The Resilient Federal Forests Act would make a variety of changes to the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service forest management standards such as requiring studies on plans in response to forest fires, insect and disease infestation, and catastrophic events. It would also make it more difficult to issue a lawsuit against the Forest Service by requiring plaintiffs who lose lawsuits to pay for the agency’s legal expenses, and in some cases by exempting the agency from paying the plaintiff’s legal expenses if the plaintiff wins. In a press release on the passage of the bill, sponsor Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-AR4) said the bill would reduce the influence of federal government and environmental activist organizations. The bill passed the House by a vote of 262-167, with all dissenting votes coming from Democrats.
The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress, and was published on Sep 19, 2016.
Emergency Wildfire and Forest Management Act of 2016
TITLE I--MAJOR DISASTER FOR WILDFIRE ON FEDERAL LAND
(Sec. 101) The Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act is amended to define "major disaster for wildfire on federal lands" to mean any wildfire or wildfires that warrant assistance to supplement the efforts and resources of the Department of the Interior or the Department of Agriculture (USDA) on federal lands or on nonfederal lands pursuant to a fire protection agreement or cooperative agreement.
(Sec. 102) A process is established for declaration of a major disaster for wildfire on federal lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the National Park Service, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Forest Service. Either Interior (for federal land under its jurisdiction) or USDA (for Forest Service land) may request the President to start such a process, and the President in turn may transfer funds to them to conduct wildfire suppression operations on the lands affected.
The President shall establish a wildfire suppression operations account for wildfires on federal lands, whose funds shall be transferred to the wildfire suppression subactivity of the Wildland Fire Management Account.
If transferred amounts are used to conduct wildfire suppression operations on non-federal land, the appropriate Department shall secure reimbursement for the cost of such operations and transfer the amounts received to the wildfire suppression operations account.
The appropriate Department shall report to Congress annually on:
the risk-based factors that influenced management decisions regarding wildfire suppression operations of the federal land management agencies under its jurisdiction; a statistically significant sample of large fires; total expenditures for wildfire suppression operations of the federal land management agencies under its jurisdiction, and lessons learned. (Sec. 103) No funds may be transferred to or from the wildfire suppression subactivity of the Wildland Fire Management account or the FLAME Wildfire Suppression Reserve Fund account of the federal land management agencies to or from any other account or subactivity of those agencies that is not used to cover the cost of wildfire suppression operations.
TITLE II--EXPEDITED ENVIRONMENTAL ANALYSIS AND AVAILABILITY OF CATEGORICAL EXCLUSIONS TO EXPEDITE FOREST MANAGEMENT ACTIVITIES
(Sec. 201) This section shall apply whenever the Department concerned, either USDA with respect to National Forest System (NFS) land or Interior with respect to public lands, prepares an environmental assessment or an environmental impact statement pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) for a forest management activity that:
is developed through a collaborative process; or is covered by a community wildfire protection plan. The primary purpose of which is:
the reduction of hazardous fuels, the reduction of fuel connectivity through the installation of fuel and fire breaks, the restoration of forest health and resilience, the protection of a municipal water supply system, or a combination of two or more such purposes. In such an environmental assessment or environmental impact statement, the Department concerned shall study, develop, and describe only these two alternatives:
the forest management activity proposed, and the alternative of no action. In the case of the alternative of no action, the Department concerned shall evaluate:
the effect of no action on forest health, habitat diversity, wildfire potential, insect and disease potential, and other economic and social factors; and the implications of a resulting decline in forest health, loss of habitat diversity, wildfire, or insect or disease infestation on domestic water costs, wildlife habitat loss, and other economic and social factors. (Sec. 202) A categorical exclusion is made available to the Department concerned to propose a forest management activity on NFS land or public land when the activity is developed and implemented through a collaborative process and the primary purpose of the activity is to:
address an insect or disease infestation; reduce hazardous fuels; protect a municipal water supply system; maintain, enhance, or modify critical habitat to protect it from catastrophic events; increase water yield; or any combination of such purposes. (A "categorical exclusion" is defined under this bill as an exclusion from further analysis and documentation in an environmental assessment or an environmental impact statement under the NEPA for a project or activity relating to the management of NFS land or public land.)
