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Fire Chronicle #5  Laura McCarthy, Forest Trust
 Jan 24, 2002 15:02 PST 
FIRE CHRONICLE: Stories of the National Fire Plan
Number 5
January 24, 2002

GRANTS GET NATIONAL FIRE PLAN MONEY INTO COMMUNITIES:
SPOTLIGHT ON THE SOUTHWEST
By Tori Derr

The 2001 Interior Appropriation that funded the national fire plan
allocated substantial funding for wildland-urban interface communities
to create plans for protecting themselves from fire and for business
entrepreneurs to expand markets for products from small diameter wood.
Forest Service regions were in charge of distributing these funds, which
came through Title IV of the 2001 Interior Appropriation, to
communities. The regions used grant-making processes to distribute the
funds competitively. For example, the Pacific Southwest Region 5 awarded
$2.3 million, Rocky Mountain Region 2 awarded $3 million, and Southwest
Region 3 awarded $3.6 million.

When the fire plan money became available, Region 3 moved quickly to
initiate a three-fold grants program that would distribute funds to
communities. A framework for a high level of community involvement in
restoring forests had already been established in Region 3, through a
series of roundtables that brought together diverse stakeholders to
discuss forest restoration. These roundtables resulted in the Community
Forestry Restoration Act, a program that was funded in the 2001 Interior
Appropriation, and provided an additional $5 million in community grant
funds for New Mexico.

Region 3 issued three requests for proposals in the spring of 2001 that
together addressed the need to develop economic uses of small diameter
wood, to plan for fire hazard reduction in communities, and to begin to
restore thousands of acres of forest. The money went directly to many
communities and organizations that depend on forests for their
livelihoods. In the case of the Collaborative Forest Restoration Program
(CFRP), the grant-making process had the added benefit of bringing
together diverse stakeholders in forest management. For example, the
CFRP proposals were evaluated by a panel of commodity interests,
community members, scientists, environmentalists, and others engaged in
restoration. While the focus of the panel was on proposal evaluation,
the conversations that ensued allowed different groups to learn from
each other. “When we started out,” said panelist Melissa Savage, a
restoration ecologist with the Four Corners Institute, “there was a very
uneven playing field. But by the end of the week, we all had a better
understanding of the issues.”

However, Region 3’s grant-making process was daunting for community
members and Forest Service personnel alike. While some Forest Service
staff were trained in the programs, some were just as unsure about who
or what was eligible for programs as the community members themselves.
As an example, both district foresters and regional office staff
provided assistance to Madera Forest Products Association for the
development of an Economic Action Program (EAP) proposal. Yet Madera’s
proposal was rejected because it was ineligible for funding under the
EAP. While the district and regional office staff formally apologized to
Madera Forest Products Association, the business is now struggling to
stay afloat without EAP support.

Once the grants were awarded, many recipient communities were surprised
to find out that they operate as reimbursement programs. For example,
the EAP reimburses equipment and other purchases after the expenses are
incurred, requiring a cash outlay that many small community forestry
organizations do not have. The Community Planning grants will not
reimburse until they see a substantive plan or a contractor is hired,
requiring some people to work up to a year for free until a plan is
developed. The CFRP will advance $20,000 to an organization at a time.
However, with the high cost of equipment, this means that forestry crews
might go unpaid for over a month while the businesses acquire equipment.
Walter Dunn, CFRP coordinator, said, “One sure way to overwhelm a small
organization is to give them more money than they can handle.” One of
the recipients countered, “Sometimes, they give us just enough money to
fail.”

Some community organizations that were funded in this first year have
been overwhelmed by the complex federal paperwork they must complete in
order to receive payments. While the Forest Service suggests that
assistance filling out the forms is just a phone call away, designated
support personnel are often not in the office or do not return calls.
One grant recipient said, “These people are either on vacation or try to
pass the buck.” Many districts want to be supportive, but they, too,
are overwhelmed by the process, with the overlay of a massive program on
their existing workload.

Finally, there was little overall guidance as to who should apply for
what in the first year. The Sierra Land Grant Coalition decided to apply
for a planning grant in their first year and to use that time to
organize and build collaborations in order to apply for the larger pool
of CFRP money in 2002. This bit of internal wisdom has enabled them to
start slowly and build a plan for larger scale work. The combined pool
of grants provided such support, yet no guidance was issued from within
the Forest Service for new or small community groups to take such an
approach. As a result, the grant-making process alienated some
communities.

Rather than feeling that Region 3’s grant program benefited
forest-dependent rural communities, some say that the benefits went to
well-established organizations, to communities that hired grant writers,
or to groups with a member on the CFRP panel. In fact, more than one
CFRP panelist said, “If you want to get funded, you need to be in the
room while your proposal is being discussed.” Most applicants were not
even aware that being present was an option.

These are glitches that will need to be worked out as the process
continues. Yet, the grant-making process is a step in the right
direction. Many community organizations in Region 3 are carrying out
work, while others in the Southwest and in other Regions such as 4 and
6, are questioning whether the fire plan money will ever reach the
communities most in need.


OF RELATED INTEREST: Community Stewardship Communicator, an electronic
bulletin by the Community Stewardship Collaborative provides information
about the national-level effort to find solutions to issues related to
large-scale watershed projects on the national forests and the national
fire plan. The newsletter provides the latest information about the
Community Stewardship Collaborative and highlights opportunities for
individual involvement. To receive the newsletter, which is prepared by
the Pinchot Institute for Conservation, contact nra-@pinchot.org

FIRE CHRONICLE is edited by the Forest Trust. We welcome your comments
about the issue of defining the wildland-urban interface, as well as
stories and observations about how the national fire plan is being
implemented (just send a reply message and it will go to the list
moderator). To subscribe to FIRE CHRONICLE or to read past issues go to
http://www.topica.com/lists/firechronicles/ or send an email message to
lau-@theforesttrust.org

PAST ISSUES OF FIRE CHRONICLE:
1. 2002 Fire Plan Appropriations will Benefit from 2001 Experience
2. Wildland-Urban Interface Definition a Barrier to Accountability
3. Stewardship Blocks: Innovative Tool Brings Fire Plan Benefits into
Community
4. Youth Training Needed for Fire Plan to Benefit Local Workforce
	
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