On August 16, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) unveiled a new strategy to collaborate with state and county governments to better manage the National Forest System to protect against wildfires, insect and disease infestations, droughts and invasive species. The strategy, outlined in a report titled Toward Shared Stewardship Across Landscapes: An Outcome-based Investment Strategy, outlines how USDA and USFS intend to use the new authorities granted to the agencies through the FY 2018 omnibus spending package for managing national forests.
During the initial exploratory phase of the strategy’s implementation, USFS will connect stakeholders in a national “conservation network,” explore ways to improve forest health by modernizing the timber sale process and expedite environmental analyses using new categorical exclusions.
The report outlines USDA and USFS’s commitment to work closely with state and local governments to set priorities and co-manage risks across broad landscapes. This collaboration will include states leading conversations between stakeholders and state forest action plans serving as guidelines for coordination across jurisdictions. Additionally, the federal government will commit to using new technologies to better study fire risks and effectively use resources to manage the most at-risk areas. Finally, USDA will work with state and local governments to better implement active management tools, including the use of mechanical treatments, prescribe burns and timber sales.
“We commit to work more closely with the states to reduce the frequency and severity of wildfires,” said USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue. “We commit to strengthening the stewardship of public and private lands. This report outlines our strategy and intent to help one another prevent wildfire from reaching this level.”
“The challenges before us require a new approach,” said Interim USFS Chief Vicki Christiansen. “This year Congress has given us new opportunities to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with state leaders to identify land management priorities that include mitigating wildfire risks. We will use all the tools available to us to reduce hazardous fuels.”
These new strategies are the first step towards better management of our national forests. Counties look forward to working with USFS and USDA on filling in the details and implementing these changes.