Farm Bill Would Permanently Extend Stewardship Contracting

Here’s a section of an E&E News article today that deals with federal forestry, including permanent reauthorization of stewardship contracting.

http://www.eenews.net/eedaily/stories/1059993543

The draft also would bar the EPA from requiring permits for non-point runoff due to silvicultural activities.

Forestry

The bill would also provide big wins for forest health advocates by permanently extending stewardship contracting and expanding good-neighbor authority on roughly 193 million acres of national forests. It would also allow the Forest Service to designate “landscape-scale” treatment areas and use expedited permitting authority to protect the areas from insects or disease.

Permanent extension of stewardship contracting has been a top priority for the Obama administration and lawmakers of both parties, as well as conservation groups and logging companies. It allows lands agencies to sell 10-year timber contracts and use the revenue to fund forest health projects such as road improvements, stream restoration, hazardous fuel removal or recreation improvements. While it is used for roughly one-fourth of Forest Service timber harvests, the contracting authority is set to expire in September.

The farm bill’s good-neighbor provision is very similar to S. 327, which passed the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee last year. It would expand the federal government’s authority to partner with state foresters on restoration projects, including bark beetle treatments, across state-federal boundaries. Currently, that authority only exists in Colorado and Utah.

The farm bill would also allow agencies to expand their use of streamlined permitting under the Healthy Forests Restoration Act to projects that reduce a landscape’s susceptibility to insect infestations or disease. Old-growth trees must be retained under this authority, “as appropriate to the forest type.”

Projects up to 3,000 acres in size could be permitted under a categorical exclusion as long as they follow several restrictions, including: They maximize retention of old growth, consider best available science, are developed through a collaborative process, do not result in new permanent roads, comply with forest plans and do not affect wilderness or wilderness study areas.

“The farm bill provides a broad array of new legal tools to allow the Forest Service to do their job,” said Bill Imbergamo, executive director of the Federal Forest Resource Coalition, which represents loggers that contract with national forests. “It has provisions that provide for streamlined analysis, give stewardship contracts the same liability limitations found in normal timber sales and provisions that will make it easier to manage the national forests.”

But Imbergamo said the bill fails to provide the comprehensive overhaul of the Forest Service’s timber program that industry was hoping for, including reforms to the National Environmental Policy Act and Endangered Species Act.

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