JFT tours partnership sites near Denver

The national Joint Forestry Team (JFT) met in Denver, Colorado in August to discuss team strategies, goals and accomplishments, as well as tour project sites throughout the Upper South Platte Partnership. It was the first time in the JFT’s 11-year existence the group has organized a field tour as part of its annual meeting.

The tour was led by staff from the Colorado State Forest Service, U.S. Forest Service, Jefferson Conservation District and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Organized in 2015, the nine members of the Upper South Platte Partnership work towards sustainable and resilient landscapes, healthy forests, proactive and engaged fire-adapted communities, with efficient fire response and management.

“We felt it was important for members to view the types of multi-partner, all-lands forestry initiatives we talk so much about and help to support,” NRCS State Conservationist Clint Evans said. Evans is also the JFT Chair for 2018. “The project sites we looked at are great examples for how partnerships can accomplish what individual agencies often cannot accomplish on their own.”

  • The Heavens Forest Management Project within the Front Range of the Colorado Rocky Mountains has banded five landowners who jointly own 556 acres of private land. Fuels reduction work helps to make the land more resilient to future catastrophic wildfire, while also helping to enhance watershed health. Project work is expensive due to limited access and a depressed local wood industry; partnership cooperators rely heavily on grant funding.
  • Near the north fork of the South Platte River, JFT members heard from Christina Burri of Denver Water. The 2002 Hayman Fire — the largest fire in Colorado history — demonstrated the tremendous costs wildfire can have on water supply. Denver Water is an active partner in multiple partnerships and has effectively communicated the linkage between wildfire and water to the general public.
  • Jeffery Cannon, a research associate with Colorado Forest Restoration Institute, discussed ecological resilience monitoring at the final tour stop. The Upper South Platte Partnership relies on data to prioritize project sites throughout the 650,000-acre Upper South Platte Watershed.

“The projects we saw, and the efforts of the Upper South Platte Partnership, are part of a new and rapidly expanding movement on the Colorado Front Range, and in other parts of the West,” said Garrett Stephens, Jefferson Conservation District forester and staff supervisor. “The projects implement large-scale, ecology-based forest treatments designed to mitigate future wildfire behavior and restore forest diversity on private lands, as well as public.”

Colorado State Forester Mike Lester admitted the Upper South Platte Partnership had trouble overcoming a series of obstacles in the early phases of the partnership. “But everyone stuck with it and focused on the end goal,” Lester said. “It’s important to first build the relationships, then worry about overcoming the obstacles.”

The day following the field tour, JFT members met to evaluate progress on the group’s five-year work plan and to hear from common partners. A panel featuring representatives from American Forest Foundation (AFF), National Wild Turkey Federation and Western Governors Association discussed the successes and challenges of their respective organization’s forestry initiatives. “We have to partner to reach that ultimate impact on the ground,” AFF Western Conservation Director Tom Fry said.

JFT subcommittees are engaged in three tasks from the work plan for completion by the end of the year:

  • A welcome packet to distribute to new forest supervisors, state foresters, state conservationists and conservation district state executives. The packet will make new personnel aware of their state’s forestry memorandum of understanding and the roles of each agency, introduce the JFT and its mission, and help raise awareness of state forest action plans.
  • An effort to help bring more awareness to state forest action plans and the need for input in shaping 2020 plans. The JFT is also exploring ways in can assist in promoting the objectives of plans to state and local cooperators, once completed.
  • Strategies to better serve minority, female, intergenerational and tribal forest landowners, among others. This task will help identify existing resources and explore new opportunities.

The JFT also is working on finalizing an updated memorandum of understanding (MOU) to sign in December.