Thursday, January 24, 2019

2018 Farm Bill, Executive Order 13855 and DOI Secretarial Order 3372 and their Impact on Implementing the Cohesive Strategy

 
Fuel breaks work on the Badger Creek Fire in Wyoming. Photo: USFS

*updated January 31st to include corrections and the DOI Secretarial Order in response to the Executive Order. 

Just prior to the partial government shutdown, Congress approved and the President signed the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, aka the Farm Bill. In December the President also signed Executive Order 13855 - 
Promoting Active Management of America’s Forests, Rangelands, and Other Federal Lands to Improve Conditions and Reduce Wildfire Risk. In addition, the Secretary of the Department of the Interior released Secretarial Order 3372 - Reducing Wildfire Risks on Department of the Interior Land through Active Management. 

Together, these pieces of legislation and policy will influence the implementation of the Cohesive Strategy across the nation. The following is an overview and non-exhaustive summary of these documents that affect implementation of the Cohesive Strategy.

2018 Farm Bill, the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018

  • Allows for competitive grants for collaborative, landscape-scale, restoration of priority landscapes on state lands through the State and Private Forestry Landscape Restoration Fund.  
  • Amends the Healthy Forest Restoration Act (HFRA) to include cross-boundary hazardous fuels reduction projects (both USFS and BLM). Up to $20,000,000 per year can be appropriated for this, through 2023. 
  • Hazardous fuels appropriations reduced from $760 million to $660 million through 2023 (both USFS and BLM). If agencies get to keep their full appropriations and avoid fire borrowing, this might be satisfactory.   
  • Establishes the Water Source Protection Program for restoration and protection projects. Speaks directly to the Cohesive Strategy guidance for landscape scale work, across boundaries, where fire touches other resources. 
  • Amends HFRA to allow for the application of “extraordinary circumstances” when using a Categorical Exclusion (USFS only). 
  • Directs the Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior to develop a categorical exclusion for vegetation management activities that protect, restore or improve habitat for greater sage-grouse or mule deer. 
  • Amends the Good Neighbor Authority to include Tribes and Counties – this give additional stakeholders an opportunity to treat forested and rangeland landscapes around communities.
  • Reauthorizes CFLRP at $80 million through 2023. 
  • Addresses timber innovation including research and development of the use of “mass timber” – a promising idea in the field of biomass utilization. 


Executive Order 13855 - Promoting Active Management of America’s Forests, Rangelands, and Other Federal Lands to Improve Conditions and Reduce Wildfire Risk

The E.O. directs the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of the Interior to:

  • Implement policies to improve forest and rangeland management practices by reducing hazardous fuel loads, mitigating fire risk and ensuring the safety and stability of local communities through active management on forests and rangelands.  
  • Prioritize fuel reduction treatments as part of forest and rangeland management activities.
  • Pursue benefits to rural economies by encouraging productive uses of forest by-products.
  • Collaborate with state, tribal, and counties to create a comprehensive wildfire strategy that prioritizes the highest-risk lands, considers regulatory and economic challenges related to managing DOI and U.S. Forest Service lands and encourages local economic growth through timber and biomass sales.
  • Establish specific forest and rangeland management objectives. DOI shall establish a goal of treating 750,000 acres for fuels reduction and 500,000 acres to protect water quality and mitigate erosion and flooding risks resulting from forest fires. USDA shall establish a goal of treating 3.5 million acres of USFS land for fuels reduction and 2.2 million acres to address water quality and post-fire erosion and flooding. DOI and USDA are also instructed to offer up for sale 600 million board feet and 3.8 billion board feet of timber.  
In order to accomplish these objectives, USDA and DOI are instructed to coordinate with other federal agencies and streamline relevant administrative and regulatory processes. This may be done by minimizing the time period for regulatory comments, consultation and administrative review, using all applicable categorical exclusions and developing new categorical exclusions. It's important to note that no funding allocations have been made to address the activities in this Executive Order so accomplishment can be affected positively or negatively depending on appropriations. There are many directions in the Executive Order however that speak to alignment with the Cohesive Strategy in terms of cross-boundary collaboration and reducing fuels on landscapes for healthier, resilient forests and rangelands, and communities.

Secretarial Order 3372 - Reducing Wildfire Risks on Department of the Interior Land through Active Management
In response to the Executive Order, SO 3372 is intended to enhance the Department of the Interior's management of federal lands to: 1) better protect people, communities, wildlife, habitat and watersheds by actively managing lands to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire; and 2) promote the sustainable recovery of damaged lands. Referencing the Executive Order, the Secretary of the Interior directs the following actions:


  • Include fire management best practices in all land management plans.
    • The plans shall incorporate the principles of active management to facilitate the wildfire prevention, suppression and recovery planning to protect people, communities, landscapes and water quality; and mitigate severe flooding and erosion caused by wildfire. 
    • Bureaus and offices shall collaborate with USDA to identify federal lands with highest catastrophic wildfire risks. 
  • Coordinate and collaborate with land-managing partners and stakeholders. 
    • Identify salvage and log recovery options from lands damaged in the 2017 and 2018 fire seasons, insects or disease.
    • Develop performance metrics that better capture the risk reduction benefits of the fire management tools enumerated in the E.O. 
    • Implement a cooperative strategy to utilize unmanned aerial systems to prevent, suppress and rehabilitate landscapes impacted by wildfire.
    • Identify and catalog all NEPA categorical exclusions that address wildfire management to maximize their use and develop new categorical exclusions. 
    • Consult with USDA and U.S. Department of Commerce to identify and deploy additional resources that streamline Endangered Species Act compliance timelines for wildfire management activities.
    • Consult with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to identify and remove fuels management barriers implemented under the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act.
    • Conduct an examination and report on the costs and challenges of managing wildfire risks through land management activities.
    • Inventory local units where the Good Neighbor Authority could help reduce wildfire risks. Use the inventory to develop and start implementing a plan to coordinate with federal agencies, states, tribes, localities and other stakeholders to support infrastructure necessary to maintain healthy forestland, rangeland and watersheds.
    • Inventory and assess roads that may be beneficial to wildfire, fuels and vegetation management. Develop strategy to maintain roads for these activities.
  • Utilize active land, vegetation and wildfire management techniques that are supported by best practices and best available science (see SO for list). 
  • Maximize the wildfire management benefits of physical features within landscapes.
  • Seek and implement expert guidance.
    • Assemble a Department team of planning specialists to lead planning efforts and resource deployment across the Department.
    • Establish a FACA board to report of the Secretary on the Executive Order and this Order. The Board should include federal, state, Tribal and local stakeholders.


Click on each title above to view full text of the Bill, the E.O. and the Secretarial Order. 

2 comments:

  1. Thank you for the synthesis. However, in the context of the Cohesive Strategy, this synthesis is very forest-centric and doesn't accurately reflect the entire Cohesive Strategy-related content in the EO (that is inclusive of forests, rangelands and other federal lands). The EO addresses not only fuel treatments for forest management, but also rangeland management. In the west, we can't address our wildfire issues by focusing only the forests; this EO recognizes the unique and critical rangeland fire issues impacting land health and western economies.

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  2. Once again, short shrift for communities.

    ReplyDelete