  Improved 537,000 acres of wildlife habitat; and, 
  • Restored nearly 400 miles of fish habitat.
These are impressive accomplishments for a program nearing its five-year “mid-term,”—a program established and implemented during the recent environment of federal budget constraints, increasing wildfire and dying forests, and increasing uncertainty associated with accelerating ecological change. However, providing an institutional framework that incorporates this change into systems of knowledge and management is precisely what makes CFLRP promising. The CFLR program has the potential to reduce uncertainty through systematically and collaboratively planned, implemented, and monitored management actions.
Blackfoot Challenge conservation partners tour riparian buffers in Montana. Courtesy Blackfoot Challenge Conservation partners of the Blackfoot Challenge tour restoration sites of the Southwestern Crown Collaborative CFLRP by Ali Duvall
CFLRP, Multi-Party Monitoring and Adaptive Management
The CFLRP legislation is somewhat unique in that it requires both the funding and implementation of multi-party monitoring for ecological, social, and economic outcomes of each individually awarded CFLR project. This authorization requires reporting broader and more detailed information than typical reports detailing amount of timber cut or acres burned. The policy objective of the legislation and subsequent intention of the robust multi-party monitoring is to contribute to knowledge generation and learning, promote trust among stakeholders, reduce uncertainty regarding landscape-scale and long-term effects of restoration, and support adaptive management frameworks that facilitate changes in project planning and implementation. Multi-party monitoring provides information critical to the adaptive management feedback loop, improving projects as they evolve and assuring accountability of projects to all stakeholders.

The Pinchot Institute has long been an advocate and practitioner of multi-party monitoring, with a rich history of evaluating the program design and implementation of stewardship contracting. Since 2003, multi-party monitoring has provided valuable and constructive feedback to help agencies and local communities develop joint action plans, analyze how well the plans are working, and provide insight on how to modify behavior and management practices for better results. The promise of the CFLR program is to take the insights and lessons learned through collaborative and multi-party monitoring of stewardship contracting, and apply it to a broader spectrum of adaptive forest management objectives and tools.

Using monitoring to enact adaptive management in the CFLRPs includes explicit recognition of learning as a management objective, systematic observations of resource conditions and subsequent analysis and interpretation, and adjusting future management based on new information. This implies that the multi-party monitoring is an important precursor to multi-party learning. Groups that have completed collaborative planning and monitoring are frustrated when lessons learned are not captured and used to inform ongoing work, or the project planning process does not facilitate incorporation of new information generated through monitoring (Pinchot Institute for Conservation 2013). Organizational and social learning emphasize information sharing and meaningful collaboration across organizations, and among people with different experiences, helping collaborative groups avoid positional debates and circular discussions. Multi-party social learning is a critical aspect to the ‘back-loop’ of adaptive management: using what is learned to adjust future management, seeking to reduce uncertainty and improve management by monitoring programs and projects and comparing results to management objectives. This learning is at once both within collaboratives and between collaboratives, as informal and professional networks contribute to horizontal information transfer among local groups and vertical information transfer between local groups and policymakers.

Across the individual CFLR projects, monitoring strategies are driven by a desire to measure the effectiveness of treatments to meet ecological and socioeconomic objectives, create and sustain social license to conduct restoration, and resolve key uncertainties at the landscape scale. Management approaches that integrate these monitoring strategies and anticipate and respond to change by guiding development and adaptation of forest ecosystem structures and functions will be more likely to sustain desired ecosystem services and values across large landscapes and multiple decades. One key dimension of the CFLR efforts is the directed focus to the landscape scale, and it is at this scale that preparing for and being resilient to wildfire occurs.

Collaborative Landscape Restoration and Wildfire
It is pretty well received now that fire in the landscape is a natural phenomenon, supporting both ecological processes and in many cases cultural practices (Pyne 2012). However, the social impact of wildfires makes them disastrous, further magnified by demographic changes and exurban residential development in the wildland-urban interface. The solutions to wildfire management and mitigation are not just engineered or environmental, but are often social and include a role and responsibility for collaborative community work in mitigating risk.Wildfire preparedness is advocated as an important means by which communities can reduce vulnerability and increase resilience to wildfire, minimizing the consequences of the hazard and increasing the ability of people to cope with, recover from, and adapt to wildfire. In this regard, CFLRPs are fostering the capacity and skills for hazardous fuels treatments that can provide protection for communities and affect the size, spread, and severity of wildfires.

Many CFLRPs, especially in the West, are engaging with thinning and prescribed fire to achieve landscape-scale forest restoration. Hazardous fuels reduction near communities has become a high priority for many collaboratives, reducing the potential for mega-fire near outlying residential areas. Ideally, entire communities would be “fire adapted,” where fire should be able to pass through communities without causing extensive damage. To achieve this, however, requires implementing forest treatments that are grounded in scientific research, and doing so in a context that allows for collaborative planning, joint fact-finding, and continued monitoring. Disagreements about fire management needs and practices are not always resolved through technical analyses and rational planning processes, but require mutual understanding of different worldviews and political realities. This is the promise of the CFLRPs—collaboratively solving and learning from these complex problems of forest restoration with the intent to help us better understand and direct the course of wildfire, as well as prepare for and adapt to other changes in the Anthropocene.

Opportunities and Challenges Ahead
The Blackfoot Valley in Montana, part of the Southwestern Crown Collaborative CFLRP by Robb Kendrick The CFLR program has been a catalyst and an arena for stakeholders to have difficult forest management conversations, and we can now observe many places where divisive and adversarial tactics have given way to communities actively working together to improve the health and resilience of forest ecosystems. Restoration activities once considered off limits are now on top of the agenda in many collaboratives. These collaboratives have not only created a space for dialogue in situations where scientific and social uncertainty is high, but have also created sufficient social connectivity and capacity to undertake ambitious restoration projects.

However, with increased understanding of the role of climate change as a factor behind widespread insect- and disease-related tree mortality and subsequent catastrophic wildfires, a subtle shift in thinking is taking place—the CFLR program may be too short-term and nearsighted in its focus to prepare for and adapt to economic, social, and climatic changes upon us. Many of these collaborative efforts remain separate initiatives, only loosely affiliated under the common brand of CFLR. The potential for wheel reinvention is high, but the opportunity for deliberate transformative learning is real as well. The Forest Service has held a few webinars to share lessons learned and discuss monitoring activities, but these are preliminary efforts and much more is needed. There is limited communication between these groups, although they have similar objectives and face similar challenges. For the Forest Service, these groups collectively represent an emerging community of practice and a political constituency, as well as a model of institutional and policy innovation that is adaptive and responsive to challenging and diverse contexts.

In addition to assessing the successes and challenges from a programmatic level, there is a broader need for CFLR projects to exchange information, strategies, and ideas. Social learning in the CFLRPs is the key to remaining adaptive and addressing complexity and uncertainty inherent in natural resource management today, and is the backbone to the collective action and reflection that is needed to improve forest conservation in the Anthropocene. Knowledge transfer and exchange helps collaborative adaptive management move beyond incremental, project-level change to incorporate learning into policy and professional practice. A common theme in the CFLRP is that restoration should be science-based, yet science-based forest ecosystem management remains a construct that few collaborative groups have realized and integrated into the collaborative decision-making process. The opportunity, and the challenge, moving forward will be to use science-based practices to accomplish goals while ensuring collaboration. By striving toward these ends, the CFLRP is a way to bring people together and build a long-term partnership between the Forest Service, communities, and the forests that we all care about.

Patrick Bixler is a Research Fellow with the Pinchot Institute in Washington, DC.

Pinchot Institute for Conservation, 2013. Independent Science Panel Report: Herger-Feinstein Quincy Library Group Forest Recovery Act. http://www.pinchot.org/qlg

Pyne, S. 2012. Fire: Nature and Culture. London, UK: Reaktion Books Ltd.

Sample, V.A. and Bixler, R.P. (eds.). 2014 [forthcoming]. Forest Conservation and Management in the Anthropocene. General Technical Report. Fort Collins, CO: US Department of Agriculture, Forest Service. Rocky Mountain Research Station. [Conference presentations and other information available at: http://www.pinchot.org/2013_forest_conservation_symposium].

Schultz, C., Jedd, T., Beam. 2012. The Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program: A History and Overview of the First Projects. Journal of Forestry, 110 (7): 381-391.

Schwedler, J., McCarthy, L., Murphy, D., and Young, J. 2013. People Restoring America’s Forests: 2012 Report on the Collaborative Forest Landscape Program. Online only at www.nature.org/CFLR.

Vose, J., Peterson, D., and Patel- Weynand, T. (eds). 2012. Effects of Climatic Variability and Change on Forest Ecosytems: A Comprehensive Science Synthesis for the US Forest Sector. General Technical Report PNWGTR- 870. Portland, Oregon: US Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station. 265 pp.
Wilderness and Conservation Strategy in the Anthropocene
Travis Belote, Greg Aplet, Anne Carlson, and Peter McKinley

This September will mark the 50th anniversary of President Johnson signing the Wilderness Act. In its half century, the Act has provided the US Congress authority to establish more than 109 million acres of land “where earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man.” These designated lands form the National Wilderness Preservation System, managed to retain its “primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation.” Management intervention is discouraged, providing conservation science opportunities to study uncontrolled nature, while offering people the chance to recreate in nature with minimal distraction from modern technology. As conservation science has developed, wilderness designation has repeatedly been shown to effectively protect wildlife, clean water, and imperiled species from human impacts.

Recently, however, a host of threats, including climate change, invasive species, and atmospheric pollution have transcended wilderness and park boundaries and now threaten the biodiversity and ecological processes we value in nature. Humans have altered the chemical composition of the global atmosphere, shuffled species around the globe by breaking once impenetrable dispersal barriers, and disrupted fire’s role as nature’s sculptor of landscapes. Given these compounding and synergistic impacts as well as the predicted exacerbating effects of climate change, some conservation scientists have begun to question the appropriateness of wilderness in such a profoundly altered world.

The challenge before us now is that wilderness conservation inherently values nature operating without human control—“untrammeled by man” in the words of the Wilderness Act—but increasingly, many of the things that we value in wilderness are under threat from external forces that bring human impacts well inside the boundary lines of wilderness and other protective reserves drawn on maps.

This situation raises a host of questions. What do we do if protecting nature—or at least nature’s parts —requires intervening to fend off the effects of climate change, invasive species, atmospheric pollution, and decades of fire suppression? Do we value “untrammeled” nature more than we value the diversity of native species and the processes they maintain? Will human-caused climate change impacts be more destructive than management interventions undertaken to assist the maintenance of nature’s parts and processes? Do we have to let go of the idea of wilderness and pursue the control of nature everywhere? Do we have to make a choice?
Some areas within the Hayman Fire may have undergone a "regime shift," transitioning from ponderosa pine to non-woody vegetation

Scientists at The Wilderness Society and elsewhere have been wrestling with these questions concerning the role and relevance of wilderness in the Anthropocene. We are fully aware that these tradeoffs may present themselves as climate regimes shift, exotic species invade, genetic diversity is lost, and chemical compounds are transported and deposited hundreds of miles and across “protected area” boundaries. We are also aware of the many proposals to intervene in wilderness to sustain its ecological character at the expense of untrammeled conditions. In such cases, we believe that management should aim to correct historical damage to ecosystem integrity without long-term intervention. It should leave wilderness better able to sustain its component parts and processes than it would have been without intervention, but it should not seek to hold ecosystems static or to perpetually manage ecological processes.

For example, invasive species management and control in wilderness may be justified if the detrimental impacts to native species and ecosystems are well understood, impacts to wilderness character are severe, and the control measure is likely to be effective in the long run. Temporary interventions or ‘trammeling’ in the form of restoration may be further justified, given the likely expansion of many invasive species under climate change. In every case, though, impacts to wilderness character must be carefully scrutinized and the tradeoffs well understood.

Reversing the human-caused impacts of decades of fire exclusion in wilderness is more philosophically complex. Theoretical ecologists and fire managers alike speculate that we may be outside of the domain where fire can be returned to its natural role in forests without some prior mechanical thinning or highly controlled prescribed fire. This hypothesis suggests that returning fire to forests without first reducing fuels through tree removal would cause fires to burn hotter and bigger resulting in both the loss of large old-growth trees and a homogenous burned landscape lacking the capacity to regenerate a new forest. Ecologists and managers point to the Hayman Fire in Colorado, the Las Conchas Fire in New Mexico, and numerous other large fires of the past decade to support these hypotheses.

Yet there are also newly emerging case studies where the return of lightning-ignited fires burning in wilderness suggests that forests and their relationships with fire have not shifted to some new fragile domain where ecological character is at risk, especially if fires are allowed to burn under less-than-extreme conditions. These examples of ‘latent resilience’ speak to the possibility that fire exclusion has not altered every acre of every once-fire-dependent forest in the West. In some cases, large patches of severe fires are actually needed to sustain important species’ habitats. It is possible that our theoretical predictions and expert knowledge that create conceptual frames to guide policy and management don’t always have everything quite right.

As challenging as they are, invasive species and fire exclusion represent reasonably tractable problems, as their effects are relatively well studied, and intervention may be seen as a onetime, “corrective” action. How, though, should we respond to pressures, like climate change, that are irreversible and whose effects are largely unknown? If we allow nature to respond to changes in climate without intervening, we would maintain the untrammeled nature of wilderness and its role as a barometer against which to judge management elsewhere, but a hands-off approach may in some cases jeopardize the very species and populations we hope to preserve. On the other hand, ecological dynamics under climate change and the appropriate management response to a highly uncertain future make it very unclear exactly what to do.How should managers respond to such uncertainty?
Many areas within the 2003 Little Salmon Creek Fire in the Bob Marshall Wilderness of Montana were resilient to fire

By our analysis, no single approach is capable of addressing all concerns. Instead, a diversity of approaches is necessary. Conservation scientists at The Wilderness Society and elsewhere are increasingly concluding that the soundest course to the future will require a portfolio of wilderness strategies: 
  • Restoration zones in which the landscape is devoted to forestalling change through the process of ecological restoration; 
  • Innovation zones in which the landscape is devoted to innovative management that anticipates climate change and guides ecological change to prepare for it; and, 
  • Observation zones in which the landscapes are left to change on their own time to serve as scientific “controls” and to hedge against the unintended consequences of active management elsewhere.
Uncertainty about how ecosystems and species will respond to co-occurring, interactive, and synergistic impacts of the Anthropocene precludes our ability to know which strategy will best sustain wildland values into the future. All three strategies should be implemented in an experimental portfolio approach that spreads risk among different strategies.

Riparian restoration project also from within the Hayman Fire, where extreme measures were deemed warranted to stabilize a drainage that continued to wash out annually Lands best suited for a “restoration zone” are those whose specified purpose is to sustain existing or historical ecosystems. Non-wilderness national parks, monuments, wildlife refuges, and other lands set aside specifically to sustain scenery, natural and historic objects, and wildlife are especially appropriate for inclusion in this zone. Such lands may have been degraded by past management, such as logging, fire exclusion, overgrazing, or the construction of dams and roads, but can be restored to high ecological integrity through management and maintained through intervention, even if it is “swimming against the tide” of climate change. While the concept of “historical range of variability” as a guiding concept for ecosystem restoration and management is increasingly called into question, the range of conditions that sustained species and ecosystems through the Holocene is the only well-tested model of ecosystem dynamics that has sustained the biodiversity that we hope to conserve into the future.

We acknowledge the possibility that historical conditions may prove an insufficient guide to sustaining some species and ecosystem services in the Anthropocene. An “innovation zone” may therefore be warranted in some lands that have already undergone substantial change or where the future impacts of climate change may severely disrupt the flow of ecosystem goods and services upon which society depends. On these lands, ecosystem services may be sustained by manipulating natural conditions to be more resilient to an altered climate by favoring some species or structures over those that dominated historically; managers may also decide to help facilitate transition to a future state in some areas where regime shifts appear inevitable.

In contrast to the heavy-handed approach of the innovation zone, we propose that “observation zones” will continue to be an important strategy in the Anthropocene. Species and ecosystems in wilderness and other lands in an observation zone would be allowed to change on their own as climate regimes shift. In reality, budget deficits and operational constraints will limit how much land can realistically be treated under restoration or innovation strategies. Observation will be the default strategy on vast areas of the landscape; it only makes sense to allocate that zone thoughtfully and intentionally to maximize its benefits.

In the current discourse over whether wilderness (and other protective designations) is a viable conservation strategy in an era of shifting climate, we tend to hear two poles of distinct perspectives: either “The climate is changing; wilderness no longer makes any sense,” or “The climate is changing; the only adaptive response should be more wilderness.”We believe wisdom lies somewhere in between. More wilderness will be needed to improve connectivity among existing reserves and to expand the benefits wilderness areas provide into the Anthropocene. But, we also believe that wilderness cannot be relied upon as the only adaptation strategy. As we work to wildland reserves, we must also be working to accelerate bona fide ecological restoration and identify interventions that anticipate and prepare nature for changes in climate in those parts of the landscape allocated to innovation.

Whatever we do and however we respond to ongoing changes to nature that define the Anthropocene, a Hippocratic Oath to land management and conservation should be considered: first, do no harm. Bad decisions of the past, conducted with good intentions, have led to some natural resource disasters. We once thought putting out fires, planting soil-stabilizing exotic plants, and eliminating predators were means of protecting nature without much consideration for unintended consequences to ecological communities. The humility of the Hippocratic Oath should always be on our minds.