A forest management activity covered by this categorical exclusion may not contain harvest units exceeding a total of 3,000 acres.
A forest management activity covered by this categorical exclusion shall be based upon the best available scientific information and subject to section 206 of this bill (consideration of resource conditions for extraordinary circumstances).
(Sec. 203) A categorical exclusion is also made available to the Department concerned to carry out a salvage operation as part of the restoration of NFS land or public land following a catastrophic event.
This kind of salvage operation may not contain harvest units exceeding a total of 3,000 acres either, nor may it exceed one-third of the area impacted by the catastrophic event.
This kind of salvage operation shall be subject to section 206.
(Sec. 204) A categorical exclusion is made available to the Department concerned to carry out a forest management activity on NFS land or public land which is developed and implemented through a collaborative process and when its primary purpose is to modify, improve, enhance, or create early successional forests for wildlife habitat improvement and other purposes, consistent with the applicable forest plan.
The Department concerned shall design a forest management activity under this section to meet early successional forest goals so as to maximize production and regeneration of priority species, as identified in the forest plan and consistent with the capability of the activity site.
A forest management activity covered by such a categorical exclusion may not contain harvest units exceeding a total of 3,000 acres.
A forest management activity covered by this categorical exclusion shall be:
based on the best available scientific information, and subject to section 206. (Sec. 205) A categorical exclusion is made available to the Department concerned to carry out specified forest management activities on NFS land or public land which are developed and implemented through a collaborative process and whose primary purpose is to:
improve forest health, restore forest health, reduce the risk of wildfire, or achieve state wildlife population goals. A forest management activity covered by this categorical exclusion:
may not contain harvest units exceeding a total of 3,000 acres, and shall be based on the best available scientific information. A forest management activity covered by this categorical exclusion shall be subject to section 206.
(Sec. 206) The extraordinary circumstances procedures under a specified federal regulation (or a successor regulation) shall apply to a proposal for:
a forest management activity that is categorically excluded under this title, or a project that is categorically excluded under the Healthy Forests Restoration Act of 2013. In determining whether extraordinary circumstances preclude a proposal for such an activity or project, the Department concerned shall consider the beneficial effect of the proposed activity or project on sensitive species.
The Department concerned shall not determine that extraordinary circumstances preclude such a proposal from being categorically excluded if there is a reasonable beneficial effect or reasonably foreseeable beneficial effect of the proposed activity or project on sensitive species.
Uncertainty with respect to the degree of the beneficial effect of a proposed activity or project on sensitive species shall not preclude the use of a categorical exclusion.
(Sec. 207) A forest management activity covered by a categorical exclusion granted by this title shall be conducted consistent with the forest plan applicable to the NFS land or public land covered by that activity.
(Sec. 208) Forest management activities carried out under this title shall not include the construction of any new permanent roads.
The Department concerned may carry out necessary maintenance of, repairs to, or reconstruction of, an existing permanent road for purposes of this title.
The Department concerned shall decommission any temporary road constructed under this title within three years of the completion of the project.
(Sec. 209) This title does not apply to:
a component of the National Wilderness Preservation System, any federal land on which the removal of vegetation is prohibited by an Act of Congress, a congressionally designated wilderness study area, or an area in which the activities authorized under this title would be inconsistent with the applicable resource management plan. TITLE III--TRIBAL FORESTRY PARTICIPATION AND PROTECTION (Sec. 301) Interior shall take specified administrative action under the Tribal Forest Protection Act of 2004 within 120 days of receiving a request from an Indian Tribe to enter into an agreement or contract to carry out a project to protect Indian forest land or rangeland (including bordering or adjacent federal land). Interior shall (under current law, may) issue a notice of denial to the Tribe if the request is denied.
(Sec. 302) The Department concerned, at the request of an Indian Tribe, may treat federal forest land as Indian forest land for purposes of planning and conducting forest land management activities under the National Indian Forest Resources Management Act if the federal forest land is located within, or mostly within, a geographic area presenting a feature or involving circumstances principally relevant to that Indian tribe.
