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The Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (2018 Farm Bill)


The Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 was signed into legislation by President Trump on December 20, 2018.  The 115th Congress enacted the legislation and the long title is, “To provide for the reform and continuation of agricultural and other programs of the Department of Agriculture through fiscal year 2023, and for other purposes.”  Most people refer to the legislation as the 2018 Farm Bill and the enacted bill is P.L. 115-334.

This five-year legislation allows USDA to carry out its vital mission of serving rural America, creating jobs, and providing a safety net for Americans in need. The 2018 Farm Bill also builds on the “Forestry” title from the 2014 Farm Bill and includes additional conservation authorities for the Forest Service.

There are 12 titles included in the 2018 Farm Bill (legislation pertaining to the Forest Service are in two titles in bold):

Title I – Commodities
Title II – Conservation
Title III – Trade
Title IV – Nutrition
Title V – Credit
Title VI – Rural Development
Title VII – Research, Extension, and Related Matters
Title VIII – Forestry
Title IV – Energy
Title X – Horticulture
Title XI – Crop Insurance
Title XII – Miscellaneous

Throughout various titles of the 2018 Farm Bill, particularly the Forestry Title, there are many authorities and provisions that will assist the Forest Service to accomplish our mission.

Congress has provided additional authorities to work with States, counties, and Tribes thru expansion of Good Neighbor Authority.

 

2018 Farm Bill National Forest System Priority Sections of Interest

Summary of Legislation
The purpose of this section is to encourage collaborative, science-based restoration of priority forest landscapes. The Secretary, in consultation with State foresters or appropriate State agencies, shall establish a competitive grant program to provide financial and technical assistance to encourage collaborative, science-based restoration of priority forest landscapes.
The Chief of the Forest Service, the Chief of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and relevant stakeholders shall collaborate and consult on an ongoing basis regarding (1) administration of the program established under this section; and (2) identification of other applicable resources for landscape-scale restoration.  As a condition of receiving a grant under this section, the Secretary shall require the recipient of the grant to provide funds or in-kind support from non-Federal sources in an amount that is at least equal to the amount of Federal funds.

Timelines
The Forest Service has completed a draft directive which will be released in the Federal Register for 30-days for public notice and comment in October 2020.  A final directive will be completed by January 2021.​​​​​

 

Summary of Legislation
In this section, Congress amended the Healthy Forest Restoration Act of 2003.  The 2018 Farm Bill amended sections 602 and 603 to extend the sunset provision in section 602(d) through September 30, 2023, and to add hazardous fuels reduction projects to the types of projects that may be carried out under sections 602 and 603. The 2018 Farm Bill also added section 606 to the Healthy Forests Restoration Act, which instructs the Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior to develop a categorical exclusion for vegetation management activities to protect, restore, or improve greater sage-grouse or mule deer habitat in a sagebrush steppe ecosystem. Sections 602 and 603 were added to the Healthy Forests Restoration Act by the 2014 Farm Bill and are commonly referred to as the insect and disease provisions.  Section 602 outlines a process for designating landscape-scale treatment areas; identifies where projects may be carried out; establishes a deadline for scoping for applicable projects; authorizes the use of expedited National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 procedures for environmental assessments and environmental impact statements for applicable projects; and describes other characteristics of applicable projects.  Section 603 in the 2014 Farm Bill establishes a categorical exclusion for certain insect and disease projects and outlines the collaborative requirements for applicable projects.

Timelines
The Forest Service developed a Questions and Answers document that is available for review (hyperlink to document – Healthy Forest Restoration Act Frequently Asked Questions).  The directive for categorical exclusions was updated to reflect changes as authorized for sections 602 and 603.

 

Summary of Legislation
The 2018 Farm Bill directs the Secretary to establish and maintain a program, to be known as the ‘Water Source Protection Program’ to carry out watershed protection and restoration projects on National Forest System land.  In carrying out the Program, the Secretary may enter into water source investment partnership agreements with end water users to protect and restore the condition of National Forest watersheds that provide water to end water users.

Timelines
The Washington Office issued a letter to field units regarding implementation of this section thru water source partnerships and development of water source management plans in 2019 (hyperlink to letter – Farm Bill Section 8484 Water Source Protection Program).  A second letter was issued to the field which identifies two landscapes for innovative finance opportunities and one landscape to test forest resilience bond model in 2020 (hyperlink to letter – Farm Bill Update WSPP Expanded Partnership).