Despite fifty years of separation in time and the emergence of challenges unforeseen by the authors of the Wilderness Act, The Wilderness Society believes the idea of wilderness to be as relevant today as in 1964. Wilderness has proven itself to be a successful conservation strategy that should not be abandoned, especially given the uncertainty of the future, and wilderness provides an operational scientific control against which to judge the effectiveness of active conservation actions elsewhere. Perhaps most important though, wilderness will remain a practice and statement of humility, an acknowledgement that perhaps we don’t have all the answers—a stance that appears all the more relevant in the face of such an uncertain future.

Travis Belote, Greg Aplet, Anne Carlson, and Peter McKinley are respectively: Research Ecologist, Senior Science Director, Climate Associate, and Climate Adaptation Ecologist with The Wilderness Society.

The Pinchot Institute is proud to celebrate 50 years of conserving America's wilderness

Decision Making Under Uncertainty: Managing Forests and Fire in the Anthropocene
V. Alaric Sample

The future of America’s forests is more uncertain now than at any time since science-based sustainable forest management was established in this country more than a century ago.

The Conservation Movement of the late 19th and early 20th century saw the creation of federally protected public forests, establishment of the basic laws and policies that guide the sustainable management of state, private, and tribal forests, and development of an unrivaled capacity for forest research and science. Our knowledge of forests has never been better, yet an area of forest larger than that of several states stands dead or dying, with millions more acres imperiled not by foreign invasive species, but by native insects and pathogens with which these forests have coexisted for millennia. US wildland firefighting technology and capabilities are widely acknowledged as the best in the world. Yet millions of acres of public and private forests go up in smoke each year, and natural resource agencies warn that fire losses may soon be double what they are today.

What is going on here? What has changed?

What has changed is us. Since the days of the Conservation Movement and Gifford Pinchot’s urgent call to action to protect America’s forests, our population has grown from 76 million people to 325 million. Human habitation and development continues to erode the nation’s forest land at an alarming rate. It presses hard up against the boundaries of public lands, and insinuates itself deep into forests in ways that make wildfires more likely, and more costly and deadly when they occur. Here as in the rest of the world, climate has become more unpredictable, more extreme, and more damaging; and the gathering momentum ensures that this trend will continue for decades to come. The physical infrastructure built to support today’s population has itself become a barrier to migration, seed dissemination, and other strategies that species have relied upon to adapt to changing climate in earlier ages.

The Pinchot Institute recently brought together some of the nation’s most accomplished scientists and conservation leaders to consider the future of America’s forests in the “Anthropocene Era”—the newest geologic epoch, in which Man is acknowledged as the dominant force influencing the Earth’s natural systems. Many of these experts came at the question from the perspective of their particular discipline—biodiversity conservation, water resource protection, or conservation of wildlife and fish habitat. note 1 A few focused on the forests themselves, without which none of these individual resources could be sustained, and offered up a number of valuable, creative approaches to integrating the management of public and privates forests across regional-scale landscapes.

Somewhat surprising was the way wildfire policy and management emerged as the keystone to it all. Experts identified many useful steps to be taken to conserve biodiversity, water, and other resources in the changing world of the Anthropocene. But the current and projected effects of wildfire are so pervasive and its influences so profound that a strategy aimed at protecting any of these important public resources must begin with a more deliberate and more successful strategy for managing wildfire.

In this issue of The Pinchot Letter, we look ahead at what is needed to better understand and direct the course of wildfire in America’s forests, as part of a bigger-picture strategy to prepare for and adapt to economic, social, and climatic changes in the Anthropocene. Renowned historian and prolific author Stephen Pyne puts present-day wildfire policies in historical perspective, highlights lessons learned along the way, and folds these into ideas for how best to shape the future. Greg Aplet and Travis Belote grapple with the difficult question of what the ubiquity of wildfire and other human influences mean for the concept of “wilderness” in the Anthropocene Era. Will future generations be able to experience natural systems “untrammeled by Man,” even in the most remote areas of America’s public lands? Will we be forced to reconsider the fundamental concept of wilderness-not just in terms of federal lands policy, but as a unique touchstone in the American experience and cultural identity?

Massive wildfires and dying forests are often thought of only in the context of federal forests in the West. But as other authors in this issue illustrate, the environmental changes of the Anthropocene Era will affect resources on other lands as well, in every corner of the country. Wildfires and forest mortality from insects and disease will become much larger factors in the predominantly private forests of the South. Iconic American tree species such as the sugar maple, ash, and hemlock are poised to go the way of the chestnut and elm. As Hurricanes Sandy and Irene demonstrated recently, protecting the forested headwaters of rivers and reservoirs will become even more important to buffering the effects of extreme storms, and protecting water supplies for New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Atlanta and hundreds of other cities and communities in the East.

Since the days of Gifford Pinchot and Theodore Roosevelt, we have developed a thorough understanding of the nation’s forests, built upon the solid foundation of decades of science and practice. But scientists and conservation leaders themselves are sounding a warning that what lies ahead is a “no-analogue future” in which neither current science nor past experience can be relied upon to adequately inform decision making, or prepare for secondary and indirect effects that are so unprecedented and so unexpected that no one could have predicted them.

So even in the current budget-constrained environment, meaningful additional public and private investment will be needed to support new science, and to accelerate the application of what we already know—to restoring ecosystems and channeling wildfire on federal forests, and to strengthening the financial underpinning for sustaining private forest lands. This will be a task not just on “all lands” but for all hands—natural resource agencies, legislative policymakers, forestland investors, conservation leaders, and everyone across the country who recognizes the important difference that forests make in our lives and those of future generations.

1 Sample, V.A. and Bixler, R.P. (eds.). 2014 [forthcoming]. Forest Conservation and Management in the Anthropocene. General Technical Report. Fort Collins, CO: US Department of Agriculture, Forest Service. Rocky Mountain Research Station. [Conference presentations and other information available at: http://www.pinchot.org/2013_forest_conservation_ symposium]. (return to article)
Green Fire Meets Red Fire; Environmental History Meets the No-Analogue Anthropocene
Dr. Stephen J. Pyne*

Single lightning bolt strikes the ground in Deschutes National Forest OR Chris Jensen

William Shakespeare famously claimed the past was prologue. Henry Ford replied it was bunk. To the more ardent Anthropocenarians the present has so ruptured from previous times that the past can offer no meaningful guidance. This sentiment can conflate with notions from natural science and philosophy, both of which claim to stand outside human culture and history. Taken together they suggest that we face a no-analogue future for which our only recourse is to reason from first principles and transcendent concepts.

I disagree. While ecology might have some general laws, it is a historical science, and while nature preservation might bid to rise above its social setting, it is a historical moment, an idea whose time and place can come and maybe go. The Anthropocene is a construct that defines itself against what came before. The past has a way of reasserting itself. So even when the past has been char-broiled to ash or slow-cooked to oblivion in greenhouse gases it returns because, in truth, it never truly goes away. Or to bookend Shakespeare with William Faulkner, the past isn’t over, it’s not even past. There is good cause to view the uneasy detente between nature preservation and the Anthropocene historically.

 Tribal members watch the Encebado Fire on Taos Pueblo land in New Mexico Ignacio Peralta As a useful index, consider that we are the keystone species for Earth’s fire. We hold a species monopoly; it’s what we do that no other creature can. Our stewardship of flame makes a unique metric of our ecological agency and of how we have sought to preserve nature. Or to place that observationmore concretely, consider one of the hallowed sites of American environmentalism, the high rimrock on the Apache National Forest where Aldo Leopold shot a she-wolf, watched the “fierce green fire” in her eyes die, and then pondered what it might mean to think like a mountain. In 2011 a megafire boiled out of the Bear Wallow Wilderness and overran that scene, along with 538,000 acres generally, to become the largest forest fire in Arizona history. In that fierce red fire American preservationist thinking met the Anthropocene. 

For a fire historian the idea of the Anthropocene is both easy and awkward to accept.

The easy part is that fire has been used to define the era, which begins when humanity shifted from burning surface biomass to burning fossil fuels. That “shifted” is the awkward part because hominins have been tinkering with fire since Homo erectus. Our pact with fire is our original Faustian bargain. We’ve always burned and so have affected the landscapes around us, and since we have gone everywhere, that pretty much means the landed fraction of Earth (save Antarctica). And in adopting fire we cooked food, and precooked landscapes, in ways that have altered our genome.

Why might this time be different? One reason is scale — the range and burn rate of human-brokered combustion. With industrial fire we’ve extended our reach, if not our grasp, to the atmosphere and oceans, and across deep time.We’re burning landscapes from the geological past and releasing their effluents to the geologic future. Even Antarctic ice is affected. Domestication by fire, and by other less homely means, has so evolved that not only are species being lost but select genomes may be engineered into new expressions, other genomes may be invented, and there are yearnings, by some, to resurrect formerly extinct species. A destabilization of the planet’s genomes may match that of its geographies. The magnitude of this biotic alchemy across the planet may signify a qualitative phase change.

It is not just that a hypothetical “balance of nature” has vanished, but the sense of a natural order that can exist outside of humanity. Our burn rate is stirring natural and anthropogenic combustion into a common cauldron. There may be no autonomous referent against which to measure ourselves; the primary agent for destabilizing Earth is destabilizing itself as well. But the wobbling gets worse. It may apply to the story we tell as well, or our ability to understand and describe these changes.We are both actor and critic. We have met the Other, and it is Us. Our story may turn on itself like a Möbius strip. 
 Burn out operation conducted by UT-ASF-E431 and Cedar City Fuels Crew on the North side of the Kolob Fire near Zion National Park Dirk Huber  Firefighters manage a prescribed fire on the Black Hills National Forest Terry Tompkins
For a historian of the American environment the narrative of nature protection hinges on the presence of a public domain.

Their existence derives from two paradoxes. One is that industrial societies— those most ravenous of natural resources—are also the ones prone to create nature preserves on a significant scale. The other is that a relatively unbridled capitalist society, in the full flush of the Gilded Age, set aside roughly a third of its national estate to shield against the ravages of its own economy. Barring a global pandemic neither event is likely to repeat.

In effect, finding it too difficult to extract public goods out of private lands, the US shifted its environmental commitment to the public domain. Like a shaky banking system that gathers up its debts into a bad bank to free up the good banks to function, so the country created good lands to absorb the duties it was unable to do on bad ones. There are some powerful stories of public action against toxins like DDT, contaminated rivers and shorelines, and befouled air, but the narrative of American environmental exceptionalism hinges on its preserved wildlands. It’s the public lands that require environmental impact statements, that absorb the duties of the Endangered Species Act, that house legal wilderness, and that hold the great epics. Pollutants are a task of national housekeeping, but the wild is romantic, and by being uninhabited in any serious way, it is where grand schemes for restoration, rewilding, or other projects advancing non-anthropocentric goals can be imagined.

Their history begins when they were isolated from the national estate. A couple of wondrous national parks were first, but the bulk of the lands were national forests.Wildlife refuges and national monuments added variety. Not until the Taylor Grazing Act of 1934 was the public domain closed to further private acquisition; at the same time there was some transfer from private to public holdings through purchase and abandonment. The heroic age was about halting the divestment of the public domain and establishing agencies to oversee the reserves. Similarly, the prevailing fire policy was to exclude flame as far as possible and so spare the reserved lands from the abusive burning common outside them.

By the 1960s this era was closing. The coming controversies were over expanding that land base by purchase through the Land and Water Conservation Fund and, especially, over internally segregating the public domain for different purposes. Here was the basis for the great political battles over dams in the national parks, the application of the Wilderness Act (1964), and the use of the Endangered Species Act (1973) to create preserves indirectly. Meanwhile, The Nature Conservancy began its major acquisitions, putting technically private lands to public purpose and in many cases acting as a broker for an ultimate transfer to public status.
 Smoke management at its finest JN Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge FL Paul Ryan  Sheep evacuated from the Seedhouse area on the Hinman Fire Steamboat Springs CO Kari Greer
This sorting out has been an informing narrative for contemporary environmentalism. Every federal agency either received a charter for the first time (like the Bureau of Land Management) or had its charter renewed; even the Forest Service went through a fast march of legislative mandates. The defining quarrels occurred when the private economy tried to penetrate the reserved domain in the form of logging, mining, grazing, and mass-development recreation, and more broadly those quarrels sparked as public lands were redefined from generic multiple use to specific purposes. Outside the public lands there was little effort to accommodate nature protection apart from a handful of states.

Fire policy obligingly shifted from a singular strategy to one that adjusted practice to each category of land use. Agencies sought to restore natural fire to wilderness, shield developed areas from any flame, and reinstate tamed fire elsewhere through prescribed burning. A taxonomy of free-burning fires emerged according to the category of lands burned and the source of ignition, natural or human. Fires were wild, prescribed, management, planned or unplanned, prescribed natural, wildland fire use, or resource benefit — a managerial menagerie with each label carrying its own obligatory protocol. Interagency consortia replaced a once-hegemonic Forest Service.

Now that era seems to be expiring. The population of the country doubled between 1950 and 2000; sprawl has carpet-bombed the countryside with houses, all interbreeding with whatever natural hazards are present; ecological diversity is coming to mean the varieties of suburbs and exurbs and the fragmentation they have wrought. Sprawl, not commodity production, threatens the integrity of the reserves’ borders. But the primary controversies hinge on the internal administration of the public domain, particularly the trend toward ecosystem management.

The public lands appear overrun by an ecological insurgency. They are, by most accounts, a shambles from poor practices in the past, unhealthy biotas, invasive species, beetle and budworm swarms stripping conifer forests on the scale of the Laurentide icesheet, fast-morphing climate, and fires. The founding models— set the lands aside from the ravages of footloose capital and folk migrations—is no longer sufficient. Nor is its replacement: segregate the lands by their relative pristineness. It does little good to set lands apart for special protection if they rot away from the inside.Wildness will survive, wilderness might not.

Now the country is inflecting into another phase. The future will continue to depend on the public domain,much as the country’s infrastructure relies on national networks and federal funding. But the goals of nature protection must lie beyond expanding the federal lands and arranging them by degrees of purity. The future of the protected landbase lies with making sprawl more ecofriendly, with efforts by the states to create protected sites, and with private landowners, among which The Nature Conservancy can claim a niche both unique and large.

Classic preservation is segueing into restoration. Instead of sprawl projecting itself into the wild, smarter landscaping could carry a sense of a natural world into human communities. The future of management on those sites will rely on using national resources as a fulcrum to fashion collaborations and conservation easements, and to leverage lots of small changes into landscape-scale or regional projects. The future will probably look like the Disney Wilderness managed by TNC, the wholesale Everglades restoration program, the Four Forests Restoration Initiative in Arizona, and the New Jersey Pinelands Commission.
 Scars from a previous wildfire in the Bob Marshall Wilderness of MT still remain, while the fire dependent community rebuilds itself, 2008 Terra Fondriest  Eight years after the 1996 Hockderffer Fire on the Coconino National Forest near Flagstaff AZ the forest slowly recovers Bob Blasi
All depend on active administration. That doesn’t mean phalanxes of chain saws and feller bunchers, or the ecological equivalent of broadcast antibiotics that kill the good along with the bad. It means more targeted, better informed interventions. The alternative is that wilderness and parklands may simply be overrun by the Pandora’s box of global change. The old preservationist ideal that nature preserves should remain as sacred groves, untouched so far as possible, is the formula of a faith-based ecology. It can satisfy spiritual yearnings. But symbols need not be big, and preserves may no longer be able to serve as ecological anchor points. Paradoxically, that task may fall to their nominal buffer zones.

A pragmatic protectionism suggests that some ecological engineering is called for to ensure biological goods and services. In the 19th century the state had to halt the wreckage by placing some lands outside the reach of global capital; in the 21st it will have to intervene within those reserved lands to prevent the reach of the Anthropocene. This is a more complicated task. The choices before us are not aligned along a spectrum between the two poles of prometheanism and primitivism but arrayed like a constellation imagined out of the infinite lights of the night sky.

So, once again, fire policy is morphing. The carefully parsed categories have become meaningless when megafires can gallop across landscapes a hundred times the size of the minimum wilderness and burst beyond the borders of the reserves into Colorado Springs and Bastrop County. The effort to substitute prescribed fire for wild fire has worked in the southeast, where a cultural tradition of controlled burning on working landscapes endured, but it has faltered in the West, where the working landscape has shriveled. Instead, agencies are taking an “appropriate strategic response” to every fire. They are scrapping the distinction between natural and human causation. They treat wildland fires as big-box events in which crews back off to defensible barriers and burn out, while offering point protection to assets like houses.

 Rafters make their way through the burning corridor of the Raines Fire on the Salmon River August 3 2007 Vicki Saab The emerging model is a hybrid of government and civil society, much as agencies hybridize natural and anthropogenic fire. The interagency theme has expanded into an inter-governmental one in which all jurisdictions, both public and private, must coordinate under a “national cohesive strategy.” NGOs like the Coalition of Prescribed Fire Councils have arisen to promote fire’s restoration on private lands. TNC now prescribe-burns as much each year as the National Park Service. The critical environs will likely involve both public and private lands; their guiding principle, a new version of the working landscape, one dedicated to ecological benefits. The outcome depends on not just what is done but how and at what scale. As Paracelsus reminded us during the Renaissance, toxicity resides in the dosage, not the substance.

What has changed are not the physical principles of fire behavior or transcendent concepts of naturalness but historical circumstances. The need to reconcile notions into practice means people making choices in a contingent world about which they have incomplete knowledge. Ideas can no more flourish in untrammeled preserves than can fires. This sounds a lot like pragmatism. 

For a historian of human affairs the problem is not that the past offers no analogues but that it holds too many. The hope that the past might serve as a reference baseline or a repository of lessons and techniques is naïve. What history offers is less technical assistance than moral guidance. The core of the Anthropocene is still the human hand guided by mind and heart, and its moral challenge remains, as Faulkner once observed, “the human heart in conflict with itself.”

