By Clare Foran
The House voted on Wednesday to approve a sweeping and historic conservation and public lands bill that President Donald Trump has pledged to sign into law.
The measure — the Great American Outdoors Act — has already been passed by the Senate and will now go to the President’s desk for his signature.
The legislation would fully and permanently fund a conservation program known as the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which was set up by Congress in the 1960s and has been chronically underfunded. The measure will require mandatory funding of the program at a level of $900 million annually. Funding for the program does not use taxpayer dollars. Instead it comes from revenues from offshore oil and gas royalty payments.
The legislation would also dedicate funding for backlogged maintenance projects on federal lands run by the National Park Service, the Forest Service and other agencies.
Congressional approval of the legislation represents a rare moment of bipartisan unity on Capitol Hill and comes at a time of national crisis as the country grapples with the devastating toll of the coronavirus pandemic and gears up for contentious negotiations over further relief to address the economic and public health fallout from the spread of the disease.
Congressional Democrats, including Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, have fought for permanent reauthorization and full funding of the LWCF for years, making the passage of the bill a major victory for Democrats.
“The stars aligned correctly this time,” Grijalva said in an interview with CNN ahead of the vote on Wednesday. “This is a popular program, people want it, and I think regardless of party people are responding.”
By Laura Lundquist
Federal and state leaders laud not only the ability of Montanans to hash out tough issues but also the way collaboration has gotten several timber projects into production.
That was evident from the speeches of Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney and Jim Hubbard, U.S. Department of Agriculture undersecretary, who kicked off the Montana Forest Collaboration Network’s annual two-day workshop in Missoula.
The two men praised the efforts of Montana’s collaborative groups, represented by the 120 participants in the audience, that have put many hours into finding agreement on which forest tracts have “the right acres in the right places” to sustain commercial timber projects.
“In an age where political polarization often threatens the progress of important policy, you all quietly keep coming back to the table, year after year,” Cooney said. “You find sensible paths forward by engaging diverse local perspectives, treating one another like neighbors in advancing plans that ultimately can achieve durable returns for our forests and our communities.”
Cooney said that kind of cooperation was one reason Gov. Steve Bullock was able to make Montana the first state to sign a stewardship agreement with the U.S. Forest Service, allowing the state to negotiate with federal, tribal and private partners to thin trees or use prescribed burns regardless of who manages the area. Thus, foresters can focus on any region that might be important for reducing wildfire risk near communities. Yet, only seven other states have signed shared stewardship agreements.
Hubbard said being able to work across multiple jurisdictions is necessary to do work at a large enough scale to be effective at slowing a potential wildfire. But when it comes to wildfire, thinning projects go only so far.
“There’s no way in the world we’re going to protect all the communities that are at risk of fire in the West. There’s no way in the world we’re going to treat all the acres that need treatment. So which ones are we going to go for? That’s the shared priority, to decide what we want to do together,” Hubbard said. “Also, the community has to be engaged, because if the community isn’t paying attention, all that land treatment is not necessarily going to reduce their risk very much.”
Bullock was also among the first to sign a Good Neighbor agreement. The 2014 Farm Bill created the Good Neighbor Authority to allow states to log timber on federal land adjacent to state or private land undergoing thinning operations. The 2018 Farm Bill broadened that authority.
By Eric Baker
The U.S. Forest Service is looking to trim the time it takes to analyze some timber sales and other projects by revising its rules that guide implementation of the National Environmental Policy Act.
The proposed changes, announced this week and described as “bold” in a U.S. Department of Agriculture news release, would add new areas for which shortened analysis, known as categorical exclusions, can be used and reduce the amount of public involvement for qualifying projects. The changes are being pursued to make the agency more flexible in dealing with fire-prone forests, mitigate insect and disease infestations and improve services such as trail and recreation-facility maintenance.
“We are committed to doing the work to protect people and infrastructure from catastrophic wildfire,” Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said. “With millions of acres in need of treatment, years of costly analysis and delays are not an acceptable solution — especially when data and experience show us we can get this work done with strong environmental protection standards as well as protect communities, livelihoods and resources.”
The National Environmental Policy Act, known as NEPA, requires federal agencies to carefully examine planned projects to determine if and how they will affect the environment. The process can be lengthy, often taking years. The law also requires agencies to expose their decision-making process to public scrutiny and to seek public comment prior to making decisions on a broad range of actions.
Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen said the agency leaned on its experience to come up with the proposed changes, which have the potential to bolster the agency’s efforts to reduce big and damaging forest fires.
“We have pored over 10 years of environmental data and have found that in many cases, we do redundant analyses, slowing down important work to protect communities, livelihoods and resources,” she said in the news release.
The updates would give agency officials a suite of new categorical exclusions pertaining to infrastructure projects, restoration work and special-use permits. Under them, the agency could log as much as 4,200 acres within areas of 7,300 acres or fewer, build temporary roads as much as 2.5 miles in length or permanent roads as much as a half-mile long, without producing documents known as environmental analysis or lengthier environmental impact statements. It could also maintain things like roads, trails and bridges, as well as recreation sites and visitor centers, and issue permits to people or organizations using forest land.
By RT H. NELSON
Late last month the Senate passed a non-binding budget resolution that encourages the selling or transfer of federal lands to state and local governments. With a Republican Congress, the longstanding question over federal management of public lands is resurfacing once again with renewed urgency.
