Farm Bill Update

An email update from the Forest Resources Association….

Yesterday, the House Agriculture Committee released its long-awaited Farm Bill draft titled the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018. The bill is 641 pages and we continue to review its many titles and provisions, but wanted to flag a few areas in which FRA has worked on and will continue to support.

Timber Innovation Act: Research provisions of the Timber Innovation Act were included in the House’s version of the Farm Bill. The legislation directs USDA to conduct performance-driven research and development, education, and technical assistance for the purpose of facilitating the use of innovative wood products (mass timber/tall wood buildings) in wood building construction in the United States.

Federal Forest Management Reform: Following up on several favorable federal forest management reforms included in the recently enacted omnibus spending bill, the House Farm Bill would create several new authorities for the Forest Service to conduct forest management projects on federal lands. Expressly, the bill authorizes a number of new “categorical exclusions” from National Environmental Protection Act or NEPA reviews that will make initiating and completing needed project work easier.

These new CEs are designed to:

§  Expedite salvage operations in response to catastrophic events

§  Meet forest plan goals for early successional forests

§  Manage “hazard trees”

§  Improve or restore National Forest System lands or reduce the risk of wildfire.

§  Forest restoration

§  Infrastructure-related forest management activities.

§  Managing insect and disease infestation.

Community Wood Energy Program (CWEP): The legislation significantly increases the authorization for this program to $25 million to fund grants for installing wood heating systems that run on sawmill residuals—sawdust that is converted to pellets and/or woodchips. In addition to funding wood heating installations, the bill would also provide grants to innovative wood products facilities—those manufacturing cross laminated timber for tall wood buildings or other cutting edge technologies using wood or lignin. This program is viewed as one policy mechanism that could be used to address the sawmill residuals issue that has become a challenge in recent months.

A markup of this legislation is scheduled for April 18 in the House Agriculture Committee.

6 thoughts on “Farm Bill Update”

  1. Yep, more CE’s are needed. The 46 million acres in the Farm Bill CE’s and about a dozen other logging/thinning/burning CE’s put in place over the past 15 years just are not enough.

    Q: How many total acres of the U.S. Forest Service’s timber base cannot be logged ‘categorically excluded from the requirements of NEPA” already?

  2. Here is the definition of categorical exclusions in the CEQ NEPA regulations (40 CFR §1508.4): “Categorical exclusion means a category of actions which do not individually or cumulatively have a significant effect on the human environment …”

    If these legislative exceptions to NEPA requirements make no attempt to ensure that they are used only where projects will have no significant effects they would not meet this definition and should be called something else. (Suggestions?)

  3. Hmm.. as far as I know the legislated CE’s still have to follow agency NEPA procedures including scoping and consideration of extraordinary circumstances, so that’s probably why they are still called CE’s. The difference seems to be operationally that administrative ones make the case through a record, that the actions do not have significant effects, and legislative ones don’t need to develop that record.

  4. You are right that if Congress didn’t bring them under the CE umbrella, the FS could just decide a project fits the category and call it done (so I withdraw my comment!). I’ll admit that CEs are kind of a blind spot for me (because there weren’t any categories for forest plans). I don’t think scoping has any value beyond identifying the category and investigating specific types of extraordinary circumstances, and considering cumulative effects. What could get missed here is “ordinary” circumstances that would otherwise create uncertainty about the significance of effects (and normally require at least an EA). Congress is saying we can ignore those.

  5. Here is the Wilderness Society’s evaluation of the same bill:

    “Since 2015, House Republicans have been promoting highly controversial legislation, sponsored by Congressman Westerman of Arkansas, called the “Resilient Federal Forests Act” (H.R. 2647 in 2015 and H.R. 2936 in 2017). Many conservationists and others have strongly opposed the Westerman bill because it would undermine bedrock environmental laws and take away opportunities for public involvement… Seemingly oblivious to the forest management provisions in the recently-enacted Omnibus Appropriations Act, the Republicans’ 2018 Farm Bill incorporates many of the most controversial elements of the Westerman bill.”


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