USDA investing millions in wildfire mitigation and water quality projects through Joint Chiefs’ partnership

The U.S. Department of Agriculture will invest nearly $32 million this year to mitigate wildfire risk, improve water quality and restore healthy forest ecosystems in 24 states and Puerto Rico. Since 2014, USDA has invested $176 million in 56 Joint Chiefs’ Landscape Restoration Partnership Projects, which focus on areas where public forests and grasslands intersect with privately-owned lands.

“Through Joint Chiefs, the Natural Resources Conservation Service works with agricultural producers and forest landowners to improve forest health using available Farm Bill conservation programs and the Forest Service enhances forest health on public lands—stitching together a larger footprint of healthy ecosystems in priority areas,” said Leonard Jordan, acting NRCS chief.

This year the Joint Chiefs are providing $2.9 million to fund seven new projects and $29 million to support 21 ongoing partnership projects. Federal, state and local partners will bring an additional $12 million through financial and in-kind contributions over three years to implement the newly added projects. These contribute to jobs and economic benefits that sustain rural communities.

“Wildfires are a serious and on-going threat to forests and communities alike, as we’ve seen in California and throughout the nation this past year,” said Forest Service Chief Tony Tooke. “Through these Joint Chief’s projects, USDA will be working with local partners in high-risk project areas to control invasive species, install fire breaks and implement other targeted forest management practices to help mitigate the risk of wide-spread wildfires.”

Along with mitigating fire risk, Joint Chiefs’ projects work to improve water quality by restoring healthy forests and grasslands. For example, one of the new 2018 projects, Sublette County Forest Collaborative: Working Together for Forest Health, specifically addresses protecting the sole drinking water source of Pinedale, Wyoming, near the Bridger Teton National Forest. The project area includes lands managed by the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, State of Wyoming and private landowners in Sublette County, Wyoming. In addition to improving water quality, project goals include providing fire protection for rural residents, restoring aspens and habitat improvements for mule deer, greater sage-grouse and pronghorn. USDA will invest more than $700,000 in this project in 2018.

Descriptions of the remaining projects in the High Plains Journal readership area are as follows.

Montana—Capital 360 (Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest)—Nearly 290,000 acres are included this project which targets high-priority treatment areas benefiting the water supply source for the more than 30,000 residents of Helena and East Helena, Montana. The Capital 360 effort continues to build on the successful implementation of smaller-scale fuels reduction projects by various entities in the project area. Partners: State Forestry Funds (Montana DNRC); Tri-County FireSafe Working Group; City of Helena, U.S. Bureau of Land Management. FY18 USDA investment: $696,046 (Forest Service—$450,000, NRCS—$246,046).

New Mexico—Taos Valley Watershed Coalition (Carson National Forest)—This project includes 280,000 acres of contiguous landscape including a range of vegetation types from piñon/juniper woodland to spruce/fir. The area encompasses most of the headwaters of the Rio Grande within Taos County; waters that are critical to the economy and well-being of New Mexico’s most populous areas such as Taos, Santa Fe, and Albuquerque. Partners: Carson National Forest; Grande Water Fund-LOR Foundation; New Mexico Water Trust Board; Taos County; and Taos Pueblo. FY18 USDA investment: $403,800 (Forest Service – $250,000, NRCS – $153,800).