Trump issues executive order on forest management

By Erin Voegele | December 31, 2018

An executive order on forest management issued by President Trump in late December addresses how rural economies can benefit through the utilization of byproducts created by forest restoration efforts.

Trump issued the executive order on Dec. 21. It is officially titled “Promoting Active Management of America’s Forests, Rangelands and other Federal Lands to Improve Conditions and Reduce Wildfire Risk.”

The executive order states that it is the policy of the United States to protect people, communities, and to promote healthy resilient forests, rangelands and other federal lands by actively managing them through partnerships with states, tribes, communities, non-profit organizations and the private sector. However, dense trees and undergrowth have amassed in these lands for decades, fueling catastrophic wildfires. “These conditions, along with insect infestation, invasive species, disease, and drought, have weakened our forests, rangelands, and other federal lands, and have placed communities and homes at risk of damage from catastrophic wildfires,” said Trump in the executive order.

While active management of vegetation is needed on federal lands, the executive order explains it is often delayed due to challenges associated with regulatory analysis and current consultation requirements. To help overcome these challenges, the executive order directs the Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Agriculture implement shared management priorities and to coordinate federal, state, tribal and local assets.

The executive order states that post-fire assessments show that reducing vegetation through hazardous fuel management and strategic forest health treatments is effective in reducing wildfire severity and loss. “Actions must be taken across landscapes to prioritize treatments in order to enhance fuel reduction and forest-restoration projects that protect life and property, and to benefit rural economies through encouraging utilization of the by-products of forest restoration,” said Trump in the executive order.

The USDA and Department of the Interior are directed to develop goals and implementation plans for wildfire prevention programs. As part of that effort, the Secretary of the Interior is directed to review 2019 budget justifications and give due consideration to several objectives. The objectives include treating 750,000 acres of DOI-administered lands to reduce fuel loads, treating 500,000 acres of DOI-administrated lands to protect water quality and mitigate severe flooding and erosion risks arising from forest fires, treating 750,000 acres of DOI-administered lands for native and invasive species, reducing vegetation giving rise to wildfire conditions through forest health treatments by increasing health treatments as part of DOI’s offering for sale 600 million board feet of timber from DOI-administered lands, and performing maintenance on public roads needed to provide access for emergency services and restoration work.

The Secretary of Agriculture is directed to review 2019 budget justifications and give all due consideration to establishing several objectives, including treating 3.5 million acres of Forest Service lands to reduce fuel load, treating 2.2 million acres of Forest Service lands to protect water quality and mitigate severe flooding and erosion risk arising from forest fires, treating 750,000 acres of Forest Service lands for native and invasive species, reducing vegetation giving rise to wildfire conditions through forest health treatments as part of USDA’s offering for sale at least 3.8 billion board feet of timber from Forest Service lands, and performing maintenance on roads needed to provide access on Forest Service lands for emergency services and restoration work.

By March 31, the Secretary of Interior and Secretary of Agriculture are also directed to identify salvage and log recovery options from lands damaged by fire during the 2017 and 2018 fire seasons, insects, or disease. In addition, they are asked to streamline agency administrative and regulatory processes and policies relating to fuel reduction in forests, rangelands, and other federal lands.

As part of the efforts described in the executive order, the secretaries are directed to collaborate with federal, state, tribal and local partners to develop a strategy to support local federal land managers in project decision-making and inform local fire management decisions related to forests, rangelands and other federal lands, thereby protecting habitats and communities and reducing risks to physical infrastructure. This includes considering market conditions when preparing timber sales, including biomass and biochar opportunities, and encouraging export of these forest-treatment products to the maximum extent permitted by law. The secretaries are also asked to develop recommended actions and incentives to expand uses, markets, and utilization of forest products resulting from restoration and fuel reduction projects, including biomass and small-diameter materials.

The Forest Service has spoken out in support of the executive order. “The USDA Forest Service applauds today’s executive order and the President’s commitment to focusing more robust efforts toward active management of American forests and grasslands,” said Vicki Christiansen, chief of the USDA Forest Service. “This executive order, along with support and authorities under the 2018 Omnibus bill, will have a positive impact on our ability to improve conditions on the land. The natural resource challenges before us require collective action by everyone involved, and we look forward to working with federal partners, states, tribes, key stakeholders and members of the public. We will do the right work in the right place at the right scale using advanced science and mapping tools. We will use all the tools available to us, including mechanical treatments, prescribed fire, and unplanned fire to mitigate the risk of catastrophic wildfire.”