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RURAL TECHNOLOGY INITIATIVE (RTI)
2003 Activity Summary

MISSION: RTI was established in January 2000 by a federal grant as a pilot project to accelerate the implementation of new technologies in rural forest resource-based communities. Increasing complexity from changing environmental regulations, such as the new Forest and Fish Agreement in Washington State and the recognition that new research findings were well ahead of implementation suggested the need for more rapid technology transfer. Efforts to mitigate the substantial widening gap between urban and rural incomes depend upon more successful technology transfer. University of Washington (UW) and Washington State University (WSU) Cooperative Extension created RTI, as a cooperative program with the support of a Rural Forestry Advisory Board. Funding was provided by a Congressional Appropriation through USDA–Forest Service Cooperative Forestry.

RURAL TECHNOLOGY INITIATIVE WINS NATIONAL AWARD!
The National Private Forestry Education Award for 2002 was awarded to UW/WSU for the Rural Technology Initiative. The National Woodland Owners Association (NWOA) and the National Association of Professional Forestry Schools and Colleges (NAPFSC) presented the award at the 2002 National Society of American Foresters annual meeting.

 

RTI’s Timber-Rural Advisory Board includes members representing non-industrial private forests (east and west), community leaders, tribal forestry enterprises, forestry consultants, Washington Farm Forestry Association, The Olympic Natural Resources Center (ONRC), American Forest Resource Council, Washington Contract Loggers Association, Washington Hardwoods Commission, Columbia-Pacific RC&EDD, Northwest Forest Products Workers, United Brotherhood of Carpenters, Okanogan Communities Development Corporation, USDA – Forest Service Cooperative Forestry.

RURAL ADVISORY BOARD SETS PRIORITIES

The Rural Advisory Board reviewed progress, proposed new projects and established new priorities.

Continuing priorities:

  • Affordable forestry technology training and web-based communications.
  • Case studies to understand the economic and environmental impacts of new regulations.
  • Continued development of road management tools and GIS applications.
  • Development of scientifically credible habitat and instream functionality models to support alternative management plans demonstrating the impacts of different treatments.
  • Shade and LWD modeling.
  • Small Forest Landowner Office database development and validation.

New priorities:

  • Alternative plans for riparian management - e.g. thinning in the core zone.
  • Retrospective studies of prior buffers and thinnings to validate treatment alternatives.
  • Ag tree buffer pilot project preparation; alder growth modeling.
  • More eastside support for case studies.

Supplemental grants:

  • Develop alternative strategies for design, layout, and administration of fuel removal projects that incorporate the use of risk assessments for landscape planning (completed and published 7/03).
  • Characterize non-market benefits of fire risk reduction to support to support comprehensive cost/benefit analysis of hazardous fuel removal investments (completed and published 7/03).
  • Develop alternate management strategies for fire risk reduction in the South Deep Watershed of the Colville National Forest.
  • Develop a carbon accounting system linked to forest management and product processing (programming refinements are ongoing but accounting system is operational).
  • Develop a marketing report based upon purchaser surveys and interviews to advise the WA DNR timber sale program for dry forest areas at risk of insect, disease, and fire damage.
  • Develop a landscape management planning assessment for the Bremerton Municipal Watershed.
  • Conduct GIS assessments to support federal assurances for the Forest and Fish Agreement that develop riparian ownership statistics.

OUTREACH, EDUCATION, and PUBLICATIONS

In addition to training programs, findings are being made readily available via web site, newsletter, Fact Sheets, publications, and numerous presentations. Funded graduate students working with faculty and Extension personnel receive valuable training and assistance and enter the job market with better technological skills.

  • 7 short courses: GIS, GPS, LMS, Forest and Fish, and Innovative Marketing.
  • Development of roads training workshops for small landowners in collaboration with WA DOE and WA DNR (implemented 2004).
  • Collaboration with WA Community Colleges, Tribes, and WSU Coop Extension to broaden higher education opportunities for rural constituents
  • 50+ professional presentations to 40 different groups.
  • Testimony: WA State Legislature to present RTI economic analysis of Road Maintenance and Abandonment regulations.
  • Field demonstration sites were designed for buffer management educational seminars. West side complete; East side in progress.
  • Web information is extensive (newsletters, 23 project fact sheets, presentations, papers, image archive)
  • Technical tools are web available (road layout, culvert layout, Landscape Management System software and tutorial, conversion calculator, www.ruraltech.org).
  • An annual review of activities and priorities generated input from the RTI advisory board, participating faculty, and extension personnel on how to do an even better job more efficiently.
  • Many calls and letters of appreciation have been received.


