H.R. 1526: Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act

H.R. 1526

Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act

Date
September 19, 2013 (113th Congress, 1st Session)

Staff Contact
Communications

Floor Situation

On Thursday, September 19, 2013, the House will begin consideration of H.R. 1526, the Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act, under a rule.  H.R. 1526 was introduced on April 12, 2013 by Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA).  H.R. 1526 was marked up on July 31, 2013 and ordered reported, as amended, by a voice vote.[1]

Bill Summary

H.R. 1526 requires increased timber production on commercial national forest land, reestablishing the Federal government’s commitment to actively managing Federal forests for the benefit of rural schools and counties.  The bill also improves forest health to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires, and improves forest management by allowing counties to actively participate.

According to a title-by-title summary provided by the Committee on Natural Resources, the bill does the following:

Title I: “Requires the Forest Service to [harvest] at least half of the sustainable annual yield of timber each year and, as required by law since 1908, share 25 percent of receipts with the counties; protects the environment by requiring projects to complete National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and Endangered Species Act (ESA) consultations, while streamlining the process to avoid frivolous and lengthy delays, lawsuits, and bureaucratic red tape; and provides an extension of Secure Rural School payments to allow counties to transition back to payments from active forest management.”

Title II: “Directs the Secretary of Agriculture to implement hazardous fuels reduction and forest health projects on at-risk lands and high-risk areas designated by the Governor of a state.  It also allows states to propose forest health projects to the Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management for implementation.”

Title III: “Establish[es] a Board of Trustees to manage a majority of the [Oregon and California (O&C)] Lands under the Oregon Forest Practice Act and distribute revenues from timber harvest to the O&C Counties.  The remaining O&C Lands would be transferred to the Forest Service and managed under the Northwest Forest Plan.”

Title IV: “[I]mprove[s] local forest management by allowing counties to actively manage portions of National Forest land through the creation of ‘Community Forest Demonstration Areas.’ . . .  The bill would allow a total of two million acres nationwide to be enrolled as Community Forest Demonstration Areas.  The area would be managed by an Advisory Committee appointed by the Governor of the state.”

Title V: “[A]llows a short-term extension of [Secure Rural Schools] payments to provide funding to counties as the Forest Service (or counties under title III & IV) transitions back to active management.  It also extends and expands two popular forest management authorities currently in use by the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management – Good Neighbor and Stewardship Contracting.”[1]



[1] “These authorities authorize the agencies to contract with a state forestry agency to conduct projects on federal lands and allows them to trade ‘goods for services’ – i.e., trade timber in exchange for restoration work by a contractor.”  Id.

Background

In 1908, the Forest Service (FS) began paying 25% of its gross receipts[1] to states to be used by counties containing national forest land.[2]  The arrangement was established to compensate counties for the tax-exempt status of the national forest lands, which caused the counties to generate substantially lower tax revenues.  Under the receipt-sharing program, states allocate the funds to counties based on the amount of national forest land in each, and the funds are used for qualified road and school programs.[3]

“Congress has also enacted numerous programs to share receipts from [Bureau of Land Management] lands for various types of resource use and from various classes of land, but one program—the Oregon and California (O&C) payments—accounts for the vast majority (more than 95%) of BLM receipt-sharing[4]. . . .  The O&C counties receive 50% of the receipts from these lands.  These mandatory payments go directly to the counties for any local governmental purposes.  Concerns about, and proposals to alter, FS receipt-sharing payments also typically include the O&C payments, because both are substantial payments derived largely from timber receipts.”[5]

“Timber harvests in our National Forests are down 80% over the last 30 years,” resulting in a substantial decline in FS and O&C receipts.[6]  The decline in receipts led Congress to create the Secure Rural Schools (SRS) program in 2000, offsetting the severe reduction in funding experienced by counties with FS lands.[7]  Under SRS, states could opt to receive a payment in lieu of the customary 25% receipt-sharing payment.  “Payments under SRS are substantial, and significantly greater than the receipt-sharing payments would be.”[8]  Because the SRS payments program is not sustainable, H.R. 1526 would provide a long term solution by extending the SRS payments program for one year, while simultaneously requiring an increase in timber production on FS commercial timber lands.  This will result in a stable revenue stream, enabling counties to transition back to the 25 % receipt-sharing arrangement.

