A to ZMill Creek Pilot Project Enables Opportunity

Op-ed by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers

Published in the Independent, the Miner News, and other Eastern Washington weeklies. 

Growing up in Kettle Falls, I enjoyed a skyline of Colville National Forest evergreens, which could be seen from just about anywhere in town. I was raised to appreciate their beauty and still do – but today, I see the forest’s potential to be a loud, roaring engine – an economic engine.

In Ferry, Stevens, and Pend Oreille counties, the Colville National Forest provides jobs, energy, and recreational opportunities for our communities in Northeastern Washington. Over the years I have walked the forest and met with the Forest Service many times. We have discussed the numerous challenges facing our forest communities including reduced catastrophic fire, timber supply, more diseased and dying trees, and underutilization, and increased unemployment.

The federal government made a promise over a century ago to actively manage our forests and provide 25% of revenues for counties containing National Forest land. The federal government has not upheld that commitment-allowing federal regulations and lawsuits to block active forest management. Many people don’t realize that of the 1.1 million acre Colville National Forest, over 300,000 acres are bug infested. This is tragic and I believe that the federal government, through the Forest Service, can and must do better.

 That’s when “A to Z” was born. The idea that the private sector can partner on public lands to promote better forest management and boost the economy.

Since then, I’ve been working with local stakeholders and the Forest Service on an innovative public-private approach in the Colville National Forest. The “A to Z” Mill Creek Pilot Project establishes a 10-year contract on 50,000 acres in the Colville National Forest.  It allows for a private sector to fund everything after the timber sale is laid out, including the pre-sale environmental requirements and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requirements. I believe that with private funds and local management, the Colville National Forest can be better managed to maintain healthier forests and give certainty to the community by providing stable and sustainable wood supply.

I believe the Forest Service should work with the private sector to create jobs, promote healthier forests and improve the economy. I am confident that this can be done in a way that protects the environment and ensures a sustainable harvest. The “A to Z” Project will demonstrate how it can be done —I want Ferry, Stevens, and Pend Oreille counties to be the model for the rest of the nation.

With a creative and innovative approach by the federal government, the Colville National Forest will continue to be the economic engine for our Northeast Washington counties for years to come. Looking ahead, I will continue to fight for priorities that reflect the needs of Eastern Washington and that will promote jobs, economic growth, and prosperity.

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