Western forests cover approximately 365 million acres and account for 49% of the nation’s total forested land. This massive area is managed by a diverse set of stakeholders, including state, private, and federal owners. To effectively manage the land first requires the identification of shared priorities. In 2008, Congress recognized this need by tasking states and territories with the assessment of forest conditions within their boundaries, regardless of ownership, and the development of strategies to conserve working forest landscapes, protect forests from harm, and enhance public benefits from trees and forests.
In response, all 17 western states and six U.S.-Affiliated Pacific Islands completed Statewide Forest Resource Assessments and Strategies (Forest Action Plans) in 2010. States review these plans at least every five years and update them at least every ten years. The end of 2020 marked the deadline for the first round of state updates. After ten years of stewardship guided by Forest Action Plans, now is an apt time for reflection.
State agencies, in partnership with the USDA Forest Service, private landowners, and other groups, have long supported sustainable forest management. But states can only do so much alone. Forest Action Plans focus on priority outcomes that address landscape-scale issues and provide a guide for all stakeholders toward the conservation, protection, and enhancement of forests. Every five years, State Foresters are required to submit a report that describes FAP implementation that contributes to these national priorities of conservation, protection, and enhancement.
The value of Forest Action Plans lies in their identification of shared priorities for forest management on a landscape-scale. In spite of the diverse landscapes across the West, an analysis of the first round of state Forest Action Plans identified numerous shared issues that are best addressed by coordinated, strategic action.
Western priorities identified in Forest Action Plans include:
Wildland fire: reduce wildfire risk to communities and mitigate wildfire impacts.
Water quantity and quality: secure clean and sustainable water flows through forest management.
Forest health and invasive species: reduce impacts to forest health from insect, disease, and invasive species threats.
Climate change: improve forest ecosystem resilience in the face of a changing climate and ensure that forests are recognized contributors to climate change solutions.
Sustainable communities: support new and existing forest-based industries and programs that provide for the economic, social, and environmental needs of society.
While these priorities were identified in the first round of Forest Action Plans ten years ago, they remain significant issues in the West. Forest Action Plans remain one of the most effective tools available to guide the necessary cross-boundary work to handle these challenges and support Shared Stewardship across the landscape.
Western forest ecosystems are resilient, but they face serious challenges along with the communities that depend on them. Substantial work lies ahead for all stakeholders to continue to conserve, protect, and enhance western forests. The only approach that will succeed is collaborative and partnership-based — guided by Forest Action Plans.