In the final hours of the 2018 session the Oregon Legislature overwhelmingly approved legislation to prioritize the use of “Good Neighbor Authority” (GNA), a federal policy allowing the state to increase the pace, scale, and quality of forest management activities on federally-owned forest lands.
The legislation (HB 4118) was passed after Oregon experienced a severe wildfire season in 2017, when over 2,000 fires burned 666,443 acres at a cost of $454 million. This cost does not include the immeasurable loss of lives, property, lost tourism and recreation business and smoke-related impacts to vulnerable Oregonians and our health care system.
HB 4118, co-sponsored by Rep. Daniel Bonham (R-The Dalles) and David Brock Smith (R-Port Orford), can help reduce the risks of future catastrophic wildfires by accelerating the state’s use of its GNA agreement, which Gov. Kate Brown signed with the U.S. Forest Service back in 2016.
Under the federal 2014 Farm Bill, GNA allows the state to act as an agent of the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to carry out “authorized forest, rangeland, and watershed restoration services” on National Forest System lands or BLM lands. For example, this partnership allows the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) to participate in a wide range of roles, including timber sale administration and project implementation.
Sara Ghafouri, staff attorney for the American Forest Resource Council, says it is important for the state to prioritize GNA given that millions of acres of Oregon’s federally-owned forests desperately need forest management and are at risk of catastrophic wildfire. Other states, including Idaho and Wisconsin, are using GNA strategically to implement forest health projects and provide timber volume beyond what the Forest Service and BLM have been congressionally funded to provide.
“There is a huge backlog of work on our federal forests the needs to be accomplished by the federal agencies to restore forests back to their desired conditions,” Ghafouri said. “In a recent 2015 study, 2.5 million acres in eastern and southwest Oregon require some form of active treatment. The Forest Service often lacks the personnel, budget, or both to address the growing backlog of Federal acres at risk of fire, disease, insect infestation, or drought.”
HB 4118 establishes a new state policy to pursue projects under the GNA Master Agreement that increase timber harvest volume, contribute to job creation, reduce wildfire risks to all lands, improve wildlife habitat and watershed health and stimulate local economies. The bill also provides $500,000 in Lottery Funds to the Oregon Department of Forestry to support the development, planning or implementation of GNA projects.
“This legislation will enable Oregon to use GNA to its full potential, which will improve management of federal forests in the state, create more family-wage jobs, reduce the risks of catastrophic wildfire and promote the manufacturing of environmentally-friendly and carbon-sequestering wood products,” said Sara Ghafouri, AFRC staff attorney.
HB 4118 was approved by the Oregon House by a vote of 57 to 1, and was unanimously approved by the Oregon Senate. The bill is awaiting Gov. Brown’s signature.