A 2008 wildfire that began with a lightning strike on Mt. Adams and moved toward nearby rural communities sparked a movement to find innovative ways to address fire risk and protect forest health in the Mt. Adams area of southern Washington. Those conversations grew into the Mt. Adams Community Forest, which benefited from the Community Forest Program, a newer program provided through the U.S. Forest Service that has opportunities to connect with local conservation districts.
“Concerns ranged from how we could engage in public lands management, how can we grow collaborative efforts for forest treatment, and then there were these private timberland interests as well,” Mt. Adams Resource Stewards Executive Director Jay McLaughlin said.
“How do we protect our working forest land base and maintain or sustain those connections our community had with an actively, sustainably managed forest?” McLaughlin said. “So that led to the community forest ownership idea. It really required a nonprofit entity to secure funds to buy it and manage it through a diverse, community-based board of directors.”
Mt. Adams Resource Stewards (MARS) led a community-based effort to purchase the 90-acre Mill Pond tract as the first piece of the Mt. Adams Community Forest in 2011. This purchase was followed in 2014 by the acquisition of the 299-acre Pine Flats tract. Other acquisitions are underway, and McLaughlin is hoping the acreage will reach 1,000 by year’s end.
Though there is no formal agreement in place with the local Underwood Conservation District, district personnel have been involved in the project, both through retired district manager Jim White, who serves on the MARS board, and through contact with current conservation district manager Tova Tillinghast.
“We are partners and we have a great working relationship, but MARS is really holding the reins on the community forest,” Tillinghast said. “They are doing a great job with it, representing the community and making sure they have the right connections to ensure they have the management plan input that’s necessary.
“We’re always talking about how we can leverage each other’s resources to bring the best programs to landowners,” she said.
The Mt. Adams Community Forest provides jobs associated with local mills, guarantees access for traditional uses such as fishing and hunting, and also preserves the rural character of the area, which is beneficial to local residents and visitors.
There also have been economic benefits. According to a 2014-2017 economic and community development impact report released by the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) last year, the community forest has protected 389 acres of working forest land from conversion; treated 424 acres of community forest and federal lands for fuels reduction with prescribed burns, generating $1.7 million in revenues for supporting living-wage jobs and forest stewardship efforts; recorded $8 million in countywide economic benefits; and supplied 59 months of full-time employment opportunities created within Klickitat County.
In addition, MARS leveraged its forest management expertise to secure stewardship contracts on the adjacent 7,000-acre Conboy Lake National Wildlife Refuge. These contracts resulted in a further six timber harvests and $1.1 million in gross receipts and contracts.
In 2018, MARS established a stewardship work crew to undertake projects, such as tree planting, forest stand improvement work, weed control and restoration work, in addition to supporting prescribed burning operations. The crew is also available to the conservation district, so the benefits work both ways, Tillinghast said. And the conservation district utilizes its Firewise program in conjunction with MARS’ fuel reduction practices and the two groups work together on meeting community needs.
MARS is also open to educational opportunities on forest management and best management practices. While MARS has existing forestry expertise in its organization, the conservation district utilizes that forestry expertise on a regular basis. Likewise, MARS may contact the conservation district for other natural resource concerns, such as hydrology or a noxious weed issue, for example, Tillinghast said.
The conservation district is also working with MARS on potential new community forest program opportunities.
“There are some other community forest prospects that we’re looking into, and MARS is a ready partner in that. So we can access their expertise at the very least, but also potentially partner to co-manage or co-own,” Tillinghast said. “It’s very early in terms of planning out these potential projects, but the benefit of having this organization in our community is knowing we can leverage each other’s strengths and continue to build partnerships that are effective and productive.”
Jim Cathcart, district manager for West Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District in Portland, Ore., worked with the Oregon Department of Forestry four years ago as the manager of the department’s state and private forestry cooperative programs and helped the U.S. Forest Service implement the Community Forest Program in Oregon. Though he has not had occasion to use the program yet in his conservation district capacity, he said he would not hesitate should the opportunity arise.
“I think it’s in every conservation district’s interest to learn about these programs and be aware of them and know when there’s a potential fit,” Cathcart said. “It’s a great program. We develop the relationships with the landowners, we know their needs and we need to leverage that. There’s a good fit with what the program is trying to do and what some landowners are trying to do, so we can be a good conduit to link those two together.”
Tags: Forestry Notes