Good Neighbor Authority helps forests | TSLN.com

Good Neighbor Authority helps forests

Rebecca Colnar
for Tri-State Livestock News

The Good Neighbor Authority first surfaced in the 2014 Farm Bill and authorized the USDA Forest Service to enter into agreements with state forestry agencies to do critical management work to keep forests healthy and productive. Since Good Neighbor Authority was first authorized, the number of projects and participating states has grown, and in the 2018 Farm Bill, the GNA was expanded to include state and county governments as well tribes.

American Farm Bureau’s Director of Congressional Relations Ryan Yates explained that to date the GNA projects have been primarily used by the U.S. Forest Service and timber industry. “The GNA gives them one more tool. It increases receipts shared with counties and provides more management on our forests. Over the years, the general Forest Service management has declined, and the result has been more material in the forest that increased catastrophic fires,” said Yates. “What the GNA does is creates another tool to provide management of the vegetation and provide fuel reduction.”

Yates explained that states have tended to do a better job than the federal government with their forest management.

“What the GNA did in the 2014 Farm Bill was give states the ability to work on managing projects. The state can petition the US. Forest Service saying, ‘We want a GNA contract; if that happens, the receipts from that timber sale go back to the state.”

“The GNA gives them one more tool. It increases receipts shared with counties and provides more management on our forests. Over the years, the general Forest Service management has declined, and the result has been more material in the forest that increased catastrophic fires,” said Yates. “What the GNA does is creates another tool to provide management of the vegetation and provide fuel reduction. Ryan Yates, American Farm Bureau’s Director of Congressional Relations

State foresters are big proponents of the GNA. “It’s a collaborative approach that provides significant reforms with vegetative management and land stewardship,” said Yates. “The good news is that it has been a bi-partisan effort.”

In Montana, the GNA is only getting underway. Montana Governor Steve Bullock designated 5 million acres as priority landscape treatment areas which be used as GNA projects to increase the pace and scale of efforts to improve forest and watershed health.

This land was determined to have watersheds at risk due to insects and disease—places where tree mortality was high. The overstocking of trees led to many of the acres to become what they are today, and that’s why they have been designated as priority landscape treatment areas.

“The Good Neighbor Authority has been slower to implement than industry would like, but that can be a good thing,” noted Bryan Lorengo, southwestern regional representative, Montana Logging Association. “Some other states are ahead of Montana but that’s actually been good for us, as we’ve been able to see their challenges and learn what works and what doesn’t.”

Currently through the GNA, Montana has had two timber sales. Sun Mountain Lumber from Deer Lodge submitted a winning bid to purchase the sale located north of Butte in Jefferson County. Approximately 2.25 million board feet of dead and dying lodgepole pine from 375 acres will be removed within the Boulder Lowlands II project area. The benefits of this forest restoration project include: decrease in wildfire intensity and severity; increase in safety to adjacent landowners and firefighters; and a forest with more age diversity and resilience to future insect and disease outbreaks. According the Montana DNRC, the Boulder Lowlands project will result in approximately $395,000 dollars available for investments into other restorations activities such as hazardous fuels reduction, aspen restoration, weed spraying, and stream improvement projects.

In October, 2018, the Idaho Forest Group submitted the winning bid to purchase the sale located south of Heron in Sanders County. Approximately 2.7 million board feet of Douglas Fir and dead and dying lodgepole pine from 184 acres will be removed within the Elk Gem timber sale area. Benefits of this forest restoration project include: decrease in wildfire intensity and severity; increase in safety to Recreation areas and users as well as firefighters; and a forest with more age diversity and resilience to future insect and disease outbreaks. The Elk Gem timber sale will result in approximately $222,000 available for investments into other restorations activities such as hazardous fuels reduction, weed spraying, and stream improvement projects.

Lorengo said one of the critical enhancements of the GNA in the 2018 Farm Bill included an allowance of road construction and improvements.

“As an industry, we are really excited to see where this all goes,” said Lorengo. “In Montana, hundreds of miles of roads will be restored for use of the general public, and drainages will be improved up to promote wildlife habitat and healthy fisheries. “

Currently, funding for the GNA is being considered as part of House Bill 2, a revenue bill, for $883,000 in the Montana Legislature. “It’s getting good bi-partisan support,” said Lorengo. “The logging/wood products industry has ponied up money to jump start the program as have conservation groups, but at this time, we need the state to provide seed money to support a staff that can manage 4.9 million acres.”

He noted, however, that the funding from the state would only be for two years. After that, the proceeds from timber sales would sustain those employees and the GNA program would be able to stand on its own.

With the 2018 Farm Bill giving counties the same authority on forest management as the state, Libby (Lincoln County) has hired their own forester.” I believe the GNA program is evolving right now and I see it as a snowball on top of the hill that is gaining momentum as it rolls along. These are acres that are in need of either a fire or mechanical treatment, and obviously for everyone concerned, mechanical treatment is a better option,” Lorengo said.

He believes moderate conservationists are willing to sit down, compromise and work towards healthy forests using the GNA. “I’m happy to say that moderate conservation groups, local governments and state agencies are done with conflict. Even the tribes are having conversations about how they can implement the GNA. There are now a lot of collaborative groups around the state. They realize active management is beneficial. All of these stakeholders are seeing the GNA in a positive light.”

The state of Wyoming has been looking for ways to apply the GNA to rangeland improvements and watershed restoration projects, along with the forestry projects.

“Last fall our Game and Fish entered into agreement with the Forest Service for projects and the Wyoming Department of Agriculture is in the process of signing one,” noted Holly Kennedy, Federal Lands Associate, Wyoming Farm Bureau. “One of the places/resource concerns that the Department of Ag is looking to use it is to restore rangelands on the National Grasslands that have been damaged by prairie dog infestation. There is also work being done to apply it to removing trees that have been affected by the Bark Beetle.”