 

Summary of Legislation
The 2018 Farm Bill authorizes the Secretary of Agriculture, acting through the Chief of the Forest Service (referred to establish and maintain a Watershed Condition Framework for National Forest System land to evaluate and classify the condition of watersheds to identify for protection and restoration up to 5 priority watersheds in each National Forest, and up to 2 priority watersheds in each national grassland.

Timelines
The Washington Office issued a letter to field units’ implementation of this section and establishment of priority watersheds on national forests and national grasslands in 2019 (hyperlink to letter – Farm Bill Update Section 8405 Watershed Condition Framework).

 

Summary of Legislation
The 2018 Farm Bill directs the Secretaries of Agriculture and Interior to each develop a categorical exclusion for covered activities to improve greater sage grouse and mule deer habitat.  The statute is uniquely drafted, prescribing the specific language for the new categorical exclusion, but lacking the traditional phrasing for statutorily establishing such categorical exclusion.  The Forest Service will develop the category through public notice and comment, as the terms of the categorical exclusion have been established in legislation (the 2018 Farm Bill).

Timelines
The statutory deadline for development of the categorical exclusion was December 20, 2019 and the categorical exclusion was enacted thru a directive on February 14, 2020

 

Summary of Legislation
This section amends the Small Tracts Act of 1984 to provide the Forest Service two new categories of eligible conveyances:

  • Establishment of a a conveyance category for cemeteries, landfills, and sewer treatment plants currently permitted to operate on National Forest System land
  • Establishment of a conveyance category for parcels 40 acres or less that are isolated, inaccessible, or have lost National Forest System character

The section also modifies an existing conveyance category for parcels ten acres or less.  The legislation removes an ambiguous “good faith” requirement and instead bases eligibility on encroachments by permanent, habitable improvements for which there is no evidence that the encroachment was intentional or negligent.

The section also raises the value limitation of tracts to be conveyed from $150,000 to $500,000 and directs funds received from the conveyance of certain eligible lands to a Sisk Act account available to the Secretary of Agriculture.

These changes provide the Forest Service with more flexibility for resolving property conflicts with private landowners, reduces the time and expense arising from protracted boundary disputes, and alleviates management burden and expense to the agency.

Timeframes
The Forest Service completed two final rules that were published in 2020.  One final rule pertains to the dollar value increase and the conveyance categories of landfills, sewage treatment plants, and cemeteries.  The final rule implements two amendments to the Small Tracts Act made by section 8621 of the Agriculture Improvement Act. The rule increases the threshold value and the addition of category 6 authorizing conveyance of parcels used as a cemetery, a landfill, or sewage treatment plant under a special use authorization.  The Small Tracts Act allows the Forest Service to resolve land disputes and management problems through the sale, exchange, or interchange of specific categories of relatively small land parcels described in the Act and its amendments. This final rule is located in the Federal Register at https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2020/02/13/2020-02299/conveyance-of-small-tracts.  

The other final rule was issued as a proposed rule on February 26, 2020.  The rule create two new categories of lands eligible for conveyance outside of the National Forest System under the Small Tracts Act: 

  1. Parcels 40 acres or less that are physically isolated, inaccessible, or have lost National Forest System character.
  2. Parcels of ten acres or less that are not eligible for conveyance under previous eligibility conditions and are encroached on by a permanent habitable improvement for which there is no evidence that the encroachment was intentional or negligent.  The final rule is proposed for publication before September 30, 2020.

 

 

Summary of Legislation
The Forest Service will publish a new manual that covers leasing Forest Service administrative sites.  This manual will provide direction for staff on how to execute these types of leases.  Forest Service Manual 5500 Landownership Title Management, Chapter 5560 – Leasing Forest Service Administrative Sites, will provide employees with guidance on how to utilize the various authorities available to execute leases, including the most recent authority granted by section 8623.

Section 8623 defines an administrative site as any facility or improvement, including curtilage (immediately adjacent land), that was acquired or is used specifically for purposes of administration of the National Forest System.  

Timeframes
The Forest Service proposes to implement this authority as a directive.  The directive was submitted in the Federal Register as a draft directive in June 3, 2020 for public notice and comment and is located at https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2020/06/03/2020-11466/forest-service-manual-2750-special-uses-management-manual-leasing-forest-service-administrative.  The final directive was published on the Forest Service website on October 13, 2020.

