Deep dive into the FY18 omnibus yields many positive takeaways for state foresters

Friday, March 23, 2018
By Gary Schiff
 
In addition to a permanent wildfire funding fix, important federal forest management reforms, and steady or increased funding for all of the USDA Forest Service's State and Private Forestry programs, the nation's state and territorial foresters were pleased to see the following provisions included in Congress' 2018 spending bill.

Expanding acceptance of wood certification systems

"Multiple forest certification systems have been recognized throughout the Federal government as supporting the use of sustainable products in building construction and other uses. The Committees are concerned that (its) efforts have not acknowledged many of these certification systems and are therefore limiting the procurement of some products that may be sustainable. The Committees understand that the (its) Wood/Lumber product category recommendation is currently under review. The Committees direct the (federal government) to align its Wood/Lumber recommendation with the provisions of the USDA Bio Preferred program.”

Why this is important? Wood certification programs assure customers that the timber and wood products they purchase were harvested in a way that is sustainable and environmentally responsible. Because all the major wood certification programs provide this assurance, state foresters want to ensure they are all considered valid for federal procurement.

Research to focus on market expansion

"The Committees are concerned that the research program is not well aligned with the needs of the National Forest System. When assessing the value of existing programs and new proposals, significant weight should be given to projects whose findings could be incorporated into forest management decisions. Within the funds provided, the agreement includes sufficient funding to support existing academic partners focused on research and technology development to create new and expanded markets and to advance high-value, high-volume wood markets; wood bridge and other infrastructure needs in rural areas; bottomland hardwood plantation management research; and forest monitoring cooperatives in the Northern Region."

Why is this important? Without markets, active forest management doesn't happen. And without active management, healthy forests don't exist. The ability to thin the forest, a key component of active forest management, depends in large measure on the availability of markets to support thinning and other management activities. State foresters know finding new and expanding existing wood markets is challenging, but doing so will help build and maintain resilient forests.

Modernizing the aviation program  

The 2018 omnibus spending bill repurposes $65 million from FY15 for the purchase of new aircraft to enhance firefighter mobility, effectiveness, efficiency, and the operational safety of the Forest Service's aviation program. "The funds shall be used to modernize aviation, radio, and evacuation system infrastructure; and acquire sensory equipment, UAS, and other platforms that detect and monitor fire. Projects may include replacement or upgrades of existing infrastructure at airtanker, helicopter, and smokejumper bases; replacement of equipment, including agency-owned aircraft; and improvements in training and night air operations, but no project shall be undertaken that increases recurring program costs. Within 60 days of enactment of this Act, the Service shall provide a complete list of anticipated projects to the Committees on Appropriations utilizing this entire amount. The Committees expect these funds to be obligated in fiscal years 2018 and 2019.”

Why is this important? The USDA Forest Service's aviation program is critical to successful wildfire suppression efforts on all forests, regardless of ownership, because America's federal, state, and private forests are interspersed and wildfire knows no boundaries. In a typical year, 80% of the nation’s wildfires and almost 50% of the acreage burned are on state and private lands. Working with state foresters and local partners to modernize this early detection and suppression program will help protect all of America’s forests, as well as adjacent communities, from catastrophic wildfire.
 
Gary Schiff is NASF's policy director. He can be reached by email at gschiff@stateforesters.org.