Wildfire Funding Fix and Forest Management Reforms
From the Society of American Foresters posted 3/24/2018
Congress has finally come to an agreement on a comprehensive package designed to fix the wildfire funding issue and implement some meaningful federal forest management reforms. The agreement, which is part of the omnibus spending bill covering all federal agencies for the rest of fiscal year (FY) 2018, passed both the House and Senate and is expected to be signed by the President today.
“This long-awaited and critically-needed package of reforms would not have been possible without the passion and relentless commitment of countless individuals, organizations, current and past administrative leaders, agencies, and congressional members and staff,” said Dave Lewis, President of the Society of American Foresters. “It’s refreshing to see bipartisanship and collaboration finally prevail. These reforms will ultimately benefit all states and all lands - both public and private. Forestry and natural resources professionals across the country are beyond grateful for all those who contributed to this effort, and are excited to move forward and focus on improving the health and productivity of our nation’s forests.”
Summary of wildfire funding provisions
•Creates a new funding mechanism through the disaster cap for wildfire starting in FY 2020 at $2.25 billion and increases to $2.95 billion in FY 2027 to account for projected increases in wildfire costs and to prevent borrowing from non-fire programs.
•Freezes the Forest Service budget for suppression activities at the FY 2015 level to stop the shifting of funds away from non-fire programs at the beginning of the budgeting process.
•Adjusts the overall disaster cap level by adding additional funds through FY 2021 to ensure that there is enough funding for all federal agencies accessing the disaster cap.
•Includes an additional $500 million beyond the 10-year average to help pay for suppression costs until access to the disaster cap begins in FY 2020.
Summary of forest management reforms
•Adds categorical exclusions from the National Environmental Policy Act to cover up to 3,000 acres for hazardous fuels removals.
•Expands Good Neighbor Authority to allow state foresters to work on neighboring federal lands more often.
•Limits the number of alternatives under consideration in the environmental analysis process.
•Allows stewardship contracts to extend to 20 years, helping industry invest and expand capacity to create additional markets for wood products.
•Addresses impacts of the Cottonwood decision by giving the Forest Service more flexibility to move forward with projects while sorting out Endangered Species Act issues.
•Strengthens deference to current land use plans for Oregon and California Railroad Revested Lands and Coos Bay Wagon Road Reconveyed Lands
•Increases the use of Wildfire Hazard Severity Mapping for communities to improve risk assessment and community preparedness
SAF thanks Senators Crapo, Wyden, Risch, Merkley, Murkowski, and Cantwell, along with Representatives Simpson, Shrader, Westerman, McCollum and many others who have been working tirelessly for many years to address these issues. SAF will continue to work with Congress and our partners to elevate forestry and natural resources professionals and give them the tools they need to research, manage, and care for our nation's forest resources.