RIPARIAN MANAGEMENT CASE STUDIES and ALTERNATIVE PLANS

Landowner concerns about regulatory constraints ranked high on the advisory groups’ priority list. Case studies provide detailed insights into the impacts of management alternatives not possible from statistical studies. The opportunity to both lower costs and provide better ecological protection through site specific alternative plans is allowed, but only available if it can be shown that environmental protection is not reduced.

  • Ten Western Washington small owner case studies show wide disparities in Total Forest Value losses that could be largely mitigated by adoption of the Forest Riparian Easement provided by the state to mitigate extreme economic impacts, but only if the funds available are increased substantially.
  • However, bare-land values are reduced to near zero or even negative values with any substantial share of acres in the riparian zones as the riparian easement program only mitigates losses in standing timber values, not land value. This will ultimately contribute to increased land conversions since sustainable forestry is not economic.
  • To date, many small owners are choosing to do no management in the riparian zone, the worst case both economically and environmentally short of conversion. Both lack of knowledge about the alternatives and their complexity are contributing.
  • Case study findings have contributed to improved interpretations within the rule making process and implementation by the DNR Small Forest Landowner Office (SFLO).
  • Alternative plans are being evaluated that include reducing excessive tree densities, hardwood conversions, placing large wood in streams, designing asymmetric buffers that afford equivalent protection while better complementing road layouts. Templates are needed to reduce costs, complexity, and acrimony that characterize the present ID team process.
  • Ten East-side case studies show similar disparities and economic impacts. However, the regulations prevent multiple entries that are needed to reduce fire, insect, and disease risks prevalent in Eastern Washington forests. Alternate plans can improve upon the chances of restoring old forest conditions but so far have shown little improvement in economics or motivation to sustain good forest practices. Templates are needed to reduce costs, complexity, and acrimony that characterize the present ID team process.
  • A pilot project was developed to test the hypothesis that hardwood riparian buffers on agricultural lands can provide an opportunity to improve salmon protection by reducing effluent run-off and increasing shade while providing harvestable timber to increase the income potential of the land to agricultural enterprises.


DESIRED FUTURE CONDITIONS for WILDLIFE and RIPARIAN FUNCTIONS

The credibility of the relationships used to show the impacts of forest management on habitat and stream conditions is a central issue to the future of successful management decisions and especially for the opportunity to demonstrate improvement through alternative plans. Habitat, shade, woody debris and other models can be used to measure improvement.

  • The Habitat Evaluation Procedure (HEP) developed by Washington Fish and Wildlife has been mechanized and linked to stand structure information from the Landscape Management System allowing ready evaluation of management treatments. A range of Habitat Suitability Indices (HSI's) have been incorporated and demonstrated on a number of forests and NIPF properties. Projections of habitat suitability have become routine outputs for characterizing management alternatives.
  • Instream functionality indicators have been developed for shade, woody debris, and particulate matter as the more important functions impacted by forest management. These measures are being used and evaluated to support alternative plans.
  • East side models have been developed to estimate thresholds of fire risk and insect infestation based upon Stand Density Index (SDI) metrics that are being developed into a look up table based upon average diameter (DBH) and trees per acre (TPA) to serve as a density guide for forest land owners.
  • Demonstrating no degradation in function for a reasonable number of important indices is possible and may ultimately become an acceptable procedure.
  • An assessment procedure to test whether alternative plans are significantly different and less desirable than the distribution characterized by old forest stands holds promise as the most foolproof defense for alternative plans. Doing nothing is generally much worse than managing stands for desired conditions and more costly. While complex, once acceptance is established, templates can be developed for easier identification and implementation.
  • A literature review has been conducted that reveals a growing consensus in the scientific community that active management in young forests is more likely to produce older forest conditions quicker than no management. This review has been summarized in an RTI fact sheet “The Emerging Consensus for Active Management in Young Forests”.

DRY SITE THINNING AND FIRE RISK REDUCTION TECHNOLOGIES

A century of fire suppression has resulted in many forest stands east of the cascades that are overstocked with suppressed small diameter trees with a high likelihood of catastrophic fire. Efforts to reduce fuel loads are hampered by low product values, high harvest costs and other environmental concerns.