The fact is, technology can enable but not inform, and science can inform but not choose. Some choices we know have little redeeming social or ecological value, and for a few we already know enough to act on. Some past choices made with the best science of the day have proved wrong, and while science can self-correct over time, the damages done may not. So it is with ideas that suit one era but are maladapted to another. Stick a torch into forest duff today and you are not likely to recreate a presettlement burn but a blowup.

A reading of history can serve the future by sketching the historic ranges of moral variability, as it were. It can illuminate how to cope with uncertainty and ambiguity; by demonstrating how to act— which the future requires— with some degree of prudence and urgency; and by shunning the false dichotomy that either would leave land, air, and sea untouched in the hopes that a Panglossian best of all possible worlds will self-emerge or would demand interventions on the same scale as those by which we’ve unhinged the planet.History’s enduring lessons testify less to techniques than to such virtues as humility, resilience, endurance, courage, tolerance, and the value of pluralism.

Or to return to our fire analogue, we will be caught between two fires, one of industrial combustion that underwrites the Anthropocene and one of free-burning flame that epitomizes untrammeled nature.How they express themselves are not simply telling analogues but trying flames. We must find a way to pass between green fire and red without turning everything black.

Steve Pyne is a Regents’ Professor in the School of Life Sciences at Arizona State University.

This essay will appear in the forthcoming book After Preservation: Saving American Nature in the Age of Humans, eds. Ben A. Minteer and Stephen J. Pyne, published by University of Chicago Press. (return to article)
Changing the Future of US Forests: A Call for Recommitment
V. Alaric Sample

This 50th anniversary has provided an opportunity to commemorate President Kennedy’s dedication of the Pinchot Institute and Grey Towers National Historic Site in 1963, and to celebrate many conservation achievements since then. It is also an opportunity for us to say thanks to all who have made this possible—the US Forest Service and other key partners, our donors and supporters, and our board members past and present. We owe a special thanks to the men and women who have served the Institute as staff professionals, fellows, and university affiliates— scholars, innovators, and activists with a deep personal commitment to conserving forests and helping us meet the environmental sustainability challenges of the future.

Those challenges already confront us, in ways that most citizens and policymakers do not yet realize. Today, America’s public and private forests absorb roughly 15 percent of all US carbon emissions—a significant contribution to our well-being nationally and globally. But according to a recent Forest Service analysis (USDA Forest Service 2012), we are on track to lose this valuable carbon sink, and by 2030 US forests are expected to become a major net source of carbon emissions themselves.

How could this happen to us, one of the most educated and affluent countries in the world? There are two overarching reasons. First, wildfires are continuing to get larger and more destructive, with individual wildfire events putting as much as 5 million metric tons of carbon into the atmosphere. Second, the loss of forests to development steadily reduces their collective ability to absorb carbon, and it is adding up—suburban sprawl costs the country an average of 6,000 acres of open space a day, about a third of which is private forest land.

In the Forest Service analysis, it is clear where this trajectory is leading, but this is a future that doesn’t have to be. Effective changes taken quickly can change the angle of this trajectory, and even small changes in that angle now can result in a very different and more positive longer-term future.

Knowing what to do next is not rocket science. In fact, scientists themselves assert that we already have the necessary scientific knowledge to begin taking timely, effective actions now (Vose et al. 2013). The steps that are needed are not new, but the need is more urgent:

Conserving forest land. Private forestland owners, who collectively manage 60 percent of the nation’s forests, succumb to development pressures largely for financial reasons. Effective, tax-advantaged programs exist to encourage easements and other conservation efforts on private lands, but they are drastically and chronically underfunded. Rising values for carbon offsets, water quality, and wildlife habitat will help make private forests a more valuable asset to their owners—even as a means to more affordable health care (see: www.pinchot.org/gp/FHHHI).

Restoring forests. Reducing wildfire risk is one of the most direct means for controlling carbon emissions from forests. Climate change is making this more urgent, increasing environmental stresses on forests that lead to unnaturally high insect and disease mortality, and extraordinarily large and destructive wildfires. Partnership efforts like the Cooperative Forest Landscape Restoration Program provide a valuable model for how this gets done— 23 projects have restored more than 600,000 acres of National Forest land over the past decade (Schwedler et al. 2013). The Nature Conservancy estimates that more than 120 million acres of federal, state, private and tribal lands are in need of such treatments (TNC 2013). Clearly this will require a major financial investment—but the alternative is to spend far more in the future fighting wildfires on these very same lands, losing more lives, more homes, and more resources in the process.

Forest bioenergy. Wood waste from hazardous fuels treatments, forest health thinnings, and wood products manufacturing will eventually release its carbon into the atmosphere through burning or decay. Capturing the energy values of this biomass, and substituting it for fossil fuels wherever financially feasible, further reduces net carbon emissions. Biomass harvesting guidelines designed to protect soil productivity, water quality, biodiversity and other values have been developed for every region of the US and are now widely used.

Our political leaders will continue to grapple with the formidable economic and fiscal challenges that dominate today’s headlines. But this should still be on the short list of public policy priorities. Wildfires that consume firefighters’ lives, hundreds of homes, and millions of acres of forests are both unsustainable and unacceptable. Loss of forest land to development also adds up to significant losses of essential ecosystem services that forests quietly provide—water resource protection, wildlife habitat, biodiversity— all of which are beginning to show the effects of climate change. For forests, climate mitigation and adaptation are two sides of the same coin. The failure to adequately adapt to the effects of climate change leads to the diminished effectiveness of forests in mitigating climate change at the larger scale—which in turn leads to even greater challenges in adaptation to sustain important ecosystem services and values.

Conserving and sustainably managing America’s forests has never been more important than it is today. The challenges are great, but our collective ability to address them can be impressive too if they are well focused and adequately supported. For the forestry and conservation community, as well as for the Pinchot Institute and its supporters, this is a time of renewal, resolve, and recommitment.

The Nature Conservancy, 2013. Restoring America’s Forests. Accessed at: (http://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/habitats/forests/restori ng-americas-forests.xml)

Schwedler, J., McCarthy, L., Murphy, K., and Young, J. 2013. People Restoring America’s Forests: 2012 Report on the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program. Online only at www.nature.org/CFLR

USDA Forest Service. 2012. Future of America’s Forest and Rangelands: Forest Service 2010 Resources Planning Act Assessment. Gen. Tech. Rep. WO-87. Washington, DC. 198 pp.

Vose, J., Peterson, D., and Patel-Weynand, T. (eds.). 2012. Effects of Climatic Variability and Change on Forest Ecosystems: A Comprehensive Science Synthesis for the US Forest Sector. General Technical Report PNW-GTR-870. Portland, Oregon: US Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station. 265 pp.
Investing in Our Future: Fostering an Environmentally Literate and Engaged Society
Leila Pinchot

Leila Pinchot and helpers plant American Chestnut Tree Watching a child develop an emotional connection with nature fulfills and rewards those who invest their time in sharing their knowledge of and passion for the outdoors. For instance, the moment when a teenager becomes so entranced by the delicate movements of a marbled orb-weaver spider that she forgets to complete the text message she was writing. Or seeing a student accidentally uncover a northern red salamander in the duff and yell for her classmate to come over and watch it. Fostering these types of experiences, in which children understand that they are a part of something profound, something intricate, and something requiring care, is one of the most effective conservation strategies we can promote. The research is clear: kids who spend time in nature tend to grow up to become adults who want to protect that nature i. Unfortunately, research also shows that kids are spending less and less time outdoors, leading to what Richard Louv so appropriately calls “nature deficit disorder,” yielding an American population increasingly disconnected from nature ii.

An obvious way to increasingly expose youth to nature is by incorporating environmental education into school curricula. This goal is of course faced with the constraints of national and state academic standards, of limited classroom hours and limitless instructional desires.While youth culture turns away dramatically from nature and the outdoors, increasingly rigorous academic standards leave teachers little room for flexibility in their classes, leading to a dearth of classroom time spent on ecology and the environment. Academic standards are intended to ensure that all students are taught specific facts, concepts, and skills that state departments of education decide are appropriate. While well-meaning, the standards arguably have become unwieldy—too much is required in already overly-packed class schedules. This means some subjects undoubtedly get left out, and unfortunately, ecology and environmental sciences are often dropped in favor of harder sciences, such as physics, chemistry, and molecular and cellular biology, which are represented more heavily in standardized tests.

This dilemma caught the attention of an unlikely source: Michael Rains, Director of both the US Forest Service’s Northern Research Station and the US Forest Service Forest Products Laboratory. In a strategic brief on environmental literacy (USFS and Pinchot Institute for Conservation, 2013) Rains states:

“It is not uncommon for the majority of students to graduate from high school with little or no instruction about the importance of conservation or how sound land stewardship plays a role in the health and sustainability of our natural resources. Accordingly, there should be little mystery that our citizenry that forms our society is less than informed about the role of environmental health on people’s lives.”

Plummeting environmental literacy among our nation’s youth so concerned Rains that he decided to pursue a Masters in Secondary Education, spending nights and weekends taking classes, and teaching 9th Grade Earth and Space Sciences at Marple Newtown High School as part of his student teacher experience. Since then, Michael has helped develop several environmental literacy initiatives with Forest Service partners and is working with the Pinchot Institute to develop an in-depth teacher training program to help teachers acquire the knowledge and skills they need to incorporate ecology and environmental science into their tight teaching schedules. The Pinchot Institute hopes to offer this program to high school science teachers at Grey Towers National Historic Site during the 2014/2015 school year.

Leila Pinchot The new teacher training program will once again give teachers the opportunity to learn from our nation’s leading forest scientists at the home of the American conservation movement. Forest Service research scientists will lead teachers through hands-on ecological field activities that introduce them to their local ecosystems— challenges facing them and methods for addressing these challenges. Specialists will help teachers incorporate their newly acquired knowledge and skills into their curricula. Finally, the course will take a place-based pedagogical approach, in which understanding of place and its interconnections— ecology, culture, social dynamics, and politics—are key. Conservation is fundamentally connected with many aspects of our society; learning about these connections is vital for understanding how to effectively implement conservation policies and programs.

While developing this teacher training program, we have started to offer hands-on forest ecology research experiences for high school students, with a particular focus on urban youth, who historically have been underrepresented in environmental education programs. These experiences are designed to get kids out into the woods and involved in ecological monitoring to help them understand conservation issues first hand. Learning that Pennsylvania’s forests are suffering from an overpopulated deer herd in a high school science class may (or may not) resonate with kids who grew up spending weekends and summers outside. But for city kids who have not spent much time in the woods, this is an abstract concept with little direct relevance to their daily lives. Giving students the opportunity to explore and investigate ecological issues for themselves in a living laboratory allows them to poke and prod and ask questions, which leads to making connections. This is the fundamental essence of learning.

On a recent trip to the Milford Experimental Forest, a group of high school students from a Philadelphia Zoo mentorship program (Zoo CREW iii) partook in two activities: in the first, the students estimated the local deer density based on deer pellet counts; in the second, students compared oak seedling regeneration inside and outside of a deer fence. The students themselves developed an understanding that the deer density was above the carrying capacity of the local ecosystem, and they also saw the direct ecological consequences of this imbalance. A lively discussion of ways to address this problem ensued, which included the political and cultural roadblocks to reducing the deer density. It was inspiring to witness the students putting the pieces together—the science, the politics, the ethical questions—and come out of the activity eager to help, as opposed to discouraged and dispirited. Pinchot Institute Research Assistant and former city-girl Nalat Phanit described the essence of the experience: “By the end of the day, the students had walked on fallen logs, hopped through the fern thicket, used both hands to dig the ground, smelled sassafras, and attempted to whistle through an acorn cap. This will leave a lasting impression on the students into their adulthood and will lead them on the path to becoming environmental stewards.”

Not every one of those students will become a forest scientist or conservation biologist, but that is a good thing.We need lawyers who can identify bird calls, small business owners who understand the connection between forests and water, construction workers who know why young forests are important, and township supervisors interested in the ecological implications of climate change. We need a public that understands the importance and complexity of conservation; in essence, we need an environmentally literate citizenry.

Leila Pinchot is a Research Fellow with the Pinchot Institute in Milford, PA. In January 2014 she will start a position as a restoration ecologist for the USDA Forest Service Northern Research Station in Delaware, OH.

i Chawla, Louise. 1999. Life paths into effective environmental action. The Journal of Environmental Education: 31(1), pp. 15–26.

Coyle, Kevin. 2007. Environmental Literacy in America: What ten years of NNETF and Roper Research say about environmental literacy in the US. The National Environmental Education and Training Foundation, Washington, D.C. 128 pgs.

Wells, Nancy M. and Kristi S. Lekies. (2006). “Nature and the Life Course: Pathways from Childhood Nature Experiences to Adult Environmentalism.” Children, Youth and Environments 16(1): 1–24. Retrieved [October 1, 2013] from http://www.colorado.edu/journals/cye/

ii Louv, Richard. 2008. Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder. Algonquin Books, Chapel Hill, NC. 390 pgs.

iii See http://www.philadelphiazoo.org/ Get-Involved/Volunteer/Zoo-CREW.aspx
The Pinchot Institute: Building on the Conservation Legacy of Gifford Pinchot
Nels Johnson

Nels Johnson Fifty years is a rare event in the life of a non-profit organization. Most non-profits don’t survive that long and few of those that do remain as vibrant and unique as the Pinchot Institute.

Let me give you a sense of how the Pinchot Institute has a made a difference and why it will be even more important during the next fifty years. I’m going to highlight four distinguishing characteristics of Gifford Pinchot and how that legacy lives on in the work of the Pinchot Institute.

First, Innovate.
Gifford Pinchot was the first forester, established the first forestry school and became the first chief of the US Forest Service. The title of Pinchot’s book, Breaking New Ground, signaled the value Gifford Pinchot attached to being a pioneer.

The Forest Health-Human Health Initiative has received numerous accolades as one of the most creative approaches yet developed to address a multitude of conservation challenges. Our findings that rising health care costs are one of the prime factors forcing private woodland owners to sell their land for development has led to a number of emerging partnerships involving conservation organizations, family woodland owners, and a health care industry seeking new ways to reduce their “carbon footprint.”

Over the past five years, the Pinchot Institute has been developing a pilot project in western Oregon to test the feasibility of this concept, and to develop all of the mechanisms needed to create a program that eventually can be scaled up and applied in other locations across the country. This has involved a number of steps, from developing a process for measuring the amount of carbon saved by conserving and sustainably managing a tract of forest land, to translating the value of that carbon to payments for health care. In 2013, the Pinchot Institute formalized a partnership with PacificSource to issue debit cards to forest landowners to facilitate this process. Known as “ATreeM” cards, these debit cards are “refilled” by health care partners based on the value of the carbon credits they are buying, and then used by the landowner to pay for a variety of health care services. In August 2013, the federal government approved the use of such pre-paid cards for payment of health insurance costs under the Affordable Care Act.

Second, Convene.
Gifford Pinchot valued bringing people together to solve problems. Physical evidence of this can be seen at the Finger Bowl just up the hill where Gifford and his family invited guests to debate and discuss solutions to the country’s conservation and social problems.

Catalyzed by the Pinchot Institute, Common Waters brings public agencies, non-profits, and businesses together to implement collaborative projects to protect headwater forests and floodplains in the Upper Delaware. The partnership provides technical services to land owners and local officials and has funded projects on nearly 40,000 acres at priority sites in Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey. The Common Waters Fund, with nearly $2 million secured by the Pinchot Institute from the US Endowment for Forests and Communities and the USDA NRCS Innovation Grants Program has shown that there is a strong appetite among landowners to implement projects on their properties to safeguard and improve watershed conditions in the Upper Delaware.

Third, Community.
For Pinchot, conservation was important not merely to save forests from destruction but as a tool to advance democracy and improve people’s lives.

EcoMadera. Since 2002 PIC has worked with communities in northwestern Ecuador to implement sustainable forest management practices, develop markets for sustainably produced wood products, and improve social services. Forest harvesting and conversion rates have fallen sharply and community incomes have grown steadily. As a result, the EcoMadera project area retains the last healthy Pacific coastal plain forest in Ecuador. The EcoMadera community forestry enterprise is now the largest employer in the Rio Canandé watershed, with 55 community foresters, wood workers, and administrators, most of whomwere formerly working in illegal logging and clearing the forest for agriculture. EcoMadera is managing balsa tree plantations and produces 125,000 board feet per month of balsa wood laminates, which are sold internationally for the construction of wind turbine blades. This year, three female community employees took over key leadership roles in the business as factory manager and head of wood grading and kiln drying. Under their leadership the business has made dramatic increases in efficiency and product quality, a testament to the evolution of the community enterprise despite the local male-dominated culture.

Fourth, Anticipating the Future.
Gifford Pinchot was a visionary who imagined the future of forests and what their demise or conservation would mean for the American public. The institutions he helped build were designed to take the long view.

Forests in the Anthropocene Workshop. In conjunction with the 50th Anniversary commemoration, the Pinchot Institute hosted the Forests in the Anthropocene Workshop inWashington on September 17 and 18. This event attracted over 100 policymakers, researchers, and practitioners to explore the range of effects that climate change is expected to have on US forests and strategies that can be used to reduce climate impacts. More than 30 background papers summarized the scientific understandings of projected effects of climate change, describing resource management adaptation strategies, and identifying opportunities to evolve the existing institutional and policy frameworks to support climate adaptation implementation on both private and public forest lands. The final papers will be published by the USFS Rocky Mountain Research Station as a General Technical Report by May, 2014.