The Department concerned and the Tribe, as part of an agreement to treat federal land as Indian forest land, shall:
provide for continued public access (with possible exceptions), continue sharing revenue generated by the federal forest land with state and local governments, comply with applicable prohibitions on the export of unprocessed logs harvested from the federal forest land, recognize all right-of way agreements in effect on federal forest land before tribal forest land management activities commence, and ensure that any commercial timber removed from the federal forest land is sold on a competitive bid basis. (Sec. 303) Interior and USDA may carry out demonstration projects under which federally recognized Indian tribes or tribal organizations may contract to perform administrative, management, and other functions of programs of the Tribal Forest Protection Act of 2004 through contracts entered into under the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act.
TITLE IV--MISCELLANEOUS FOREST MANAGEMENT ACTIVITIES
(Sec. 402) The State-Supported Forest Management Fund is established in the Treasury to cover costs to plan, carry out, and monitor a forest management activity on NFS land or public land that is developed through a collaborative process, proposed by a resource advisory committee, or covered by a community wildfire protection plan.
The Fund shall consist of such amounts as may be: (1) contributed by an eligible entity for deposit into the Fund, (2) appropriated to the Fund, or (3) generated by forest management activities carried out using amounts in the Fund.
An "eligible entity" is:
a state or political subdivision containing NFS land or public land, a publicly chartered utility serving at least one state or its political subdivision, a rural electric company, and any other entity appropriate for participation in the Fund. In making a contribution, an eligible entity may:
specify the NFS land or public land for which the contribution may be expended; and limit the types of forest management activities for which the contribution may be expended. The Knutson-Vandenberg Act shall apply to any forest management activity carried out using amounts from the Fund.
The Fund shall terminate on September 30, 2018.
(Sec. 403) Courts reviewing an agency action shall balance short- and long-term impacts of forest management activities in considering injunctive relief.
(Sec. 404) USDA shall establish a competitive grant program to provide financial and technical assistance to:
encourage active forest management on cross-boundary priority forest landscapes, including land owned by beginning and previously unengaged forest owners, in order to maintain forest health; protect forests from natural threats and wildfire; enhance public benefits from forests; conserve and manage working forest landscapes for multiple values and uses; and advance priorities in statewide forest assessment and resource strategies. To become eligible to receive a grant, an applicant shall submit to USDA, through the state forester or appropriate state agency, a state and private forest landscape-scale restoration proposal (that includes specified criteria) based on a restoration strategy that is:
complete or substantially complete, for a multiyear period, composed of nonindustrial private forest land or state forest land, accessible by wood-processing infrastructure, and based on the best available science. In making grants under the program, USDA shall give priority to plans that:
further a statewide forest assessment and resource strategy; promote cross boundary landscape collaboration; and leverage public and private resources. The Forest Service, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and relevant stakeholders shall collaborate and consult on an ongoing basis regarding the administration of the program and identify other applicable resources towards landscape-scale restoration.
As a condition for receiving a grant under the program, USDA shall require the grant recipient to furnish funds or in-kind support from nonfederal sources in an amount that is at least equal to the amount furnished by the federal government.
USDA may, in making grants under the program, consider coordination with and proximity to other landscape-scale projects on other land under its jurisdiction, the jurisdiction of Interior, or the jurisdiction of a state governor.
USDA shall report to Congress on the status of the development, execution, and administration of selected projects, accounting of program funding expenditures, and specific accomplishments that have resulted from landscape-scale projects.
The State and Private Forest Landscape-Scale Restoration Fund is established in the Treasury to be used by USDA to make grants.
The bill authorizes appropriations for such Fund through FY2018.
(Sec. 405) USDA shall establish within the Forest Service a pilot arbitration program to designate specified projects for an alternative dispute resolution process to replace the judicial review of those projects.
USDA shall establish a process for the designation of projects under the program and publish a description of that process in the Federal Register.
No more than 10 projects may be designated for the program in any applicable calendar year.
The authority of USDA to designate a project under the program terminates on October 1, 2018.
An individual or entity:
may file a demand for arbitration of a project that has been designated for the program in accordance with specified federal law; and if such a demand for arbitration is filed, shall include in the demand a proposal for an alternative to the project describing each modification sought with respect to the project. A demand for arbitration may only be filed by an individual or entity that has participated in a collaborative process or has proposed the project with a resource advisory committee.
