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Green Jobs in the Woods: Restoring Our National Forests

by Bonnie Phillips

The U.S. Forest Service estimates the current backlog of road and culvert projects at $300 million and growing yearly. Deteriorating, unmaintained, and poorly designed national forest roads contribute sediment-laden runoff into forest streams and add to downstream flooding. This harms endangered and dwindling runs of salmon that need cold, clear water to thrive and reproduce. These conditions also threaten recreational opportunities.

In December 2006, the board of the Olympic Forest Coalition discussed violations of the 'Clean Water Act Memorandum of Agreement' between the U.S. Forest Service and the State Department of Ecology. Under the agreement, the federal agency is required to deal with fixing roads, however it is understood that the violations are a direct result of lack of funding from Congress. Within a month the Washington Watershed Restoration Initiative coalition was formed. It now consists of 15 environmental and recreational organizations as well as the state Departments of Ecology and Fish and Wildlife.

During 2008, the coalition organized two field trips to the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. The first trip was to acquaint members of the media and public with the need for watershed restoration efforts, and the second was to inform contractors who receive money to do this good work. Contractors, almost always local, who once built roads for logging, are now decommissioning those same roads for watershed protection. The coalition had earlier recognized the potential for green jobs that this effort could provide.

With the flagging economy and President Obama's talk about a major economic stimulus package focused on green jobs, collective light bulbs went off and the coalition went into action. In order to be successful, a national effort was needed. Thus was born an informal alliance called Legacy Roads, linking local groups across the country, involving key political leaders. Congressman Norm Dicks (D-WA), chair of the House Interior Appropriations Committee, set up the Legacy Roads and Trails program and $39.4 million was provided to national forests throughout the country. The Olympic National Forest received the most funding since they already had a small but established program.

This past December, the coalition issued a proposal, (see www.olympicforest.org), signed by 97 groups, and sent it to congressional committee members. Newspapers around the country picked it up and helped spread the word. The proposal called for a National Forest Watershed Restoration Corps, asking for $500 million over the next two years (the duration of the stimulus package). The funds would be used to decommission forest roads, repair fish culverts and maintain forest roads used for recreation and administration.

Investing in a comprehensive watershed restoration program can provide people in rural, resource dependent communities with the same high-wage, high-skill jobs derived in the past from building roads or extracting timber. Congressmen Jay Inslee (D-WA) and Peter DeFazio (D-OR) spearheaded a 'Dear Colleague' letter, signed by over 30 House members, that called for a major green package for all public lands. The letter specifically referenced the Watershed Restoration Corps. Money is very tight, so funding will need to be creative. One approach involves an effort to get a reauthorized federal transportation bill to include work on Forest Service roads.

It is very important to show wide support for green jobs in the woods. To help, please contact Bonnie Phillips at Bonnie@olympicforest.org or (360) 456-8793 in Olympia. Bonnie serves as coalition coordinator; Sue Gunn, the Washington representative for Wildlands CPR, is the campaign coordinator. The coalition will host a panel on green jobs, featuring a green contractor, at the Land-Air-Water (also known as the E-LAW) annual conference in Eugene, Oregon in March. For more information, please visit www.olympicforest.org and www.wildlandscpr.org.

Bonnie Phillips is Executive Director of the Olympic Forest Coalition, a grassroots group with programs on the Olympic National Forest and the Olympic Experimental State Forest.


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Updated 2015/01/07 21:14:22