Blog

An innovative approach to increasing the pace and scale of forest restoration

Posted by Andrew Spaeth on December 10, 2014

Focused science is allowing The Blue Mountains Restoration Strategy to take root on the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest.

Lower-Joseph-Creek-group-photo_Nils-Christoffersen_600
A collaborative meeting in the Lower Joseph Creek watershed. Photo by Nils Christoffersen

Joseph Creek flows north through a remote and rugged part of the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest in the Blue Mountains of northeastern Oregon. A tributary of the Wild and Scenic Grande Ronde River – a popular destination for fishermen and rafting vacationers – the creek boasts wild steelhead and rainbow trout and is an area of historical significance to the Nez Perce Tribe, which has inhabited parts of the watershed for millennia.

As part of the Blue Mountains Restoration Strategy, The Forest Service and the Wallowa-Whitman Forest Collaborative are working together to conserve and improve the ecological health of Lower Joseph Creek while creating economic opportunities for local forest workers. The “LoJo” project is the largest forest restoration effort to date, encompassing more than 98,000-acres of forest land, and is the first taken on by the forest collaborative and the Forest Service’s Blue Mountains Restoration Strategy Interdisciplinary Team – a group of senior Forest Service scientists commissioned in 2013 by the Forest Service’s regional forester at the time, Kent Connaughton, to increase the pace and scale of restoration planning.

The decision to focus the team’s efforts on the Lower Joseph Creek Project stems from direction provided by the Wallowa-Whitman Forest Collaborative, and through previous investments by the Wallowa County Natural Resources Advisory Council (NRAC) to study the health of the forest and watershed. Funding from the NRAC supported data collection, which was later shared with the interdisciplinary team.

The team approach is largely a departure from traditional Forest Service planning strategies because the scientists are working solely on Lower Joseph Creek, versus on a number of watersheds simultaneously. The hope for this approach is that restoration projects will be developed faster than through traditional planning methods. And so far, this is proving to be true.

In just under a year, the team developed a Draft Environment Impact Statement (DEIS), which outlines the potential ecological effects of the proposed project. A DEIS is part of every restoration planning effort on national forests, required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Due to the commitment of the Forest Service and the collaborative group to increase the pace of restoration on this forest, the timeline for the project is accelerated, especially when compared to the average planning process for Forest Service projects which is typically more than 1000 days. 

The approach to the Lower Joseph Creek Project has been collaborative from the very beginning and the Wallowa-Whitman Forest Collaborative, in partnership with the Forest Service and the Wallowa County NRAC, has worked to ensure that the plan encompasses social, economic, and ecological goals for the landscape and surrounding rural communities. Sustainable Northwest is pleased to be providing staff support to the Wallowa-Whitman Forest Collaborative and this project, which is important in restoring, maintaining, and enhancing forest and watershed health while contributing to local socioeconomic well-being.  

The public is invited to share their comments on this project until February 12, 2014. To find out more information and to read the DEIS, visit: http://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprd3822296.pdf

Comments about the Lower Joseph Creek Project DEIS can be submitted electronically by emailing r6restorationprojects@fs.fed.us.

Learn more about the Blues Strategy.