An arbitrator shall make a decision on each demand for arbitration by selecting only:
the project, as approved by USDA; or a proposal submitted by an individual or entity for an alternative to the project, as described in this section. An arbitrator may not modify any proposal contained in a demand for arbitration under the program.
A decision made by an arbitrator under the program shall be:
based only on the administrative record of the project; within the authority of USDA; consistent with each applicable forest plan; and binding; Arbitration under the program shall be conducted according to the rules and procedures of the American Arbitration Association.
A decision made by an arbitrator under the program shall not be considered to be a major federal action and shall not be subject to judicial review, except as provided under specified federal law.
(Sec. 406) USDA shall establish a NFS accelerated landscape restoration pilot program for the restoration or maintenance of designated landscapes.
The Forest Service shall designate at least 10 landscape-scale areas within the NFS for the program.
Each designated landscape shall:
include at least 75,000 acres, but not more than 1 million acres; be identified by a collaborative group; not include any inventoried roadless area; and include forests that are not in a state of forest health, are at an increased risk of high-severity wildfire, or are at an increased risk of an insect or disease infection. In designating landscape-scale areas for the program, USDA shall:
prioritize landscape-scale areas in which social, ecological, and economic conditions support landscape-scale restoration; and consider certain ecological and economic factors and other specified factors. USDA shall publish in the Federal Register:
a notice of the process for the designation of landscape-scale areas under the program, and a specified final notice with respect to each designated landscape. USDA shall prepare a specified landscape-scale environmental impact statement for each designated landscape for purposes of complying with the NEPA.
The bill authorizes appropriations through FY2018.
(Sec. 407) The bill designates specified federal lands in the Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee as wilderness and as additions to the National Wilderness Preservation System.
(Sec. 408) The bill amends the Small Tracts Act of 1983 (the Act) to permit the sale, exchange, or interchange under such Act of NFS lands the sale or exchange of which is not practicable under any other authority of the USDA which have a value determined to be not more than $500,000.
Those lands permitted to be sold, exchanged, or interchanged under the Act include:
parcels of 40 acres or less which are determined to be physically isolated, to be inaccessible, or to have lost their National Forest character; parcels of 10 acres or less which are not eligible for conveyance under such Act, but which are encroached upon by permanent habitable improvements for which there is no evidence that the encroachment was intentional or negligent; and parcels used as a cemetery (including a parcel of at least one acre adjacent to the parcel used as a cemetery), a landfill, or a sewage treatment plant under a special use authorization issued by the USDA. Any proceeds under this section shall be deposited in the special fund established under the Sisk Act and made available for:
the acquisition of land or interests in land for administrative sites for the NFS in the state from which the amounts were derived; the acquisition of land or interests in land for inclusion in the NFS in that state, including those which enhance opportunities for recreational access; the performance of deferred maintenance on administrative sites for the NFS in that state or other deferred maintenance activities in that state which enhance opportunities for recreational access; and the reimbursement of the USDA for costs incurred in preparing a competitive sale conducted under the authority of the Act. (Sec. 409) The bill amends the Forest Service Facility Realignment and Enhancement Act of 2005 to extend the authority of the USDA to initiate conveyances of Forest Service administrative sites under such Act through FY2018.
(Sec. 410) Federal agencies shall not authorize a prescribed burn on federal lands if, for the county or contiguous county in which the federal land is located, the national fire danger rating system indicates an extreme fire danger level.
However, a federal agency may authorize a prescribed burn under such a condition if the agency coordinates it with applicable state government and local fire officials.
At the end of every fiscal year, the Forest Service shall submit a report that describes:
the number and locations of prescribed burns during that fiscal year, and each prescribed burn during that year that was authorized by a federal agency pursuant to this section. (Sec. 411) USDA shall not designate any land in the Nantahala National Forest or the Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina as a wilderness study area until the affected counties approve the designation.
TITLE V--KISATCHIE NATIONAL FOREST LAND CONVEYANCE
Kisatchie National Forest Land Conveyance Act of 2016
(Sec. 502) This section sets forth a finding of Congress that it is in the public interest to authorize the conveyance of certain federal land in the Kisatchie National Forest in Louisiana for market value consideration.
