HELENA, Mont. — The Department of Agriculture said Thursday it will spend $30 million this year on forest restoration projects in 12 states to reduce the threat of wildfires, protect water quality, and improve wildlife habitat for at-risk species.
The agency’s first 13 projects will kick off a multiyear initiative to improve the health of forests and watersheds on public and private lands, Agriculture Undersecretary Robert Bonnie said.
With longer fire seasons in recent years burning more areas and beetle outbreaks devastating more than 40 million acres of forests in the West, the pace and scale of restoration need to be increased, he said.
Money to work with private landowners will come from the farm bill Congress passed this week, and the Forest Service will use its own funds to work on adjacent public lands.
The Alliance for the Wild Rockies, a nonprofit that has filed several lawsuits to block logging projects in national forests in the Northern Rockies, was skeptical about the plan.
Logging won’t help reduce wildfire risks or protect watersheds because areas thinned of trees allow the wind to blow through more easily, which could spread flames more quickly, executive director Mike Garrity said.