Partner Profile | SE Group

Since 2022, SE Group has been supporting Blue Forest, Chelan County, and the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest’s efforts to develop a Forest Resilience Bond project in Central Washington.

Written by: Signe Stroming, Senior Project Associate

Launching landscape-scale conservation finance projects is no simple feat. At Blue Forest, we are lucky to work with strong partner organizations who can aid us and our project partners in laying the groundwork for successful project implementation. One such partner is SE Group.

SE Group was founded in 1958 as the first company established for the sole purpose of designing ski resorts, including the consideration of how regulatory factors influence—and are affected by—ski area design. Over the last six decades, the company has evolved to offer an array of planning services, such as environmental and land-use permitting (including for forestry and fuels reduction); parks, open space, and multi-season recreation and trails planning; and public lands cooperative planning for natural areas, rural communities, and recreational development. Even as SE Group has grown, its core focus remains on communities and landscapes shaped by outdoor recreation and rural lifestyles.

“We primarily work on projects focused on public lands, mountain resorts, and mountain and rural communities, and often at the intersection of all three, where people, places, and outdoor recreation meet,” says Ash Smith, Senior Project Manager and lead for SE Group’s Forest & Fuels practice. “We are the industry leader in US Forest Service and ski area NEPA [National Environmental Policy Act], and our deep relationships formed through this work have grown to encompass forest health, pre- and post-fire mitigation, and broader recreation efforts.”

SE Group’s forest health work has even extended to the Tahoe National Forest, where they first crossed paths with Blue Forest. Though not working together directly on this landscape, both organizations are working towards greater wildfire resilience for the Tahoe region. SE Group supported the development of the Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and Draft Record of Decision for the North Yuba Landscape Resilience Project.

In Colorado’s White River National Forest, SE Group has also successfully navigated the challenge of planning fuels reductions projects within designated wilderness areas. These recently approved projects, the Booth Creek Fuels Reduction Project and the Ruby Ranch Fuels Reduction Project, are located within the Eagles Nest Wilderness and are intended to better protect the town of Vail and other communities from wildfire.

“We’re experts in the federal environmental review process, and this expertise includes planning projects that anticipate the complexities of such reviews,” Smith says. “Our environmental analyses and NEPA process stewardship are made stronger by our understanding of complex interagency relationships as well as post-decision processes.“

SE Group’s expertise in NEPA processes has been instrumental in priming Blue Forest’s work in Central Washington for success. Our partners on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest and Chelan County Natural Resources are innovating on all fronts–diving into conservation finance, engaging in more shared stewardship, and piloting implementation of a project permitted under conditions-based management NEPA, a newer approach to environmental permitting. These innovations are critical tools to accelerate wildfire resilience at scale, but they can also be complicated to execute–especially when navigating three dimensions of innovation at once.

Since 2022, SE Group has been supporting Blue Forest, Chelan County, and the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest’s efforts to develop a Forest Resilience Bond project in Central Washington. The project in question, the potential Upper Wenatchee I FRB, will involve an estimated 5000 acres of fuels reduction and accompanying aquatic restoration activities on a 15,000 acre footprint. The project will accelerate wildfire risk reduction in the wildland-urban interface (WUI) around the communities of Lake Wenatchee and Plain, located just north of Leavenworth, Washington.

“SE Group’s extensive experience in environmental planning has helped bring together many partners to develop an implementation plan that is already being used to get ready for work next field season,” Kim Seipp, Managing Director of Science and Research, explains. “For this project, the NEPA-permitted landscape is 75,000 acres, but the Forest and partners wanted to identify a footprint and scope of work focused on the WUI and community and infrastructure protection. SE Group helped us move from concept to an actual work plan.”

In 2022, Blue Forest and Chelan County jointly funded SE Group to develop an “Implementation Plan Feasibility Study” for the Upper Wenatchee I FRB project. The plan has been a critical tool in identifying survey needs, dependencies between terrestrial and aquatic activities, and initial cost estimates for treatments. Now that a Decision Notice for the project has been signed, the Implementation Plan is being used to plan for on-the-ground work. More recently, SE Group again supported Blue Forest, Chelan County, and the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest in defining a roles and responsibilities communications plan for the FRB project.

“This type of pre-work is invaluable, enabling all partners to hit the ground running for implementation with trust and systems in place,” says Jeannie Davidson, Managing Director for Project Development at Blue Forest.

Partners like SE Group help Blue Forest strengthen working relationships and navigate the complexity of scaling up landscape resilience across the West.

“I quickly found that Blue Forest’s values and outside-the-box mindset were well aligned with SE Group’s, which has made the process of working together on complex projects incredibly smooth,” Smith says. “The Forest Resilience Bond process itself is innovative, and combined with the collaborative culture of Blue Forest, we at SE Group have felt empowered to think beyond the typical solutions in our work together.”

Acknowledgments: Thank you to Ash Smith and Hannah Lake of SE Group for input on this article.