“Last year, wildfires burned 9.3 million acres, while the U.S. Forest Service only harvested approximately 200,000 acres.  This means that 44 times as many acres burned as were responsibility harvested.”[9]  H.R. 1526 addresses the lack of commonsense management, in part, by allowing greater state and local involvement in wildfire prevention on federal lands.[10]

The bill also allows communities to actively manage portions of National Forest land through the creation of “Community Forest Demonstration Areas,” as they have proven more successful in increasing harvest and revenue from smaller land bases than the Federal government.  “For example: Washington state is able to harvest 7 times as much timber and generate 200 times the revenue on ¼th  the land area as the Forest Service.”[11]  Though “[t]he Forest Service once averaged over $1 billion in revenues annually . . . . It now spends $2 for every $1 it produces.”[12]

By reestablishing the priority of actively managing our forests and promoting responsible timber production on FS commercial timber lands, H.R. 1526 would create over 68,000 direct jobs and nearly 140,000 indirect jobs.[13]



[1] “Receipts come from sales, leases, rentals, or other fees for using national forest lands or resources (e.g. timber sales, recreation fees, and communication site leases).”  Katie Hoover, Reauthorizing the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act of 2000, Congressional Research Service (Sep. 5, 2013) at 1.

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] “The O&C payments are made to the counties in western Oregon containing the revested Oregon and California grant lands returned to federal ownership for failure to fulfill the terms of the grant.”  Id. 

[5] Id. at 1-2.

[6] House Natural Resources Committee, Fast Facts on H.R. 1526.  In the Pacific Northwest, the fall in timber sales was due “in part to efforts to protect northern spotted owl habitat and other values.”  CRS: Reauthorizing the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act of 2000at 2.

[8] Id. at 3.

[9] House Natural Resources Committee, Fast Facts on H.R. 1526.

[10] House Natural Resources Committee, H.R. 1526 Title-by-Title Summary.

[11] House Natural Resources Committee, Fast Facts on H.R. 1526.

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

Cost

According to CBO estimates, enacting the legislation would not affect direct spending in 2014.  It would reduce direct spending by $10 million over the 2014-2018 period, and by $383 million over the 2014-2023 period.  

Amendments

1)         Rep. Hastings (R-WA) Manager’s Amendment #6 – Makes a number of technical corrections throughout the legislation and addresses a number of issues with the implementation of community forest demonstration areas.

2)         Rep. Daines (R-MT) Amendment #9 – Amendment protects forest reserve projects from delay by precluding Court-issued injunctions based on alleged violations of procedural requirements in selecting, planning, or analyzing the project.

3)         Rep. Daines (R-MT) Amendment #7 – Amendment requires the Secretary to submit to Congress an annual report specifying for each Forest Reserve Revenue Area the annual volume requirement in effect for that fiscal year, the volume of board feet actually harvested, the average cost of preparation of timber sales, the revenues generated from such sales, the amount of receipts distributed to each beneficiary county. Restricts the length of this report to one page.

4)         Reps. McClintock (R-CA), McCarthy (R-CA), LaMalfa (R-CA) and Denham (R-CA) Amendment #10 – Amendment waives judicial review on any timber salvage project resulting from a wildfire occurring in 2013.

5)         Reps. Smith (R-MO), Luetkemeyer (R-MO), and Long (R-MO) Amendment #1 – Amendment puts a moratorium on the use of prescribed fires in the Mark Twain National Forest until the Secretary of Agriculture submits a report to Congress on the economic impacts of these fires. The amendment does not prohibit the use of prescribed fire as part of wildfire suppression activities.

6)         Rep. McClintock (R-CA) Amendment #11  Amendment prohibits the U.S. Forest Service from removing any roads or trails unless there has been a specific decision, which included adequate and appropriate public involvement, to decommission the specific road or trail in question.

7)         Rep. LaMalfa (R-CA) Amendment #12  Amendment limits the Department of Justice efforts to seek damages beyond actual damage to property, public lands and firefighting and restoration costs in states with laws limiting such damages.

8)         Rep. LaMalfa (R-CA) Amendment #13  Streamlines the U.S. Forest Service's post wildfire efforts by including reforestation, site rehabilitation and salvage operations as eligible to be conducted as a part of suppression efforts and adds funding flexibility for such work.

Additional Information

For additional information, see the following resources provided by the Natural Resources Committee:

For questions or further information contact the GOP Conference at 5-5107.