Those who were here would be proud of what was set in motion 50 years ago.

The Grey Towers National Historic Site, administered by the US Forest Service, has become a world class center for conservation leadership training and public education.

The Pinchot Institute plays a unique and indispensable role researching emerging conservation problems and testing innovative policy and management solutions.

The Grey Towers Heritage Association maintains a lively schedule of tours, educational experiences, and cultural events to ensure that all visitors leave with a greater understanding of Grey Towers, the Pinchot Family, and the history of conservation in America.

The challenges facing conservation are different, and in some ways more daunting, than they were fifty years ago. The Pinchot Institute and Grey Towers—if anything—will be more important for advancing forest conservation in the next half century than they were in the last.

Thanks to all of you who have supported the Pinchot Institute for Conservation in one way or another in the past and those of you who will do so in the future.

Nels Johnson is the Deputy State Director of The Nature Conservancy Pennsylvania Chapter and Chair of the Pinchot Institute Board of Directors.
Conserving Pennsylvania’s Public Lands for Recreation, Jobs, and Natural Beauty
Ellen Ferretti

Ellen Ferretti On behalf of Governor Tom Corbett, thank you for having me here today to speak on behalf of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. Fifty years ago, President Kennedy’s first sentences at the launching of the Pinchot Institute were...“I begin today a journey to save America’s natural heritage—a journey to preserve the past and protect the future. And there is no more fitting place to begin that journey than the home of America’s foremost conservation family—the Pinchots.”

The opportunity to speak here today comes at an important time for me as I too am beginning a journey. Just yesterday, I was nominated by Governor Corbett to be the 5th secretary of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. An absolute honor and one which I accept with gratitude. So this is a time of great reflection for me about the tremendous conservation leaders we have had here in Pennsylvania whose work spearheaded stewardship of public lands—including Gifford Pinchot at the very top of the list—but also Joseph Rothrock, Rachel Carson, and many others.

When my daughter and I visited the Muir Woods California Redwoods, I was first struck by the grandeur of the place and a feeling of timelessness and something so real and essential that words failed me. Then I saw the plaque explaining that this land was conserved by one of Pennsylvania’s own—Gifford Pinchot, along with John Muir and President Teddy Roosevelt. For me as a Pennsylvanian and resident of Northeast Pennsylvania, specifically, the sense of pride struck me on a personal level.

As a lifelong conservation professional, I feel the weight of this exciting opportunity, but am buoyed by a strong feeling that conservation is an issue that unites us as Pennsylvanians and Americans. We are standing on hallowed ground for those of us whose daily work involves land conservation, oversight of public lands and sustainable forestry practices.

Pinchot said, “Conservation is a foresighted utilization, preservation and/or renewal of forest, waters, lands and minerals, for the greatest good of the greatest number for the longest time.” Now just as then, we embrace the notion that conservation benefits Pennsylvania’s economy, health, and quality of life. That protecting our environment can go hand-in-hand with a strong economy.

Each day the work of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources is a testimony to the economic benefits of sound and sustainable conservation. Our efforts to sustainably enhance our state parks, invest in communities, support local conservation efforts, protect special lands and extract resources from our state forests create jobs, improve local business climates, increase tourismand contribute significantly to the state’s economic prosperity.

Our certified well-managed forest system supports more than 100,000 jobs in the state’s multi-billion dollar timber and energy industries. They also promote clean water and air; conserve scenic beauty and habitat; and act as a haven for those who like to hunt, fish, hike and pursue other outdoor activities. Studies show trails provide visitors unique experiences and result in millions of dollars to related businesses in the towns that border them.

Investments made in local parks and places to play outdoors are proven in their power to build a sustainable economy for Pennsylvania. Our support of regional approaches to conservation empowers citizens, local governments and organizations to take private action on behalf of the communities and landscapes they love.

The idea behind the creation of the Pinchot Institute to encourage studies in environmental and natural resource policy and provide environmental education rings true tome as I embark on my new leadership role. The future of conservation and the next generation of conservationists depend on what we do today. The vision of great conservation leaders at critical times in Pennsylvania’s history—Gifford Pinchot, Joseph Rothrock, Maurice Goddard—has resulted in the system of state parks and forests that Pennsylvanians enjoy and love today.

Our modern challenge is caring for our public lands, focusing on improvements for aging facilities; well-managed forests; and high management standards for our award-winning state parks. During my time at DCNR, I intend to work with Governor Corbett to improve the efficiency of our current assets and operations, and direct our resources into the maintenance and renewal of our campgrounds, water resources, buildings, roads and trails that will maintain and improve the experience of our visitors. I think this endeavor builds on Gifford Pinchot’s practical approach to conservation. Pennsylvania’s rich conservation legacy emerged from lessons learned during past eras of natural resource development.

Children hiking courtesy PA DCNR Conservation action oriented toward protecting wild places and producing a sustainable supply of resources for people, is a complementary approach undertaken by DCNR each day. This isn’t as easy as it sounds. But, our state forest has been independently certified for more than 15 years, validating that we are managing in a way that protects its long-term health. This certification allows removed timber to be sold as sustainably harvested, giving an edge to our timber and wood product industries and sustaining them even when there is a down turn in the industry. Our certification is testimony to DCNR’s ability to manage our forests balancing their many uses and values. The department is happy to support and work with the Milford Experimental Forest adjacent to the Grey Towers property to constantly challenge our processes.

On September 24th in 1963, on just about this very same spot, President Kennedy said “Conservation is the job of all of us.” I was six years old at the time. I lived in an area that had been stripped from coal mining. “Nature” to me was black hills and birch trees, until my parents brought me to the natural beauty held in trust by our state parks. As a child, this resonated with me and forged my future love for conservation.

I believe that young people visiting our state parks and forests with their families, their scout troops, their schools, and participating in the unique programs we offer including Adventure Camps for kids from urban areas; ECO Camp to introduce teens to environmental careers; and our newly launched Project Learning Tree, will come to know and love our natural resources and be advocates for their stewardship.

DCNR’s recent commitment to work with the Pinchot Institute and the US Forest Service on a program to help teachers meet requirements for incorporating environmental literacy into public school science programs will help us with this goal.

Finally, collaboration and leadership on the big challenges is at the core of the Pinchot Institute. I believe the skill of listening to people and working together is critical for a leader, and I know this belief is embraced by DCNR and the Institute. At DCNR, we have tremendous staff with outstanding dedication to the mission of the organization. We also have terrific partners, many present here today.

We place great value on organizations like the Pinchot Institute and the US Forest Service as enduring partners in Pennsylvania, helping us to address the conservation challenges that will affect communities and people throughout the Commonwealth for many years to come.

I look forward to working with you, and many other faces that I see here today, to ensure a better Pennsylvania and Nation for future generations.

Ellen Ferretti is Acting Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources in Harrisburg, PA.
2012-2013 Pinchot Institute Supporters
The Pinchot Institute thanks the following supporters for their generosity since October 2012 (click to enlarge):
Pinchot Institute Supporters 2012-2013

Pinchot Institute Supporters 2012-2013

Pinchot Legacy Celebration at Grey Towers
Photos from the Pinchot Legacy Celebration 50th anniversary of the dedication of the Pinchot Institute and Grey Towers National Historic Site (click to enlarge):

Pinchot Legacy Celebration

Pinchot Legacy Celebration2

The Enduring Value of the Pinchot Institute–US Forest Service Partnership
Tom Tidwell

Tom Tidwell The Pinchot Institute was dedicated at a pivotal time for natural resource conservation in America. The 1960s were a time of great ferment in the conservation community. The National Forests were furnishing great quantities of timber to build homes and communities following World War II. At the same time, growing numbers of Americans were discovering the wonderful opportunities for outdoor recreation on the National Forest System. They were also reading Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac and Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, and concerns were rising about habitat loss for fish and wildlife.

To balance competing uses, Congress passed the Multiple Use- Sustained Yield Act and a range of other environmental laws in the 1960s and 70s. At the time, the emerging trends and their policy implications were anything but clear. In response, the Forest Service turned to the Pinchot Institute for help.Over the years, the Institute has helped us at key points in the policy cycle— recognizing emerging issues, formulating and analyzing sustainable natural resource policy options, and evaluating the results of our decisions.

One example is a nationwide study that has demonstrated that public forest lands can be managed under internationally recognized standards of sustainable forestry. Certification has brought about improvements in forest management practices and increased society’s confidence in and support for public forest management.

Other studies have demonstrated that fire risks in federal forests can be significantly reduced by changing policies governing how federal agencies contract with local businesses for land management services. With the cooperation of public and private organizations and community leaders in more than six dozen pilot projects, these studies have shown that stewardship contracting can become an important tool for restoring the health and resilience of forest ecosystems, as well as supporting economic development in nearby communities.

New studies now underway will help answer other critical conservation questions: Can voluntary private investments by downstream communities and businesses support the conservation of private forest lands in the headwaters of key river systems such as the Delaware? Can we ensure that the increasing use of wood for renewable energy is environmentally sustainable in the long run? How will the accelerating effects of climate change on forests force us to come up with new strategies for protecting wildlife habitat, water resources, and biodiversity?

This very event illustrates the ongoing value of the Pinchot Institute. The Institute is dedicated to bringing together people and organizations representing a variety of perspectives. Here at Grey Towers, we have come together in an atmosphere of mutual understanding and respect to explore the challenges to forest conservation in the era of the Anthropocene.

For five decades, the Pinchot Institute has embraced the same mission: promoting rational civil dialogue and supporting policy-relevant research and education in conservation. As we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Pinchot Institute, it is only fitting to salute the Institute for rededicating itself to this positive and inclusive ideal—for preparing to meet the conservation challenges ahead with both optimism and renewed resolve.

Tom Tidwell is Chief of the USDA Forest Service in Washington, DC.
Grey Towers: The Heart of the Modern Conservation Movement
Peter Pinchot

Peter PinchotToday, I want to talk about the evolution of the ideas and the practice of conservation in this country and how they played out at Grey Towers. I’m a sixth generation Milford person. My family came in the early 1800’s. My great-great grandfather set up a dry goods shop in Milford. He made his living partly in dry goods and partly by buying up land, cutting down the forest, and floating the logs down the Delaware River to markets in Philadelphia. Then the denuded landscape was sold to farmers, who generally found that the soils in Pike County were not too good. So, the Pinchots got our start here in Milford by being part of the great wave of deforestation that was sweeping across the United States. We were as guilty as everyone else in the United States who was cutting down trees for profit then. But once the forest was gone, my great-grandfather, James Pinchot, who later built Grey Towers, found that there wasn’t a lot of opportunity in Milford. So James, instead of becoming a farmer in Milford, went to New York and became a businessman, making his money in wallpaper. But he wasn’t just a businessman.

Soon after he arrived in New York, James started collecting Hudson River paintings. He also got involved with the American Forestry Association, and he became very interested in the whole idea of the restoration of nature. James traveled to Europe and encountered European forestry, which had been going on for centuries. There, he saw that sustainable management of forests was an integral part of the economic welfare of communities. This really struck a chord with him because of how Pike County had declined without its forests. James advised his son, Gifford, to go into forestry. At that point in time, around 1880, there were no American foresters. There was a preservation movement in the United States which recognized that you have to pull some forests out of the way of exploitation, but there was no such thing as managing a forest for the future. So James said to Gifford, “Go learn from Europe and come back here and apply these ideas in the United States because this is a fertile ground. You will have a wonderful career. There is huge opportunity here.”

And that’s what Gifford did. He came back in the 1890’s to a loss of forest that dwarfed what had happened a generation earlier in Pike County. Now deforestation was pushing across the United States. Wherever the railroads went, the forest was disappearing. Gifford got engaged in the whole national issue of how we were going to protect those forests. He studied the forest, toured his country, and ended up working in the Division of Forestry which later became the US Forest Service.

The political challenge at that time was to pull a huge amount of forest in the United States out of the pathway of exploitation. How do you do that? The whole social contract with the United States at that time was to get your plot of land and do what you wanted with it. It was a tremendous social change he had to come up with. He and Teddy Roosevelt and a bunch of other people in the early stages of the Forest Service had to come up with a political equation that would allow them to get permission to hold that land out of the public domain and to establish the National Forests.

The basic idea that they came up with was that conservation had to have three real components. The first one is surprising to anyone of us who thinks conservation is preservation. The first idea of conservation is that you develop the resource for the benefit of the current generation. The second idea of conservation is the preservation of the resources for the benefit of all the future generations, so they will have the same opportunities to develop the resources as the current generation. The third part is the social part—that you develop those resources not just for the benefit of the big corporations and the rich, but for the benefit of everybody in the country. This was the constituGrey Towersency whose support Gifford needed to put this big idea of conservation in place. He had to develop a system of thinking and communicating to allow people from all sides of the issue to recognize there was something in conservation for everyone.

Now that seems rational to us, right? But we all know that the rational thing doesn’t necessarily happen. It takes a fight to get everyone on board. It took his fight for conservation to achieve a win-win solution. He brought together as many stakeholders as he could, but he still had to go to the mat in order to build the public lands system, and this is what he did. He created a big tent philosophy that embraced businessmen and smalltime sheep grazers, preservationists like John Muir and large lumbermen, an almost impossible political combination. Part of his genius was his ability to balance activism and big tent stakeholder inclusion. He was an institution builder. His great contribution was to be the architect of the modern conservation movement.

I want to come back to Milford now and talk about the significance of the building up there? What is Grey Towers all about? What’s so special about it? What should we do with it? James Pinchot finished building the mansion in 1886 just as Gifford was going off to study forestry. Later, while Gifford was working in forestry with the federal government, there were no foresters to hire in this country to man up the agency. So, James and Gifford decided to start the Yale School of Forestry, which they endowed in 1901. In the summers, the young foresters would come up to the Pinchot property and spend 12weeks learning how to identify trees, and acquiring all the practical skills you need in field forestry. This Pinchot landscape has a deep history because the people who came out of that Yale program became the leaders of the Forest Service. They also became the leaders of the forest product industry. They were leaders throughout the whole realm of forestry.

The other thing that James and Gifford did at Grey Towers was to establish the Milford Experimental Forest in 1902, which was one of the first experimental forests in the United States. We don’t have a lot of records on that forest, which was run by the Yale Forestry students, but they were doing different kinds of research on second growth forest and on silvaculture, and creating lots of plantations. This is the sort of forestry landscape that we can still see here today. Gifford spent lots of time at Grey Towers with his associates talking about the big ideas of conservation. It was one of the seminal places where the whole concept of conservation originated.

Grey Towers: The Origins
Gifford died in 1946. I was born four months earlier. We only spent four months together so I don’t remember him very well. I have to study him just like everybody else here. But I do remember my grandma very well, and she died in 1961. That started a conversation in our family, and my father said to his children, “What are we going to do with this piece of property? This is way too fancy. We can’t afford it. Do you want to own this in the future?” And we said, “No, Dad, we definitely don’t want to own this building.” Then he started talking both to the Forest Service and to conservation organizations, trying to figure out what to do with Grey Towers. What evolved out of that was the notion of setting up a conservation institute that would be a public/private partnership between the Forest Service and a New York conservation group called The Conservation Foundation. Two years later, in September of 1963, after a two year conversation between the Forest Service and other conservationists, a board of prominent national conservationists came into being to run a new institution called the Pinchot Institute for Conservation. This was the organization and the building that President Kennedy came to and dedicated in 1963.

I don’t know how many of you have seen the films of the dedication, but President Kennedy set a very high bar for what was supposed to happen here. Basically, he was saying we have this whole emerging set of environmental problems which Rachel Carson and others had made public and broadly disseminated. He said that we needed these kinds of institutes in different parts of the country that can bring people together to address how we are going to solve these problems, because these are difficult problems. These are problems that are going to take a lot of creativity. And we need institutions that can bring people together to do that. That was the original conception of Grey Towers.

For the first five years, this public-private institution focused on national environmental education. That partnership disintegrated because we didn’t know how to run public-private partnerships. The Forest Service and nonprofits have gotten a whole lot better at doing partnerships now than they were in 1963. There was a period where the Forest Service was the sole manager of the site, and they used it for internal policy analysis. Even though there were some really good people here, they were not using Grey Towers in any sense as a convening center.

In 1989, we were in a planning session retreat when a guy named Ed Brannon came in to be part of the planning process, and he said, “I know what we want to do at Grey Towers. We want to make Grey Towers the center of conservation leadership training for the Forest Service,” and we said, “Wow, there’s an idea that’s substantive.” So the Forest Service hired him. Ed started the process of getting serious with the restoration plan, and he also built up the leadership training program with the Forest Service, so that almost every forest district ranger supervisor and regional forester came through Grey Towers at one time or another. What Ed did was so remarkable. He understood that Grey Towers is a transformative space and that if you come into this building and you’re thinking of big issues and you’re thinking about your role in conservation, being in that building steeps you in the deep history of the conservation moment, and it changes people. I’ve seen many, many transforming experiences in the people who have come through Grey Towers. It is a brilliant and important piece of how Grey Towers should be used.

The Pinchot Institute at Grey Towers
Pinchot Institute dedication plaqueIn the late 80’s, early 90’s, the Forest Service began to shift from timber management to ecosystem management, and there was a huge crisis in leadership and management of the forests. The public surrounding the National Forests had turned against the Forest Service. It was a very difficult period, and the Pinchot Institute stepped into that space and did several things that made a big difference. One, they worked on collaborative leadership, working with the forest supervisors to teach them how to bring people into the planning process. The Forest Service was doing this on its own, too. The Pinchot Institute didn’t do it all, but they had a significant role in it. Second, they helped the Forest Service develop a method to reach out into the communities and employ them in managing the forest after they were no longer working on timber sales. These two things are really what launched the Pinchot Institute as a significant policy institute that could make a difference.

