The Great American Outdoors Act Selection Process for the Forest Service (and Why They Were Late).


This is related from a conversation with an individual who was involved.   Any inaccuracies are due to my not taking good enough notes, and/ or my own lack of understanding of the complexities. Anyone knowledgeable is invited to correct this post.

The Story

A month before the GAOA was passed the Forest Service started pulling together a team and went through a regional/national selection process, with public input, to arrive at a finalized lists. TThe FS was finished in time to report to Congress.

OMB held them up during clearance, apparently because Interior wasn’t ready. Why was that? Possible causes 1) Interior was slow for whatever reason and USDA had to wait for the slower department for Interior not to look bad, 2) political people decided to mess with (or check on?) Interior’s choices, 3) wanted to check for coordination between Interior and USDA (is there already a process for this for LWCF?) or ????

Anyway, there are two pieces of GAOA funding: LWCF (land conservation) and DM (deferred maintenance).

OMB gave the FS a smaller share of LWCF than originally planned, so more could go to Interior. The Forest Service gets 15% of infrastructure $, so it appears that can’t be changed due to Administration preferences.

Here’s a list from the FS website of the 2021 infrastructure projects.

Here’s the list of 2021 LWC Projects

Note that there are no $ attached, that’s what’s being held up at OMB, but USDA is apparently putting pressure on them to get the figures out. These could be released at any time.

Here are the processes for LWC projects:

For the SPF Forest Legacy program, the agency selected projects through the following process and criteria:

  • The Forest Legacy Program works in partnership with State lead agencies.
  • Projects are selected through a two-part competitive process – state-level and then national.
  • The state level process ensures each project has local support and aligns with state priorities as identified in the State Forest Action Plans and Shared Stewardship agreements.
  • The national level process considers defined environmental and economic benefits, strategic contribution to other conservation initiatives on the landscape, and likelihood of conversion to non-forest uses.
  • Program funding is provided to states through grants to support program administration and project implementation.
  • All lands protected through this program are held and managed by the state through conservation easements or land purchases.

For the NFS Lands Acquisition program, the agency selected projects through the following process and criteria:

  • The National Forest System Lands Program works with our regional offices and partners to develop projects supporting the needs of local communities.

  • Projects are selected through a two-part competitive process – regional-level and then national.

  • The regional level process ensures each project has local support and aligns with National Forest System and partner priorities.

  • The national level process considers local needs for recreation access, urgency of the acquisition, the level of local support for the acquisition, and other criteria.

It’s interesting that there has been a kerfuffle in the usual places about a soon-to-be-short-lived Secretarial Order by Bernhardt for a required buy-off by counties and states, meanwhile as we see above determining local and state support is just a standard part of the FS process.  

  • Philosophical question: is there always more drama in Interior due to a) a higher proportion of political appointees, b) force of habit by outsiders (not career employees), c) more scrutiny by environmental journalists d) more interest by environmental organizations  or ?  Seemingly if something is needlessly partisanized, it could also be unpartisanized.

If I were on the Interior transition team (unlikely, as I’m not a lawyer) I’d start a public comment process, and meet with the Western Govs, on suggestion for how best to dial back the drama.

Does It Even Matter If Agencies Are Late?

This money should go out as part of an Appropriations bill says Congress, OMB says (hopes) that it can go out any old time (like before a change in Administrations, I expect).  Experts on the topic might  know whether a Continuing Resolution for less than a year would be “good enough” to let the $ out, or whether it needs to be an actual Appropriations bill.

The new Administration may generate a new list. Would such a list be more or less “political” for DOI and not for the FS? Will the new Administration give the FS its original share of the LWCF? Time will tell.

Regardless of the details, looking at the lists and the dollars, GAOA is IMHO a Very Good Thing.


4 thoughts on “The Great American Outdoors Act Selection Process for the Forest Service (and Why They Were Late).”

  1. Very helpful set of insights. Regarding the Secretarial Order from Interior, as compared with the USFS process described here, I looked at the language the other day to size up the issue. It could be an apples-oranges situation.

    The Order says any LWCF expenditure must (“shall”) be informed by, from a long list, “A written expression of support by both the affected Governor and local county or county government-equivalent (e.g. parish, borough) is required for the acquisition of land, water, or an interest in land or water under the Federal LWCF program.” (Sec. 4(b)7). That language requires DOI bureaus to secure an expression of support from both the Governor and the county-level government within which the acquisition would occur, which seems well beyond mere “information”.

    The USFS process, described here, appears to be more about determining the level of support or lack of support before making a decision, which is information. The Secretary’s Order goes further and *requires* an expression of support prior to acquisition. The former seems to require particular information prior to a decision, whereas the later not only requires an expression of support but, in doing so, also appears to cede decision authority.

    None of this may matter once the new Administration begins, but it does seem an example of language to watch for regardless of Administration. From a collaboration perspective, such language can create a disincentive because, at least in this case, States and counties can stop any acquisition with which they disagree and, thus, every acquisition process becomes fundamentally an exercise in positional bargaining.

    • Peter, another thing is that the FS process seems to work through lower level bureaucratic processes like State Forest Action Plans which we assume are also the thoughts of the Governors, but are generally below the Partisan Political Radar Screen.

      It looks like the FS process already peels off the ones that would be unpopular locally because local support is a criterion for both Forest Legacy and NFS Land Acquisition.

      This, and the characterization of the USDA process as “solid” makes me think of the role of Process in possibly reducing Partisan Political Drama, and possibly designing processes with that end in mind.

  2. I figured we were late because the WO was too busy hiring the overhead 13s, 14s, and 15s they say they need to administer this program.

    • I think hiring “Mission Support” as they term it, using GAOA funds for those working exclusively with those projects, is the only practical way this will work…hopefully a ton of engineering techs, contract administration, project inspectors, landscape architects, recreation planners, will be able to get hundreds of projects accomplished. We certainly can’t do it with existing work force, and I want all that money put to good use!


Leave a Comment

Discover more from The Smokey Wire : National Forest News and Views

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading