Infrastructure Bill: Billion$ for Wildfire, Forest Management

The American Forest Resource Council’s latest newsletter has a nice summary of the wildland fire and land-management appropriations in the recent $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill…. And lots of other interesting info, as usual:

Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework. The five-year, $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure legislation includes about $3.3 billion for “wildfire risk reduction” activities and wildland firefighters, $2.1 billion for “ecological restoration,” and several new authorities for federal forest management activities. Below is an outline of the major provisions and the allocation by department:

Wildfire Risk Reduction – $3.3 billion

  • $500 million for “mechanical thinning and timber harvesting in an ecologically appropriate manner” (80% USDA-USFS; 20% DOI).
  • $500 million for establishing wildfire “control locations” including shaded fuelbreaks when “ecologically appropriate” (50% USDA-USFS; 50% DOI).
  • $200 million to contract “for the removal of flammable vegetation on federal land” with an emphasis on using treatment materials for “biochar and other innovative wood products” (50% USDA-USFS; 50% DOI).
  • $200 million for post fire restoration activities within three years of fire containment date.
  • $100 million for Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Act projects (100% USDA-USFS). Also reauthorizes program for five years and prioritizes certain projects.
  • $600 million for increased wildland firefighter salaries (80% USDA-USFS; 20% DOI).

Most of the funded activities must be conducted consistent with Healthy Forests Restoration Act. The legislation also includes a priority for projects: signed record of decision as of date of enactment, “strategically located” to “minimize risks from wildfires”, maximize large and old growth tree retention to promote fire-resilient stands, and create no new roads and obliterate any temporary roads.

The legislation would also create a permanent Federal wildland firefighter job series within the Forest Service and Department of the Interior, convert 1,000 seasonal to full-time employees, provides for a $20,000 or 50% salary increase, and directs that firefighter positions should spend half of the year doing hazardous fuels reduction work.

The Forest Service and the Department of the Interior would be required to report accomplishments annually and develop a five-year treatment, monitoring, and maintenance plan for fuels reduction activities funded under this section.

Ecosystem Restoration – $2.1 billion

  • $300 million for contracts for a minimum of 10,000 acres of ecological restoration on federal lands, including $100 million for a capital fund to address contract cancellation ceiling (75% USDA-USFS; 25% DOI).
  • $200 million for matching payments to states and tribes for Good Neighbor Agreements (80% USDA-USFS; 20% DOI).
  • $400 million for loan guarantees or low-interest loans for wood using facilities “that purchase byproducts of restoration treatments.” Facilities must be near a unit of federal land identified as high or very high priority for ecological restoration and substantially decrease the cost of conducting ecological restoration projects.
  • $400 million to provide grants to states and tribes for ecosystem restoration on federal and non-federal lands, emphasizing cross-boundary projects.
  • $200 million for invasive pest detection, prevention, and eradication (50% USDA-USFS; 50% DOI).
  • $100 million to restore and improve recreation sites on federal land (50% USDA-USFS; 50% DOI).
  • $200 million for abandoned mine land restoration (50% USDA-USFS; 50% DOI).
  • $200 million for reforestation on both public and private lands (65% USDA-USFS; 35% DOI).
  • $80 million for a new “collaborative based, landscape-scale restoration program to restore water quality or fish passage on federal land.”

Additional Authorities

  • 3,000-acre Categorical Exclusion to “establish and maintain linear fuel breaks” within up to 1,000 feet of “existing linear features, such as roads, water infrastructure, transmission and distribution lines, and pipelines of any length on federal land.” Actions must be consistent with existing forest plans and located “primarily in” WUI or water supply area. Also includes prohibition on new roads.
  • Codifies the Forest Service’s existing administrative Emergency Situation Determination to streamline certain emergency salvage, reforestation, and roadside hazard tree removal projects and expands to DOI agencies. Agencies are only required to analyze the proposed action and no-action alternative with no administrative objections. Directs courts not to issue injunctions unless plaintiff is likely to succeed on the merits.
  • Includes the REPLANT Act, which would direct the Forest Service to identity areas in need of reforestation and provide an additional $80-$90 million annually to the Reforestation Trust Fund (currently receives $30 million annually).


11 thoughts on “Infrastructure Bill: Billion$ for Wildfire, Forest Management”

  1. And zero dollars for for more timber employees, because, of course, any GS-3 can put paint on trees. Yep, we can get by without increased inspection of timber management work, too. We’ll just ‘trust them’, yeah. It’ll be “good enough for government work”.

    I’m still predicting that the Forest Service will choose to outsource much of their field work, once they find out the “pace and scale” hasn’t reached the levels they envisioned. The clock is ticking and there is a boatload of institutional bureaucratic inertia to overcome. Congress is a dumpster fire.

