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House passes bipartisan NACo-supported forestry bill

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House passes Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2017, which expands revenue sharing with county governments, allows more flexible use of SRS dollars, delegates appointment authority for Resource Advisory Committees

Recent legislation passed by the House of Representatives would improve conditions in the country’s national forests and for the counties that share them. By a bipartisan vote of 232 to 188 on Nov. 1, the House passed H.R. 2936, the Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2017. The bill would 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).

H.R. 2936 promotes forest health by authorizing categorical exclusions for collaborative projects, reducing regulatory reviews for timber salvage projects 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 do not currently receive a share of the revenues generated from stewardship contract projects unlike traditional timber sales. H.R. 2936 would bring 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 departments of the Interior and 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.

The bill will be sent to the Senate. Two other forestry bills have been introduced in the chamber: S.1991, the Wildlands Fires Act of 2017,  introduced by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.); and S.2068, the Wildfire Prevention and Mitigation Act by Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.).

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About Jonathan Shuffield (Full Bio)

Associate Legislative Director – Public Lands and Liaison to the Western Interstate Region

Jonathan Shuffield serves as NACo’s Associate Legislative Director for Public Lands and Liaison to the Western Interstate Region, lobbying Congress on public lands issues including Payments In Lieu of Taxes, Secure Rural Schools, land management and endangered species.