Photo Credit: A breakdown of recent federal directives and policy related to the Cohesive Strategy. Photo: These fuel breaks successfully protected homes during the Badger Creek Fire (Wyoming). Photo by USDA Forest Service

Editor’s note: If you haven’t spent much time with the new Farm Bill, Executive Order 13855 and Secretarial Order 3372, take a moment to read these summaries produced by Katie Lighthall, western region coordinator of the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Strategy, as there are numerous implications within them for FAC practitioners. This post was originally published on the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Strategy Western Region’s blog.

Late last year, Congress approved and the president signed the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, aka the Farm Bill. That same month, the president signed Executive Order (E.O.) 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 (S.O.) 3372 — Reducing Wildfire Risks on Department of the Interior Land through Active Management.

Together, these directives and policy will influence the implementation of the Cohesive Strategy across the nation. The following is an overview and nonexhaustive summary of these documents that affect the implementation of the Cohesive Strategy.

2018 Farm Bill, the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (PDF, 1.28MB)

  • 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 USDA Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management — BLM). Up to $20,000,000 per year can be appropriated for this, through 2023. Also amends HFRA to allow for the application of “extraordinary circumstances” when using a categorical exclusion (Forest Service only).
  • Hazardous fuels appropriations reduced from $760 million to $660 million through 2023 (both Forest Service 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.
  • 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 gives additional stakeholders an opportunity to treat forested and rangeland landscapes around communities.
  • Reauthorizes the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Partnership 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.
Machinery moving log in a log yard

Credit: Watershed Research and Training Center

Executive Order 13855 — Promoting Active Management of America’s Forests, Rangelands, and Other Federal Lands to Improve Conditions and Reduce Wildfire Risk (PDF, 210KB)

This 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 states, tribes 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 Forest Service 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 E.O., so accomplishment can be affected positively or negatively depending on appropriations. There are many directions in the E.O., 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 (PDF, 404 KB)

In response to the aforementioned E.O., S.O. 3372 is intended to enhance the DOI’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 E.O., 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 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 the highest risk of catastrophic wildfire.
  • 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 strategies 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 S.O. 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 both the E.O. and S.O. The board should include federal, state, tribal and local stakeholders.

Click on each title above to view the full text of the bill, the E.O. and the S.O.

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