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Forest Health Partnership charts course for new year

Staff Writer

The San Juan Headwaters Forest Health Partnership (SJHFHP) met in November to discuss current and future projects, their 2014 budget, grants, overcoming fund-raising challenges, and other business.

This year, the SJHFHP received two large grants from the Colorado State Forest Service (CSFS) and from the National Forest Foundation (NFF). The procurement of these two grants met group grant funding goals for the year. The CSFS awarded the group $101,180 to be utilized for forest restoration and monitoring — the grant money will carry into 2015.

The NFF grant, for $33,423 will expire in September of 2014 and will be used to enhance forest monitoring and promote citizen science efforts. SJHFHP has been working to increase community involvement in forest health monitoring and action in order to increase citizen education and involvement in forest management. In order to access the NFF grant money, the group had to match the amount with non federal funds, which they did by means of the CSFS grant.

The fact that both grants have a large monitoring component led group member Aaron Kimple to discuss how similar groups throughout the state are also monitoring forest health. If all of these groups could work more cooperatively and produce comparable data using consistent monitoring techniques, he said, a powerful data set could be created. However, as many of these groups including the SJHFHP do a lot of monitoring with citizen volunteers, the data has to be easy to collect, interpret, store and receive. The SJHFHP will continue to examine its ability to collaborate with similar groups to produce comparative data and therefore more robust information about forest health across the state.

Although the group met 2013 grant goals, it fell short of fund-raising and donation targets. During the meeting, group members discussed how fund-raising efforts could be improved, expressing that despite the receipt of grant money, the organization needs to take action to raise and secure more funds for long-term operations. Although some group members suggested investing in holding a fund-raising event, others expressed that such an event may not result in a good return on investment.

“I’m not sure we have enough community presence yet to pull something like that off,” said group member Steve Hartvigsen.

Other fund-raising ideas included better communication with the public, improved public education efforts including experiential learning through citizen science programs, and allowing people to donate money to the group via its new website. Using personal connections with forest health stake holders as well as pursuing more private funding opportunities such as grant money from the Hershey Foundation will be important as the group strives to meet donation goals in the future.

To garner more interest in forest health projects, the SJHFHP will focus restoration and monitoring efforts on both private and public lands. These actions will help educate the public.

“A lot of people just assume the Forest Service will take care of the health of federal lands, but groups like ours play an important role, too,” explained Kimple.

One of the main projects the group is currently involved in is the completion of a watershed assessment. Working in partnership with government agencies including the Forest Service, the group hopes to gain a better understanding of the potential impacts of fire on watershed infrastructure and water quality through the project. The SJHFHP hopes data gathered from project actions will allow for proactive management of watershed areas most sensitive to fire damage.

The SJHFHP is also building a grant application to the Joint Fire Science Program based on these efforts. If received, the grant would help the group develop a more advanced understanding of the impacts of fire events on water quality and chemistry. This information would be used to interpret threats posed to community water resources by fire events.

The Chama Peak Land Alliance is also interested in the watershed assessment project as the southeast corner of the area the SJHFHP is interested in monitoring overlaps with a watershed area of particular interest to the alliance. The project is also important to the group because there are few forest product industries in this region to assist with forest management and it is virtually impossible for private landowners to carry out prescribed burns to manage forested areas.

“We (Chama Peak Land Alliance and SJHFHP) share the same goals in our work. We view the SJHFHP as a collaborative partner and expect to learn a great deal from all of the fantastic work they’ve been doing,” said Land Alliance director Leslie Allison.

As we move into the new year, the SJHFHP hopes to increase citizen science monitoring programs by heightening community awareness to forest management issues. In addition, the group will continue to work towards meeting fund-raising goals that, if met, will help them pursue a number of projects in the interest of forest health.

In other business the group:

• Discussed the new website, which can be found at sanjuanheadwaters.org. Some members expressed a desire to include an archive of additional past information on the site.

• Declared that initial transect monitoring projects at Cloman Park were finished and that the organization hopes to pursue ongoing monitoring with the help of Pagosa Springs High School students using National Forest Foundation Funds. The group received a $5,000 grant for work in Cloman park in 2012.

• Communicated that grant monies received via Archuleta Title III and the Southwest Water Conservation District will carry into 2014.

• Discussed how the organization should be set up in terms of member work load comparing half time and quarter time models.

• Offered suggestions about how the 2014 budget could be adjusted to better tell a story of group expenses and activities.

Dana.Hayward@pagosasun.com

This story was posted on December 5, 2013.