U.S. Institute for Environmental Conflict Resolution

Project Case Summary

New Mexico Collaborative Forest Restoration Program
October 2002 - October 2009

Background

Authorized by Congress in 2000, the Collaborative Forest Restoration Program (CFRP) established a new and innovative program in New Mexico to provide grants for collaborative forest restoration projects on public land. Prior to the creation of the program, New Mexico forests had been mired in conflict. Years of fire suppression, logging, and grazing had brought forests to an unhealthy state. In the 1990s, following a federal decision to list the Mexican spotted owl as an endangered species, and a long period of overharvesting, the regional timber industry collapsed. After that, environmentalists and the timber industry were engaged in heated public debates about how to move forward. In partial response to these conditions and a desire to create and maintain healthy, productive watersheds, Congress passed the Community Forest Restoration Act of 2000, which authorized the establishment of the CFRP in New Mexico. Within its legislative authority, the Act provides federal appropriations of up to $5 million annually towards cost-share grants to stakeholders for experimental forest restoration projects designed through a collaborative process. This USDA Forest Service program provides cost-share grants to stakeholder groups in New Mexico engaged in collaborative, community-based forest restoration work. The intent of the CFRP grants are to enable stakeholders to collaboratively work together to promote healthy watersheds and reduce the threat of large, high-intensity wildfires; insect infestation; and disease while also maintaining the economic interests of the forest industry. To be eligible to participate, grant applicants must use a collaborative process that includes a diverse and balanced group of stakeholders to design, implement, and monitor their project. Grant proposals are reviewed by an independent FACA-chartered committee.

U.S. Institute for Environmental Conflict Resolution's Role

In 2002, the USDA Forest Service asked the U.S. Institute for Environmental Conflict Resolution for assistance in organizing and convening meetings and annual workshops and to provide broad support for logistics, facilitation, and reporting. In addition, through contractors, the U.S. Institute provided meeting facilitation and documentation support for CFRP's FACA-Chartered Technical Advisory Panel, which provides recommendations on which grant proposals best meet the program objectives, and guidelines for multi-party monitoring. From 2002 until 2009, the U.S. Institute, working with the Meridian Institute, assisted with many of the innovative and collaborative aspects of the program. In addition, the U.S. Institute helped with periodic special events, including a Report to Congress evaluating the CFRP effort and a workshop chronicling lessons learned.

Results & Accomplishments

Since its establishment, the Collaborative Forest Restoration Program has awarded approximately 144 grants to 99 organizations that are working in 20 counties in New Mexico and have restored over 23,700 acres of forest. Over 450 diverse stakeholders are involved in implementing the projects, and approximately 600 permanent, seasonal, and part-time forest-related jobs have been created in New Mexico. Walter Dunn, CFRP Program Manager, U.S. Forest Service, is quoted as saying,

"The U.S. Institute for Environmental Conflict Resolution played a key role in the success of the CFRP. The Institute assisted the Forest Service in identifying and convening key stakeholders to develop multi-party monitoring guidelines for the CFRP that have been nationally recognized."

According to the CFRP Lessons Learned Report produced by Region 3 of the Forest Service in 2009 with the assistance of the U.S. Institute, the program has produced both tangible and intangible results. The report says, "More important, perhaps, are the program's less quantifiable results, as an atmosphere of litigation and acrimony surrounding resource issues has given way to a spirit of cooperation."

The U.S. Government Accountability Office issued a report in 2010 on appeals, objections, and litigation involving fuel reduction on Forest Service lands and found that litigation appeals over forest-thinning work in national forests have fallen dramatically in recent years. The report also indicated that the Forest Service in New Mexico and Arizona approved thinning and reducing hazardous buildup on more acres during the 2006-2008 timeframe (more than 3 million acres) than any other region of the National Forest System. According to the report, between the years 2006-2008, none of the Forest Service projects in New Mexico involving hazardous fuels reduction were taken to court, and 87 percent proceeded without any objection, administrative appeal, or litigation. Nationwide, 98 percent of Forest Service decisions approving hazardous fuels reduction projects - covering more than 10 million acres - were implemented without litigation. Just 2 percent - involving 124,000 acres - were taken to court. Administrative appeal rates dropped by 69 percent compared to 2002-2003.

Senator Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico is quoted as saying,

"The Forest Service and public in New Mexico generally have embraced a collaborative approach to responsible forest thinning and wildfire-risk reduction projects. The willingness of the public and the Forest Service to work together is paying off. I hope this trend continues."

Credits

U.S. Institute: Larry Fisher - Senior Program Manager
Phone: (520) 901-8544; Email: fisher@ecr.gov; Website: www.ecr.gov
Meridian Institute: Connie Lewis - Senior Partner
Phone: (970) 513-8340 x. 202; Email: connielewis@merid.org

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