To: Interested Persons
From: Mike Anderson, The Wilderness Society
Re: Forest Management in the Conference Committee Farm Bill
Date: December 11, 2018
Following is a quick summary and analysis of forest management-related provisions in the 2018 Farm Bill that was agreed to by Senate and House conferees and publicly released on December 10. The final bill that emerged from the conference committee is based on different versions of the Farm Bill that passed the House and Senate in June 2018. Notably, the conference bill does not contain any of the House bill’s provisions that would have weakened the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, or other bedrock environmental laws. The conference committee’s bill must now be approved by both chambers of Congress and signed into law by the President.
A. Key Forestry Provisions in the Conference Committee Farm Bill
The Forestry Title (Title VIII) of the Conference Committee Farm Bill contains seven subtitles and dozens of sections covering a wide range of topics. Following are brief description of several significant forest management-related provisions, in the order they appear in the conference bill.
- State and Private Forest Landscape-Scale Restoration
Like both the Senate and House bills, Section 8102 establishes a non-federal counterpart to the Forest Service’s Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program (see Sec. 8629, below). The conference committee authorizes $20 million in annual funding – same as the Senate bill, versus the House bill’s $10 million.
- Cross-Boundary Wildfire Mitigation
Like the Senate bill, Section 8401 establishes a federal grant program to promote cooperative efforts to reduce hazardous fuels across federal and non-federal lands. The bill provides $20 million in funding authority.
Like the Senate bill, Section 8404 creates a Water Source Protection Program, with $10 million in funding authority, to encourage watershed restoration partnerships between the Forest Service and downstream water users such as water utilities.
- Watershed Condition Framework
Similar to the Senate bill, Section 8405 provides statutory authority for the Forest Service’s Watershed Condition Framework, a science-based process in which the agency (1) identifies the condition of all watersheds in the National Forest System and (2) develops watershed restoration action plans to improve the condition of priority watersheds in each national forest and grassland.
- Insect and Disease Treatment and Fuel Reduction
Comparable to the House bill, Section 8407(b) provides a five-year extension for the 2014 Farm Bill’s insect and disease treatment provisions, including the categorical exclusion (CE) for collaboratively-developed insect and disease projects up to 3,000 acres in size. The conference committee did not agree to the House bill’s proposal to increase the size of the CE to 6,000 acres and to make the CE authority permanent. The bill also broadens the purpose of the treatments to include fuel reduction as well as insect and disease reduction.
- Sage Grouse and Mule Deer Habitat CE
Similar to the Senate bill, Section 8611 authorizes both the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to develop and use a new categorical exclusion (CE) for sage-grouse and mule deer habitat projects up to 4,500 acres in size. The conference committee increased the maximum size of the CE from 3,000 acres in the Senate bill to 4,500 acres.
- Good Neighbor Authority for Tribes and Counties
Similar to the Senate bill, Section 8624 gives tribes and counties the same ability as state governments to implement forest management projects on National Forest System or BLM lands by entering into Good Neighbor agreements with the Forest Service or BLM. The conference committee added language to clarify that any receipts from timber sold by a state must be used by the state to pay for other Good Neighbor management activities on federal lands.
Like the Senate bill, Section 8626 designates new wilderness areas and wilderness additions in the Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee. The conference committee decided not to include the Senate bill’s wilderness designations in Virginia.
- Forest Service Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration
Section 8629 reauthorizes the Forest Service’s Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program (CFLRP) through 2023 and – like the Senate bill -- increases the funding authorization from $40 million to $80 million. Unlike either the Senate or House bills, the conference committee bill allows the Forest Service to extend funding current CFLRP projects beyond the normal 10-year maximum on a case-by-case basis if the projects continue to meet eligibility guidelines. Both the Senate and House bills reauthorized CFLRP for five years, but the House bill would have maintained the $40 million funding level.
- Utility Infrastructure Rights-of-Way
Like the Senate bill, Section 8630 creates a pilot program to encourage utility companies to voluntarily clear flammable brush and cut trees adjacent to their rights-of-way on national forest lands. The brush clearing and tree cutting activity can extend no farther than 150 feet from the power line and it cannot occur within inventoried roadless areas or other protected areas.
- Timber Products Innovation
Sections 8642 promotes research and development for innovative uses of wood products, such as for tall building construction. Section 8643 establishes a matching grant program to promote innovative timber products, including by retrofitting existing lumber mills. Similar provisions were in both the Senate and House bills.
- Community Wood Energy and Innovation
Like the House bill, Section 8644 creates a competitive federal grant program to help cover the capital cost for installing a community wood energy system or building an innovative wood product facility.
- Secure Rural Schools Resource Advisory Committees
Comparable to the House bill, Section 8702 reduces the size of Resource Advisory Committees (RAC) established under Title II of the Secure Rural Schools Act from 15 members to 9 members in counties where there are insufficient numbers of applicants. This section also sets up a pilot program in Montana and Arizona whereby the regional foresters, rather than the Secretary of Agriculture, will appoint RAC members.
B. What Is Not in the Conference Committee’s Farm Bill Forestry Title
In welcome contrast to the House Farm Bill, which narrowly passed the House this summer despite unanimous Democratic opposition, the Forestry Title of the Conference Committee bill contains none of the controversial forest management provisions of the House bill.
- National Environmental Policy Act Exemptions
The House Farm Bill contained numerous categorical exclusions (CEs) from the environmental review and public involvement requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). For example, the House bill would have legislatively established new CEs for salvage logging and clearcutting projects up to 6,000 acres. The House bill would also have doubled the size of the insect and disease CE in the 2014 Farm Bill from 3,000 to 6,000 acres. In addition, the House Bill would have eliminated current environmental safeguards in the Forest Service’s NEPA regulations for potential wilderness areas, imperiled wildlife and plant species, cumulative effects, and other “extraordinary circumstances.”
The Conference Committee bill contains none of these controversial legislative exemptions from NEPA requirements. Instead, the bill requires the Forest Service to administratively create a CE for projects up to 4,500 acres to improve sage-grouse and mule deer habitat (Sec. 8611, discussed above).
- Endangered Species Act Self-Consultation
The House Farm Bill would have significantly weakened the interagency consultation requirements of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) by authorizing what amounts to a self-consultation process. The House bill would have exempted the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management from consulting with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regarding forest management activities if the federal land managers determined that their actions were not likely to adversely affect an endangered or threatened species or its designated critical habitat
The Conference Committee bill omits any self-consultation authority or other weakening of existing legal safeguards for threatened or endangered species.
- Roadless Area Conservation Rule Exemptions
The House Farm Bill could have eliminated current regulatory protection of millions of acres of Inventoried Roadless Areas under the national Roadless Area Conservation Rule and the Idaho and Colorado roadless rules. In addition, a House bill amendment sponsored by Rep. Don Young and adopted by the full House by a one-vote margin would have entirely exempted Alaska’s two national forests from the Roadless Rule. The bill put many of the Tongass National Forest’s 9.3 million acres of roadless areas in Southeast Alaska at potential risk of taxpayer-subsidized logging and road construction.
The Conference Committee bill does not eliminate or weaken existing protection of National Forest Inventoried Roadless Areas.
- Secure Rural School Funding Shift from Conservation to Logging
The House Farm Bill would have shifted Secure Rural Schools (SRS) Title II funding from environmental restoration to timber production. The House bill would have repealed and replaced the existing requirement to dedicate at least 50 percent of the SRS Title II funding to stream and watershed restoration or road maintenance or removal. Instead, the bill would have required that at least 50 percent of the SRS Title II funds in each county must be used for commercial logging projects.
The Conference Committee bill does not alter the purposes of the current SRS program to require more logging.
Montana State Director
The Wilderness Society
The Wilderness Society Action Fund