By Tommie Herbert (U.S. Forest Service) and Leigh Madeira (Blue Forest Conservation)
Decades of aggressive fire suppression have left many Western U.S. forests, like those in California, overgrown and susceptible to wildfires of increasing frequency and severity.
These fires endanger lives, communities, and wildlife habitat and compromise both water and air quality. And what many are unaware of is the fact that fifty percent of California’s water supply originates on National Forests.
Removing brush, shrubs, and trees can help return forests to a healthier state. The Forest Service has identified over 58 million acres of land in need of such restoration treatments to address the risk of severe fire. However, this work is not being implemented at the needed pace for a number of reasons, including limited funding.
One way to treat more acres more quickly to enhance watershed health is through cost-sharing partnerships that leverage resources from the private sector, the Forest Service, and other beneficiaries like downstream utilities. To that end, the Forest Service has announced a national Memorandum of Understanding with Blue Forest Conservation (BFC).
BFC is an Oregon benefit company with a mission to apply innovative financial tools to forest restoration activities across the Western U.S. Through this unique partnership, the Forest Service will explore how BFC’s Forest Resilience Bond can promote stewardship and restoration activities on public and private lands.
The Forest Service’s National Partnership Office Director, Jacqueline Emanuel shares, “No matter where you live, forests play an important role in our lives. Our ability to create and manage conditions for resilient communities depends on innovative funding models. We see signs of tremendous potential through our pilot efforts with BFC and the Forest Resilience Bond.”
Private investors are an unlikely yet critical ally whose interests can be aligned with those of the Forest Service. The Forest Resilience Bond provides a framework for the agency to leverage private capital to accelerate restoration treatments across densely forested landscapes. Because the model has the potential to be used as a restoration tool across multiple Western landscapes, the Forest Service will pilot the Forest Resilience Bond in California.
"There is a lot of interest from investors to fund projects that benefit the environment and local communities,” said Zach Knight, managing partner of BFC. “At the same time, there is a demonstrated need for capital if we hope to reach our conservation goals. The Forest Resilience Bond is designed to help bridge that gap by working with both the Forest Service and investors to accelerate investment in restoration across the Western U.S."
By allowing utilities, state agencies, and other beneficiaries of restoration work to share the costs of treatments only after the benefits of restoration have materialized, the FRB shifts risks to investors. This in turn allows for more beneficiaries to participate as partners, bringing in more matching funds for the agency. BFC will work with the Forest Service to engage utilities, state governments, communities, and other investors. Investor returns in the FRB are directly tied to the success of the restoration treatments and the ecological benefits that they yield.
This innovative public-private partnership will enhance the agency’s capacity for shared stewardship, build its expertise in outcome-based performance measurement, and connect urban and rural communities while promoting environmental and economic resilience.
"We look forward to accelerating restoration on California’s National Forests by piloting the Forest Resilience Bond to fund projects aimed at mitigating catastrophic wildfires," said Regional Forester Randy Moore of the U.S. Forest Service’s Pacific Southwest Region. "This partnership will improve forest health, support job growth in rural communities, and provide more opportunities to get wood from overly-dense forests out to market."