Money is the root of most forest restoration, and finances are a constraint on extending the social license. Regional Forester Harv Forsgen noted in the wrap-up session that budgets limit the scale of Forest Service activity. Large scale treatments "will require defensible ecological principles and also capture the value in order to progress at a significant scale". Fire suppression costs compete with these projects - the social license Catch-22. Fuel treatments offer a restoration service with multiple benefits, including the reduction of future fire suppression costs. However, until landscapes receive treatment, the allocated budget dollars compete with the costs to suppress large wildfires.
Given current and anticipated markets, Forsgen anticipates that straight economics alone in the region will be insufficient to justify implementation. Projects will need to capture indirect economic values, in addition to the ecological benefits derived from restoration. Promising trends that may contribute to the value of projects include: reducing foreign oil dependence, reducing fuel hazard and the risk of large regional wildfires, and market development of biomass to improve economics of proposed actions.
Collaborators are also challenged to bring their advisory process to scale. The panel discussions and conference breakout sessions surfaced the issue of the time commitment required for a successful collaboration. In John Robison's apt description, the intimate initial chat over a cup of coffee expands to the "1,000 cups of coffee". There is a need for collaborative decision processes to become more efficient, and scale performance of the stakeholders to match the condition of the resource. This goal is important for the stakeholders from the private sector who have their day jobs (Bill Higgins), and also for the NGO collaborators that cover large geographic areas with few staff.
How can stakeholders scale their activity? The partners in a collaboration advise federal line officers on restoration investment decisions. The "advisory board" will benefit in the early stages of the process if the zone of agreement includes principles that address project viability. Will the project secure adequate retained receipts to implement restoration actions without compromising landscape conditions? Consider a 50,000 acre landscape example; the estimated costs for the Environmental Review are $500,000. Thirty collaborators participate. Over a six month period of meetings, the stakeholder costs (time, travel) will add another $500,000. Assuming a successful Record of Decision leads to a ten year stewardship contract, the year zero investment is $1 million for pre-project design and NEPA evaluation. By the end of the 10 year contract, the restoration investors should reasonably expect two outcomes: 1) return of the $1 million dollar principle, and 2) an additional $1 million return on the investment. The revenue source for will be retained timber receipts from a stewardship contract. The receipts will defray costs of restoration activities. Candidate restoration activities include pre-commercial thinning, road improvement projects, stream restoration, and improvements to recreation trails.
What is the impact on the project if the duration changes for the advisory process, requiring either more or less time? Three months of meetings vs. twelve months vs. 18 months? The duration required to obtain the social license impacts the scale of commodity production required as well as the dollars available to finance restoration work. The agreement reached in a collaboration typically constrains the acres suitable for treatment, i.e. the land base is limited, and won't compensate for the cost a lengthy decision process. To achieve scale and economic viability, efficiency of process becomes essential. The Northeast Washington Forestry Coalition success was an innovative example of process efficiency. The constraint for the line officer is no loner the social license, but the budget and staff infrastructure to maintain a sustainable scale. Further details of the approach in northeast Washington, as well as the five other efforts, are available in the section Map Index to Presentations.