The Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, better known as the 2018 Farm Bill, has given the Forest Service the tools and authorities needed to care for the land we manage for the American people. Congress issues this legislation every five years. The 2018 Farm Bill continues all major conservation programs, with several modifications explained below.
Read more from the Associate Chief of the Forest Service on what we have been able to accomplish through the 2018 Farm Bill.
The Farm Bill extends the Healthy Forest Restoration Act of 2003 until 2023 and adds hazardous fuels reduction projects to the type of projects that may be carried out.
- A requirement that the Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior develop a categorical exclusion for vegetation management in greater sage-grouse or mule deer habitat in sagebrush steppe ecosystems
- Outlines a process for designating landscape-scale treatment areas
- Identifies where projects may be carried out
- Establishes deadlines for scoping for applicable projects
- Authorizes use of expedited National Environmental Policy Act procedures for environmental assessments and environmental impact statements for projects
- Describes other characteristics of applicable projects
- The deadline to develop categorical exclusions for greater sage-grouse and mule deer habitat in sagebrush-steppe is Dec. 20, 2019.
Amendments to the Small Tracts Act in the 2018 Farm Bill give the Forest Service more flexibility in resolving property conflicts with landowners while alleviating associated management burden and expense.
These amendments allow the Forest Service to convey two new categories of eligible lands.
- Cemeteries, landfills, and sewer treatment plants currently permitted to operate on lands managed by the Forest Service
- Parcels that are 40 acres or less, and isolated, inaccessible, or have lost the character that makes them appropriate to be part of the system of national forests and grasslands
This section also:
- Modifies an existing category to allow parcels of 10 acres or less, where permanent, habitable improvements have been made to be conveyed—so long as there is no evidence the encroachment is intentional or negligent
- Raises the value limits on conveyed lands from $150,000 to $500,000 to better align with current market values
- Directs certain funds received from eligible land conveyances to a Sisk Act account which is available to the Secretary of Agriculture
What’s next: The Forest Service will submit a proposed and final rule to update directives related to the Small Tracts Act. The final rule pertains to the value increase and the expanded conveyance categories. The proposed rule pertains to the ten- and 40-acre parcel conveyance categories. The proposed rule will be released for public comment before a final rule is shared. Both rules are expected to become final by March 2020.
The 2018 Farm Bill allows the Forest Service to lease sites under 40 acres. These sites include sites like ranger stations, warehouses, guard stations, crew quarters and others. The Forest Service also now has the authority to receive in-kind considerations.
What’s next: The agency is working to update its directives and manuals to reflect these changes.
The 2018 Farm Bill expanded the Good Neighbor Authority, which provides opportunities for the Forest Service to work with states to complete forest improvement projects. The expansion now includes counties and Indian tribes in addition to the states as eligible partners. The bill also makes technical changes to the Good Neighbor Authority regarding wildfire and forest management activities.
What’s next: The agency is updating manual and handbook directives to reflect the changes.
The 2018 Farm Bill reauthorized the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program, which focuses on increasing the scale of active management by creating shared priorities between the Forest Service, states and other partners. The reauthorization doubled annual funding levels to $80 million. While the funds may only be spent on lands under Forest Service management, projects address landscape-scale concerns that cross all land ownerships.
What’s next: The Forest Service published a call for nominations to serve on the advisory panel that will evaluate and provide recommendations on which projects to select to the Secretary of Agriculture. The deadline for nominations is Nov. 14, 2019.
The Secretary is given the option to begin a voluntary pilot project to remove vegetation around electric transmission corridors. The 2018 Consolidated Appropriations Act requires that provisions be made in operating plans for vegetation management along electric transmission lines that cross national forests and grasslands.
- On Sept. 25, 2019, the agency published proposed changes to vegetation management within and along powerline rights-of-way in the Federal Register
- Public comments close Nov. 25, 2019
- A final rule will be published by March 2020
The 2018 Farm Bill made several changes to the Secure Rural Schools Resource Advisory Committee which include:
- Reducing the minimum number of serving members to nine so long as the Secretary of Agriculture determines an inadequate number of qualified candidates have applied
- Reducing the number of people who represent a category from five to three
- Creates a pilot program in which Regional Foresters appoint committee members in Montana and Arizona through 2023
What’s next: To date, six Resource Advisory Committees have approved charters from the Regional Forester in Montana.
The Farm Bill authorizes the Secretaries of Agriculture and Interior to enter into agreements with tribes to authorize demonstration projects. These projects allow federally recognized Indian tribes to perform forest management under the Tribal Forest Protection Act of 2004 through contracts under the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act.
What’s next: The Forest Service will begin collecting input from tribes for a year prior to revisions to the law’s evaluation and selection criteria.
The 2018 Farm Bill requires the Forest Service to streamline the process for considering applications to locate or modify communications facilities lands the agency manages.
The Farm Bill directs the Secretary to establish and maintain a program, which will be called the Water Source Protection Program, to carry out watershed protection and restoration projects on National Forest System land. As part of the program, the agency may sign water source investment partnership agreements with end water users to protect and restore the condition of agency watersheds that provide water to end water users.
What’s next: The agency has started to inform employees about how to implement these partnerships and develop water source management plans.
The Farm Bill directs the agency to establish and maintain a Watershed Condition Framework that evaluates and classifies the condition of watersheds to identify for protection and restoration up to five priority watersheds on each national forest and up to two priority watersheds on each national grassland.
What’s next: The agency is working with employees on implementation.