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Win $75,000 for a Market-Based Solution to the National Forests’ Challenges

By Alexis Petru

Ed Note:  This is a sponsored post on behalf of the National Forest Foundation.

Can the principles of the free market solve some of the most pressing challenges facing our national forests? The National Forest Foundation (NFF) hopes so, announcing it has just extended the deadline for its Barrett Foundation Business Concept Challenge which offers $100,000 in prize money for market-based solutions to the forests’ current issues.

The purpose of the competition is threefold, according to Bill Possiel, president of the NFF, an independent nonprofit created by Congress that works with the U.S. Forest Service.

“First, we’re looking to find creative solutions to the challenges [facing national forests]. Second, we want to engage intellectual capital in thinking about this significant natural resource challenge. And third, we want to think about how we can responsibly manage public resources to both achieve our ecological objectives, as well as our economic and social objectives,” Possiel said.

The idea to seek strategies from the business community came from Craig Barrett, former chairman and CEO of Intel and current vice chairman of the NFF’s Board of Directors.

“In four decades as a business leader, I’ve seen a lot of innovative ideas, but not enough of them have been directed at the challenges facing our national forests,” Barrett said in a statement. “As a board member of NFF, I saw an opportunity to channel this intellectual energy towards solving our nation’s critical natural resource challenges.”

The foundation unveiled the Business Concept Challenge in January, but after finding that the applications didn’t adequately meet the competition’s goals, decided to push back the deadline for proposals to June 16 and expand the challenge’s eligibility pool. Originally accepting applications from business students only, the competition is now open to nonprofits and businesses, as well as faculty and staff from colleges and universities. Local, state and federal governments cannot apply, nor can employees of government agencies acting in an official capacity.

“We want to generate as many creative solutions as we can,” Possiel said. “What we were trying to do was involve the next generation of conservation and business leaders, but our challenges are so severe right now that wherever the best ideas come from, we ought to be exploring those. That’s the thinking behind the evaluation committee in opening up the prize to entrepreneurs, universities or anyone who has a really creative idea that deals with a natural resource challenge at scale but also has an economic benefit.”

The NFF will award a $75,000 cash prize to the winning proposal, as well as $25,000 to the first runner-up in the final stage of the competition.

Just what are the natural resource challenges the NFF hopes this competition will address?

The U.S. Forest Service estimates between 60 million and 80 million acres of the 193-acre national forest system are in need of some restorative action, including post-fire treatment, pre-fire treatment to reduce the severity of future fires, watershed restoration or road reclamation. In addition, fire seasons are stretching longer and longer, and fires in the national forests are more severe – due to climate change, drought and historical forest management practices.

“We’ve seen an increase in mega-fires since 2000, as well as drought conditions in the last few years,” Possiel said. “Natural systems at high risk – not just for fires, but for pests and diseases like the pine bark beetle in the West and the hemlock woolly adelgid in the East. These natural systems are at risk because of some climatic changes, and even the Forest Service would admit some mistakes have been made in managing natural resources in the past.”

Past Business Concept Challenge winners

The competition is not simply an intellectual exercise; the NFF aims to implement the top proposals -- working with the teams that submitted them.

The winning project from the first Barrett Foundation Business Concept Challenge, held in 2012, was to develop a collaborative conservation fund for the Deschutes National Forest in Oregon. Proposed by a team of graduate students from Yale University, the fund would levy fees on resources and services from the forest: charging cities that draw water from the national forest and creating a property tax for private construction on forest lands, for example. Because the students went their separate ways after graduation, this project was not implemented. And while the proposal explored funding mechanisms to finance restoration programs, it didn’t directly solve any of the forests’ natural resource challenges – an objective the competition’s selection committee is really looking for, Possiel said.

“We want to choose projects that really have an economic benefit because we want to attract private capital in the marketplace [to invest in the projects],” Possiel said.

On the other hand, the NFF is currently exploring the implementation of the runner-up from 2012’s competition: a carbon sequestration methodology that calculates how much carbon could be kept from going into the atmosphere from a severe fire in the ponderosa pine forests of Northern Arizona. Instead of waiting until the forests burn, the Forest Service would give them pre-fire treatment – cutting undergrowth and trimming the forest – to reduce the severity of future fires and, thus, preventing a larger amount of carbon from being released.

While the U.S. Forest Service currently offers credits for the carbon absorbed by trees planted in a forest after a fire, this is the first time the organization would provide carbon offsets for the prevention of carbon emissions. The NFF, consultants and the team who came up with idea for the project are working to develop the calculation methodology, which will need to be third-party reviewed and verified before these carbon credits can be sold in the offset marketplace.

How to apply

Think you have a creative idea that can both tackle one of the national forests’ problems and reap a profit? Check out the Barrett Foundation Business Concept Challenge’s list of frequently asked questions here. You’ll need to submit an electronic pre-screening questionnaire and submission form, providing a basic summary of your proposal and the natural resource problem it seeks to address, by 8 a.m. MDT on June 16.

Image credit: National Forest Foundation

Passionate about both writing and sustainability, Alexis Petru is freelance journalist based in the San Francisco Bay Area whose work has appeared on Earth911, Huffington Post and Patch.com. Prior to working as a writer, she coordinated environmental programs for Bay Area cities and counties. Connect with Alexis on Twitter at @alexispetru

Alexis Petru headshotAlexis Petru

Passionate about both writing and sustainability, Alexis Petru is freelance journalist and communications consultant based in the San Francisco Bay Area whose work has appeared on Earth911, Huffington Post and Patch.com. Prior to working as a writer, she coordinated environmental programs for various Bay Area cities and counties for seven years. She has a degree in cultural anthropology from UC Berkeley.

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