Provisions that will allow the Forest Service to expand logging, thinning and other work supported by collaborative groups in Idaho were included in Tuesdays sweeping measure.
The bills forestry segments brought praise from landowners, loggers and The Wilderness Society, a group seeking additional forest preservation. The projects offer the promise of jobs and healthier forests that are less susceptible to catastrophic fires.
The most ambitious provision in the bill requires Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to grant a governors request to establish one or more landscape-scale treatment areas of up to 3,000 acres for forests threatened by insects or invasive species. Those areas would require collaborative efforts to be in place, old-growth timber to be protected and wilderness study areas to be avoided.
Projects that get such designation could be in line for federal money and stewardship contracts. Plus, the Forest Service could approve the projects with streamlined categorical exclusions under the National Environmental Policy Act, making the environmental review easier and the projects harder to challenge in court.
Idaho has such projects in several national forests, including the Payette, Boise, Clearwater-Nez Perce and Panhandle. Governors would have just 60 days after enactment of the bill to seek the designation.
The Wilderness Society is committed to seeing these provisions effectively implemented on the ground and being part of the solution in advancing comprehensive forest restoration projects, said its president, Jamie Williams.
The Associated Logging Contractors of Idaho and the National Alliance of Forest Owners praised the Idaho congressional delegation for its efforts on behalf of a provision to keep forest roads and forest management considered nonpoint sources of water pollution regulated by state rules instead of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. This follows an appeals court ruling and keeps the EPA from requiring permits that can be challenged in court, adding delays and costs.
Preserving the use of self-enforced state rules called best management practices will protect 18,000 timber jobs in Idaho, said state Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, executive director of the logging contractors.
Republican Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch and Reps. Mike Simpson and Raul Labrador all voted in favor of the bill, which is now headed to President Barack Obamas desk. Labrador and the two senators voted against earlier versions of the bill.
The farm bill also permanently authorizes the stewardship-contracting program that allows the Forest Service to use revenue from timber harvests for other restoration work; and a good neighbor policy that allows state foresters to oversee timber projects on national forests after the Forest Service completes its environmental reviews.
The bill provides a one-year extension of the program that provides revenue to local governments with nontaxable public lands in their jurisdictions payment in lieu of taxes.
We applaud Congress for inclusion of these pro-forestry provisions in the bill, said Boises Dave Tenny, executive director of the National Alliance of Forest Owners.
Rocky Barker: 377-6484