On Tuesday, June 27, the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources marked up and favorably reported H.R. 2936, the Resilient Federal Forests Act, sponsored by Representative Bruce Westerman (R-AR). NACo supports this legislation because it would allow the U.S. Forest Service to implement much-needed management changes to the National Forest System, and empower county governments through greater flexibility in their use of Secure Rural Schools (SRS) program Title III dollars.
For the 26 percent of counties across the United States that are home to federal forest lands, the health of our national forests has a direct impact on the health and safety of county residents. Healthy forests are less prone to disease, insect infestation, and wildfire. H.R. 2936 would promote forest health by authorizing limited categorical exclusions for collaborative projects, reducing regulatory reviews for the implementation of timber salvage projects in response to a wildfire, and requiring the costs and benefits of a proposed forest project be weighed against the costs and benefits of doing nothing to address wildfire threats, disease and insect infestation, and their impacts on local water supply and wildlife habitat.
Additionally, the Resilient Federal Forests Act would allow counties greater flexibility in using SRS Title III funds for law enforcement training and patrols on federal lands. Counties with federal lands within their boundaries are required to perform law enforcement and search and rescue functions on public lands. This bill will help to ease the cost of these mandates.
Finally, the bill includes language to pay counties 25 percent of the revenues from stewardship contract projects within their boundaries. Counties are pleased at results stewardship contracts are showing in improving landscapes. However, unlike traditional timber sales, counties do not receive a share of the revenues generated from stewardship contract projects. H.R. 2936 brings stewardship contracts in line with traditional timber sales, and give counties a new revenue stream.
NACo is committed to seeing H.R. 2936 pass the House of Representatives soon, and will work to ensure it is signed into law.