We have since continued to evolve towards many different kinds of programs whose fundamental nature is developing new models of conservation that apply the Gifford Pinchot model of inclusion. We stick mostly to the conservation side and not on the activist fight side. We like to bring everyone under the tent and discover solutions that work for the business community, work for nature, and work for the people in the communities.

The Forest Service at Grey Towers has seen its own evolution, especially the historic restoration that was completed in 2001. I have to tell you that the level of historic restoration that happened at Grey Towers is like nothing you have seen in another building. It was phenomenal, but that is the least of it. The fundamental problem before the restoration was that Grey Towers was not usable as a conference retreat. The historic restoration turned Grey Towers into a wonderful conservation retreat, inviting the exact kind of conversation my father had wanted. In 2004, Grey Towers was designated as a National Historic Site, which included our Pinchot family land as well as Grey Towers. As a result, we could start thinking about and reconstructing the landscape that James Pinchot had originally created, and interpreting conservation not only in this building but also in the forest. In 2001, our family also reestablished the Milford Experimental Forest, begun by James in 1901. So as a family, we are partnering with Grey Towers in a substantive way.

Over the last seven or eight years, as the Pinchot Institute has focused more on local issues in this region, we are finally seeing the pieces—the Forest Service, the Pinchot Institute, and the Pinchot family—being put back together again. With the founding of the Grey Towers Heritage Association and the arrival of Allison Stewart, there has been a process of real strengthening and reconciliation between the family, the Pinchot Institute and Grey Towers. We are now fully back on the same page, working on the Milford Experimental Forest, on conservation education, and a host of new programs.

There is more to do. We have this incredible facility. We know it transforms people when they come and use it. We are doing that with the Forest Service. We need to take this beyond the Forest Service. We need be to convening meetings around today’s major issues—clean water, our warming climate, biodiversity loss—and looking for a common language where people can talk about things they disagree about. That would allow us to move forward on some of these major issues, particularly the issue of climate change, which is very contentious right now. Grey Towers is a place where people can find common ground, and find the win-win solution. That’s the kind of conversations that took place when Gifford and James lived at Grey Towers, and it’s the kind of conversations we need to have again.

Peter Pinchot is a senior fellow with the Pinchot Institute and director of the EcoMadera community forestry initiative in Ecuador.
Embracing Gifford Pinchot’s “Practical Idealism”
Robert Bonnie

Good afternoon! It’s a pleasure to be here today to help rededicate the Pinchot Institute for Conservation and Grey Towers National Historic Site.

Today, we come to honor Gifford Pinchot, the Pinchot family, and the legacy and the gifts that the family gave to all of us through Grey Towers and the Pinchot Institute for Conservation Studies. All of us here today are united in the cause of forest conservation and in the understanding that the work we do today to advance that cause flows directly from the work of such farsighted leaders as Pinchot, founder of the USDA Forest Service and the first Forest Service Chief.

Challenges Ahead
We face different challenges in conservation today than the rapid and expansive deforestation and development Gifford Pinchot confronted. Indeed, America’s forests are again at risk. And, while the challenges have changed, addressing them will require all of us to embrace Pinchot’s “practical idealism.”

Robert Bonnie Earlier this year, the Forest Service published the Resources Planning Act assessment, which the agency prepares every decade in order to examine future trends for forests, rangeland, and other natural resources. The RPA points to two large drivers of change in our forests: climate change and population growth.

Since Pinchot’s day, forest lands across the US have rebounded, as agriculture has given way to forests in many regions and landowners have invested in reforestation, driven in part by the rewards of robust markets for wood. The regrowth of forests has furnished many public goods to Americans, such as clean water, open space, and wildlife habitat. Likewise, forest regrowth has reduced atmospheric greenhouse gases, with forests sequestering around 14 percent of this country’s annual greenhouse gas emissions.

But, today, urbanization and fragmentation are taking back the gains we made over the last century. World population is expected to reach 9 billion by 2050. Our own population in the United States is expected to reach almost 400 million by the middle of the century, meaning growing demand for resources and for urban living space. By 2060, the Forest Service projects losses of about 21 million acres of forests to developed uses in the South alone. That’s an area the size of Maine. Rangeland losses in the Rocky Mountains could be up to 4.4 million acres, an area three times the size of Delaware. By 2030, we also expect to see housing density growth on about 57 million acres of rural forest land, an area larger than all of New England.

In addition to the impacts on water and wildlife, this forest loss, combined with growing impact of disturbances such as fire and pests, could slowly turn our forests from a huge carbon sink into a potential carbon source in the coming decades.

What we do with our forests not only affects the climate, but of course climate change is already having an enormous effect on our forests. Fire seasons are now 60–80 days longer than just a few decades ago, and annual acreages burned have approximately doubled since the 1970s. The Forest Service projects the amount burned may double again by midcentury. Climate change of course isn’t the only driver of fire. Decades of fire suppression and the consequent growth in fuels in our forests have made our fire challenge much, much greater. And, the growth of housing into our forests, particularly in dry forest types in theWest, has put people and property at greater risk and has made fighting fires more treacherous and more expensive.

For decades, fire suppression— that is putting out every fire in the forest—was a bedrock value of forestry and the Forest Service. And, of course, Pinchot played an important role in this, seeing wildland firefighting as a valuable role and indeed perhaps a key rationale for the existence of the fledgling Forest Service in the early 1900s. Of course, science over the last century has changed our view of wildfire. Today, we recognize that fire can be a regenerative force and that many forests depend on frequent fire. We actually need more fires in the woods, but we just need a different type of fire, like the less intense fires that served historically to the clean out underbrush—and that our forests adapted to over millennia. But, though wildland firefighting was once offered as a central justification for the Forest Service, today it threatens to overtake the agency. The Forest Service used to spend 10 to 15 percent of its budget on wildland fire. Today, it spends 40 percent, and in bad years, fully half of its budget is spent on wildland firefighting.

Both President Obama and Secretary Vilsack have noted the importance of addressing the fire budgeting challenge. We must treat fires like the natural disasters they are and not ordinary expenses that must come from the Forest Service’s regular appropriations.

Of course fire is not just a budgetary problem, it’s a land management problem. As such, we must increase the pace and scale of restoration of our forests to improve the health and resilience of our forests to withstand fire and, indeed a variety of other threats such as the bark beetle epidemic we have witnessed in our western forests. Notably, like fire, the bark beetle epidemic is driven at least in part by climate change.

Of course, there are Americans who still have concerns about increased management activities in our forests. To be successful and to avoid the conflicts around forest policy that we have seen in the past, forest restoration and management will require broad public acceptance. This, in turn will require the public to be brought into decision-making through collaborative approaches like those that the Forest Service is helping to lead across the country. The Forest Service, for example, has seeded efforts throughout the country through its Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program which seeks to directly engage stakeholders in large scale ecological restoration while also providing jobs and opportunity for forest industry. It is becoming clear to many of even the staunchest environmentalists that we need a robust timber industry to undertake the work in our forests to restore their health and resilience. Pinchot recognized that wise use and conservation go hand in hand. Pinchot foresaw the need for this type of approach over 100 years ago, writing that “if National Forests are going to accomplish anything worthwhile the people must know all about them and take a very active part in their management.”

Pinchot also observed the key role forests play in conserving clean water. He wrote that “The connection between forests and rivers is like that between father and son. No forest, no rivers.” Public and private forest lands combined furnish water supplies for more than 180 million Americans every day.

But population growth will increase competition for increasingly scarce water resources. It is tempting to think of drought as temporary, but in an era of climate change, that may be wishful thinking. In fact, America could be well on the way to unsustainable levels of water use in several regions. According to the Forest Service, probabilities of water shortages mid-century are very high across large parts of the West, from Colorado to California.

Here, too, forest restoration and management will be critical to preserve watersheds by ensuring the resilience and health of forests. The Forest Service, for example, has adopted a Watershed Condition Framework to guide watershed protection across the country.

While all of this seems daunting, we must remain optimistic. Pinchot’s practical idealism offers a path forward. Of course, in their time, Roosevelt and Pinchot understood that they were in battle against entrenched interests aligned against conservation. Their approach was the right one for the times. But, Pinchot was also skilled in bringing people together around the need for conservation. Today, the threat of climate change and fire, the loss of our working forests to development, and the need for public acceptance of forest restoration, are threats that are too big for us to remain stuck in the conflicts which dominated forest policy over the last several decades. All of us—timber industry, environmentalists, and communities alike—stand to lose a great deal unless we work together to conserve our forests.

Role of the Pinchot Institute
And this is where the Pinchot Institute through its partnership with the Forest Service can play an important role. Fifty years ago, the Institute was established at a time when the emerging trends in conservation and their policy implications were anything but clear. As President Kennedy put it, “Today’s conservation movement must embrace disciplines scarcely known to its prophets of the past.” With climate change and other threats, we stand at a similar juncture today. Working with the Forest Service, the Pinchot Institute is developing initiatives for addressing the challenges facing both public and private forest lands across the country.

The Institute has become a leading voice and convener on the impact of climate change on forest health and resilience. The Pinchot Institute is also a leading voice on efforts around forest restoration on the National Forests. One of our most important tools for restoration is stewardship contracting, which allows for stewardship projects on our National Forests that combine a suite of restoration activities such as thinning, road rehabilitation, and restoration of wildlife habitat. The Forest Service and the Pinchot Institute are working together, drawing on more than a decade of experience, to evaluate pilot projects for stewardship contracting through monitoring by diverse stakeholders. If we are to get away from the forest wars of the past, we need to develop more collaborative approaches that work for industry, environmentalists, and communities. Work such as this is critical.

The Institute’s work on the conservation of our working forests is equally important.Most of America’s forests—about 56 percent—are privately owned; here in the East, it is the vast majority—83 percent. It is in our nation’s interest to conserve private working forests working for all the benefits people get from them, such as mitigating climate change, producing clean water, and providing jobs for forest industry. The Pinchot Institute’s Common Waters project recognizes the critical link between rural landowners, the clean water produced by sustainable forest management, and urban consumers of that water. This project’s work focuses here in the Upper Delaware River Basin, where some 80 percent of the land is forested and largely rural. These lands are also under significant threat from development. Yet the Common Waters Fund provides incentives to landowners to carry out stewardship and place lands in permanent conservation.

The Pinchot Institute has also been a leader in looking at new approaches to forest conservation, such as environmental markets that reward landowners for the benefits— clean water and carbon sequestration for example—of forest conservation. And the Institute doesn’t shy away from thorny issues such as use of wood for bioenergy or forest certification. These are exactly the issues where we need science-based, pragmatic solutions. Practical idealism, if you will.

Looking Ahead
The partnership between the Pinchot Institute and the US Forest Service will continue to yield significant gains for conservation in the coming years. But, even the work of these two great institutions will fall short unless others join us in broadening support for the task ahead. And, that’s my call to you today. We need your help and engagement. Just as we rededicate these hallowed grounds of Grey Towers today, let us rededicate and recommit ourselves to the conservation of our forests and natural resources for the benefit of all people.

To restore and conserve our forests for future generations will require all of us to recognize the size of the challenge ahead and to commit to moving beyond the conflicts of the past, to recognize that we should be united in common cause, to embrace Pinchot’s practical idealism and to work together in striving for the same goal he gave us a century ago: “the greatest good, for the greatest number... over the longest time.”

Robert Bonnie is the Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment at the US Department of Agriculture in Washington, DC.
Herger-Feinstein Quincy Library Group Forest Recovery Act
Independent Science Panel Report

The Pinchot Institute has released the report of an Independent Science Panel describing the successes and failures of a major Congressionally-supported experiment in managing federal lands. The test of collaborative management involving timber companies, environmental groups, county governments, and the US Forest Service lasted more than a decade. The report sheds light on what did and did not work, the persistence of conflict, and the need for science that can guide management and improve consensus.

At the conclusion of the 13-year Herger-Feinstein Quincy Library Group pilot project, the experiment fell short of goals set for the number of projects completed, expected timber volume, and associated employment. The Forest Service had estimated that the pilot would provide an annual volume of 286 million cubic feet of sawlogs, the product most helpful to local mills, but the average harvest over the 13 years was only 79 million cubic feet.

Download the full report PDF

Independent Science Panel
Review Process
Frequently Asked Questions


Management of national forests has since their formation sparked debate and controversy on how to accommodate many competing interests.  The Lassen, Plumas and Tahoe National Forests of northern California are no exception.  In the last two decades this landscape spanning more than 3.1 million acres (4,885 mi2) has been the testing ground for a new way incorporate stakeholder interests and ideas into planning and management.  This happened through an Act of Congress, the Herger-Feinstein Quincy Library Group Forest Recovery Act of 1998 (HFQLG Act), but began well before this time through the efforts of a coalition of local interests who had become frustrated with the conflict that had come to dominate management of these forests.

In 1992 a company forester, a county supervisor, and an environmentalist first met to discuss how to ameliorate the conflict—a gathering that soon swelled to 30 members who regularly met in the town library in Quincy, California. Calling themselves the Quincy Library Group (QLG), they sought a treaty of sorts to which all parties could agree would appropriately balance timber harvesting, forest restoration, and protection for sensitive species, especially the California Spotted Owl.  By the fall of 1993, QLG had adopted its Community Stability Proposal, which was presented as an action plan to the Forest Service. It included guidance on management techniques (e.g. silvicultural prescriptions), protection priorities (e.g. for streams and California spotted owls), and a roadmap they thought could accommodate prior management guidance and priorities (e.g. Scientific Analysis Team’s (SAT) guidelines, Small Business Administration (SBA) set-asides, and others).  

The HFQLG Pilot Project (or the “Pilot”) authorized in the HFQLG Act was to run for five years, from 1999 – 2004, at which time its success would be evaluated by an Independent Science Panel. The Pilot was extended in 2003 and again in 2008, and ended on September 30, 2012.  The charge established by Congress in the HFQLG Act, was for the Independent Science Panel to determine “. . . whether, and to what extent, implementation of the pilot project under this section achieved the goals stated in the Quincy Library Group-Community Stability Proposal, including improved ecological health and community stability. The membership of the panel shall reflect expertise in diverse disciplines in order to adequately address all of those goals.”

The Independent Science Panel

The Pinchot Institute for Conservation convened the Independent Science Panel (ISP), bringing together a group of scientists representing an appropriate range of disciplines necessary to conduct the review. Panelists included:

Dennis Becker, Ph.D. - University of Minnesota - Socio-economics
Scott Cashen, M.S. - Independent Consultant - Wildlife /Forest Ecology/Silviculture & Editor
Antony S. Cheng, Ph.D. - Pinchot Institute Senior Fellow, Colorado State University - Socio-economics
David Ganz, Ph.D. - Winrock International - Fire Ecology/Forest Ecology/Silviculture
John Gunn, Ph.D. - Spatial Informatics Group - Wildlife /Forest Ecology/Silviculture & Editor
R. J. Gutiérrez, Ph.D. - University of Minnesota - Wildlife/Forest Ecology/Silviculture & Editor
Mike Liquori, M.S. - Sound Watershed Consulting - Hydrology/ Geomorphology/ Watershed Ecology
Amy Merrill, Ph.D. - Stillwater Sciences - Watershed Ecology/Hydrology
Will Price, M.F.S. - Pinchot Institute for Conservation - Hydrology/ Watershed Ecology, Team Coordinator, & Editor
David Saah, Ph.D. - University of San Francisco & Spatial Informatics Group - Landscape Ecology/ Fire Ecology

Review Process

As requested by Forest Service Region 5, which contracted the Institute to convene the ISP, the review proceeded in two phases. Taking place through 2008, in the first phase the ISP reviewed the Forest Service’s monitoring program, which was required by the HFQLG Act to provide the information needed to perform the review. The ISP reported to the Forest Service what additional information would be required to effectively carry out the evaluation called for by Congress. 

The final review began in October of 2012, 16 days following the expiration of the Pilot and was completed in 2013. The reviews included many types of inquiry, by no means limited to the formal documentation of the HFQLG Pilot Project compiled by the Forest Service in their annual reporting. Panelists reviewed published literature, unpublished reports, associated source materials, and raw data--provided by many sources from within and outside the agency. Both stages of the review also included extensive consultation with key stakeholders, especially current and former members of QLG, through in-person meetings, phone interviews, and surveys. The final report of the Independent Science Panel reflects thorough consideration of the many kinds of evidence, and perspectives of individuals involved with the Pilot Project over the thirteen years of implementation.


The review is technical in nature, reflecting the goals established in the CSP by the Quincy Library Group and the HFQLG Act, and panel took great care to avoid attributing reasons for successes and failures when these reasons could not be substantiated. Overall, the ISP identified nine Key Findings addressing the central question posed by the HFQLG Act—i.e. “whether, and to what extent, implementation of the pilot project under this section achieved the goals stated in the Quincy Library Group-Community Stability Proposal, including improved ecological health and community stability.” While the Key Findings and the HFQLG Act address a number of resource management issues affected by the HFQLG pilot project, three major issues were of particular concern: (1) the economic stability of local communities (Key Findings 1, 2, and 3), (2) fire effects (Key Findings 4 and 5), and (3) the California spotted owl (Key Finding 6). Other Key Findings address water resources and watershed condition (Key Findings 7 & 9), and adverse impacts on other resources especially species of concern (Key Finding 8).

