U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), a longtime member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, today unveiled his fifth legislative proposal that is intended to be included in the 2018 farm bill. Thune’s bill, the Forest Management Improvement Act of 2017, would make several improvements to the forestry title of the farm bill by increasing the effectiveness of the Healthy Forest Restoration Act and improving the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which would help simplify and streamline federal forest management.
“Truly effective forest management must include overcoming the pine beetle infestations in the Black Hills and other national forests,” said Thune. “It also must include pursuing proactive land stewardship goals for habitat management, recreational improvement, road maintenance, forest health, and wildfire protection, among other areas. All of these are within reach and can be accomplished through adequate and timely management practices, including timber thinning on national forests, which generates revenue and supports jobs. By expediting and simplifying implementation of common-sense timber management tools, as my bill would allow, we can achieve these land stewardship goals, protect our environment, and grow our economy.
“I believe we should always look for ways to make federal agencies more effective and efficient,” continued Thune. “The U.S. Forest Service is excessively burdened with NEPA compliance obstacles and produces more environmental impact statements, which take longer to complete than those of most other federal agencies whose projects have longer-lasting impacts on the landscape. The changes I’ve proposed would go a long way to provide relief from unnecessary and burdensome red tape and improve national forest management.”
“This bill would allow the U.S. Forest Service to implement projects on the ground more efficiently to achieve forest plan goals and reduce the potential for catastrophic fires and mountain pine beetle epidemics,” said Tom Troxel, executive director of the Intermountain Forest Association. “I certainly appreciate Sen. Thune’s help in offering this important and helpful legislation.”
South Dakota’s Black Hills National Forest and other national forests around the country require significant maintenance to preserve and improve forest health. More than 86 million acres of National Forest System lands are at higher-than-normal risk for wildfires, insect outbreaks, or disease. By improving the existing and proven authorities of the Healthy Forest Restoration Act on additional national forest acres, it would help reduce the threat of wildfires and allow the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) to proactively treat stands before they begin to die and/or deteriorate.
The Forest Management Improvement Act of 2017 would:
Expand Categorical Exclusions:
- Allow USFS to take steps to rapidly salvage dead and dying trees after wildfires, ice storms, or wind events.
- Increase categorical exclusions that are allowed under NEPA from 3,000 to 10,000 acres, which would greatly increase forest management and treatment landscapes.
Provide Greater Certainty for Project-Level Decisions Through Litigation Relief:
- Expand the Healthy Forest Restoration Act judicial review provisions to all USFS vegetation management projects, except on acres where timber management is prohibited by law or the forest plan.
- Provide alternative dispute resolution mechanisms for certain projects on a pilot basis.
- Restrict Equal Access to Justice Act payments to reasonable limits for hourly reimbursement and provide stricter controls to ensure that payments do not go to losing plaintiffs or organizations that have substantial financial resources.
Thune’s bill would also create an expedited environmental review process by clarifying that agencies are only required to analyze the proposed action and a no-action alternative for environmental impact statements. It would also clarify that USFS would not be required to conduct a no-action analysis for environmental assessments. Finally, the bill would create a single good neighbor authority by eliminating duplicative U.S. Department of Interior authorities, and it would clarify congressional intent with respect to stewardship contracting.
To learn more about Thune’s 2018 farm bill, including the Soil Health and Income Protection Program, Conservation Program Improvement Act of 2017, Commodity Program Improvement Act of 2017, and a bill to improve supplemental agricultural disaster assistance programs, please visit the farm bill section on www.thune.senate.gov.