 

Summary of Legislation
Section 8624 of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (the 2018 Farm Bill) amended section 8206 of the 2014 Farm Bill (known as the Good Neighbor Authority, or GNA).  The amendments fall into four groups: 

  • authority to enter into a Good Neighbor Authority agreement with a county;
  • authority to enter into a Good Neighbor Authority agreement with an Indian tribe;
  • authority for “program income” under a Good Neighbor Authority agreement with a State; and
  • technical changes.

Section 8704(b) of the 2018 Farm Bill also made technical changes to the Good Neighbor Authority regarding wildfire and forest management activities (hyperlink to Good Neighbor Authority website).  Enclosed is the letter to the field (June 7, 2019) which provides the updated Good Neighbor Authority template.
   
Section 8624(b)(2)(D) also amended section 8206(b) of the Good Neighbor Authority to provide:

  • (4) RECEIPTS.—Notwithstanding any other provision of law, any payment made by a county to the Secretary under a project conducted under a good neighbor agreement shall not be considered to be monies received from National Forest System land or Bureau of Land Management land, as applicable.

The Forest Service has worked with legal counsel regarding the “Receipts” subsection, which only applies to States and not counties or Tribes.  A guide to develop forest management projects thru Good Neighbor Authority has been developed for field units.

The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018 (Public Law 115–141) provided language regarding Good Neighbor Authority agreements to include roads as “areas, other than the reconstruction, repair, or restoration of a National Forest System road.”

The Forest Service is updating manual and handbook directives regarding the new provisions in the 2018 Farm Bill and the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018.

Timeframes
Draft policy guidelines are currently in the review process for clearance and posting on the Forest Service intranet website. Implementation of the new templates should occur by the end of the calendar year in 2020.

 

Summary of Legislation
The Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program (CFLRP) increases active management to improve forest health, reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires, and promote jobs in rural communities. The CFLRP focuses on creating shared priorities among the Forest Service, States, and other partners to increase the scale of active management.

The CFLRP currently invests in collaborative approaches to active management in 23 priority landscapes across the country. More than 200 local businesses, counties, State, Tribal, and other federal government agencies, utilities companies, and non-government organizations, work together to restore large landscapes, ranging from 130,000 to 2,400,000 acres. While CFLRP dollars can only be spent on National Forest System lands, the project landscapes include a mix of ownerships and address cross-boundary needs.

The CFLRP was reauthorized in the 2018 Farm Bill, with Congress doubling the authorized funding level to $80 million per year. The 2018 Farm Bill requires an Advisory Panel evaluate, support, and provide recommendations to the Secretary of Agriculture on each nomination for new project selections and one-time extensions to existing ten-year projects.  Proposals for new projects and project extensions ae developed by National Forest System units, through a collaborative process with partners, and nominated by the Regional Forester.

Timeframes
The Forest Service issued a call for new CFLRP project proposals in 2019.  The agency established a new CFLRP committee as required by the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA).  The CFLRP committee convened in the Summer of 2020 and submitted recommendations to the Secretary of Agriculture for funding CFLRP projects in fiscal year 2020.

 

Summary of Legislation
The 2018 Farm Bill provides the Secretary the option to implement a voluntary pilot project for removal of vegetation outside of electric transmission corridors.  

The 2018 Consolidated Appropriations Act establishes requirements for vegetation management provisions in operating plans for electric transmission lines.  Participation in the vegetation management pilot program in the 2018 Farm Bill requires agency approval and would be covered by operating plans for electric transmission lines, implementation of the vegetation management requirements.  Section 211, in the 2018 Consolidated Appropriations Act is a prerequisite to implementation of the vegetation management pilot program. 

Section 8630(d)(2) of the 2018 Farm Bill requires Forest Service approval of the pilot projects, which will be conducted adjacent to the authorized right-of-way.  See section 8630(b)(1) and (d)(2).  Vegetation management conducted under the pilot projects will abut vegetation management under operating plans for electric transmission line authorizations.  Vegetation management under operating plans may affect or overlap with vegetation management under the pilot projects.  Implementation of section 8630 will occur after a rule and directives are final.

