President Trump issued an executive order last month directing the secretaries of Agriculture and Interior to implement policies to improve forest management practices by reducing hazardous fuel loads, mitigating fire risk and ensuring the safety and stability of local communities.
The order (E.O. 13855), issued Dec. 21, identifies active forest management as a key tool to protect communities from catastrophic wildfires while supporting the success of local economies. The order also recognizes counties as critical partners in managing our federal forest lands.
The order directs both secretaries to coordinate federal, state, tribal and local assets relating to post-fire restoration and help reduce hazardous fuels through active forest management. The order also clarifies that the two agencies shall prioritize fuel reduction treatments as part of their forest management activities, while also pursuing benefits to rural economies by encouraging productive uses of forest by-products.
Both agencies also must collaborate with state, tribal and local partners to create a comprehensive wildfire strategy that prioritizes the highest-risk lands, considers regulatory and economic challenges related to managing DOI and U.S. Forest Service (USFS) land and encourages local economic growth through timber and biomass sales.
Additionally, the departments are directed to establish specific forest management objectives. For example, for 2019, Interior is expected to establish a goal of treating 750,000 acres of Interior-administered land for fuels reduction and 500,000 acres to protect water quality and mitigate erosion and flooding risks resulting from forest fires.
USDA, meanwhile, is expected to establish a goal of treating 3.5 million acres of Forest Service land for fuels reduction and 2.2 million acres to address water quality and post-fire erosion and flooding. DOI and USDA are also instructed, through these activities, to offer up for sale 600 million board feet and 3.8 billion board feet of timber from DOI and USDA Forest Service lands, respectively. (A board foot is one square foot, 1 inch thick.) The order also prioritizes proper maintenance of public roads vital to conducting management activities.
The departments are instructed to coordinate with other federal agencies and streamline relevant administrative and regulatory processes. This may be done by minimizing the time period for regulatory comments, consultation and administrative review, using all applicable categorical exclusions and developing new categorical exclusions. Counties support this executive action, as it requires expanded collaboration with local governments, including through Good Neighbor Authority agreements and long-term stewardship contracts.