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Healthy Forests Restoration Act of 2003: Summary of Implementation Actions

December 2004

On December 3, 2003, President Bush signed the historic and bipartisan Healthy Forests Restoration Act into law. The Healthy Forests Restoration Act is the central legislative component of the Healthy Forests Initiative.

The legislation contains a variety of provisions aimed at expediting the preparation and implementation of hazardous fuels reduction projects on federal land and assisting rural communities, States and landowners in restoring healthy forest and watershed conditions on state, private and tribal lands. It also authorizes large-scale silvicultural research, the acquisition of conservation easements and the establishment of monitoring and early warning systems for insect and disease outbreaks. The following briefly summarizes various actions being taken to implement HFRA.

Title I – Hazardous Fuels Reduction on Federal Lands

HFRA provides for expedited environmental review, a pre-decisional Forest Service administrative review process, and other measures on National Forest and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands that are at-risk of catastrophic fire. HFRA focuses attention on four types of land:

  • The wildland-urban interfaces of at-risk communities,
  • At-risk municipal watersheds,
  • Where threatened and endangered species or their habitats are at-risk to catastrophic fire and where fuels treatment can reduce those risks, and
  • Where windthrow or insect epidemics threaten ecosystem components or resource values.

The Forest Service has issued a final rule for a special administrative review process for hazardous fuels reduction projects in national forests. The Forest Service and Department of the Interior agencies have also published an HFRA implementation guide and conducted training sessions for field on the use of the HFRA authorities. Both BLM and the Forest Service are gearing up to begin using the expedited HFRA authorities this field season.

The National Association of State Foresters, Society of American Foresters, National Association of Counties, Communities’ Committee, and Western Governor’s Association have prepared guidance for at-risk communities on how they might prepare a Community Wildfire Protection Plan, as provided in HFRA. Many communities are now gearing up to prepare such plans.

Title II - Utilization of Woody Biomass

The purpose of Title II, Biomass, is to provide needed information and resources to help overcome barriers to the production and use of woody material produced on fuels reduction and forest restoration projects to help communities and businesses create economic opportunity through the sustainable use of the nation’s forest resources. This Title contains three focus areas. It:

  • Amends the Biomass Research and Development Act of 2000 by increasing the authorization level by $5 million annually for the purposes of woody biomass production and use from forest management operations (Section 201),
  • Amends the “Rural Revitalization Through Forestry” program in cooperation with the FS Forest Products Lab and S&PF to accelerate adoption of biomass technologies and market activities, with a $5 million annual authorization through FY2008 (Section 202), and
  • Authorizes federal grants to facilities using biomass for wood-based products to help offset the cost of biomass, with a $5 million annual authorization through FY2008 (Section 203).

The Departments of Agriculture, the Interior, and Energy have signed a memorandum of understanding that lays the groundwork for the interagency biomass committee to implement biomass projects. The FY 2004 grant solicitation process for the Biomass Research and Development Act was modified to incorporate the language from Section 201. This action generated a significant increase in woody biomass related proposal submissions. Implementation guidelines for Sections 202 and 203 are being developed in the event Congress appropriates funding for these Sections in FY 2005 and beyond.

Title III - Watershed Forestry Assistance

Title III:

  • Authorizes the Forest Service to provide technical, financial and related assistance to private forest landowners aimed at expanding their forest stewardship capacities to improve municipal drinking water supplies and to address the threats to forest health (Section 301), and
  • Directs the Forest Service to provide assistance to Indian tribes for expanding forestry projects and to address watershed issues on tribal lands (Section 302).

The Watershed Forestry Assistance Program promotes use of forest and forestry practices for protecting and restoring water quality and watershed functions. The Forest Service is working with State Foresters and with Indian Tribes to develop separate guidelines for the State Watershed Forestry Assistance Program and the Tribal Watershed Forestry Assistance Program. Through collaborative approaches in priority watersheds, States and Indian Tribes can integrate forestry practices across mixed ownerships, provide cumulative water quality benefits, and offer low cost, long term solutions to many of the nation’s non-point source pollution problems. Guidelines for program implementation will be in place in early fall.

Title IV - Insect Infestations and Related Diseases

Title IV directs the Forest Service and U.S. Geological Survey, to:

  • Conduct an accelerated program to plan, conduct, and promote systematic information gathering on insect pests, and the diseases associated with them, causing large-scale damage to forest ecosystems;
  • Assist land managers in the development of treatments and strategies to improve forest health;
  • Disseminate the results of such information, and
  • Carry out the program in cooperation with scientists from universities and forestry schools, state agencies and private and industrial landowners.

The guidelines for implementing Title IV have been made available. At least two landscape scale research projects are currently under preparation in the Southeast that will provide practical information on how to combat insect infestations and diseases threatening forest health.

Title V - The Healthy Forest Reserve Program

Title V directs USDA to establish a program on private land to promote the recovery of endangered species, improve biodiversity and enhance carbon sequestration. To achieve these objectives, Title V authorizes the Secretary to acquire 99 year or 30 year easements, or utilize 10 year cost share contracts. Up to two million acres may be enrolled by the secretary depending on appropriations. Title V also contains provisions allowing the Secretary to make safe harbor or similar assurances to landowners who enroll land in the program and whose conservation activities result in net conservation benefit for listed, candidate, or other species.

Natural Resources Conservation Services is designated to administer the Healthy Forest Reserve Program in coordination with the Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Marine Fisheries Service. NRCS plans to have the Healthy Forest Reserve Program ready for implementation at the beginning of fiscal year 2005.

Title VI – Forest Inventory/ Monitoring and Early Warning Systems

Title VI instructs the Secretary of Agriculture to carry out a program to monitor forest stands on National Forest System lands and private lands to improve detection of and response to environmental threats.

The Forest Service has developed and published the "The Early Warning System for Forest Health Threats in the United States," which describes for the first time, in one place, the nation's system for identifying and responding to forest health threats, including web sites to obtain further information.