The Rocky Mountain Restoration Initiative received accolades from Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and the conservation community during the National Wild Turkey Federation’s 44th Convention and Sport Show in Nashville.
During a fireside chat session Thursday morning with Perdue, NWTF CEO Becky Humphries and NWTF President Harlan Starr, Perdue presented a certificate of recognition to the landmark partnership in Colorado. The certificate was signed by Perdue, Humphries and U.S. Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen.
The Rocky Mountain Restoration Initiative was born one year ago at the 2019 NWTF Convention and Sport Show and concurrent Conservation Conference. Christiansen and Humphries challenged each other to find a place in the western United States where they could showcase the USDA’s Shared Stewardship Strategy — a national effort to plan and implement work across public and private lands.
In the year since that auspicious meeting: Colorado was selected for the pilot project; the NWTF and the Forest Service convened a diverse group of more than 40 federal, state, local, private and nonprofit stakeholders from across the state; and these stakeholders identified three at-risk landscapes where a collective effort could transform the health and resiliency of the ecosystem.
Designing an ambitious timeline, project evaluation criteria and an iterative decision making process, the Initiative invited local communities in these three areas to look across land-ownership boundaries for opportunities to restore forests and habitats; protect communities; support recreation and tourism; and secure clean water for downstream users. Seven proposals came forward and, in December, the Initiative selected Southwest Colorado as the first place where it will collectively focus efforts.
The project area encompasses nearly 750,000 acres, stretching 120 miles along Colo. Highway 160, including the towns of Cortez, Dolores, Mancos, Durango and the San Juan National Forest.
“The process from birth of concept to selecting a project area has moved quicker than any of us could have imagined,” said Humphries. “This is testament to not only the dire need for such an initiative but the desire among many stakeholders to collaborate to dramatically increase the scope and scale of forest and watershed management across the state.”
The partners this year also presented a panel discussion to Conservation Conference attendees and described the depth and width of the partnership and how so many stakeholders could come together in such a short period of time. On the panel were: moderators NWTF Director of Conservation Partnerships Tom Spezze and Jason Lawhon, US Forest Service lead for Rocky Mountain Restoration Initiative; Tim Mauck, Deputy Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources; Mike Lester, State Forester for Colorado State Forest Service; Molly Pitts, Executive Director for the Colorado Timber Industry Association and Colorado Programs Manager for Intermountain Forest Association; Russ Schnitzer, Senior Program Director for the Gates Family Foundation; Jennifer Eberlien, Acting Regional Forester for the Rocky Mountain Region of the US Forest Service; Mike Preston, External Relations for Dolores Water Conservancy District and Chairman of the Southwest Basin Roundtable; Patt Dorsey, NWTF Director of Conservation Operations for the West Region; and, Kara Chadwick, Forest Supervisor for the San Juan National Forest.