A Maine forest ranger

Impending changes to the federal Forest Stewardship program are good news

By Whitney Forman-Cook | This blog is a cross-post that appeared in the Summer 2020 edition of the National Woodlands Magazine.

The way federal dollars are allocated to state forestry agencies for Forest Stewardship programs will change soon – but don’t worry, it’s a good thing for private forestland owners.

Within the USDA Forest Service’s State and Private Forestry Mission Area there is a suite of programs administered by state forestry agencies that directly benefit private forestland owners. Among these programs is the Forest Stewardship Program. Now it’s important that we make the distinction between the national Forest Stewardship Program, which is funded by Congress and run by the USDA Forest Service, and state Forest Stewardship programs, which are funded and run by the forestry agencies in each state.

When a forestland owner receives forest stewardship technical assistance – for instance, a forest stewardship management plan is created for them – that assistance is usually being provided by their state forestry agency’s Forest Stewardship program staff. Depending on several factors, that state assistance may be paid for in part with federal dollars annually appropriated by Congress through the national Forest Stewardship Program.

The national Forest Stewardship Program supports state forestry agencies in their stewardship work to equip private landowners with the unbiased, science-based information they need to sustainably manage their forests for any number of benefits, including timber production, wildlife habitat, and recreation.

  • State forestry agencies routinely provide technical assistance to upwards of 300,000 private forestland owners annually through state Forest Stewardship programs.
  • With Forest Stewardship Program dollars, state forestry agencies can provide management plans to private landowners at a discounted rate or free of charge.
  • Non-commercial forestland owners that have management plans are 2.7 times more likely to harvest timber.
  • On average, state forestry agencies match federal investments at least 2:1, which means the impact of federal dollars delivered through the Forest Stewardship Program have amplified on-the-ground impacts.

In addition to delivering technical assistance directly to forestland owners, state Forest Stewardship programs are often gateways to other landowner cost-share assistance programming, like the USDA Environmental Quality Incentives Program, that can help landowners keep their forests working and intact.

Impending changes to the national Forest Stewardship Program allocation formula will NOT change the function of state Forest Stewardship programs. State forestry agencies will continue to support private landowners by providing technical assistance, and wherever possible, by connecting landowners with financial assistance. As the federal-level allocation changes stand now, they should actually HELP to ensure ample stewardship resources are available for private forestland owners well into the future.

The new federal funding allocation formula for the Forest Stewardship Program rewards effective technical assistance and allows for additional delivery methods for that assistance. Or, in even simpler terms: the changes will give state forestry agencies the flexibility to provide the type of assistance that yields the greatest benefit to private landowners and forests in their specific locales.

A Maine Forest Ranger

To understand the changes to the Forest Stewardship Program allocation formula, it’s helpful to know how it’s funded:

Congress appropriates funding for forestry programs to federal agencies through annual spending bills. Our primary purpose at the National Association of State Foresters is to advocate for program funding that supports the health, productivity, and resilience of America’s forests. As you are well aware, private and state forestland owners manage two-thirds of all forests in the U.S. and produce over 90% of the nation’s wood products. This means that federal programming that supports state and private forests is critically important to not just overall forest health (remember: forest pests, disease, and wildfire don’t respect property lines!), but also clean drinking water, sustainable energy production, and so many more forest-derived benefits nationwide.

The majority of NASF’s top priority programs – including the Forest Stewardship Program – are housed within the USDA Forest Service. Once a spending bill is signed into law (and it can take a year or more for that to happen), the USDA Forest Service Washington Office (WO) sends Forest Stewardship Program funding calculated per state to the Forest Service regional offices. The WO sets aside base funding ($100,000) for each state, then uses an allocation formula to determine how much additional funding the region will receive for each state.

Right now, the WO’s formula allocates that additional funding based on (1) the potential a state has to implement stewardship work and (2) the performance of that stewardship work measured in forest stewardship management plans. Since the beginning of the program in 1978, potential in a state has been determined by counting the non-industrial private forestland acres within it. Performance in a state has been measured by (1) acres with forest stewardship plans and (2) acres where forest stewardship plans have been implemented.

With the new formula:
  • States’ potential for private landowner assistance will be weighted less and performance will be weighted more. The new formula reallocates 15% of potential from the original formula to support a true measure of performance: acres with implemented land management plans in priority areas;
  • All land management plans will count—not just forest stewardship plans—and the implementation of all plans will count too;
  • States will get credit for conducting non-plan-based assistance, like educational workshops, that don’t necessarily result in plan development, but still constitute meaningful assistance.

Below is the old formula and the new formula side-by-side. Do you see how performance is weighted more?

There will be a new allocation formula
For clarification: “NIPF” stands for non-industrial private forestland and “FSP” is short for Forest Stewardship Program. “Landowner assistance/education” includes the non-plan-based assistance mentioned above in the third bullet. In addition to workshops, non-plan-based assistance could include a state forestry agency staff member walking a property with the landowner, preparing a letter in lieu of a full management plan, or mailing out informational pamphlets on forest management considerations, like navigating property taxes.
So how do these changes translate to benefits for private landowners?

The answer is two-fold. First, with the new allocation formula, state forestry agencies will receive funding for more impactful work (that is, when plans are implemented, and not just created). They’ll also be receiving funding for all kinds of management plans and non-plan-based work, which depending on the locale and the landowner’s specific needs, could be more readily accessible and/or more easily implemented by landowners than a standard forest management plan.

Second, with a more targeted and prioritized funding structure, state forestry agencies can generate stronger data points to prove the validity and cost-effectiveness of their work to Congress. This means that when it comes time to advocate for federal Forest Stewardship Program funding, groups like NASF have a stronger case to present to Congress for more program dollars, which of course directly benefit private forestland owners.

To learn more about NASF’s advocacy work, go to www.stateforesters.org and click “Where We Stand” in the top banner. The association’s latest appropriations recommendations are housed under the “Appropriations” tab under “Where We Stand.” Have questions? Contact NASF Communications Director Whitney Forman-Cook.

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