On November 1, 2017, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 2936, the Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2017, by a bipartisan vote of 232 to 188. NACo supports this legislation because it would improve forest health, expand revenue sharing with county governments, empower counties by allowing more flexible use of Secure Rural Schools (SRS) Title III dollars and delegate the authority to make appointments to local Resource Advisory Committees (RAC).
The health of our national forests has a direct impact on the health and safety of county residents. Healthy forests promote biodiversity, improve air and water quality, are less prone to disease and insect infestation, and reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfire. H.R. 2936 promotes forest health by authorizing categorical exclusions for collaborative projects, reducing regulatory reviews for timber salvage projects conducted in response to a natural disaster, and requiring the costs and benefits of a proposed forest project to be weighed against the costs and benefits of doing nothing to address wildfire threats or disease and insect infestation.
Additionally, the bill includes language that would pay counties 25 percent of the revenues from stewardship contract projects located within their boundaries. Counties are pleased with the contributions stewardship contracting has made to improve forest health, and have been active participants in stewardship contracts across the country. Unlike traditional timber sales, however, counties do not currently receive a share of the revenues generated from stewardship contract projects. H.R. 2936 brings stewardship contracts in line with traditional timber sales, giving counties a new revenue stream.
The Resilient Federal Forests Act also gives 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 ease the cost of these mandates.
Finally, H.R. 2936 would allow the secretaries of the U.S. Department of the Interior and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to delegate the appointment of RAC members to agency leaders, such as Bureau of Land Management State Directors or Regional Foresters. Under current law, only the secretaries may sign off on the appointment of RAC members, leading to appointment delays that hold up land management decisions. Counties support the delegation of this authority to agency leaders to more efficiently use resources and cut back on delays in the implementation of land management activities.
NACo is committed to seeing forest management reform legislation signed into law that will improve the health and safety of counties and ensure that counties receive their fair share of revenues from economic activity occurring on federal lands.
Click here to read NACo's letter of support for H.R. 2936