Money from the federal stimulus bill is beginning to flood into the national forests. Lots of money is being spent on road maintenance and brush clearing.
Of the billions of dollars in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (a.k.a., the stimulus package), forestry groups have their eyes on $1.2 billion in particular.
That’s the amount going the U.S. Forest Service to invest in projects to prevent catastrophic wild fires, repair public facilities, and restore sections of forest damaged by eroding roads and other problems.
The funding provides an opportunity for communities that depend on public lands for their livelihood to restore both forests and their economies, says Wendy Gerlitz of Sustainable Northwest, a nonprofit that works on environmental conservation and economic development.
“Overall we’re happy with what was funded in the stimulus,” Gerlitz said. “It’s a good start toward looking at how to create green jobs for rural places where the federal government owns a significant percentage of the land base.”
The full list of Forest Service projects, state by state, can be found here.
The stimulus package contains $650 million for the Forest Service to repair roads, maintain trails, and improve public facilities. This work includes repairing ecological damage, such as “decommissioning” logging roads that are no longer in use. The law allows some of these funds to be used for reclaiming abandoned mines on public lands, as well.
The first project announced in California’s Six Rivers National Forest will clear brush along 1,000 miles of roads in Humboldt, Del Norte, Siskiyou and Trinity counties. Another round of road maintenance work will be done in the Stanislaus National Forest. The Forest Service will spend $3.1 million on road work in Utah County, Utah.
Another $500 million will go to forest management activities, such as thinning stands of timber that grow too close and that increase the risk of uncontrollable forest fires. A byproduct of this activity, called hazardous fuels reduction, is wood that can sometimes be used in manufacturing or burned to generate electricity.
While the Forest Service got the lion’s share of the forestry-related stimulus funding, the federal government’s other land agency, the Bureau of Land Management, received $320 million to support similar activities on their holdings.
The sudden influx of funding has created a challenge for the Forest Service. After years of budget cuts in community grantmaking activities, the agency now has to gear up to spend more than a billion dollars within two years.
The process for distributing grants and contracts is still being developed. Gerlitz said her organization is advising forestry organizations with project ideas not to be shy about contacting the Forest Service. The Forest Service is collecting funding ideas in their regional and district offices and in the national headquarters. State forestry programs are also eligible to receive funding and are another place businesses and organizations can send funding ideas.
“We’re advising groups to send their ideas to all of these agencies,” Gerlitz said.
Sustainable Northwest is also collecting project ideas and is maintaining a web page on the stimulus money and forestry.
Gerlitz said she hopes the federal government will look at the forestry work as a chance to learn what it takes to create good rural jobs that will be there for the long haul.
“We hope there’s a chance to create long term, living wage jobs in rural communities,” she said. “When we come out the other side of these economic problems, I hope we’ll know a lot more about what that will take.”
“This is the first time we’ve seen job creation as a high priority for the agency, and looking at things like economic need in a community in how they are awarding the work. It’s exciting to see them include these ideas.”