20 Jul 2009, 3:48pm
Saving Forests
by admin

Restoring Forests, Range, and Communities on the Gila Forest

by Gila Ranchers

The Gila Livestock Growers Association [here], formerly Gila Forest Permittee’s Association, is a non profit, grazing organization, Our members ranch for a living and run cattle or support those who do on the Gila National Forest in Southwest New Mexico.

This grass-roots community ranching and conservation group that was founded in the 1950’s by local livestock producers from across the Gila National Forest seeking to unite their common interests. A fundamental interest of this group is forest and rangeland health and sustainability.

As on-the-ground stakeholders, that in some family cases spans 100 years, community members have experienced first hand the effects due to overgrown forests and fire suppression/exclusion. For example, large soil erosion events and loss of overstory trees following high-intensity crown fire events represent both ecological and economic losses for community members.

Conservation of the surrounding natural resources from which their livelihoods depend is central to their goals and objectives. Currently, several members of the association have experience in forestry and wood products (including ownership of a small scale sawmill) and would like to see the return of a sustainable and ecologically sound wood products industry.
Not only would this improve forest health, but it would also provide an opportunity for the young people in these communities to stay in the community.

In 2008 the association won a Collaborative Forest Restoration Grant to allow them to pursue those goals. A website [here] has been established to keep members and the public up to date on the progress of the Eastern Gila Forest and Community Restoration Project.

The Eastern Gila Forest and Community Restoration Project [here]

Many western National Forest System lands are currently in degraded ecological condition due to densities of woody material far exceeding their historic range of variability.  Concurrently, many small rural communities throughout the West and Southwest have suffered severe setbacks in their local economies due to a reduction in the procurement of renewable resources from public forests.

Within the scientific community there is a general recognition that mechanical treatment or removal can improve watershed function, reduce the threat of severe wildland fire behavior, permit re-introduction of prescribed fire, improve understory diversity and productivity, improve timber productivity, and improve foraging habitat for both wild and domestic ungulates.

While there is no shortage of need for restoration projects in the West, many of the small diameter treatments have not been economically self-sustaining.  Obstacles blocking additional entrepreneurial investment in forest restoration are an incomplete understanding of the market forces at work, and lack of infrastructure.

We, the Gila National Forest Permittees Association representing Eastern Gila National Forest stakeholders, propose to 1) establish a local community forest restoration cooperative from which to conduct forest restoration, and 2) simultaneously conduct an economic analysis to scientifically assess the successes and roadblocks to fiscally sustainable forest restoration –- a need highlighted in the recent 2005 CFRP Effectiveness Review.

The operational aspects of the forest restoration process will serve as a case study for the economic analysis, and the results of this economic analysis will become part of the NM Forest Restoration Series available on-line at the NM Forest and Watershed Restoration Institute.  The final products will include 1) a sustainable community forest restoration cooperative in the Eastern Gila; 2) a feasibility analysis for establishing different types of wood production facilities and their associated cost, supply, and demand constraints; and 3) a series of desk guides to assist entrepreneurs and future CFRP applicants in the decision making process concerning the development of a forest restoration-based business in remote locations and the key questions related to making forest restoration projects self-sustaining.

Currently, there are no other community based forest restoration projects operating in this region of the Gila National Forest

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