(Sec. 504) USDA may convey, by quitclaim deed, specified federal land in Winn Parish, Louisiana, at public or private sale, including competitive sale by auction, bid, or other methods.
USDA shall convey, by quitclaim deed, portions of such land to Collins Camp Properties, Inc.
configure the federal land to be conveyed so as to maximize the marketability of the conveyance or to achieve management objectives, and establish any terms and conditions for conveyances under this title that are in the public interest. Consideration for a conveyance of federal land under this title shall be in cash and in an amount that is equal to the market value of the land being conveyed.
The market value of the federal land to be conveyed shall be determined as follows:
for the federal land to be conveyed to Collins Camp Properties, by a specified appraisal; or if conveyed by a method other than the methods specified in this section, by competitive sale. In any conveyance of federal land under this title to Collins Camp Properties, or any occupant residing on the federal land under a special use permit issued by the Forest Service, USDA shall meet disclosure requirements for hazardous substances, pollutants, and contaminants, but shall not otherwise be required to remediate or abate them.
As a condition of the conveyance, Collins Camp Properties, or any such occupant that acquires the federal land shall agree to indemnify and hold harmless the United States for costs associated with the remediation or abatement of any hazardous substances, pollutants, or contaminants on the acquired land.
Nothing in this section otherwise affects the application of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 to conveyances of federal lands under this title.
(Sec. 505) USDA shall deposit the proceeds from the conveyances of the federal lands in the fund established under the Sisk Act.
USDA may use the deposited amounts from such fund for the acquisition of land and interests in land in the Kisatchie National Forest in Louisiana.
(Sec. 506) As a condition of a conveyance of federal land to Collins Camp Properties, USDA shall require Collins Camp Properties to pay at closing reasonable appraisal costs and the cost of any administrative and environmental analyses required by law.
An offer by Collins Camp Properties for acquiring the federal land must be accompanied by a written statement from each holder of a Forest Service special use authorization with respect to such land specifying that the holder agrees to relinquish that authorization upon the conveyance of such land to Collins Camp Properties.
If a holder of such a special use authorization fails to furnish such a written statement, USDA shall require, as a condition of the conveyance, that Collins Camp Properties administer that authorization in accordance with its terms until it expires.
TITLE VI--CHATTAHOOCHEE-OCONEE NATIONAL FOREST LAND ADJUSTMENT
Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest Land Adjustment Act of 2016
(Sec. 602) This title sets forth findings with respect to certain NFS land in Georgia.
(Sec. 604) USDA may: (1) sell or exchange all right, title, and interest of the United States in 30 tracts of NFS land in Georgia totaling approximately 3,841 acres; (2) modify the boundaries of such lands based on land management considerations; and (3) reserve any rights-of-way or other rights or interests in land sold or exchanged under this section that is considered necessary for management purposes or to protect the public interest.
USDA shall convey by quitclaim deed land sold or exchanged under in this section.
USDA may not sell or exchange land under this section for less than market value, as determined by an appraisal or through a competitive bidding process.
Such an appraisal shall be:
consistent with the Uniform Appraisal Standards for Federal Land Acquisitions or the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice, and subject to USDA's approval. Consideration for sales of land or equalization of exchanges under this section shall be paid in cash.
USDA may accept a cash equalization payment that exceeds 25% of the value of the land to be exchanged.
sell land under this section at public or private sale, including competitive sale by auction, bid, or otherwise, according to any terms, conditions, or procedures that are in the best interest of the United States; make public or private solicitations for the sale or exchange of land; reject any offer that is not adequate or in the public interest; use a broker or other third party in the sales or exchanges of land; and from the proceeds of such a sale or exchange, pay reasonable commissions or fees, if applicable. (Sec. 605) USDA shall deposit the proceeds or a cash equalization payment of a sale or exchange of land in the fund established under the Sisk Act.
Amounts deposited into such fund shall be made available to USDA only for the acquisition of land for the NFS in Georgia.
Nothing in this title authorizes the use of the amounts deposited into such fund for the acquisition of land without the landowner's written consent.