  1. The pace and scale of HFQLG pilot project treatment implementation did not meet expectations for the supply of wood fiber or the number of acres treated.
  2. The HFQLG pilot project was unable to provide local economic stability through an adequate and continuous supply of timber to local mills.
  3. The HFQLG Pilot Project leveraged significant external funding and support contributing to positive social and organizational changes within the agency.
  4. Implementation of the HFQLG pilot project fire and fuel management treatments typically reduced localized fire severity and had benefits for fire suppression activities.
  5. Fuel reduction and silvicultural treatments, where implemented, helped develop all age, multistory, and fire resilient stands, but it is uncertain how these treatments affected ecological integrity at the landscape level.
  6. California spotted owl nest and roost sites were protected during the HFQLG pilot project implementation, but the HFQLG pilot project failed to assess if there were adverse environmental impacts to the owl population resulting from treatments.
  7. The HFQLG pilot project successfully implemented measures designed to protect water bodies, but scientific studies did not adequately determine how treatments affected water resources, and the pilot project treatments did not protect streams and riparian areas from the impacts of catastrophic wildfire.
  8. Protection measures, management strategies, and monitoring activities helped reduce some adverse environmental impacts. Other impacts, including to some species of concern, were uncertain because scientific evaluations were uneven, ineffective, or not completed.
  9. The HFQLG pilot project expanded and supported existing wetland and riparian restoration activities, but did not implement a new program of water resource protection and management referenced by the HFQLG Act.
Many factors influenced the implementation of the HFQLG pilot project, the effects implementation had on proposed outcomes, and the extent to which scientific analysis could explain the outcomes. To a great degree the HFQLG pilot project was conceived to test potential solutions for difficult natural resource management challenges, including the competing perspectives of many stakeholders. Over the course of thirteen years there were important persistent challenges that impeded testing of these potential solutions.

Feedback from stakeholders and the Forest Service suggested that there was greater support for the HFQLG pilot project in the later years of implementation. This was partially a result of new science published in agency publications (North et al. 2009, North 2012). This outcome of support and acceptance demonstrates the value of science-based dialogue that served as the original impetus for the Community Stability Proposal.

The collaboration that led to the Quincy Library Group’s Community Stability Proposal has been celebrated as a potentially transformative approach for federal lands management. Whereas the HFQLG pilot project originated through an unprecedented type of collaboration, it also represented an unprecedented type and level of federal investment. Despite these precedents, envisioned outcomes were not achieved over thirteen years of the HFQLG Act. The degree to which local economic stability has been accomplished or how the California spotted owl and other species of conservation concern will fare over the long term has not been answered.

Where implemented, the HFQLG pilot project treatments helped reduce the damaging effects of wildfire. The treatments also produced some much needed local economic stimulus. Thus, the HFQLG pilot project has demonstrated some potential of collaborative engagement. Yet, after more than a decade it cannot yet be considered a model for how institutions and collaborative partnerships achieve the complex outcomes of promoting forest health and economic stability while maintaining environmental values. Thus, the full effects and potential impacts of the HFQLG pilot project remain uncertain.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is the HFQLG Act and what were the objectives?
The HFQLG Act was enacted on October 21, 1998 establishing the HFQLG pilot project to test approaches that grew from the efforts of the Quincy Library Group and their interaction with the Lassen, Plumas, and Tahoe National Forests in northern California. The Quincy Library Group developed the Community Stability Proposal in 1992 with the intention to reduce conflict over forest management approaches, sustain communities in the region, improve the health of forests and watersheds, and maintain the ecological integrity of managed forests.

2. What is the Quincy Library Group and why did their members seek legislation?
By the 1980s, conflicts over the management of national forests in the Sierra Nevada and Cascade ranges of northern California had become so severe that most management actions proposed by the Forest Service resulted in political and legal battles. Sharing the belief that management was not satisfying anyone, community leaders, environmental activists, and timber industry representatives in and around Quincy, California began meeting in the town library to discuss their concerns.  In 1992, this coalition of individuals officially became known as the Quincy Library Group (QLG), and in 1993 the group presented its “Community Stability Proposal” (CSP) to the Forest Service (Marston 2001).  The intent of the CSP was to expand the existing landbase available for timber production, while simultaneously promoting forest health and the economic stability of the local communities.  Expected benefits of the CSP included: jobs, reduced risk of catastrophic wildfires, habitat conservation (especially for species associated with old-growth forests), and watershed restoration.

3. What is the Independent Science Panel (ISP)?
An Independent Science Panel was specifically called for in the Act:

“(1) The Secretary (of Agriculture) shall establish an independent scientific panel to review and report on whether, and to what extent, implementation of the pilot project under this section achieved the goals stated in the Quincy Library Group-Community Stability Proposal, including improved ecological health and community stability. The membership of the panel shall reflect expertise in diverse disciplines in order to adequately address all of those goals."

4. How long did the review take?
In 2007 the Independent Science Panel initiated a review of the HFQLG pilot project. The Pinchot Institute for Conservation was selected to convene the panel to evaluate associated implementation and lessons it may offer, through a multi-year interdisciplinary review. The review took place in two phases, with visitations to the HFQLG pilot project area in 2007, 2008, 2012, and 2013. In 2008, the ISP completed Phase One, which consisted of a comprehensive review of available data and monitoring approaches employed up to that time. The purpose of the interim review was to make recommendations to the HFQLG implementation team about necessary changes to the monitoring program that would provide data upon which the final evaluation would be based. Time was spent on each forest consulting with key stakeholders and agency leads during this process.

The HFQLG pilot project was extended in December 2007, and the Forest Service was directed to initiate a collaborative process with environmental group plaintiffs and the Quincy Library Group to consider treatment modifications. The collaborative process began in 2008 and concluded on September 30, 2012. The ISP resumed evaluation on October 16, 2012 to provide to Congress a report on the effectiveness of the HFQLG pilot project activities.

5. What kinds of information did the ISP use to conduct the review?
The reviews included many types of inquiry, by no means limited to the formal documentation of the HFQLG Pilot Project compiled by the Forest Service in their annual reporting. Panelists reviewed published literature, unpublished reports, associated source materials, and raw data--provided by many sources from within and outside the agency.

6. How were Quincy Library Group members and other stakeholders involved in the review?
Both stages of the review also included extensive consultation with key stakeholders, especially current and former members of QLG, through in-person meetings, phone interviews, and surveys. The final report of the Independent Science Panel reflects thorough consideration of the many kinds of evidence, and perspectives of individuals involved with the Pilot Project over the thirteen years of implementation. 

7. Was the HFQLG Pilot Project successful, and should this kind of approach to natural resource management be tried somewhere else?
This question cannot be answered categorically. Successes and failures of the pilot also must be evaluated at two levels: (1) How well did the pilot project demonstrate successful models of collaborative management; and (2) To what extent did it achieve the goals established in the Community Stability Proposal. Full answers to these questions are best found in the Independent Science Panel report [linked when public].

(1.) The Act happened at a unique moment in the history of federal lands management and the start of an era of new thinking on how local communities who know the resource and its importance could potentially influence how lands are managed. The Quincy Library Group, the Community Stability proposal, and the HFQLG Act became national examples and helped usher in new thinking on how collaboration can help resolve disputes on national forest management. Since the Act was passed in 1998, or when QLG was formed in 1992, the Forest Service has increasingly worked with landscape-scale diverse partnerships involving companies and environmental groups. The Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program and growing use of stewardship contracting are both evidence of these changes.

In regards to the relationships and conflicts that led enactment of the HFQLG Act, achievements are uncertain.  Conflict, or disagreements manifesting in administrative appeals and lawsuits, did not disappear.  In some ways conflict might have escalated in the years following the passage of the Act, as some environmental groups were disaffected by the Act and disengaged from subsequent QLG meetings--and worried about the potential impacts of harvesting goals that had been established, opposed some projects. While administrative appeals and litigation were few in number, they had a variety of direct and indirect effects.

(2.) Meanwhile the project did not accomplish what was intended in terms of acres treated, timber sold, etc.  For sawlogs, the resource most valued by the local forest products industry, the project fell well short, accomplishing roughly 28% of what was anticipated year to year. The injection in the local economy intended by the timber objectives (the “stability”) of QLG’s stability proposal fell short. Stability in the calculus of the Act equated to volume of sawlogs, which was never achieved. Sawlog harvest plummeted from the start in 1999 and only partially recovered, not entirely explained but perhaps later sustained by the economic downturn.

Other types of projects identified in QLG’s community stability proposal were more successful. The treatments designed to engineer Defensible Fuel Profile Zones, or long quarter-mile swaths of forests that were thinned such that a fire could be countered successfully, constituted the majority of the more than 240,000 acres eventually treated --not as much as hoped, but a significant accomplishment. Even though fires are events not easily analyzed in a robust statistical way, it appeared that these treatments were successful in helping slow and fight wildfire. Yet fires happened, in some cases moving through areas that had been planned for treatments which had been delayed.

8. What did the pilot do that was most useful for continuing or trying somewhere else?
The Independent Science Panel felt that the use of scientific information to document the progress of the Pilot and its impacts was a key feature of the HFQLG Act.  New scientific concepts in circulation among QLG members, and variants already in practice within the National Forest System, helped provide the initial foundation for dialogue among competing interests.  The Community Stability Proposal aimed for greater adoption of treatments that would restore forests, help fight fires, and reduce fire severity, while in the process generate income for local communities and protect critical natural resources. Information that definitively showed the efficacy of these approaches helped limit challenges and cultivate consensus.  Missing, incomplete, or unused information exacerbated conflict, uncertainty, and the vulnerability of the Forest Service to challenges.  If anything the HFQLG Act underinvested in the science supporting management. However the attention of the HFQLG Act to the scientific foundation for dialogue and adaptive management will only prove more important into the future.

9. How did the HFQLG Pilot Project affect other important management policies and objectives for the forests that were involved?
Once the HFQLG Act was enacted, it needed to be adopted in the planning for an area of three national forests which it affected.  In a Record of Decision (ROD) the Forest Service proposed to establish and implement the pilot project by amending, as needed, management direction in the Land and Resource Management Plans for the Lassen, Plumas, and Sierraville District of the Tahoe National Forest. The established purpose of the HFQLG pilot project was to test and demonstrate the effectiveness of certain resource management activities designed to meet ecological, economic, and hazardous fuel reduction objectives. However these goals and activities--those established by the Community Stability Proposal--by no means encompass all that managers of these three forests are charged with carrying out.  So the goals and activities established in the by the Act were embedded in a much broader program of work.  Before implementation, and as required by statute, the Forest Service developed an extensive assessment of how alternate ways of adopting the CSP would impact the forests and surrounding communities (i.e. the HFQLG Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS). 

Other major new policies and plans also had to be adopted in concert with implementation of the pilot. These additional priorities would ultimately shape the Forest Service management direction, and how the HFQLG Pilot Project was implemented.  One prominent example was the California Spotted Owl Technical Assessment Team’s spotted owl management strategy (CASPO; Verner et al. 1992).  The Forest Service also developed a region-wide forest management strategy called the Sierra Nevada Forest Plan (commonly called the Sierra Nevada Framework, SNF) that was enacted in 2001 and revised in 2004. The SNF established region-wide guidelines for national forest management activities. Of particular note were limitations on the size of trees allowed for harvesting.

10. What were the Key Findings of the Independent Science Panel?
The Independent Science Panel identified Key Findings addressing the central question posed by the HFQLG Act—i.e. “. . . whether, and to what extent, implementation of the pilot project under this section achieved the goals stated in the Quincy Library Group-Community Stability Proposal, including improved ecological health and community stability.” While the Key Findings and the HFQLG Act address a number of resource management issues affected by the HFQLG pilot project, three major issues were of particular concern: (1) the economic stability of local communities (Key Findings 1, 2, and 3), (2) fire effects (Key Findings 4 and 5), and (3) the California spotted owl (Key Finding 6). Other Key Findings address water resources and watershed condition (Key Findings 7 & 9), and adverse impacts on other resources especially species of concern (Key Finding 8). The history of California spotted owl policy and forest management is included in Appendix II to illustrate how relevant events shaped management decisions leading up to the HFQLG Act and subsequent amendments (USDA 2001, 2004).

Whole Watershed Restoration Initiative:
Harnessing Collaboration to Restore Salmon Habitat in the Northwest

Cathy Kellon

High in the upper reaches of Oregon’s legendary John Day River, the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs (CTWS) and a small army of stream restoration specialists, heavy equipment operators, and loggers are repairing ailing salmon streams and an economy wounded by big timber’s collapse. Together they are removing culverts, restoring mine channels back into spawning beds, and helping ranchers swap irrigation ditches for efficient pipes and sprinkler systems. Through partnerships with diverse organizations and funders, they are hoping to reset the system’s natural ecological processes and see salmon return in higher numbers.

More than 100 restoration projects by the Warm Springs Tribes and other local groups are starting to pay off. Dozens of ranchers have lowered their water use while maintaining their fields, and, last spring, the state opened the John Day to fishermen for a short recreational Chinook season —the first in 36 years.

“Being part of this work gives us hope for this landscape over the long term,” says Amy Charette, the CTWS Watershed Restoration Coordinator.

One of the funders who helped the CTWS undertake restoration in the John Day is actually a partnership of public agencies and a nonprofit. Started in 2007, the Whole Watershed Restoration Initiative (WWRI) brings together restoration funders who have shared goals for salmon recovery, including shared geographic priorities. Camp Creek and a few other small watersheds in the John Day were identified by WWRI partners as high priority so when good projects come along, the WWRI is ready to draw upon funds from multiple sources to help get the work done.
WWRI Partners
Whole Watershed Restoration Initiative partners are Ecotrust, the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, USDA Forest Service, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration Restoration Center, the Bureau of Land Management, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Natural Resource Conservation Service. Each of the state and federal agency partners contributes restoration dollars to the Initiative. Ecotrust then makes this pooled fund available as grants to local groups for on-the-ground restoration work.

The partners work together to bring new restoration funding to the Pacific Northwest and increase our impact. The partners’ shared philosophy is that by concentrating and coordinating salmon habitat restoration efforts where there is strong community support, effective collaboration, and high ecological value, measurable and sustainable recovery can be achieved faster than when efforts are spread haphazardly across the landscape. The WWRI also endeavors to create local jobs, promote awareness of watershed issues, and increase citizen participation in salmon recovery.

On all these fronts, the Initiative is delivering real results and shaping up as a model for collaborative funding of restoration work.

Whole Watershed Restoration Initiative Map In 1999 the Forest Service launched its Large Scale Watershed Restoration initiative to test new ideas about landscape-wide restoration; this catalyzed the formation of the Pacific Coast Watershed Partnership (PCWP). The PCWP eventually involved several nonprofits and state and federal agencies (like Washington’s Salmon Recovery Funding Board and federal agencies BLM and EPA) but it wasn’t until the Forest Service and the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board tried pooling their money that they ran into problems. Trying to jointly fund projects was too much of a headache. They turned to Ecotrust and asked for help in administering select restoration funds.

At the same time that the realities of blending disparate funding were manifesting, the Pacific Coast Watershed partners were refining their GIS analyses to identify conservation priority areas. Ecotrust’s GIS expertise was brought to bear. On behalf of the PCWP, Ecotrust completed an analysis of all of the available conservation priorities studies and associated data for Oregon and Washington coastal watersheds. The analysis provided information for the selection of priority basins.

In 2005, these diverse partnerships, which are all focused on targeted watershed restoration, evolved into the Pacific Northwest Whole Watershed Restoration Partnership, expanding the scope of the original partnership from coastal Oregon and Washington to encompass the entire Pacific Northwest area. The Partnership’s unique approach is to identify river basins with the highest ecological values and potential responsiveness to restoration (from a salmon habitat perspective) and where there is demonstrated local support. Within these basins, we are targeting local, regional, and national restoration funds to the watersheds with the highest conservation value for salmon and for the projects most essential to the recovery of natural watershed processes.

The Partnership officially became known as the Whole Watershed Restoration Initiative (WWRI) in 2007 when Ecotrust was awarded a NOAA Coastal and Marine Habitat Restoration Partnership Grant. The Partnership cross-referenced their selected priority areas with NOAA’s priorities for salmon recovery and the priorities of local partners working in individual basins to select focus watersheds to target funding and technical resources for the purpose of accomplishing restoration on a whole watershed scale.

2009 marked the WWRI expansion to Idaho, where Ecotrust and NOAA staff consulted with public, private, and tribal restoration-oriented organizations to select priority basins and focus watersheds. In 2010 the Bureau of Land management joined as a funding partner, NRCS in 2011, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service in 2012.

