- Additional Plants: native plants, trees, ornamentals
- Crop Production: agroforestry
- Education and Training: technical assistance
- Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, habitat enhancement, wildlife
- Sustainable Communities: employment opportunities
In Washington State, 1.8 million acres of rural family forestlands are at high risk of conversion to other uses (Bradley, 2009). The trend of conversion to non-forest use in the Northwest, driven by rising real estate values, uncertain regulations, structural changes in the industry, and rapid population growth, threatens communities with the loss of vital environmental services such as carbon sequestration, clean water, and flood control and the loss of jobs and economic opportunity. In order to address conversion trends and build long-term economic health in rural areas, forestland owners in the Northwest need ways to sustain the economic viability of their operations while also enhancing natural resources. The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), a voluntary conservation program administered by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), is an effective cost-share program to address these needs. EQIP provides cost share and assistance payments for the implementation of certain conservation practices such as pre?commercial thinning, stand release, culvert replacements for fish passage, management plan creation, and other practices. Projects accomplished under EQIP remove barriers to sustainable rural economic development by improving forest health and empowering landowners with information. EQIP is currently under-utilized in Washington and Oregon despite the potential for the program to address pressing conservation and economic development needs. The primary barriers to broader use of EQIP in the Northwest are lack of landowner awareness of the program and insufficient staffing to handle an increase in applicants. In particular, there are not enough Technical Service Providers (TSPs), individuals qualified to provide technical assistance on behalf of the USDA. TSPs can assist landowners with conservation planning, design, installation, and checkout of approved conservation practices. The Northwest Natural Resource Group (NNRG), in partnership with NRCS, will address these barriers by providing two-day EQIP TSP trainings for foresters from Washington and Oregon. These will go beyond the existing web-based training module to include an integrated set of tools and resources for professional foresters such as new technology for fieldwork, lessons learned from existing EQIP TSPs on NNRG’s staff, EQIP project budget and goal tracking templates, and information on emerging sustainable forest products markets, such as Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified wood. This project is urgently needed because of pressure on federal budgets, and because of the EQIP project funding process. Landowners that apply for EQIP projects while current levels of funding are available will have protections against future programmatic funding cuts, and will be able to complete all forest management and restoration activities specified in their original application. Project outcomes will include at least 12 new TSPs available to work directly with landowners, and 80-100 new landowner EQIP projects that will increase forest health and economic vitality.
Project objectives from proposal:
1) Activities and methods:
This project proposes to expand landowner conservation options and economic viability by increasing the knowledge base of forestry professionals and training them to become EQIP TSPs. The program will build on NNRG’s last Western SARE project on FSC assessor training. FSC certification and the EQIP cost-share program are complementary opportunities for landowners to maximize the environmental and long-term economic value of their woodlands. Foresters with knowledge of both FSC and EQIP will possess a broad an flexible set of services that will enable them to better serve landowners who strive to manage their forest sustainably.
NNRG, in partnership with NRCS and key landowners, will conduct two webinars and two in-person two-day TSP trainings, and will assemble an active landowner advisory committee to provide feedback on training materials and project implementation. The project team will also develop a toolkit to assist professional foresters in implementing the results of the training course. This project will train six foresters in northern Puget Sound and six foresters in southern Washington and northern Oregon to become EQIP TSPs, for a total increase of 12 new TSPs in the region. NNRG will also recruit 40-50 landowners per year for the first two years of the project (a total of 80-100 landowners) to apply for EQIP projects and undertake forest health harvest or restoration actions.
This project will train a minimum of 12 forestry professionals in northern and southern Washington and northern Oregon to be expert conservation forestry service providers to family forest landowners and certified TSPs. The project will produce a toolkit for these professionals to more efficiently and effectively implement landowner harvest and restoration projects under EQIP, other cost-share programs, or actions taken independently by landowners. The project will involve 6-12 landowner advisors in the design and implementation of the training program.
This proposal will create jobs for two demographics – the traditional harvest forester with limited experience in conservation forestry, and the newly trained conservation forester looking for experience and employment. The TSP training will provide these forestry professionals with the skills and certification necessary to conduct EQIP projects, and will also sustain and grow demand for projects through outreach to landowners. NNRG has a landowner membership across 160,000 acres in Washington and Oregon and several of these members have already signed up for EQIP projects. This project will build these successes by generating 80-100 additional EQIP applications and landowner project proposals and linking these landowners with TSPs.
The primary outcome of this project will be a broader network of forestry professionals who can respond to landowner demand for EQIP projects and the broader need for forest conservation assistance. This network will enable forestland owners to become more economically viable while enhancing natural resources, thereby improving landowner quality of life and the overall rural economy.
Other outcomes include:
1. Increasing the number of forestland owners applying for EQIP projects to include 80-100 new projects over two years;
2. Increasing the number of TSPs to a total of at least 12 in Washington and Oregon; and
3. Increasing the number of NNRG member landowners who choose to undertake forest health thinning operations outside of EQIP projects as a way of generating sustainable revenue and funding restoration actions to an additional 6-10 landowners per year.