In January, 2007, the Montana Forest Restoration Working Group came together to define a set of principles that define forest restoration. After coming to agreement on a set of forest restoration principles, the group decided to continue their efforts of working together to ensure the principles are carried out in Montana’s National Forests. The group changed their name to the Montana Forest Restoration Committee.
Forest Restoration Introduction
Restoration of forest ecosystems is an attempt to rejuvenate and recover natural structure, function, and process in a landscape context. Although it is clear that complete restoration of an ecosystem cannot be achieved through discrete projects applied individually on the landscape, the process of restoration can be conducted with a flexible and open approach that allows for the improvement in the natural condition, form and function in the landscape and places the ecosystem on a more natural trajectory.
The Montana Forest Restoration Working Group put forth a set of principles that might help guide the restoration process in Montana. Furthermore, as important as the development of a meaningful set of restoration principles is the collective and collaborative process taken to arrive at an agreeable set of principles. The 13 restoration principles reflect a distillation of approximately 60 restoration vision categories and restoration attributes.
All 13 of these restoration principles fall under the assumption that restoration is conducted to accelerate the recovery of ecological processes and to enhance societal and economic well being. Restoration does not preclude future active management; in fact it may enhance future options. Restoration activities shall be conducted under the principles of adaptive management.
The following principles should be applied when planning and executing all forest restoration work on national forest lands in Montana. Projects should adhere to all applicable principles. Parties working on restoration projects should:
- Restore functioning ecosystems by enhancing ecological processes. Restore ecosystems and biotic composition to achieve ecological integrity through recovery of species diversity, water quality and quantity, soil quality and function, terrestrial and aquatic habitats, and resilience. Project design will utilize adaptive management, recognizing the dynamic character of ecosystems and the unpredictability of the future. Active and Passive Management strategies (see Appendix A for definitions) will be used to attain desired ecosystem objectives and future conditions.
- Apply adaptive management approach. Restoration will be conducted through adaptive management that includes assessment, project design, implementation, research and monitoring. Adaptive management is an approach to natural resource policy that embodies a simple imperative: actions are experiments; learn from them. The process does not necessarily follow a specific pattern, but rather is dynamic and responds to inputs and outcomes at any point along the way.
- Use the appropriate scale of integrated analysis to prioritize and design restoration activities. Use landscape, watershed and project level ecosystem analysis in both prioritization and design of projects unless a compelling reason to omit a level of analysis is present. While economic feasibility is essential to project implementation, priorities should be based on ecological considerations and not be influenced by funding projections.
- Monitor Restoration Outcomes. Monitoring is essential for determining the effectiveness of implemented restoration projects. Baseline measurements, project monitoring, and the incorporation of research complete the information feedback loop used in future project design. Monitoring must be conducted at multiple scales.
- Reestablish fire as a natural process on the landscape. Reestablishment of natural fire regimes may be accomplished through Passive or Active Management. Passive Management allows for natural processes to take place by not suppressing natural fire starts, subject to cultural and social constraints. Active Management includes silvicultural treatments and/or the reintroduction of fire as prescribed fire. Mechanical treatments may be needed in order to reintroduce fire. Restoration activities, including design and implementation, should be tailored to the fire regimes of each forest type (see Appendix B). Fire is used to both achieve ecological objectives and ultimately increase public understanding and acceptance of fire as a natural process. Once fire is reintroduced, natural or prescribed fires could be implemented or permitted on a natural interval thereby restoring this fundamental process within the forest community.
- Consider social constraints and seek public support for reintroducing fire on the landscape. The use of fire in restoration will require a commitment to ecological principles combined with sensitivity to social constraints. Current and expanding human occupation of forest landscapes, carbon dioxide release, clean air regulations, and other factors may limit the widespread return of fire. As such, where the risk of social backlash is high, the use of fire will move forward only when broad public support can be gained. Proper use of fire as a component of restoration, combined with community outreach, can enhance public support and understanding over time.
- Engage community and interested parties in the restoration process. Community involvement and support enhances the ability to achieve restoration on the ground. Successful restoration seems to occur when there is a consensus building, grassroots collaborative group whose mission is to coordinate efforts that enhance, conserve and protect natural resources and local lifestyles for present and future generations. Restoration efforts should be developed jointly by agency staff, community members, and other interested parties. This cooperation will lead to better and more productive outcomes and the wide range of knowledge, opinions, and interests will contribute to project design and implementation. Finally, landscape level approaches are more efficient and effective than smaller individual project efforts and should lead to increased quality of life and a greater sense of connection to the landscape.
- Improve terrestrial and aquatic habitat and connectivity. Restoration projects should enhance habitat for the complex of terrestrial and aquatic species that are native to the target location or ecosystem. Projects should, when ecologically beneficial, enhance habitat connectivity to promote free migration and movement of native species between and through natural landscapes. Enhanced connectivity does not preclude future active management.
- Emphasize ecosystem goods & services and sustainable land management. Restoration activities should lead to the sustained abundance of ecosystem goods & services within the landscape. Ecosystem goods & services encompass human-derived goods and services from ecological landscapes and sustainable ecosystems. Restoration activities should be evaluated for the potential to influence these services and provide goods.
- Integrate restoration with socioeconomic well-being. Restoration efforts must enhance long-term social benefits and be economically feasible to ensure success. Restoration activities should emphasize landscapes that provide sustained employment opportunities, and maintain thriving communities, both rural and supporting urban areas. Communities should benefit from restoration in numerous ways including employment opportunities, healthy living environments, and intact infrastructures. A sustainable, vibrant, integrated forest industry infrastructure is critical to implementation of viable restoration projects involving vegetative management by providing necessary equipment, expertise and markets to help offset restoration costs.
- Enhance education and recreation activities to build support for restoration. Promote education and recreation activities and facilities which interpret and fund recreation activities on national forest lands are highly important and can provide opportunities for people to both observe and appreciate restoration efforts.
- Protect and improve overall watershed health, including stream health, soil quality and function and riparian function. Restoration activities should focus on restoring and maintaining properly functioning conditions in high value watersheds and riparian areas. Stream bank, stream channel and stream crossing restoration and improvements in priority watersheds are critical to achieving watershed health and resiliency to allow for functioning hydrologic conditions and aquatic habitat. Restoration projects should include efforts to minimize long-term soil degradation and erosion and should also strive to improve soil productivity, increasing soil water infiltration rates and water holding capacity.
- Establish and maintain a safe road and trail system that is ecologically sustainable. National Forest System roads and trails provide important access for land management activities and public use. However, many national forests currently have some roads and trails that are adversely impacting watersheds and wildlife. The Forest Service, along with local communities and interested parties, should analyze which roads and trails will be maintained, constructed, reconstructed, or decommissioned to address ecological concerns and access needs. Road and trail restoration and maintenance can improve wildlife and fisheries habitat, protect watersheds, and improve public access.