An incredible diversity of plants and animals, such as the Diana fritillary butterfly, benefited from restoration of redcockaded woodpecker habitat in the Shortleaf-Bluestem Community of Ouachita National Forest in Arkansas and Oklahoma. Photo: Dr. Thomas G. Barnes, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Forests are fundamental to our nation’s prosperity. They cover half of the United States, store and filter half of the country’s water supply, provide jobs to more than a million product workers, absorb between 10 and 20 percent of U.S. carbon emissions and provide habitat for thousands of wildlife species. Forests are also responsible for generating more than $13 billion in recreation and other economic activity on U.S. Forest Service land alone.

With multiple stakeholders depending on our nation’s forests, wouldn’t it be great if we had a program where conservationists, wood industry members, nonprofits and federal workers were willing to work together to keep forests healthy so all parties could benefit from the results?

We do! The Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration (CFLR) program, created in 2009, encourages the collaboration of unlikely partners to undertake science-based restoration on priority forest landscapes. The CFLR program aims to promote job stability, reliable wood supply and forest health while reducing the costs and risks of wildfire.

Red-cockaded woodpecker. Photo: Andy Rageo.

Red-cockaded woodpecker. Photo: Andy Rageo.

When Congress established the CFLR program, it set aside limited funding for up to 10 projects for 10 years. The program requires projects to provide matching funding sources; it is estimated that $152.3 million of private and nonfederal funding will be leveraged in those 10 years. Through American Forests’ action as a founding member of the CFLR Coalition, we have been able to garner full support from Congress in fiscal year 2012 with $40 million dedicated to the CFLR program. This has enabled the Forest Service to select 10 more projects under the CLFR program and designate three others as high-priority landscapes, for a total of 23 projects working to restore our forested landscapes.

Projects are selected based on their capacity to improve forest health and provide jobs and services for people. Some projects work to decrease the destruction and cost of wildfires while others aim to increase resilience to drought and climate change. Through our longleaf pine restoration work in Florida as part of our Global ReLeaf program and our work with high-elevation pines in our Endangered Western Forests initiative, American Forests has witnessed firsthand the extensive help these forests demand.

Collaborators hope to reestablish the
Bachman’s sparrow in the Missouri Pine-
Oak Woodlands Restoration Project area.
At least 82 breeding bird species, 47
migrant birds and 87 overwintering birds
occur in this area. Photo: Andy Rageo.

While restoring forests, the projects’ activities also provide sustainable jobs in the rural communities that depend on them. Other goals for the program include the protection or improvement of 1.6 million acres of wildlife habitat and the protection of communities from wildfire destruction through fuel reduction on 1.4 million acres. In two years, the projects have surpassed their short-term goals for job creation by creating or maintaining 7,949 jobs.

Not only does the CFLR program take a comprehensive approach to forest health, it also follows the all-lands approach to forest restoration. It requires close coordination with other landowners to encourage collaborative solutions through landscape-scale operations. It helps the U.S. Forest Service work directly with communities and local organizations, accelerating the restoration work on thousands of acres of forests.

In the beginning of the 20th century, American Forests was instrumental in the passage of the Weeks Act, which provided a road map to conserve our nation’s forests and water resources. Now, we are part of a program that offers a path away from the historic “timber wars” by meeting the needs of local communities, conservation groups, recreationists and the timber industry. As agency budgets are continuously slashed and programs cut, there is always work needed. American Forests proudly supports the continuation and expansion of the CFLR program. Visit American Forests’ Action Center at www.americanforests.org/actioncenter to let Congress know that you support the CFLR program, too.

Jami Westerhold, Esq., writes from Washington, D.C., and is American Forests’ director of forest restoration.