A Win For National Forest Management by Dana Lee Cole, Hardwood Federation Executive Director
Federal Forestry is an integral part of the sur-vival of the hardwood industry and has been a top priority for the Hardwood Federation. The na-tional forest system, once a consistent source of fiber for the industry, has reduced timber harvests sales from 10-12 billion board feet (bbf) each year from the 1950s through the mid-1990s, to as low as 2 bbf. Although output has increased in the past few years, harvest levels are still less than the 6.2 bbf called for in National Forest Plans.
Increasing numbers and intensity of forest fires have drained resources from timber harvest, wildlife management and recreational programs, consuming over 50% of the Federal Forest Service’s budget each year. After many Congres-sional sessions of chipping away at the issue and supporting multiple bills and initiatives, it seems that real action is finally being taken in the FY2018 Omnibus Spending Bill passed by Congress and signed by the President in the first days of spring.
In late March, the U.S. House passed an FY 2018$1.3 trillion omnibus spending package. The Sen-ate soon followed. The Hardwood Federation ac-tively joined our industry allies to advocate inclu-sion of measures to address forest management and fire funding in the final bill language. After years of hard work by all, the measures were main-tained and signed into law.
The cost and scope of this spending bill is the subject of much debate. And depending on priori-ties, there is cause for celebration or lamentation. However, in terms of management of federal lands, we are pleased and are finally chalking up a win after several years of frustration. The forestry re-forms included in the Omnibus are:
The package establishes a fund of more than 2 billion a year, which will increase over a 10-year period. The fund may be accessed by the Forest Service when wildfire suppression costs exceed the 10-year average cost of wildfires, which are frozen at the 2015 level. Specifically, disaster levels ramp up from $2.25 billion in FY 2020 to $2.95 billion in FY 2027.
The provision does not take effect until 2020 so current law will be in effect through 2019.
A new categorical exclusion from the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) is estab-lished for hazardous fuels reduction on areas up to 3,000 acres. The deal also opens the way to more 20- year stewardship contracts, in which the For-est Service collaborates with states on manage-ment projects. These new deals will give prefer-ence to contractors that promote innovative use of wood, including cross laminated timber.
· A simplified process for repairing and rebuilding access roads in some areas. The agreement also includes language to limit the effect of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ 2015 ruling in Cottonwood Environmental Law Center v. Forest Service. That case forced the Forest Service to consult more closely with the Fish and Wildlife Service on forest projects that might affect endangered species.
While these provisions are not perfect and do not represent everything that the forest products industry would want in a reform measure, the fi-nal package is a product of negotiation and com-promise and we feel that this package represents considerable progress. The Hardwood Federation members and your team here in Washington worked hard on this issue, which has become a national crisis over the last couple of years. Our industry was particularly effective in helping frame the issue as one that goes well beyond forest fires in the West and drawing attention to the threats of disease and insect infestation on overstocked forests in the Lake States and eastern portions of the country.
As with most things in Washington, D.C., this is not the end of the fight…rather it is a win for the day. We will continue to work on behalf of the industry for future improvements to the federal lands that will benefit both the health of the for-ests as well as the health of our industry.