Omnibus Bill Update Includes Wildfire Funding Fix, Federal Forest Management Reform

On March 22, the House and then the Senate passed an FY 2018 omnibus 2,232-page spending package. Before the deal was unveiled early Wednesday morning, we were notified that leadership in both the House and Senate had forged an agreement on a wildfire funding fix for the Forest Service, as well as federal forest management reforms. We are pleased to announce that a favorable package of pro-forestry reforms made it into this spending deal.  The President signed the bill into law this afternoon after a bit of tension on his part regarding the lack of a DACA fix and border wall funding.    
 
The forestry reforms are:
 
Fire Borrowing

  • Establishes a fund of more than $2 billion a year, which would increase over a 10-year period. The fund could be accessed by the Forest Service when wildfire suppression costs exceed the 10-year average cost of wildfires, which would be frozen at the 2015 level. Specifically, disaster levels ramp up from $2.25 billion in FY 2020 to $2.95 in FY 2027.
  • Because this provision does not take effect until 2020, current law would remain in effect through 2019.
Forest Management 
  • A new categorical exclusion from the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) is established 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 Forest Service collaborates with states on forest management projects. Additionally, these new contracts would give preference to contactors that would promote innovative use of wood products, including cross laminated timber.
  • A simplified process for repairing and rebuilding access roads in some areas of national forests.
  • 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 final package is a product of negotiation and compromise 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.
Biomass
While we had worked hard to secure a provision in this spending deal that would make the existing provision in federal law recognizing the carbon neutrality of forest based biomass energy permanent, this agreement extends it only through this fiscal year.   We were successful, working with our forestry and forest products industry allies, in including language in the Interior appropriations bills that would have extended recognition of biomass carbon neutrality in perpetuity, however, that language did not survive the final package.   Nevertheless we are pleased with the language in the bill and will continue to advocate that it be extended permanently as the FY 2019 appropriations begins next month.  
White Nose Syndrome  
The spending deal includes the following language on White Nose:
"The four Federal land management agencies and the U.S. Geological Survey are expected to continue to prioritize research on, and efforts to address, white-nose syndrome in bats and to work with other Federal, State, and non-governmental partners to implement the North American Bat Monitoring Program."
 
Again, given the length of this bill, we are not finished culling through all of its provisions, but wanted to flag those that were advocacy priorities for us in this appropriations cycle.

Courtesy the Hardwood Federation 


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