Updates & Blog

Policy At-a-Glance: May – June 2023

Tim Foley
Policy Director
Southern Group of State Foresters
Three images: a river in Arkansas, the U.S. Capitol, and hands holding wood pellets

Old growth forests inventory report

Biden Administration releases results of inventory for mature and old growth forests on NFS and BLM Lands

Old growth forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

USDA PRESS: The Mature and Old–Growth Forest report defines what mature and old growth forests are, establishes the first-ever initial inventory of those forests, and shows their distribution across lands managed by the USDA Forest Service and the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management. The initial inventory identified more than 32 million acres of old–growth and around 80 million acres of mature forest across 200 types of forests. The initial inventory found that old–growth forest represents 18% and mature forest another 45% of all forested land managed by the two agencies.

As directed in President Biden’s Executive Order and laid out in the report, the USDA Forest Service and the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management will use these definitions and initial inventory to continue to refine results, assess threats to old growth and mature forest stands, and conduct public engagement.

SGSF Policy Director Says: “This report was directed by an Executive Order from the White House and included extensive stakeholder engagement. The report developed working definitions for both old growth (pg. 48) and mature (pg. 48) forests but doesn’t appear to have regional breakdowns of the inventory. At the national level, they found 32.7 million acres of old growth on lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, and 80.1 million acres of mature forest. Old-growth forest represents 18 percent and mature forest another 45 percent of all forested land managed by the two agencies.

It now appears that the administration will proceed in considering management and policy decisions for these forest categories, beginning with a forthcoming public comment period on how to best manage NFS lands for a changing climate.”

Supreme Court narrows water pollution protections

The Supreme Court has narrowed the protections of the Clean Water Act, finding the law only covered wetlands and other bodies of water that directly connect to federal waters like rivers and lakes

Aerial view of winding river in Georgia

ROLL CALL: The opinion replaced the court‘s 2006 splintered decision that provided two different tests for determining whether waters were regulated. The 1972 law has been subject to litigation for much of its existence as property owners and the federal government wrestled with how far to extend its protections against polluting the navigable waters of the country.

[The court determined that the] law’s protections for “Waters of the United States” only extended to wetlands with a direct surface connection to them. The Biden administration had argued language in the law should include wetlands and other bodies of water that didn’t have a direct surface connection but could allow pollutants into rivers and lakes.

The justices heard the case before the Biden administration finalized a new rule for the waters of the United States, which became an issue during oral arguments. The administration adopted its new three-factor test earlier this year and it went into effect in March. The rule, which has been subject to extensive litigation and is enjoined from being enforced in more than two dozen states, reflected the administration’s position in the case by placing under the law wetlands with a “significant nexus” to regulated waters.

SGSF Policy Director Says: This decision is of particular consequence, because it calls into question the recently-published Biden Administration rule defining Waters of the United States (WOTUS), which the Administration has already stated it is reworking in light of the court ruling. It also appears that the Army Corps of Engineers is not processing approved wetland determinations or making any new determinations until new guidance from EPA comes out relative to this court decision.

As a reminder, the Biden WOTUS rule is currently still legally in effect in about half the country, but under a temporary injunction in the other half based on three other court cases on the merits of the rule. 12 of our 13 member states are covered by those court cases and thus not currently subject to the Biden WOTUS (North Carolina is subject to Biden WOTUS). Regardless of what WOTUS interpretation is in place, the Section 404(f) exemptions for “normal and ongoing silviculture” are still valid, which is the most important piece for forestry.”

Wood Innovations & Community Wood Energy grant recipients

USDA announces funding recipients for FY23 Wood Innovations and Community Wood Energy grants, including 20 projects in the South

Cross-laminated timber ceiling

USDA PRESS: The Biden-Harris Administration [has] announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture is investing more than $43 million to expand innovative uses of wood, including as a construction material in commercial buildings, as an energy source, and in manufacturing and processing input for wood products used in framing homes, making paper products and more.

Funded proposals under these USDA grant programs expand and retrofit wood energy systems and wood products manufacturing facilities and develop markets for innovative uses of mass timber and renewable wood energy. Projects also help to restore healthy forests and reduce wildfire risk, protecting communities, infrastructure and resources while curbing climate change. Grant recipients include for-profit entities, state and local governments, tribes, school districts, community-based non-profit organizations, institutions of higher education, and special purpose districts.

SGSF Policy Director Says: “Both these grant programs continue to grow in prominence in the South. As the woodbasket of the world, our region needs to stay at the forefront of innovating new uses for our fiber, hardwood and softwood alike, and the Wood Innovation and Community Wood Energy grant programs are critical annual funding opportunities. Great work by partners from across the region in putting together competitive and innovate proposals! View the Southern Region’s awarded grants below.”

FY23 Grant Recipients, Southern Region

Wood Innovations Grant

Community Wood Energy Grant