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Harvesting Trees in the Right Place at the Right Time

Posted by Ian Fox, USDA Forest Service Southwest Region in Forestry
Oct 23, 2020
Aerial view of Zuni Mountain Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration project
Aerial view of Zuni Mountain Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration project where Designation x Prescription is being used. (Photo credit: Dan Ryerson)

Timber sales are an important part of the work to reduce wildfire risk on your national forests and grasslands. However, many of the policies governing how forest products are harvested and sold are decades old, and forest conditions, climate, forest products markets and our workforce have changed.

Now, a record fire season is highlighting why restoring forests and reducing hazardous fuels when we harvest forests is so important. We call this active management.

Today, more and more of our resources are dedicated to wildfire response. At the same time, small trees of low market value are posing a wildfire threat to communities near national forests. This requires a massive shift in the way we approach our work.

In the last several years, Congress has granted the Forest Service new authorities to increase the pace and scale of forest restoration. In 2017, the Forest Service took these new authorities and embarked on an effort to modernize and align our forest products policies with new realities. It’s no longer just about meeting our targets for volume sold; even more important is getting the right acres treated at the right time by working with state, county and tribal governments and partners in the private sector.

This month, we released the first set of proposed updates to dozens of our Timber Management Manuals and Handbooks for public comment. The policy updates reflect our commitment to shared stewardship and give employees on the ground more flexibility to select the right tools for the job based on forest health goals, local markets and other factors.

In the Southwest, we are managing nearly 21 million acres of forest and grasslands, with most in need of restoration. There is also a need to remove low-value material with local markets to absorb the material and permit rural communities access to fuelwood for heating and cooking.

Many of the proposed policy updates address these challenges. A new policy encourages expanded work with our partners through the Stewardship and Good Neighbor Authorities while factoring in local needs, capacity and cost-effectiveness.

Lowering the national minimum rates for stumpage associated with timber sales on national forests will help us make low value material more marketable, particularly for stewardship contracts and restoration treatments. A new provision for stewardship projects of up to 20 years will give our industry partners and mills more certainty in long-term planning of their investments in labor and equipment.

With traditional timber sales, each tree to be cut or left is marked with paint. This is a time consuming and costly process. New policy, called Designation by Prescription (DxP), allows the operator to select which trees to cut based on the desired end condition of the sale area. In the Southwest, we are already using DxP on projects like the Four Forest Restoration Initiative (4FRI), and it is helping us increase the pace of restoration.

These are just a few of the many changes coming. As we roll out further policy updates, we’ll be better equipped to deliver our mission to care for the land and serve people, but we won’t be doing it alone. We’ll have a new mandate, reflected in our agency policies, to reach out to partners and work together to do the right work, in the right place, at the right time.

Harvested and unharvested area of the Zuni Mountain Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration project
Harvested and unharvested area of the Zuni Mountain Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration project where Stewardship Agreement authority is being used. (Photo credit: Shawn Martin)
Category/Topic: Forestry