Speaking Up for North America’s Forests

Monongahela National Forest

The following is a guest post written by Chris Topik. Chris has spent his entire career working to restore America’s forests. Today he serves as director of The Nature Conservancy’s Restoring America’s Forests program. Previously he worked as staff for the House Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, and also as a 16-year-employee for the Forest Service in Oregon, Washington and Washington, DC. 

“A people without children would face a hopeless future;
a country without trees is almost as helpless.”

-Theodore Roosevelt

The stock market has plunged to half its value. Unemployment has doubled. And the President struggles to rebuild the economy of a politically divided country.

The scene may feel familiar to us today, but this was the world of President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt in 1907.

Yet by the end of his presidency President Roosevelt could reflect back on a recovered economy, an assertive global presence, markets freed from monopolies and more lands and waters conserved than any President before or since.

Of those herculean accomplishments won during tough economic times, none has forwarded greater benefits to us today than Roosevelt’s attention to the nation’s outdoors. Through the creation of the U.S. Forest Service and other conservation initiatives, Roosevelt established a natural framework that continues to provide life-giving benefits to America.

For example, this year we celebrate the centennial of one of Roosevelt’s signature outdoor legacies, the Weeks Act of 1911. This Act, sponsored by Representative John Wingate Weeks of Massachusetts, created 52 National Forests east of the Mississippi and set a precedent for collaboration on all Forest Service lands throughout the nation.

The greatest gift of the Weeks Act, however, may be it proved we can accomplish epic improvements to the health of our lands for generations to come — if the will still exists to realize them.

With an estimated 120 million acres of American forests in need of immediate restoration today (the size of California and Maine combined), a stalling economy and perhaps an even more stagnant political environment — the question is, do we still own that epic will?

Thankfully, a new report released today (pdf) suggests the answer is “yes!” This first-year analysis of the new Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program (CFLRP) further offers tangible results backing up that sentiment.

In just one year, from just 10 National Forest projects, CFLRP achieved the following:

  • Created and maintained 1,550 jobs;
  • Produced 107 million board feet of timber;
  • Generated nearly $59 million of labor income;
  • Removed fuel for destructive mega-fires on 90,000 acres near communities;
  • Reduced mega-fire on an additional 64,000 acres;
  • Improved 66,000 acres of wildlife habitat;
  • Restored 28 miles of fish habitat;
  • Enhanced clean water supplies by remediating 163 miles of eroding roads.

Perhaps even more encouraging is that all of this was achieved in a collaborative, bipartisan manner with just an initial $10 million of federal investment. Folks who were once at loggerheads over the management of our forests — industries, environmentalists, recreationists, sportsmen — have put those conflicts aside and worked collaboratively to achieve real, everyday benefits in their own communities with CFLRP.

In fact, CFLRP is seemingly one of the few programs Congress can agree on, with a bipartisan “Dear Colleague” letter now circulating in the Senate that supports increasing that seed money to $40 million in the 2012 budget, so even more communities can share in the jobs, forest, water, and wildlife successes of CFLRP. The sponsors of that letter are Senators Bingaman (D-NM), Crapo (R-ID), and Risch (R-ID).

Yet, by itself, CFLRP cannot solve the problems our American forests face: overgrown forests, a plague of pests, sprawl, climate change and the record mega-fires that result from this “perfect storm” of threats. But CFLRP is a step in the right direction that deserves more support, so that the lessons learned on these landscapes can spread further in our nation’s forests.

As a child, Theodore Roosevelt was notoriously sickly and myopic. In the belief he could heal his body through physical exertions, he prescribed himself a childhood spent outdoors and in the boxing ring. The prescription worked, and that sickly boy grew into a pugnacious collegiate boxing champion, a rugged cowboy, a leader of Rough Riders and ultimately, a farsighted president.

In doing so he made a lifetime out of answering the bell. Now it’s our turn.

Please ask your Congressional representatives now to help spread the success of CFLRP by sending them a message today. With 26 applicants to this program in 2011, you may be supporting a project in your own community!

Top 10 Weeks Act States by Acres:

Virginia 1,609,489
Arkansas 1,502,571
Michigan 1,491,673
Missouri 1,435,445
Wisconsin 1,187,062
Minnesota 1,146,664
North Carolina 1,091,377
West Virginia 1,023,768
Mississippi 878,218
Georgia 850,928

Top 10 Weeks Act National Forests by State:

Virginia George Washington and Jefferson National Forest 1,609,489
Missouri Mark Twain National Forest 1,435,445
Wisconsin Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest 1,187,062
North Carolina National Forests in North Carolina 1,091,057
West Virginia Monongahela National Forest 900,105
Mississippi National Forests In Mississippi 878,218
Georgia Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests 850,928
Minnesota Superior National Forest 830,130
Arkansas Ozark-St. Francis National Forest 823,770
Michigan Ottawa National Forest 741,080


(Image: Monongahela National Forest, West Virginia. Image source: Kent Mason).

If you believe in the work we’re doing, please lend a hand.


  1. A few minutes ago every tree was excited, bowing to the roaring storm, waving, swirling, tossing their branches in glorious enthusiasm like worship. But though to the outer ear these trees are now silent, their songs never cease. John Muir

  2. A great parallel to what we are facing today. Looking back it seems simple to do, why is is so difficult today?

  3. http://www.nature.org/media/science/cflrp-annual-report-lr-low.pdf

    Obviously some people put a lot of effort into this fancy-looking report to pat themselves on the back for the supposed achievements of the CFLRP, but I’m calling BS on many of the achievement claims made by these CFLRP collaborators in this report.