Organizing principles
The WWRI partners believe they can have the greatest impact if they follow these three principles:
  1. Restore high priority watersheds first—Instead of spreading limited funds thinly across the landscape, invest in selected, priority basins and focus watersheds only. These areas are identified using WWRI’s conservation planning tools and have been updated over the years to align with the priorities of new partners. For example, in 2006 the North Olympic Coast was added as a Priority Basin and Lake Ozette was added as a Focus Watershed in an effort to help expedite the implementation of NOAA’s most current set of recovery plans.
  2. Measure success at the watershed scale, not the stream reach— WWRI invests in projects that will eliminate chronic risk factors, not band-aid solutions, so as to recover major ecological functions throughout a watershed, across all ownerships. Examples of funded work include fish barrier removals, stream channel restoration, and road decommissioning.
  3. Rely upon local expertise and priorities—WWRI looks for projects that have been identified as top priorities in existing plans such as watershed action plans, limiting factors analyses, or salmon recovery plans and grants project funds to community-based groups with proven experience in restoration work.
WWRI Partners

Benefits of Partnering

WWRI investments have resulted in thousands of acres of restored habitat, but perhaps even more significantly, the partnership has helped advance the evolution of regional restoration strategies to emphasize prioritization-based approaches to recovery. 
  • WWRI makes its dollars go further. Pooling limited funds allows the partners to sponsor on-the- ground work at meaningful scales, working across the watershed and cutting across arbitrary divisions of agencies. 
  • WWRI grantees work with a single entity and a single set of forms yet have access to multiple funding sources, enabling them to spend less time fundraising for their projects and more time getting the on-the-ground work done. 
  • WWRI grantees experience more flexibility in meeting funder requirements for non-federal match. The partners estimate non-federal co-funding at the program level—across all funded projects—thereby giving individual grantees more latitude in funding their projects. 
  • WWRI’s project-ranking criteria reflects the needs of each of the major funding sources (NOAA, Forest Service, and OWEB) and the project reporting requirements meet the most stringent of partner requirements. Hence, the WWRI provides consistent and rigorous project tracking information across funders. 
  • Partners bring more than money to the table: they also bring a wealth of knowledge and expertise. For example, NOAA can help grantees navigate federal permitting and Ecotrust is well positioned to undertake socioeconomic assessments and pursue earned media that agency partners cannot.
Bottom line: Shared Goals Lead to Creative Models
(Note: this section reflects the opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the views of the WWRI partners.)
The primary challenge we face is not unique to the WWRI, nor is it news to anyone who has worked in collaborative efforts involving a range of public and private partners: most government agencies are typically not set up to partner with outside organizations. There are good reasons for this, not the least of which is that each agency has its own unique mandates, jurisdictions, and internal administrative systems. Partnering, in this context, is simply a way to organize resources to solve problems or reach goals; the functional implication is that wherever interests and goals align, there is opportunity for collaboration. It was in fact this recognition of shared interests that spawned the WWRI. Individuals within the partner organizations recognized they have shared interests in recovering and sustaining ecosystem health that cut across agency boundaries, and they found creative ways to work together within their existing rules and structures. This is important to note: the WWRI exists largely because of the effort of truly motivated and innovative individuals working together, not because of institutional design. If the rules or norms that deter partnering in the first place are not addressed, then successful collaborations will continue to rely upon the attentiveness of individual staff.

Another good reason that many groups do not pursue partnerships is that working with outside entities usually entails more work—or, at the minimum, working differently —even though the payoff can be significant in terms of increased impact and expanded resources. For example, funding from each partner has its own set of limitations, associated procedures, and reporting requirements. To make the partnership workable, Ecotrust must be responsive to each partner’s prerequisites and, thus, takes on responsibility for WWRI’s coordination and administration. Regardless of what entity serves as a partnership hub or broker, though, it’s easy to imagine that any effort to standardize reporting obligations, automate financial transactions, or increase data interoperability would be beneficial to all.

WWRI Restoration project

Finally, a challenge to WWRI’s success is one shared by everyone in the restoration funding community, not just partnerships. At the end of the day, funders want assurance that they are putting their money into the most important work for that time and place. Not all basins have robust salmon habitat restoration strategies in place, unfortunately. Plan format, specificity, geographic coverage, and degree of prioritization are highly variable from one watershed to the next. Some places have a clear set of recommended actions designed for whole watershed restoration which are being used to guide the choice of restoration projects proposed for funding. However, this is not the case everywhere. In practical terms this makes it challenging for both grantees and funders to estimate progress and garner support for their effort.

While there may be significant roadblocks to partnering, the risks of failing to meet our modern environmental challenges are even more daunting. The fact is, to improve our prospects for recovering salmon, we need to increase our collective impact. And given the complexity of this and most other worthwhile challenges, it is hard to imagine achieving this within the walls of a single organization. If institutions reward integrity, creativity, efficacy, and adaptation in the pursuit of meaningful goals, then methods like collaboration will become not just more commonplace but easier and more efficient. And as a result, perhaps we can realize on-the- ground improvements in community and ecosystem health sooner rather than later.

Cathy Kellon is Director of the Water and Watersheds Program at Ecotrust in Portland, Oregon. Learn more at http://www.ecotrust.org/wwri/.
Scaling the Natural Infrastructure Approach to Source Water Protection
James Mulligan and Todd Gartner

Brown Bear on Tongass NFNatural ecosystems provide essential services for our communities. Forests and wetlands, for example, prevent silt and pollutants from entering streams and reservoirs that supply freshwater to downstream cities and businesses. This “natural infrastructure”1 also reduces peak storm flows and helps regulate the water cycle, protecting communities from both flood and drought risks. It also provides shade for critical aquatic habitat.2

While concrete-and-steel built infrastructure (e.g. filtration plants, reservoirs, and chillers) will continue to play a critical role in water treatment and storage, integrated approaches to water management that incorporate both natural and built components can reduce costs and enhance services. Such approaches are not yet standard practice in the water management industry, even as natural ecosystems and the services they provide continue to degrade nationwide. Rather than reverse this trend, many companies and governments continue to spend on concrete and steel to address water-related problems while investing in restoring or enhancing various types of natural infrastructure is rarely considered.

Despite America’s history of reliance on built infrastructure, investing in the conservation and improved management of natural ecosystems to secure and protect water systems is gaining attention as an effective means to solve water-related problems while keeping costs down and creating jobs. Natural infrastructure can also provide a suite of co-benefits for the air we breathe, the places we play, the wildlife we share our landscapes with, and the climate we live in.

Widespread Opportunity
Natural infrastructure is potentially viable in a variety of settings, including both healthy and degraded watersheds, and as an alternative to built infrastructure or as part of a “multi-barrier” approach. Investing in natural ecosystems can also be an effective strategy for regulatory compliance, for cost-avoidance or cost-reduction in a non-regulatory setting, and for meeting day-to-day water needs or reducing the risk of extreme and costly disruptive events like wildfire, or landslides.

Despite major political, regulatory, economic, and ecological differences in the most pressing water-related issues from watershed to watershed, the landscape plays a consistently critical role. A number of common themes related to opportunities for investing in natural infrastructure for source water protection can be gleaned from early efforts in this space. These basic characteristics that make a watershed particularly “ripe” for substantial natural infrastructure investments are found in watersheds across the country:3
  1. One or more clearly identified current or projected water-related issue(s). These issues can be purely economic—such as water quality degradation that threatens increased costs for drinking water treatment or other industrial processes.Or they can relate more directly to water security—for example, issues related to flood or drought risk like property damage, water supply shortages, or loss of reservoir storage capacity due to sedimentation. These issues can also be tied to regulatory drivers, like impending loss of a filtration avoidance waiver under the Safe Drinking Water Act, or non-compliance with the Clean Water Act or other regulations.
  2. Substantial economic value associated with those issues. For substantial investments to mobilize— and be worthwhile economically— there needs to be real economic value tied to current or emerging water-related issues in a watershed. In other words, there needs to be sizeable “willingness to pay” (in a pure economic sense) in the watershed to resolve or avoid the critical water-related issue at hand, typically by major beneficiaries like public utilities and their ratepayers in urban centers, major industrial entities that rely on abundant clean water, or large point sources that produce regulated effluents and may find it cost-effective to meet regulatory requirements through investments in natural infrastructure (water quality trading).
  3. A clear connection between the water-related issue(s) and ecological conditions on the landscape. Ecological conditions in hotspot watersheds include current or projected degradation or outright loss of ecosystems, typically due to development pressures, agriculture, or industrial forestry (including legacy impacts).
A variety of types of ecosystems can comprise natural infrastructure. For source water protection, however, forest-based natural infrastructure is particularly important. About 53 percent of the freshwater supply in the contiguous United States originates in forests,4 despite only covering about a third of the land area5 —and that water is widely recognized as clean compared with waterflow coming from other sources. Watersheds with more forest cover have been shown to have higher groundwater recharge, lower stormwater runoff, and lower levels of nutrients and sediment in streams than do areas dominated by urban and agricultural uses.6

Forest Importance to Surface Drinking Water and Watersheds with High Risk

The USDA Forest Service’s Forest to Faucet project modeled and mapped the continental United States’ forest land areas most important to surface drinking water supplies against watersheds with the highest risk (top 10 percent) due to development, insects and disease, and wildfire. The areas of overlap between these two variables, shown in the map above, give a high-level sense of where the ecological and economic conditions and opportunities for forest-based natural infrastructure investment may be most ripe. Note that wetlands and other ecosystems, not shown here, also play a critical role in protecting source water and may serve as the basis for viable natural infrastructure investment programs.

The kicker for the natural infrastructure approach is that it makes financial sense. The business case for investments in natural ecosystems has driven adoption of the approach in an increasing number of watersheds across the country. For example, the Denver Water Board in Denver, Colorado is investing up to $16.5 million to match Forest Service funds for thinning and other fire risk management measures in the forests that provide its source water.7 While no explicit, detailed cost-benefit analysis was conducted for the program, the utility incurred $26 million in costs in the aftermath of two devastating fires in 1996 and 2002 to manage post-fire sedimentation that clogged the utility’s water intakes, reduced reservoir storage capacity, and increased treatment costs. Fire suppression costs totaled an additional $47 million; the Forest Service has spent another $37 million on post-fire restoration and stabilization; and private insured property losses were an additional $38.7 million.8

The City of Medford, Oregon is investing $8 million in riparian forest restoration along 30 miles of stream bank to provide shade for aquatic habitat.9 The project is designed to meet the city’s Clean Water Act obligations related to stream temperature. Riparian forest also provides benefits for habitat, carbon sequestration, and water quality. The city’s alternatives, given its regulatory obligations, were to utilize lagoon storage for discharge (~$16 million) or to install mechanical chillers (~$20 million).10

Through application of an emerging methodology for “green-gray analysis” 11 —cost-benefit or cost-effectiveness analysis applied to natural (green) and built (gray) investment options—watershed stakeholders can assess the business case for the natural infrastructure approach in their regulatory, economic, and ecological contexts.

Barriers to Expanding Natural Infrastructure
Despite the growing number of success stories, the practice of natural infrastructure investment has yet to reach scale, leaving substantial opportunities for enhanced services and cost savings unrealized.12

The struggle to get to scale can be associated with a long list of institutional challenges,13 including knowledge gaps and old habits of defaulting to built infrastructure. For example:
  1. The science connecting conservation practices and quantifiable ecosystem services is robust but imperfect, requiring water resource managers to make decisions in the face of some level of uncertainty.
  2. While some utilities have rich histories of watershed protection, others face knowledge gaps among their ratepayers or even key internal decision makers regarding the importance of upstream rural landscapes and watersheds for urban prosperity. A recent Water Research Foundation survey found that among utilities, there is a general lack of perceived need for action and complacency about emerging threats to water resources. This gap in awareness extends to the general public, educators, municipal officials, planning boards, state agencies, businesses, and the media.14
  3. In a time of recent economic downturn, the public focus turns to job creation, which is often associated with built infrastructure projects, as decision makers are less familiar with the often-unappreciated jobs potential of natural infrastructure investments.
  4. Financial accounting standards currently do not incorporate natural capital in a way that would enable operations and maintenance spending on natural infrastructure by water utilities as part of normal business practices.
  5. Enabling regulatory agencies are under near-constant threat of litigation, often leading to a conservative stance that can act as an impediment to innovative solutions like natural infrastructure for water.
None of the barriers facing the natural infrastructure approach are unmanageable. And despite these barriers, the time is ripe to spread the word and publicize the advantages of this approach to stimulate a tipping point in investing in natural infrastructure for securing water supplies. The scientific foundation—while continually improving—clearly establishes the connections between natural infrastructure investments and many beneficial water resource outcomes. The business case for natural infrastructure has been consistently demonstrated, and a framework for green-gray financial analysis is available to decision makers to apply in their own watersheds. A growing network of experts is emerging to assist with program design and development—ensuring chances for scalability and long-term success, and a growing number of success stories are offering proof-of-concept and key lessons learned. Against a backdrop of aging water infrastructure and fiscal austerity, the opportunity for natural infrastructure to play an active role in the solution set for our water needs over the next several decades is very real.15

Key Strategies to Scale the Approach
To bring the natural infrastructure approach to scale, its merits must be credibly communicated beyond the conservation choir. It is the public utility managers, city government officials, and corporate leaders who make the majority of infrastructure decisions

As natural infrastructure practitioners work to reach our ultimate audience of decision makers, the following are good practices to live by:
  1. Identify, equip, and support local champions. Local actors with an open mind and capacity to influence can be effective change agents in their institutions— bringing the natural infrastructure approach to the attention of key decision makers far more effectively than the best studies, blog posts, and presentations by outside advocates. We have seen this time and again in watersheds where the natural infrastructure approach has taken hold. These local champions—the source water coordinator at a water utility or the conservation commissioner at a municipality—are not necessarily natural infrastructure experts and may need support to be successful.
  2. Don’t assume what’s actionable —ask. The practitioner community is rife with assumptions about what will—and what won’t— motivate decision makers to act. Moreover, experience has shown that the types and depth of information that decision makers need to act can vary considerably from watershed to watershed, seemingly depending on local political and economic factors. The solution is to ask.
  3. Conduct thorough and honest feasibility analyses. Conservation-minded stakeholders often get excited about the natural infrastructure approach as a new mechanism to leverage new dollars for conservation. However, the approach needs to be thoroughly vetted against local economic and ecological conditions to determine its viability in the local context. A pattern of squandered efforts to employ the approach where it does not fit could be a potential liability to broad-scale institutionalization in the watersheds where it does fit.
  4. Monitor, manage adaptively, and document outcomes. Robust monitoring and adaptive management mechanisms are essential for emerging natural infrastructure programs in order to ensure desired outcomes. Success and the ability to demonstrate success are both key to quelling skeptics and ensuring that early natural infrastructure efforts snowball into broad-scale institutionalization of the approach.
Looking Ahead
Ultimately, real progress will come on the backs of champions that can exert influence from within the institutions that govern water management. For the rest of us, the task is to identify, equip, and support these champions so they can be successful. Due in large part to these growing efforts nationwide, we are seeing increasing interest from water management entities and industry associations. This trend makes now a critical moment to double-down on efforts to harness natural infrastructure for source water protection.

James Mulligan is Executive Director of Green Community Ventures, a WRI partner. Todd Gartner is Senior Associate for the World Resources Institute’s People and Ecosystem Program.

1 Gartner, T. and J. Mulligan. 2013. “A Critical Moment to Harness Green Infrastructure—Not Concrete—To Secure Clean Water. World Resources Institute. Available online at http://insights.wri.org/news/2012/06 /green-vs-gray-infrastructure-whennature- better-concrete.

2 Talberth, J., E. Gray, E. Branosky, and T. Gartner. “Insights from the Field: Forests for Water.” World Resources Institute. Available online at http://pdf.wri.org/insights_from_the_fi eld_forests_for_water.pdf

3 Mulligan, J. 2013 (forthcoming). “Hotspot Watersheds—Identifying Opportunity” in Natural Infrastructure: Investing in Forested Landscapes for Source Water Protection. T. Gartner, J. Mulligan, R. Schmidt, and J. Gunn, eds. World Resources Institute.

4 Brown, T.C., Hobbins, M.T., and Ramirez, J.A. (2008). “Spatial Distribution of Water Supply in the Coterminus United States.” Journal of the American Water Resources Association.

5 Sedell, J., M. Sharpe, D. D. Apple, M, Copenhgen, M. Furniss. 2000. “Water and the Forest Service.” USDA Forest Service, Washington Office. FS-660.

6 Brett, M.T., G.B. Arhonditsis, S.E. Mueller, D.M. Hartley, J.D. Frodge and D.E. Funke. 2005. Non-Point-Source impacts on stream nutrient concentrations along a forest to urban gradient. Environmental Management 35(3): 330-342; B. Crosbie and P. Chow-Fraser. 1999. “Percentage Land Use in the Watershed Determines the Water and McMaster University; M. Matteo, T. Randhir, D. Bloniarz. 2006. “Watershed-scale impacts of forest buffers on water quality and runoff in urbanizing environment. Journal of Water Resources Planning and Management-Asce, 132(3): 144-152.

7 Denver Water. 2013. From Forests to Faucets: U.S. Forest Service and Denver Water Watershed Management. Available online at http://www.denverwater.org/supplyplanning/watersupply/partnershipUSFS/

8 Denver Water Board. 2013. “Denver Water Board — Wildfire Risk Management for Source Water” in Natural Infrastructure: Investing in Forested Landscapes for Source Water Protection. T. Gartner, J. Mulligan, R. Schmidt, and J. Gunn, eds. World Resources Institute.

9 Freeman, M. 2011. “A Chilling Effect.” Mail Tribune. Available online at http://www.mailtribune.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20111113/NE WS/111130318&cid=sitesearch

10 Sanneman, C. 2012. Willamette Partnership. Personal Communication.

11 Talberth, J. Gray, E. Yonavjak, L. Gartner, T. 2013. Green versus Gray: Nature’s Solutions to Infrastructure Demands. Solutions. Vol 4, No. 1.pp. http://the solutionsjournal.anu.edu.au/node/1241

12 Sklenar, Karen and Chi Ho Sham. 2012. Developing a Vision and Roadmap for Source Water Protection for U.S. Drinking Water Utilities. Water Research Foundation. Available online at http://www.waterrf.org/Public ReportLibrary/4176a.pdf

13 Gartner et al. Investing in Green Infrastructure for Source Water Protection. Forthcoming.

14 Sklenar, Karen and Chi Ho Sham. 2012. Developing a Vision and Roadmap for Source Water Protection for U.S. Drinking Water Utilities. Water Research Foundation. Available online at http://www.waterrf.org/Public ReportLibrary/4176a.pdf

15 Gartner, T., J. Mulligan, R. Schmidt, and J. Gunn, eds. 2013 (forthcoming). Natural Infrastructure: Investing in Forested Landscapes for Source Water Protection. World Resources Institute. World Resources Institute.
Savannah Sustainability Workshop
ITransatlantic Trade Report Covern October 2013, the Pinchot Institute brought together more than 60 participants including representatives of US pellet producers, European purchasers, U.S., Canadian, and European policymakers, and conservation organizations met over two days to analyze and debate complex sustainability issues related to the growing trade in wood pellets between the U.S. and Europe.