  • Working with the Okanogan, Wenatchee and Fremont National Forests, supplemental funding was received to examine how harvest unit design efficiencies might reduce operational costs of small diameter fuel reduction activities.
  • A dry site thinning training module for designing treatments appropriate to a wide variety of stand and local market conditions has been developed. Requests for supplemental funding to initiate technology training for risk assessments and hazardous fuels reduction planning have been submitted to the BLM, Forest Service, and the BIA.
  • Market and Non-market values from fire risk reduction (fire fighting costs, property and lives lost, water saved regeneration costs, public value of lower fire risk etc.) that are often overlooked in cost/benefit analysis of investments in hazardous fuels removals, while variable by area, have been shown to be much larger than the cost of mechanical thinning of small diameter trees to reduce the fire risk.
  • Analysis of alternative strategies shows that aggressive thinnings, while leaving a large tree overstory, are essential to effectively lower fire risks and restore older more sustainable forest conditions. While removal of some merchantable trees reduces the treatment cost as the limiting factor, it increases the resistance from those that are against removals. The inability to offer long-term contracts for fire risk treatments without litigation is a primary constraint on fire risk reduction on public lands but is being addressed by Stewardship End Result Contracting authorities newly granted to federal forest managers.
  • Small diameter trees if removed to reduce fire risk could provide economic development opportunities for rural communities that include establishment of cogeneration facilities to produce green energy from forest biomass.

ROAD MANAGEMENT

Forest and Fish regulations require landowners to develop road management and abandonment plans (RMAPS) that avoid the potential of slope-failure and unwanted sedimentation. Road design, distribution, and decommission can be improved with software to quantify benefits and costs. Requiring upgrades with minimal benefits can be costly and undermine compliance.

  • A web available road layout extension program supports computerized road pegging.
  • A companion culvert placement model is being tested to assist culvert placement by assessing potential sediment loads under various culvert mapping strategies.
  • Statewide cost estimates for road requirement were developed contributing to recognition that program changes would be required before compliance would be likely.
  • Economic impacts on small forest landowners for a range of road requirements were published.
  • Findings were present to the State Legislature resulting in passage of regulatory relief for small forest landowners.
  • A field guide for road management has been developed for assisting road upgrade activities.
  • A series of Road Maintenance training seminars is being developed for 2004 in collaboration with WA DNR and DOE.

CARBON STORAGE ACCOUNTING AND INCENTIVES

Carbon credits can be a potential source of income complementary to environmental protection and timber growing. Credible biomass predictions of timber growth and carbon storage in the forest and forest products will be necessary.

  • With supplemental funding support from Columbia-Pacific RC&EDD a comprehensive carbon storage model has been developed and linked to the Landscape Management System for carbon accountability in response to management alternatives, and economic performance.
  • Using the findings of the Consortium for Research on Renewable Industrial Materials (CORRIM) carbon tracking was extended through product storage, biofuel displacement and product substitution.
  • Results show that while long rotations can increase carbon storage in the standing forest biomass the magnitude of the carbon consequence from product substitution that results from failure to produce lumber from harvested trees more than offsets losses in standing forest biomass.
  • Given the importance of increasing carbon storage in the near term, results show more intensively managed but short rotations significantly increase carbon storage at no or little cost increase and reduce reliance upon fossil fuels to produce energy intensive product alternatives.

SMALL FOREST LANDOWNER OFFICE DATABASE

The Forest and Fish Agreement recognized that small landowners would need help in complying with complicated regulations and mandated creation of a supporting Small Forest Landowner Office and development of a database to report on the impacts on small owners.

  • There has been no database sufficient to even count the number of small forest owners let alone to analyze changes. Under interagency agreement a data processing program was developed for the SFLO to bring county level tabular information from tax records into a common framework and, where available, integrate GIS spatial information. Definitional differences were harmonized and reports on ownership patterns developed (Tabular report completed and submitted to WA DNR; Spatial analysis is ongoing county by county as funding becomes available).
  • Given the inconsistent quality of data across counties, a validation study on two counties with generally good GIS information was completed to better understand the uncertainty and character of data errors. In spite of the data deficiencies the new integrated database on small owners provides better source information than was previously available.
 
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Last Updated 2/2/2012 6:37:25 PM