Colorado fourth state to sign federal-state forest management agreement
The U.S. Forest Service and the Colorado State Forest Service (CSFS) signed a forest management agreement this week, allowing projects to cross the boundaries between federal and privately-owned land.
The Master Good Neighbor Agreement will make projects at the intersection of private and federal lands more efficient, by allowing partnerships in forest, rangeland and watershed restoration projects on federal lands, officials said. Some of the projects might include wildfire mitigation, bark beetle management and efforts to improve forest resiliency or health.
“One of the problems we’ve had over the years is somebody wants to do something positive and it goes right up to the fence line,” CSFS assistant staff forester Rich Edwards said. “This good neighbor agreement not only leverages treatments on the ground, but also increases communication between the two agencies.”
While the U.S. Forest Service manages National Forest lands, the CSFS has worked with private landowners to help foster healthy forests on their property. The Good Neighbor Agreement will allow projects within Colorado’s Ranger Districts and National Forests to be carried out more efficiently, by allowing federal agencies to contract jobs out to the state.
Edwards said CSFS has not begun pursuing specific local projects yet, but would soon begin inter-agency training between CSFS and the U.S. Forest Service.
Edwards added that the areas with the greatest benefit would be wildland urban interfaces, or areas where development and structures meet undeveloped land. About 80 percent of Summit County’s land area is managed by the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, while the remaining 20 percent is privately owned and managed. In addition, nearly 23,000 properties are in Summit’s wildland urban interface, according to the Summit Association of Realtors.
While these areas are prized for their views and recreational opportunities, there is also greater wildfire danger within the interface. Agreements allowing wildfire mitigation across these lines would help reduce the risk.
“I think the biggest benefit is going to be increasing forest resiliency, especially in areas where we have a lot of private, state and federal land interfaces,” Edwards said.
Colorado was one of the first states to test the Good Neighbor agreement in 2000, before it was expanded nationally in the 2014 Farm Bill. Since then, there was a gap in the federal-state partnerships until the agreement was permanently reinstated through the agreement signed this week.
“We didn’t know exactly when it was going to be reinstated,” Edwards said. “Now that we have a permanent authority, it makes a big difference. It makes it more stable as far as attracting and generating other sources of funding to get the work done.”
Colorado is the fourth state to finalize the forest management agreement between federal and state forestry agencies. Three similar agreements were passed in Wisconsin, Michigan and Texas in the last year.
“This Good Neighbor Agreement with the State of Colorado provides a strong foundation to accomplish important watershed and forest health restoration work,” Dan Jirón, regional forester for the Rocky Mountain Region of the USDA Forest Service said in a statement. “Working across boundaries further enhances our ability to reduce wildfire risk, improve local economies and protect water supplies.”
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