Timeframes
The Secretary of Agriculture signed the final rule for implementation of the 2018 Consolidated Appropriations Act, Section 512 on August 11, 2020  The agency is completing a draft directive to implement the rule which should be available for a 30-day public notice and comment before September 30, 2020. A final directive to implement the rule should be completed by December 30, 2020.

The timeframe for establishment of a pilot demonstration program is the end of the calendar year.  The Washington Office submitted a letter to the field providing direction for vegetation management in utility corridors dated September 5, 2019.  A second letter was issued to the field providing information on the pilot program. A draft directive to implement the pilot program should be available for public notice and comment in October 2020 with a final directive in January 2021.

 

Summary of Legislation
The 2018 Farm Bill authorized several changes to the Secure Rural Schools (SRS) Resource Advisory Committee (RAC) program.  These changes are:

  1. Authorization of a “committee composition waiver authority” by which the Secretary may reduce the membership requirement of RACs “to not fewer than 9 members” if an inadequate number of qualified candidates have applied to serve.
  2. Authorization to reduce the number of people who represent a category on a resource advisory committee from 5 to 3.
  3. Creation of a new pilot program requesting Regional Foresters to appoint SRS RAC members in Montana and Arizona through 2023. 

Reduction in the number of members on a resource advisory committee for a quorum would alleviate a chronic issue of RACs in sparsely populated counties being unable to recruit adequate members for a quorum to meet.  An anticipated $51 million is available for SRS RACs.

The Forest Service submitted the revised charter for signature by the Secretary of Agriculture to implement provisions codified in the 2018 Farm Bill.  USDA’s ability to deliver the Secretary’s priorities of customer service, enhancing rural prosperity, and implementation of the 2018 Farm Bill for the SRS program are greatly improved thru the RAC program. 

Guidance has been issued to the field to incorporate 2018 Farm Bill changes into a new national charter.  Since the Farm Bill was signed into law, the National Partnership Office has worked weekly with the White House Liaison’s Office in the Department and the Office of Regulatory and Management Services to develop an approach to various SRS provisions, including the pilot program. The team developed a detailed table outlining the necessary steps to correctly nominate, review, and select RAC candidates and coordinated with various staffs in the Washington Office and with employees in Region 1 and Region 3 to implement the pilot where the Regional Forester can sign the charter and membership to the resource advisory committee.

Timeframes
The Forest Service submitted a revised charter which was signed by the Secretary of Agriculture, which changes the composition of a committee for a quorum from 15 to 9 members.  The charter also was modified to combine committees.

Currently in the fall of 2020 there are 102 active Secure Rural Schools RACs. Only 42 RACs have enough members to hold meetings, 60 RACs do not have enough members.  A total of 34 Secure Rural Schools RAC nomination packages are in clearance and need to be signed by the Under Secretary. 

The 2018 Farm Bill Pilot Program which authorizes the Regional Forester in Arizona and the Regional Forester in Montana to approve Resource Advisory Committee members is a success.  A total of 12 Resource Advisory Committee nomination packages in Montana have been approved.  A total of two of the four RACs in Arizona have a quorum and can meet. The remaining two committees will be submitting nomination packages to the Regional Forester for approval.

 

Summary of Legislation
The Forest Service is implementing two pieces of legislation pertaining to Tribes simultaneously:

The Indian Tribal Energy Development and Self-Determination Act Amendments of 2017.  The purpose of section 202 is to promote biomass energy production by establishing Tribal Biomass Demonstration Projects with Federally recognized Indian Tribes [Section 202(b)], and Alaska Native Biomass Demonstration Projects with Federally recognized Indian Tribes, Alaska Native villages or regional or village corporations, and tribal organizations (section 202(c)). The Act directs demonstration projects to promote biomass energy production, including biofuel, heat, and electricity generation, but does not define these terms. These projects occur within the larger scope of developing Indian energy programs. The Forest Service’s role under this authority is to provide woody biomass supply, not to develop the energy production.  

For Tribal Biomass Demonstration Projects under section 202(b), the Act allows use of stewardship contracts or similar agreements (excluding direct service contracts) with an Indian Tribe. The Act does not require the development of any new contract/agreement instruments or templates. Section 202(c) authorizes agreement or contract with Indian Tribes, Alaska Native villages or regional or village corporations, and Tribal organizations for Alaska Native Biomass Demonstration Projects.  

The Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (the 2018 Farm Bill) authorizes the Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Agriculture to carry out demonstration projects by which Federally recognized Indian Tribes or Tribal organizations may contract to perform administrative, management, and other functions of programs of the Tribal Forest Protection Act of 2004 (25 U.S.C. 3115a et seq.) through contracts entered into under the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act (25 U.S.C. 5304 et seq.).

The contract or project shall be entered into under, and in accordance with, section 403(b)(2) of the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act (25 U.S.C. 5363(b)(2)).  The authority in the 2018 Farm Bill permits the Secretaries of Interior and Agriculture to enter into “638 self-determination demonstration project agreements” with Tribes to take over the management and functions of the Federal government under the Tribal Forest Protection Act (TFPA) with certain conditions. 

Timeframes
Pertaining to the Indian Tribal Energy Development and Self-Determination Act Amendments of 2017 the Forest Service plans to institute a year of “adaptive learning” wherein the agency will collect input from Tribes and Tribal organizations for one year prior to any revisions to the Act’s evaluation and selection criteria.  The Washington Office submitted to field units a letter describing the “sand table” exercise and webinars held in coordination with the Intertribal Timber Council.  An additional letter with attachments was issued to the field to explain the 638 agreement/contract process with a frequently asked questions and answers document.

The agency signed the first 638 tribal agreement with the Tulalip Tribe in Washington state on Wednesday, September 16, 2020.

 

Summary of Legislation
The Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (the 2018 Farm Bill) provided provisions for the agency regarding the management and operations of communications uses on National Forest System lands.  Section 8705 of the 2018 Farm Bill requires the Forest Service to promulgate a proposed and final rule which would amend 36 CFR Part 251, Subpart B, to streamline the process for considering applications to locate or modify communications facilities on National Forest System lands and implement a new annual programmatic administrative fee for communications use authorizations to cover the costs of administering the Forest Service’s communications site program.  The Forest Service will also update the manual and handbook regarding this new rule.

The proposed rule will include:

  • An amendment to regulations to include MOBILE NOW requirements (270-days to grant or deny application) which should expedite processing of application.
  • Uniform and standardized procedures establishing a 15-day review period for co-location requests which should expedite the process and allow users to co-locate more efficiently.
  • Uniform and standardized procedures establishing a 30-year term for communications use authorizations which meets requirements in the 2018 Farm Bill, provides holders the opportunity to amortize their investment, improves holder’s ability to market their facilities for co-location, and reduces the backlog of expired authorization.
  • Implementation of a revised categorical exclusion that expands from 5 to 20 acres and removes limitations to "minor" special uses and "contiguous" acres.
  • Addition of a new category that does not require a project or case file and decision memo for issuance of a new authorization to replace an expired authorization.
  • Developing a new report in the Special Uses Database System for tracking applications.
  • Development of new mapping tool to improves customer service by providing a resource for initial assessments – this tool will interface with the Bureau of Land Management mapping tool.
  • Revision of the SF-299 Application Form (the Forest Service is lead for all government agencies to update this form - meets provision in the 2018 Farm Bill for uniform and standardized procedures). 

Timeframes
The Forest Service published a final rule implementing this authority on April 8, 2020. The agency promulgated a Forest Service directive to implement the rule with the draft directive published n the Federal Register on June 4, 2020 for public notice and comment for 30 days.  A final directive is proposed for publication on the Forest Service website by September 30, 2020. A final directive was published on the Forest Service website on October 13, 2020.

 

Summary of Legislation
The 2018 Farm Bill authorized the Secretary of Agriculture to appoint an intern directly to a position with the Department of Agriculture, Forest Service for which the candidate meets Office of Personnel Management qualification standards.  The intern must complete a rigorous internship with a land managing agency, such as the Forest Service Resource Assistant Program
The intern must have earned an undergraduate or graduate degree from an accredited institution of higher education.

Timeframes
The Forest Service has developed policy and guidance to implement this section utilizing direct hire authority.  A letter was issued to the field describing the procedures and criteria.  Additional information regarding this hiring authority is located on the Forest Service website for the Resource Assistants Program

The Forest Service will publish a draft directive to implement this authority in October 2020 for 30 days in the Federal Register.  A final directive will be published by January 2021.

 

https://www.fs.usda.gov/managing-land/farm-bill