  2. Wow. So much to unpack (as usual). I was initially struck by several details, and hope to remark on them later, individually. But, this “additional authority” comment especially unsettled me:

    “Directs courts not to issue injunctions unless plaintiff is likely to succeed on the merits.”

    Does that mean cases will be pre-judged? Why do we even have judges and lawyers to present and evaluate the “merit” of cases anyways, if decisions can more easily (and economically) be delegated, and then dismissed outright, by some bureaucrat hitting the categorical exclusion “Easy” button and issuing a “Get out of Jail Free” card; meaning lower-level decision-makers have the ‘real’ judicial and administrative powers, all in the name of expediency (or special interest?); good ole Occam’s Razor.

    It is well documented that autocratic governments prefer to silence disagreement and dissent. But, I believe the public’s voice should be heard and considered; that’s what NEPA is (was) all about, Charlie Brown. But, there are some who would rather the public stay at home and STFU.

    • The Forest Service and BLM never really listened to the public or local communities. They only listened to those members of the “public” who have the ability to threaten litigation. The results haven’t been encouraging.

      • Bob, the environmental law industry has been well represented at the “public” meetings and more formal planning sessions by “stakeholders,” who typically represent “nonprofit” groups claiming to “act in the public’s interest.” The actual public doesn’t stand a chance and have rarely attended these meetings for decades as a result. This racket has resulted in a handful of wealthy lawyers, some successful politicians, and a few well-paid nonprofit organization employees at a cost of millions of dead animals, millions of acres of wildfires on public lands, tens of thousands of lost rural jobs, and massive air pollution during the summer months. “Stakeholders” do not represent the public at all — they simply represent organizations with legal teams with narrow objectives: stop logging, make excuses for resulting wildfires, and claim “victory” and the need for more taxpayer money for their legal teams. At least that’s the history to date.

        • Bob, you have hit that nail on the head; the biggest casualty of “in the public interest” is the ability of members of the public to take time off work, school or life to attend these grueling hours of planning for large (and small) projects. I don’t know how many times I have tried to engage true stakeholders on projects that will have a direct impact on their welfare. If, and it is a big if, they attend one meeting, they most likely never came back. The chair warmers, who propose to “represent” the public are on someone’s payroll.

          Time is coming when that old pendulum will swing back toward managing for effect, instead of managing for good intentions…

          • I used to attend public forest planning meetings with Wayne Giesy in the 1980s and early 1990s. We stopped going when we realized we were the only “volunteers” in the group — everyone else was being paid by some agency, university or environmental organization to attend these “public” meetings. Recent experience with the Elliott State Forest “public listening sessions” showed that nothing had changed. Portland Audubon, Cascadia Wildlands and the Center for Biological Diversity lawyers are still dictating policy and refusing to take responsibility for the wildfires that predictably follow their “successes” (being paid by taxpayers).

    • I had the same reaction to “Directs courts not to issue injunctions unless plaintiff is likely to succeed on the merits,” and here’s why – the existing law on when to grant injunctions (note #4):

      “Injunctive relief is generally only granted in extreme circumstances. The party seeking a preliminary injunctive relief must demonstrate: (1) irreparable injury in the absence of such an order; (2) that the threatened injury to the moving party outweighs the harm to the opposing party resulting from the order; (3) that the injunction is not adverse to public interest; and (4) that the moving party has a substantial likelihood of success on the merits. In considering these factors, courts have been described to apply a “sliding scale” approach where the more likely a movant will succeed on the merits, the less irreparable harm (to the movant) needs to be shown in granting the injunction.”

      So unless there is something unusual in the actual wording I don’t think this changes anything. (In fact, without the word “substantial” it looks like it gives GREATER authority to courts to grant injunctions.) This seems like the kind of thing politicians would do to impress their constituents that they are actually doing something when they’re not.

  3. Bob Zybach’s comments are right on the money. This has all been a big game played for decades by the big enviro groups and environmental law industry under the guise of protecting the forests. In the middle of all this the Forest Service leadership has rolled over and played dead, absent without leave on communicating to the public about the dangers that lay ahead in the absence of forest management. Meanwhile through the decades the forest has continued to grow, become denser, and more dangerous. Bob’s right, “the public doesn’t stand a chance”. This insanity on the part of the enviro-industrial complex and their willing accomplices in the media, in the government, and by those who know better but have chosen to remain silent, has done more damage to the environment in the West than all of the bad logging ever did.
    There is no fixing this with band-aids. If forest growth is adding a million tons of forest fire fuels to an individual national forest annually, we need to be finding ways to remove a million tons annually. Burning the forest down in order to deal with forest growth is a madman’s solution.
    I’d encourage all to google “Valley PBS The Creek Fire Debate” and watch John Mount’s voice of sanity on forest management. His program of timber management and controlled burning saved Southern Cal Edison’s forest at Shaver Lake and his community. Should be applied to every national forest in California.


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