2018 Farm Bill Breakdown: Forestry

Now that President Donald Trump has signed the 2018 Farm Bill into law, NACD’s Government Affairs Team will be releasing a series of blog posts to break down the bill in more detail with the expected changes folks can expect on the ground as USDA works to implement the new law. 

On December 20, 2018, President Donald Trump signed the 2018 Farm Bill into law. Historically, the Forestry Title has been one of the more non-controversial titles debated between the chambers. However, it was one of the last items finalized due to the recent catastrophic wildfires in California.

President Trump, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke all personally weighed in during the last weeks of negotiations, calling for more forest management reforms to be included in the final text.

Conservation districts should look forward to partnering with tribes, counties, states and federal agencies to provide on-the-ground expertise for the landscape-scale restoration and cross-boundary mitigation projects.

Management Reforms

Under the 2014 Farm Bill, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) was authorized to treat 3,000 acres per project in insect and disease designated areas through a categorical exclusion (CATEX) to expedite environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The 2018 Farm Bill reauthorized this authority for projects focusing on reducing hazardous fuels in our forests. Additionally, the final agreement expedites treatment of federal land up to 4,500 acres per project to protect and promote habitat for the Greater Sage Grouse and Mule Deer. A CATEX still requires environmental review under NEPA, but by definition, it authorizes the federal agencies to not have to complete a full environmental impact statement or an environmental assessment.

The USFS’ Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program (CFLRP) is authorized at twice the amount it was in previous years, increasing from $40 million to $80 million each fiscal year until 2023. This program is designed to encourage the collaborative, science-based ecosystem restoration of priority National Forest System (NFS) landscapes. With the increase in funding, the USFS can begin implementing more projects to improve the health of NFS lands.

Expanding the Good Neighbor Authority (GNA)

The 2018 Farm Bill promotes forest management by authorizing non-federal partners to remove timber on federal lands by expanding the Good Neighbor Authority (GNA). The 2014 Farm Bill provided GNA to states and Puerto Rico to perform watershed restoration and forest management services on National Forest System (NFS) lands. This year’s farm bill expands GNA to Indian Tribes and counties to provide more localized forest management and timber removal on federal forests. To incentivize GNA projects, these provisions allow states to retain the receipts from these projects for future work on NFS lands.

The enacted language empowers local governments and local decision making by streamlining the resource advisory committees appointment process to allow more effective local collaboration on management projects.

Addressing the Checkerboard Lands in the West

The final agreement included efforts to improve cross-boundary wildfire mitigation by authorizing new collaborative projects to treat hazardous fuel loads. The enacted language strengthens existing authorities focusing on landscape-scale restoration projects to address watershed restoration efforts, wildfire risk reduction and wildlife habitat conservation. Conservation districts will be able to coordinate with federal partners to reduce fire risk in more fire-prone areas by increasing the number of forest management projects on public and private lands.

The State and Private Forest Landscape Scale Restoration Program is a grant program that funds priority projects identified in State Forest Action plans. States will be able to apply for the competitive grants and will work directly with the landowner, state forester and the USFS. This program is authorized at $20 million annually until fiscal year 2023.

The 2018 Farm Bill updated a grant program to provide funding for cross-boundary hazardous fuels reduction projects and is authorized at $20 million until fiscal year 2023. These grants will be made available to state foresters to support hazardous fuel reduction in landscapes composed of federal and non-federal land.

New Grant Opportunities

The enacted language authorizes the Community Wood Energy Program to support grants for new infrastructure, new mills and added capacity that will use low-value, small-diameter material. The program is authorized at $25 million until fiscal year 2023. Each project under the Community Wood Energy Program is capped at $1 million per year or at $1.5 million under special circumstances. The special circumstances are projects involving a school or hospital in a low-income community.

Stay tuned to NACD’s eResource for future 2018 Farm Bill break-downs by the government affairs team and reach out to Director of Government Affairs Coleman Garrison with questions or comments.

Tags: 2018 Farm Bill

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