Organized by the Pinchot Institute for Conservation and the International Energy Agency (IEA) Bioenergy Tasks 40 and 43, the Savannah workshop explored the potential application of sustainability criteria being developed by European governments and industry.

The Transatlantic Trade in Wood for Energy: A Dialogue on Sustainability Standards and Greenhouse Gas Emissions [Download report PDF] summarizes the major themes and conclusions emerging from the dialogue. Key points of discussion highlighted the need to:
  • Expand our understanding of sustainability concepts beyond simple growth-to-drain calculations
  • Clarify understanding of how pellet demand may affect forests and forest products markets in the future
  • Negotiate scientifically robust and effective European sustainability criteria (third-party verification, risk assessment and mitigation, etc.) and develop procedures for satisfying these criteria within the U.S.
  • Continue the dialogue around biogenic and combustion emissions with a focus on (1) enhancing scientific understanding of the complexities involved, and (2) analyzing intended and unintended consequences of policy and regulatory options
Five panel discussions at the workshop delved into:
  1. Projected European biomass demand and the supply response in the U.S. [Panel 1]
  2. Sustainability of the southern forest resource and sustainability issues in the regions’ private forests [Panel 2]
  3. The need for easily measurable and effective sustainability indicators [Panel 3]
  4. The need for parity between emerging sustainability policies from Europe and sustainability programs and practices in the U.S., and [Panel 4]
  5. A focused debate on the accounting of biogenic and combustion emissions [Panel 5]

Above: A webinar summarizing the workshop findings. (Download accompanying slides)

Agenda (Download full agenda PDF)
Wednesday, October 23

Introduction—Meeting Kick-Off, Welcome from the Planning Committee.
  1. Al Sample and Brian Kittler, Pinchot Institute. Meeting Objectives, Outputs and Desired Outcomes. Review of agenda/logistics. [Download presentation]
  2. Tat Smith, University of Toronto/IEA Bioenergy Task 43. Welcome from IEA Bioenergy. Reflections on what has transpired in the year since the Quebec City event [Download presentation]
  3. Robert Farris, Georgia Forestry Commission. Welcome to Georgia. The local perspective: Opportunities, priorities, and sustainability challenges.
Panel 1—Factoring the Big Picture into Notions of Sustainability.
  • Martin Junginger, Utrecht University/IEA Bioenergy Task 40.  The strategic importance of the Southeast US in global biomass trade. [Download presentation]
  • Dave Wear, USDA Forest Service. Status, trends, and challenges for southern forests. [Download presentation]
  • Bob Abt, North Carolina State University. Forecasting possible futures. What can we reasonably speculate about future market demand and supply response? [Download presentation]
  • Steven Prisley, Virginia Polytechnic and State University. Factoring sustainability metrics into pellet mill feasibility assessments and regional supply assessments. [Download presentation]
Panel 2—Measuring Sustainability and Risk.
  • Virginia Dale, Oak Ridge National Lab.  Aligning measurable and meaningful bioenergy sustainability indicators with sustainability criteria and existing sustainability programs. [Download presentation]
  • Judy Dunscomb, The Nature Conservancy. Biodiversity in the south’s working forests. [Download presentation]
  • Jason Evans, University of Georgia. Biodiversity risk assessment when establishing supply chains. [Download presentation]
Panel 3—International Sustainability Criteria for Solid Biomass. 
  • Asger Strange Olesen, Policy Officer/END, European Commission, Directorate General Climate. EU level sustainability criteria.
  • Emily Fripp, Senior Consultant and CPET Project Manager, EFCA.  Example of member state level criteria, the UK CPET program. [Download presentation]
  • Volker Türk, EON. Corporate level; the goals and process of the Initiative Wood Pellet Buyers group. [Download presentation]
  • Keith Kline, ORNL. ISO development of "Sustainability Criteria for Bioenergy" (ISO 13065):  current status, opportunities and obstacles. [Download presentation]
Panel 4—Environmental Risk Mitigation and Procurement Practices 
  • Guy Sabin, South Carolina Forestry Commission. Approaches to managing biomass sustainability at the landowner scale (e.g. Voluntary incentive programs, regulatory programs, and the role of stewardship plans and practices (e.g. forest stewardship plans, timber harvesting BMPs, biomass harvesting BMPs). [Download presentation]
  • Uwe Fritsche, IINAS. Meta-study on energy wood certification. [Download presentation]
  • Mieke Vandewal, Control Union. Application of the Green Gold Label. [Download presentation]
  • Bob Simpson, GreenWoodGlobal Consulting, LTD. Procurement pathways in the US. [Download presentation]
  • David Refkin, Greenpath Sustainability Consultants. Market signals for sustainable sourcing and green purchasing. [Download presentation]
Panel 5 - Greenhouse Gas Accounting – Methodologies and application to the policy and operations level.
  • Overview of biogenic carbon analyses and lessons learned from southeast US carbon accounting case studies. 
  1. Patrick Lamers, Utrecht University/IEA Bioenergy Task 40 [Download presentation]
  2. Thomas Buchholz, Spatial Informatics Group [Download presentation]
Moderated question and answer panel [Moderator, Martin Junginger] 
  • Reid Miner, National Council for Air and Stream Improvement
  • David Pare, Natural Resources Canada [Download presentation]
  • Fanny-Pomme Langue, AEBIOM
  • Chris Galik, Duke University, The Nicholas Institute 
  • David Carr, Southern Environmental Law Center [Download presentation]
  • Steve Hamburg, Environmental Defense Fund
Thursday October 24
Field tour focused on biomass supply chains in southeast Georgia, touring industrial and non-industrial timberlands and a pellet mill sourcing low-grade pulpwood from both certified and uncertified lands.

On Bus Presentation: Nathan McClure, Georgia Forestry Commission [Download presentation]
On Bus Presentation: Zander Evans, Forest Guild. Southeast Biomass Guidelines and the Ecology of Deadwood in the Southeast. [Download PDF]

Briefing Materials:
Pathways to Sustainability
Applying Pathways to Sustainability
The Science-Policy Interface on the Environmental Sustainability of Forest Bioenergy
On the Timing of Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Benefits of Forest-Based Bioenergy
Environmental Sustainability of Biomass: Summary and Conclusions from the IEA Bioenergy ExCo68 Workshop
Using a Life Cycle Assessment Approach to Estimate the Net Greenhouse Gas Emissions of Bioenergy
USDA Comments on Biogenic Emissions 5-25-12

The Upper Neuse Clean Water Initiative
Lisa Creasman

Charles Meeker knew in 2005 that he had a special dilemma on his hands if he was going to protect the City of Raleigh’s drinking water supply. Meeker had been mayor since 2001 of North Carolina’s capitol city, watching from the front line as the city and communities around it developed at a breakneck pace. Land that once held small farms was being swallowed up by housing, shopping centers, business parks and other buildings to serve the increasing population.

The growth was good in many ways, but it posed problems for one of the essential elements of any community—a clean, reliable water supply. Raleigh’s water comes from Falls Lake, which lies in the Upper Neuse River Basin, and land within that basin was becoming increasingly attractive to developers. But most of the basin was outside the city limits—and the city’s jurisdiction.

“We knew that we had to protect the land in order to protect our water supply,” Meeker says. “Healthy forests, wetlands, floodplains and undeveloped stream banks absorb pollutants, trap sediment and help control stormwater runoff.”

Raleigh’s water supply comes from rivers and streams that drain though six counties and numerous towns to feed nine drinking water reservoirs—all upstream from Falls Lake. Meeker couldn’t protect Raleigh’s water in this increasingly urbanized region unless those upstream supplies were protected as well. He needed help.

In 2005, Meeker convened a meeting of conservation groups in the region that had been protecting water quality in the Upper Neuse River Basin for decades—like land trusts statewide, which have protected hundreds of forested stream buffers along high quality streams to prevent polluted runoff and sedimentation.

With the City Council’s support, Meeker established the Upper Neuse Clean Water Initiative (UNCWI), a formal partnership with the conservation groups. Conservation Trust for North Carolina (CTNC) manages the program in conjunction with the land trusts and participating local governments. Instead of relying solely on water treatment plants, UNCWI works with landowners, local governments and other partners to target conservation of priority forests, wetlands, floodplains and other vegetated areas that serve as natural “water treatment facilities.” Since its inception, partners in the Upper Neuse Clean Water Initiative have helped protect over 6,000 acres along 61 miles of priority streams.

“Water is gold,” says Nancy McFarlane, who succeeded Meeker as mayor in 2011. “(UNCWI) is an incredibly important program and it’s great for Raleigh to be able to partner with seven nonprofits that have come together with the foresight to protect our drinking water. We really understand the importance of water quality.”

In North Carolina, leaders in Asheville and Waynesville also worked with land trusts to surround their reservoirs with protected, undeveloped land that would be off-limits not only to development, but to most human traffic. But in those less populous, mountainous areas, the problem is easier to solve because the watersheds are much smaller and had little to no development in place when protection efforts began.

At the point Meeker began his efforts, only about 50 percent of the Upper Neuse River Basin was still forested, and even that landscape was fragmented by agriculture and urban and suburban development. Protecting that land would have tangible economic benefits—studies have shown that a municipality’s water treatment costs increase 20 percent for every 10 percent of forested land that is lost upstream.

Natural areas also moderate changes in water quantity as rain water sinks slowly through the ground, reducing flooding and providing “recharge” during droughts. Then there are the extra benefits of safeguarding wildlife habitat and air quality, and creating recreational opportunities for families to enjoy.

“Clean water is essential to every community, but it’s impossible for a government to protect drinking water sources by working only within its political borders,” says Orange County Commissioner Pam Hemminger. “It’s logical, natural and effective for leaders to work across jurisdictional boundaries and be willing to help preserve stream corridors in another jurisdiction so that we all benefit.”

City leaders began to view drinking water protection in much broader terms—not “outside the box” but “outside the borders.” The Raleigh City Council started by making significant annual budget allocations to support land conservation projects, and in 2011 established a “watershed protection fee” to be included in customers’ monthly water bills. The fee, which costs homeowners an average of only 40 cents per month, is expected to bring in $1.8 million per year for land conservation to protect drinking water quality.

“That money is taken by (UNCWI) and leveraged 12 times over to come up with the resources to buy land to protect the water supply as it flows into Falls Lake,” McFarlane says. “We know the level of pollution in that lake already and we know how much it would cost us to have to clean it up. We’ve had estimates of around $150 million to install a new system of filtration if the impairment gets above a certain level.”

At the same time, the City of Durham instituted a similar watershed protection fee that will fund protecting land around its reservoirs. Orange County’s Lands Legacy Program and Durham County’s Open Space Program have invested in land conservation and water supply protection for decades and continue to play a critical role in this effort.

Durham County’s 158-acre Little River Lee project is a great example of how these projects work. Jane Korest, who staffs the program, knew this was a priority acquisition project based on its ranking in Durham’s Little River Open Space Plan and the UNCWI Conservation Plan (created by partners to target the highest priority properties). Working closely with the landowner, who was interested in selling the site but wanted to see it conserved, Jane pulled together a deal that worked for all involved.

In addition to funding from Durham County, the Cities of Durham and Raleigh, the NC Clean Water Management Trust Fund, the Eno River Association and the Triangle Land Conservancy invested in the project. The project will provide permanent open space and water quality protection benefits for the Little River Reservoir and Falls Lake, and includes natural habitat identified as significant by the State of North Carolina.

Another example is the Beaver Marsh, a 32-acre preserve off Interstate 85 created by the Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association (ECWA). If you visit Beaver Marsh and stand facing west, you see nothing but dumpsters, asphalt and the backs of several big box stores. But turn 180 degrees and you’re facing a panoramic view of a freshwater pond set in a floodplain and wetland area—the only visible construction is a beaver lodge.

The Beaver Marsh Preserve does more than provide wildlife habitat. It helps trap and treat polluted runoff before it enters Ellerbe Creek. And it’s become a beloved part of the community, with an educational kiosk, benches, a foot trail and signs for the site’s perimeter, supplied by neighbors: “No Dumping,” “Preserve” and “Nature Lives Here,” they read.

“The new signs are just one sign of community support for the preserve. Other examples include local citizens photographing and reporting illegal dumping, nearby store employees alerting the association about suspicious activities, and a Boy Scout campout at the site,” said Diana Tetens, ECWA’s director of land conservation and special projects. “This new level of community stewardship proves that protecting this special place has not only helped protect water quality, but has also changed minds, raised environmental awareness, and increased local commitment to resource protection and stewardship.”

The State of North Carolina has been a critically important partner through its conservation trust funds. The Clean Water Management Trust Fund has played a significant role, putting more than $11 million in grants into UNCWI projects to help purchase land and conservation easements (legal agreements placed on properties that restrict future development) worth more than $59 million. The Natural Heritage Trust Fund and Parks and Recreation Trust Fund have helped support 17 projects that not only safeguard water supplies, but protected important cultural and recreational features.

“Water is essential. Water spurs our economy, it protects the health of our citizens, it provides great recreational opportunities for all those who live in the state and that come to visit the state,” says Richard Rogers, executive director of the Clean Water Management Trust Fund. “UNCWI has provided a focused, collaborative approach to water supply protection that brings multiple interests into the process to ensure good stewardship of public funds for maximum water supply protection.”

People who own land within the basin have been essential to its success, collectively donating more than $23 million worth of property to remain undeveloped.

UNCWI land trusts are now using the support of a new partner to highlight the importance of protecting the basin’s forestland. A $1.7 million grant from the US Endowment for Forestry and Communities is helping UNCWI partners promote and maintain sustainable forest practices on strategically located lands in the basin, again to reduce runoff of pollutants. The project will help landowners continue generating timber revenue, even as they help to ensure downstream water supplies are protected.

“We’ve got to balance the need for clean water with the reality that more and more people are living and working on the land we want to protect. We can continue to support growth and development, and continue sustainably farming and timbering the land while we protect our resources—if we’re flexible and creative,” said Endowment President and CEO Carlton Owen. “Just as there’s no single approach that will safeguard our drinking water supplies, there’s no single group that can accomplish the task by itself. The Upper Neuse Clean Water Initiative is an outstanding example of how ideas and solutions from many partners can flow together to reach a common goal.”

Lisa Creasman is the former Conservation Project Manager at the Conservation Trust for North Carolina in Raleigh, NC.
The Pinchot Institute at 50: An Appreciation
V. Alaric Sample

Al SampleFifty years ago, the Pinchot Institute was established in large part to conduct independent studies on how best to address key conservation concerns of the present and foreseeable future, and this has remained central to the Institute’s mission and goals. What have been the results from these studies, and how have they made a difference? Here are a few examples:

Forest certification. A nationwide study conducted by the Pinchot Institute demonstrated that public forest lands can be managed consistent with the most rigorous, internationally-recognized standards of sustainable forestry, and that this can be proven through independent, third-party field verification and certification. Certification of federal, state, and tribal forests has brought about improvements in forest management practices, and significantly increased society’s confidence and support of public forest management.

Communities and forest health. A series of Pinchot Institute studies in communities around the country over more than a decade have demonstrated that fire risks on federal forests can be significantly reduced by making relatively minor changes in policies governing how federal agencies contract with local businesses for land management services. With the cooperation of public and private organizations and community leaders in more than six dozen pilot projects around the country, these studies showed that stewardship contracting can become the single most important tool for restoring the health and resilience of forest ecosystems, as well as supporting environmentally sustainable economic development in nearby communities.

Tropical deforestation. Studies in an Ecuadorian rainforest have demonstrated that the tide can be turned on tropical deforestation and its impacts on biodiversity, by introducing sustainable forestry techniques, assisting locally-owned business development, and giving forest-based communities an economically viable alternative to oil palm plantations and other drivers of tropical forest conversion.

New studies currently under way at the Pinchot Institute are helping to answer critical conservation questions for the future, such as:
  • In major river systems, can voluntary private investments by downstream communities and businesses support the conservation of private forest lands in key headwaters areas, to ensure future water supplies and water quality, and protect against flooding and severe storm events in a changing climate?
  • Can we ensure that the increasing use of wood for renewable energy is environmentally sustainable in the long run? To what extent can wood substitute for the use of fossil fuels in meeting the nation’s energy needs? How can this help avoid wildfires and other impacts that are predicted to soon turn US forests from absorbing 13 percent of the nation’s carbon emissions to themselves becoming a net emitter of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases?
  • How will the accelerating effects of climate change on forests force us to come up with new strategies for protecting wildlife habitat, water resources, and biodiversity, along with the many other unseen public benefits from well protected, sustainably managed forests?
The Pinchot Institute remains committed to bringing together people of all perspectives in an atmosphere of mutual understanding and respect, working with one another to address key conservation concerns like these. For five decades, the Pinchot Institute has remained true to this mission, promoting rational civil dialogue, and supporting policy-relevant research and education in conservation. As we all have seen, this approach is all too rare today. As we commemorate this 50th anniversary, and remember President Kennedy’s 1963 dedication of the Pinchot Institute at Grey TowersNationalHistoric Site, we will take the opportunity to rededicate ourselves to this positive and inclusive ideal, and prepare to meet the conservation challenges ahead with optimism and renewed resolve. We would also like to take this opportunity to express our deep appreciation to the many partners and friends whose support is essential to all that we do—in the past, the present, and most especially the future.

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