This bill — known as the Resilient Federal Forests Act — would seek to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire and improve the health of federal forests by actively managing federal forests and expediting related environmental reviews. It would also provide for streamlined reforestation after wildfires, allow the president to make disaster declarations for major wildfires, and reform litigation practices involving forest management.
The Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) would be required to analyze only two alternatives when assessing a forest management project proposed by a collaborative group: an “action alternative” (ie the proposal), and a “no action” alternative that considers potential future impacts from not undertaking the project. Among those potential future impacts would be insect & disease threats, catastrophic wildfire and its impact on municipal watersheds, wildlife habitat, and other socio-economic factors.
Categorical exclusions — a category of actions which don’t have a significant effect on the environment and thus don’t require an environmental assessment — could be authorized to counteract insect & disease threats, reduce wildfire hazards, increase water yield, improve or enhance critical habitat, produce timber, or any combination of these purposes. Acreage sizes for categorical exclusions would be limited to 10,000 acres, or 30,000 acres if it’s a collaborative project.
Following a large-scale wildfire, an environmental assessment for reforestation activities would be required within two months, and at least 75 percent of the burned area would have to be reforested. Public input would be limited to 30 days for public scoping, 15 days for filing an objection, and 15 days for an agency to respond to an objection.
The president would be allowed to declare major wildfires a natural disaster under the Stafford Act (which is also used for hurricanes), which would make emergency funding available for wildfire suppression and prevents “fire-borrowing” by the Forest Service from non-fire suppression forest management accounts.
Time limits would be established on preliminary injunctions for forest management litigation, and courts would be required to weigh the risks of not taking action. No awards for attorney’s fees or expenses could be paid to any plaintiff challenging a forest management activity. A pilot program utilizing arbitration for resolving legal challenges to projects carried out under this legislation would be established.
Other provisions of this bill include:
Indian tribes would be allowed to request to manage adjacent federal lands with streamlined authorities currently available to them on Indian land. They would be required to offer timber obtained using the new authorities for sale through competitive bid.
The original 500 million board feet of timber minimum volume requirement on Oregon & California Railroad Revested Lands (O&C Lands) managed by BLM is affirmed, and BLM is required to annually offer for sale the greater of 500 mmbf or the sustained yield.
The Fair Labor Standards Act would be amended to allow 16 and 17 year olds to participate in a family-run mechanized logging operation.