Good Neighbor Authority

This isn’t something that has been discussed here, but in the last couple of days I’ve seen two stories that make it sound like the greatest thing since tab tops.

The Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest may sell 123 million board feet of timber by the end of fiscal 2017, WJFW-TV reported. That would mark the fifth annual increase in a row for the forest, which is nearing its maximum yield.  Forest Supervisor Paul Strong said this year’s expected yield is “absolutely great news.” The forest’s management plan aims to sell 131 million board feet annually. Strong said the timber program has grown thanks to the National Forest Services’ increased authority under the 2014 U.S. Farm Bill and policies allowing organizations to remove small trees and keep the timber.  He also cited the federal Good Neighbor Authority policy, which has allowed the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to manage the sale of about 25 million board feet of timber in the national forest annually.

Idaho has been seeing success with using the “Good Neighbor Authority” it was granted under the 2014 federal Farm Bill to partner with the U.S. Forest Service and increase active management and timber harvests on national forests in the state – and it’s poised to ramp the program up.  Under GNA, the state Department of Lands can offer its expertise and help to the Forest Service where the service’s staffing is short, for everything from administering contracts for timber sales to jointly designing projects that are backed by local collaboratives.   Because Idaho had numerous forest collaboratives already in place – which bring together sportsmen, conservationists, industry, local government and more to help design projects to improve forests in their area – it was able to spring into action.  Schultz said the piece Idaho’s been able to include that earlier states didn’t is actual timber sales – which add the jobs and economic impact piece, along with fund the program itself.  Jonathan Oppenheimer, government relations director for the Idaho Conservation League, attended the Land Board meeting. “We’ve been involved in a lot of these collaboratives,” he said afterward. “We are cautiously supportive of the program. We see it as a good way to get work done.” He called GNA “a good tool, but one that we’re certainly watching closely.”

Here’s what the Forest Service says about it:

The Good Neighbor Authority allows the Forest Service to enter into cooperative agreements or contracts with States and Puerto Rico to allow the States to perform watershed restoration and forest management services on National Forest System (NFS) lands. Congress passed two laws expanding Good Neighbor Authority (GNA): the FY 2014 Appropriations Act and the 2014 Farm Bill. Each law contains slightly different versions.

  • The Farm Bill permanently authorizes the Good Neighbor Authority for both the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) extending it to all 50 States and Puerto Rico. It excludes construction, reconstruction, repair, or restoration of paved or permanent roads or parking areas and construction, alteration, repair, or replacement of public buildings or works; as well as projects in wilderness areas, wilderness study areas, and lands where removal of vegetation is prohibited or restricted.

  • The Fiscal Year (FY) 2014 Appropriations Act included a five-year authorization for the use of GNA in all states with NFS lands to perform watershed restoration and protection services on NFS and BLM lands when similar and complementary services are performed by the state on adjacent state or private lands. Other than the adjacency requirement, there were no exclusions as to type or location of work.

Is there more here than meets the eye (good or bad)?  It does help with the financing.  Focusing on national forest lands that are “adjacent” to state or private lands seems like it would minimize controversy.  No mention of a collaboration requirement, but that seems to figure into it somehow.  If this is working so well, does the FS need more legislation?

5 Comments

  1. To me, adjacency (or close proximity) is the key. Loss to insects, disease and fire don’t usually stop at property lines. So, “United we stand, divided we fall”, should be a great motivator for collaboration for those interested in minimizing loss of habitat and resources and improving forest and human health over the long term.

  2. Jon, that is interesting. I wonder if there is general support for those projects, or how they pick them so they’re not controversial, or if somehow we just missed the controversies?

    Here’s the NEPA side from this Q&A document https://www.fs.fed.us/farmbill/documents/gna/GNA-FAQs20151214.pdf

    National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Related Questions
    Question: Under GNA could the State do a project from NEPA thru implementation? Or does
    NEPA stay with FS?
    Answer: The NEPA decision is the responsibility of the Forest Service. A state may perform
    the NEPA work as long as the decision remains with the appropriate Forest Service official.
    Question: Can we also use GNA to allow the State to pay for NEPA and restoration work on
    NFS lands?
    Answer: GNA is not a collection authority, so the State cannot transfer funds to the Forest
    Service to pay for NEPA and restoration work. The State may contribute work under a GNA
    agreement as a non-cash contribution.
    Question: To make best use of these authorities, its sounds like NEPA decisions for projects
    that will be worked on should already be completed prior to entering into an agreement.
    Correct?
    Answer: Ideally, the NEPA work and decision should be complete prior to entering into an
    agreement; however, NEPA work may be completed in partnership with the State under a GNA
    agreement. The NEPA decision rests with the responsible Forest Service official. In the interest
    of timelines, accountability, and project success, NEPA and project implementation, including
    timber sales, should typically be implemented using separate project agreements.
    Question: Can you discuss again how you see the NEPA process working with the GNA? What
    opportunities, if any, do you think GNA creates, as it relates to NEPA, to increase the pace and
    scale of restoration?

    Answer: GNA would allow a State or their subcontractors to provide NEPA planning services
    including resource specialists, inventory services, stakeholder meetings, analysis, NEPA
    document drafting. The NEPA decision always remains with the Forest Service.

  3. Even before the 2014 Farm Bill, the State of Oregon was allocating funds to help the Forest Service implement projects, primarily on the east side of the state. The state felt that the jobs provided by the implementation of these types of projects outweighed the costs to the state of providing support to local communities that were in depressed economies. So, for several years now, state employees have helped prepare FS timber sales, and the state has supported other work needed for planning these projects as well. This type of work continues under a GNA agreement with the State of Oregon. I don’t think it has expanded much beyond that type of work yet, but there are certainly other possibilities being looked at.

  4. Another example from Alaska:

    “the state Department of Natural Resources announced a joint young-growth timber sale on state and federal lands near Edna Bay on Kosciusko Island just off of Prince of Wales Island in Southeast. DNR Commissioner Andy Mack said the $2.6 million sale to Alcan Timber Inc. of Ketchikan is the largest sale in Southeast this year. The state-federal sale was put together under the Good Neighbor Authority agreement the state Division of Forestry and the Forest Service signed last November to allow for such a sale. “We are excited that this new partnership with the Forest Service is providing more wood to Alaska’s forest products industry while maintaining a healthy forest. We will continue to press for more timber to be made from Alaska’s forests,” Mack said. The sale is for about 1,500 acres of young-growth timber totaling 29 million board feet, according to a DNR release.”

  5. Jon’s Alaska example merits a “PS.”

    All the timber logged in this Good Neighbor project will be exported to China, not milled in the U.S.

    “The harvested trees will be shipped to China, where demand for the type of lumber possible from young-growth trees is increasing. The oldest of young-growth trees are about 60 years, and they have a lower value than old growth of 100-plus years.”

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