The federal government owns large parts of the forests, deserts and other rural areas of the American West – in total around half of all the land in the Rocky Mountain and Pacific Coast states. Roughly 30% of federal lands are made up of wilderness and national parks, while the rest are used for timber harvesting, grazing, energy leasing and recreation.
This pervasive federal presence is a product of policies championed at the turn of the 20th century.
Throughout the nineteenth century, however, the government aggressively disposed of its land holdings to private landowners and state governments, seeking to advance economic development and the pursuit of “manifest destiny.” It was in the period from 1890 to 1920 that American Progressives successfully argued that these lands would be more expertly managed in federal hands.
After more than 100 years of experience, we now know otherwise, that these lands would be better under state or private management. It’s a lesson I learned well during almost two decades at the Department of the Interior working as a policy analyst in the Office of the Secretary.
Instead of much greater efficiency, the research conducted by myself and others has shown that federal management turned out to be wasteful — typical of many government-owned enterprises around the world over the course of the 20th century — as well as detrimental to the land itself.
Healthy forests, just like healthy human populations, are sustained by a diversity of ages and types. In many parts of the United States, forests are becoming largely homogeneous, and in places like the Appalachian Mountains, young forest and mature, old growth forests are in short supply.
A lack of diverse forests has negative impacts on wildlife and the economy, as different age classes support higher biodiversity and provide a more sustainable source of income for forest landowners. Through the use of sustainable forestry practices, forest landowners are able to compensate for lack of natural disturbance.
USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) recommends a number of sustainable forestry practices to forest landowners. These practices provide landowners with a number of choices, depending on the land and a landowner’s goals.
By Brandi Buchman
Taking the United States to court, an Arizona-based Native American tribe blames federal mismanagement for putting their once thriving timber industry against the ropes.
Describing itself as the country’s 11th largest Indian reservation, the White Mountain Apache note that their vast natural resources “are of enormous economic importance to the tribe.”
“If managed correctly, the reservation’s natural resources would sustain the tribe and its members into the foreseeable future,” their complaint states, filed on March 15 in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.
Though the United States has held these resources in trust for the tribe since at least 1871, the White Mountain Apache say mismanagement has resulted in substantial losses — the full extent of which is not yet known.
Source: Apache Tribe Blames US for Forest Ailments – Courthouse News, 2017-03-21
By Daniel Drucktor
The American Loggers Council (ALC) today outlined key priorities for the 115th United States Congress and the Trump Administration’s first two years. As the national organization representing America’s professional timber harvesters, ALC believes the new Congress and President should take advantage of an historic opportunity to protect and create family-wage jobs.
“Voters sent a clear message that it’s time to put Americans back to work, and strengthening the forest products industry is one way to accomplish that goal in communities across the country,” said Daniel Dructor, ALC Executive Vice President. “Professional timber harvesters provide the raw materials that supports manufacturing jobs in many sectors, from lumber to renewable energy. Many logging companies are small, family-owned businesses. To keep American loggers working in the woods, President Trump and Congress should pursue reforms in federal regulations and land management, as well as labor, transportation and energy policies.”
BY ALEX SHASHKEVICH
To this day the U.S. government owns almost half of the land in the American West.
That level of control has been debated ever since the government began acquiring the areas in the 19th century, with some Westerners resenting the vastness of the federal authority, which amounts to 47 percent of land in 11 states. Some states, like Nevada, where the government owns 84.5 percent of the land, see more control than others.
But few know about the existence and history of revenue-sharing programs, with some dating to 1906, through which the federal government has been compensating states and counties for lost tax revenue on the lands it controls.
Now, thanks to historian Joseph “Jay” Taylor’s research and a team at Stanford’s Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis (CESTA), the history and geography of those programs are presented in Follow the Money: A Spatial History of In-Lieu Programs for Western Federal Lands, an interactive website that maps federal payments made to counties and states in the American West over the past 100 years.
If Wyoming officials want more say in how their federal lands are managed, they ought to craft influential state- or local-level plans rather than trying to altogether wrest away control.
That’s the upshot of a $75,000 study on how realistic it would be for Wyoming to manage the bulk of its federally owned public lands. The document was released to the public Tuesday.
“In essence, our recommendation is to work to phase more management to the state gradually,” the study says, “with the ultimate goal of providing the state and local communities with more influence over federal land management activities while avoiding inheriting the crippling bureaucracy, costs, and litigation…”
Oregon’s Democratic U.S. senators have proposed a nearly doubling of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument as a way to better protect the unique biodiversity and habitats in the face of climate change.Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden have proposed expanding the 16-year-old monument by more than 66,500 acres inside a new, more than 100,000-acre footprint that stretches northwest past Dead Indian Memorial Road, west to Emigrant Lake, east into Klamath County and south into California near Iron Gate Reservoir.
The 90,328 acres proposed for expansion within Oregon includes 56,245 acres of Bureau of Land Management lands, including Hyatt Lake and lands surrounding Howard Prairie Lake, as well as chunks of the upper watersheds of Jenny Creek tributaries whose lower reaches are now part of the monument.
The current monument covers about 66,000 acres within an 85,000-acre boundary inside Jackson County east of Ashland.
Source: Expansion gains momentum