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H.R. 2936 (115th): Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2017

H.R. 2936 expedites forest health projects under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and improves forest management activities on public lands and and Tribal lands to return resilience to overgrown, fire-prone forested lands. The bill simplifies environmental process requirements, reduces project planning times, and lowers the cost of implementing forest management projects while still ensuring robust protection of the environment through environmental review. In addition, the legislation rewards collaboration, provides for an alternative process to resolve litigation against forest projects, and streamlines bureaucratic processes, while modernizing the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act and empowering Resource Advisory Committees to bring diverse viewpoints together to solve national forest management problems.

The bill's proponents contend that the most significant result of diminished forest health is the significant increase in catastrophic wildfires in the past 15 years. These catastrophic wildfires have a significant negative impact on watershed health, wildlife habitat, property, and human life. In 2016 alone, a total of 4,312 structures were destroyed by wildfires, including 3,192 residences, 1,025 minor structures and 78 commercial structures. Most disturbing, agency data indicates that 349 lives have been lost to catastrophic wildfire in the last twenty years.

The bill's proponents attribute the steep decline in timber harvests from federal forests to the alarming increase in the size and intensity of catastrophic wildfires. From the mid-1950s to the mid-1990s, USFS typically harvested between 10 and 12 billion board feet of timber annually. Beginning in 1996, the average amount of timber harvested from federal forests fell to between 1.5 and 3.3 billion board feet. However, since 1996, the average annual number of acres burned due to catastrophic wildfire total over 6.2 million acres per year.

Over 58 million acres of national forest are at high or very high risk of severe wildfire. According to the bill's proponents, the reason for the declining health and productivity of federal forests is twofold: longer planning and bureaucratic review periods that result in increased time and cost for planning and executing forest management activities, and litigation on forest planning decisions.

Last updated Nov 8, 2017. Source: Republican Policy Committee

The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress, and was published on Jun 20, 2017.

Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2017

This bill shall apply whenever the Department concerned, either the Department of Agriculture for National Forest System (NFS) lands or the Department of the Interior for public lands, prepares an environmental assessment or an environmental impact statement pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) for specified forest management activities, including those that:

will occur on lands identified as suitable for timber production; or will occur on a landscape-scale area designated by the Department concerned as part of an insect and disease treatment program on NSF land pursuant to the Healthy Forests Restoration Act of 2003, notwithstanding whether such activity is initiated before September 30, 2018. 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, 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 timber production; and the implications of a resulting decline in forest health, loss of habitat diversity, wildfire, or insect or disease infestation on domestic water supply in the project area, wildlife habitat loss, and other economic and social factors. The bill establishes categorical exclusions regarding certain other forest management actions.

A process is established for declaration of a major disaster for wildfire on federal lands managed by specified federal land management agencies.

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