    There is simply no way possible that all of the work listed in the report (pasted below) was achieved “with just an initial $10 million federal investment.”

    Created and maintained 1,550 jobs;
    Produced 107 million board feet of timber;
    Generated nearly $59 million of labor income;
    Removed fuel for destructive mega-fires on 90,000 acres near communities;
    Reduced mega-fire on an additional 64,000 acres;
    Improved 66,000 acres of wildlife habitat;
    Restored 28 miles of fish habitat;
    Enhanced clean water supplies by remediating 163 miles of eroding roads.

    Based on our organization’s experience with the SouthWest Crown of the Continent Collaborative in Montana, it was made quite abundantly clear by Forest Service officials that the $1 million this SWCC collaborative received was a very small shot in the arm, but most of the work in the SWCC landscape (on portions of the Lolo, Flathead and Lewis and Clark National Forests) was already in the works and in the Forest Service’s pipeline long before the CFLRP was even passed into law. In other words, many of these CFLRP collaboratives are dramatically over-inflating accomplishments directly attributed to the CFLRP and are taking credit for work that the Forest Service would have done anyway, regardless of if CFLRP passed or if $10 million was allocated to these 10 projects around the country.

    I’d also like to point out that the unscientific, fear-based term “mega-fire” is used in this report a total of 27 times, which is pretty incredible and unfortunate as it really has no scientific basis and just helps enforce fire hysteria.

  4. We are encouraged that people who care about America’s forests are thinking critically about the best and most efficient way to restore them. The Conservancy believes CFLRP is one of the best tools available to help achieve this end.

    There are two types of jobs numbers in the CFLR report, all of which come from the Forest Service. The number of jobs achieved in FY2010 come from the Forest Service’s FY12 budget justification, which are based upon a standard methodology approved by the federal Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The number of jobs estimated for future years of the project comes from model estimates that were part of the project proposals and work plans, all of which are posted on http://www.fs.fed.us/restoration/CFLR/index.shtml .

    We agree that it is important that citizens and conservation partners examine closely the accomplishment claims of federal agencies. The CFLRP report does not claim that all forest restoration project accomplishments derive from the specific CFLRP appropriation alone. In fact, one of the strengths of the CFLRP is the requirement that partner and other Forest Service funds be used to match the specific CFLRP appropriated funds and to leverage disparate funding sources for greater restoration impact. The CFLR program offers a means to multiply investment in forest restoration. We agree that the CFLRP allocations and the positive attention have provided real shots in the arms of the selected projects.

    We also agree that even more investment in restoration is needed for our nation to realize the full benefits our forests provide to people, jobs, water, and wildlife. This first-year report has been a way to highlight how effective this kind of investment can be, and encourage greater investment. The Conservancy hopes Congress provides support to this program at the $40 million level, which will allow even more states to share in the success of this program.

    Regarding “mega-fires,” indeed we repeatedly used that term to avoid confusion or value judgment (e.g. catastrophic fire) about what we are trying to avoid—fires that burn too hot, too fast, and too big. “Mega-fires” is a term commonly used by wildland fire professionals and we repeated its use to remain consistent throughout the document. Indeed, this is not a scientific term, but it has been used widely for over a decade, and it also has been used by the science community. A recent November conference of forest professionals at Florida State University, called “Exploring the Mega-fire Reality 2011- A Forest Ecology and Management Conference” speaks to the relevance of the term.

  5. Just so I understand – are you cheering that they are cutting down more trees? Because I’m not sure I can cheer for that. “Producing board-feet of timber” means destroying trees, doesn’t it? How is that good news? Are they really “improving wildlife habitat,” or is that just what they say to pretend they are not pillaging it for profit?

  6. Thank you for your questions S.

    The Nature Conservancy is a strong supporter of the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration program, along with The Wilderness Society, Defenders of Wildlife, Sustainable Northwest, and 140 other private entities.

    As stated in the above, the Conservancy estimates a forested area bigger than California is in need of immediate restoration in the United States. These areas need restoration due to a “perfect storm” of causes:

    – a previous century-old national policy of putting out all natural fires in our forests;
    – the introduction of foreign pests and diseases to our forests;
    – a changing climate that is allowing native U.S. bugs to do more damage;
    -a historical legacy of poorly managed forest harvesting.

    The net result is that many of our forests are sickly, overgrown, and unable to provide the same amount of life-giving services our nation depends on. Some of our forests need to be thinned out to restore wildlife habitat, and to reduce the risk of destructive mega-fires that harm wetlands.

    CFLR improves forest management by including more of the local players in forest planning from the get-go. It brings together conservationists, businesses, and communities to collaboratively find the best way to manage their local water, forest, and wildlife resources.

    At some CFLR projects this means treating forests with more controlled burns to thin the forest and knock down invasive species; in others “mechanical thinning” is used (ie. cutting). In many cases these activities provide jobs for local communities and wood for businesses.

    Regardless of the method used to restore these forests, the primary motivation and goal of the projects is to restore the condition of the forest for people, water, and wildlife. The first year results of the program is strong evidence CFLR is meeting that goal.

    Again, thank you for your question S.

  7. Protect and save wild environment, It most necessary and important. Those forest gave human fresh air , resources.
    and beauty view.

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