Updates & Blog

Policy At-A-Glance: Feb-Mar 2024

Tim Foley
Policy Director
Southern Group of State Foresters

State Forester priority programs receive funding through 2024 legislative appropriations

CQ | Lawmakers cleared a package consisting of six of the 12 annual spending bills on March 8, and President Joe Biden signed it on March 9. Lawmakers cleared a second package consisting of the remaining six annual bills in the early hours of March 23 and Biden signed the measure later that day.
SGSF Policy Director says: “Across the government, most discretionary programs saw their funding cut in FY24, and State Forester priority programs within the USFS budget were among those. Below is a quick snapshot of how our State Forester priority programs fared. In short, compared to FY23, we saw decreases in UCF ($4M) , FSP ($500K), LSR ($3M), Forest Health ($1M) and FIA ($700K), flat funding in SFA and VFA, and funded Forest Legacy projects in GA, VA, AL and NC.”

State Forester Priority Appropriations Summary Table
ProgramFY 2022 EnactedFY23 EnactedFY24 Enacted
State, Private and Tribal Forestry
Forest Stewardship$12.00$12.50$12.00
Urban & Community Forestry$36.00$40.00$36.00
Forest Health–Cooperative Lands$32.00$33.00$32.00
Forest Legacy Program$88.88$77.94$92.26
Landscape Scale Restoration$14.00$17.00$14.00
State Fire Capacity Grants*$75.00$76.00$76.00
Volunteer Fire Capacity Grants*$20.00$21.00$21.00
Research and Development
Forest Inventory & Analysis$22.20$32.20$31.50
* FY22 Omnibus renamed State and Volunteer Fire Assistance State and Volunteer Fire Capacity Grants respectively

For additional items of interest from the FY24 Interior Bill, click here:

SGSF offers support for Congressional letter to EPA on PM2.5 National Ambient Air Quality Standards

U.S. Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) led a letter demanding the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rescind the recently finalized rule for the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and direct the EPA to revisit, pursuant to the best available science, its next review at the congressionally mandated five-year interval in 2025. 

“The current U.S. air quality standards are clearly working – we have some of the cleanest air in the world,” said Senator Tuberville.“ The EPA’s decision to tighten the National Ambient Air Quality Standards will hurt businesses, crush manufacturing, and drive-up prices. Not to mention these unnecessary regulations will make it impossible for manufacturing and forestry industries to do their jobs. Joe Biden needs to spend less time pushing his job-killing climate agenda and instead focus on lowering prices for American families, businesses, and workers.”

“The Alabama Forestry Commission supports and thanks Sen. Tuberville for his leadership on this important issue,” said Rick Oates, State Forester for the Alabama Forestry Commission.“ The Senators’ comments about emissions from wildfires are particularly significant. Under the lowered standard, this regulation will limit the ability of private landowners to practice prescribed burning which will, in turn, result in more wildfires and increased particulate matter emissions. Controlled burning is one of the best tools we have to manage forests and reduce the risk of wildfires.”

SGSF Policy Director says: “It is important to raise the profile of how impactful this change in the air quality standard could be for the ability of forest managers across our region to implement prescribed fire. Without significant streamlining of the EPA exceptional events reporting process, many locations risk losing this critical tool to keep our southern forests healthy and at reduced risk from wildfire, and forest pests and disease.”

USFS announcement of $500 million for confronting wildfire crisis includes $100M for eligible southern states

USDA | The Biden-Harris Administration is investing nearly $500 million from President Biden’s Investing in America agenda to expand work on the USDA Forest Service’s Wildfire Crisis Strategy to reduce risk to communities, critical infrastructure and natural resources from the nation’s ongoing wildfire crisis, which is exacerbated by climate change. Approximately $400 million of the Inflation Reduction Act and Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funds will be allocated to ongoing efforts on the 21 designated priority landscapes identified in the strategy, making the total investment to date $1.6 billion. An additional $100 million will be allocated under a new program established by the Forest Service – the Collaborative Wildfire Risk Reduction Program – to expand work outside these landscapes. Inspired by past example and success of programs such as the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program, the new program expands work in high-risk wildfire areas outside the 21 priority landscapes.

The Collaborative Wildfire Risk Reduction Program will use hazardous fuels funds from the Inflation Reduction Act to treat areas outside the 21 priority landscapes in high-risk wildfire areas where national forests and grasslands meet homes and communities, known as the Wildland-Urban Interface. The program allows national forests, in collaboration with Tribes, communities and partners in 24 qualifying states, to build local capacity for projects to reduce wildfire risk and improve forest health to protect communities, infrastructure, water quality and adjacent landowners.

SGSF Policy Director says: “While we are excited to finally see some of the BIL and IRA funding for wildfire risk reduction on National Forest System lands available outside the west, we are disappointed that eligibility criteria appear to have left out some of our SGSF member states. Wildfire risk to communities is significant in all parts of our country, and wildfire is not just a western issue. SGSF will continue to work with policymakers to help them understand this reality.”

Hyde-Smith introduces bill to aid Mississippians hard hit by pine beetle drought

Press Release | U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) today introduced legislation to increase the ability of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to help Mississippians combat the growing southern pine beetle outbreak spreading across the state. The Emergency Pine Beetle Response Act would strengthen existing federal programs as well as provide USDA additional authorities to assist private landowners, timber cutting and hauling businesses, and local municipalities in responding to forest-related disasters.

SGSF Policy Director Says: “We applaud the Senator for her quick and direct proposal in response to the current beetle outbreaks in our region. This legislation would help address on-the-ground challenges landowners are currently seeing in Mississippi, but also set up a policy framework for beetle-impacted landowners to get the assistance they need in other areas in the future. We encourage co-sponsorship and swift passage of this critical bill.”

USDA announces $145M of IRA landowner assistance funding to help landowners access climate markets

African American couple walks through the woods

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that the USDA Forest Service is investing nearly $145 million from President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act—the largest climate investment in history—to connect forest landowners with emerging climate markets as part of the Investing in America agenda.

SGSF Policy Director says: “SGSF and its members look forward to working with the 11 award recipients in our region to help connect landowners to markets that support healthy and actively-managed forests. Through the Inflation Reduction Act, state forestry agencies have also received funding to work with partners and develop more robust outreach programs for historically underserved landowners, which will be critical in supporting this climate investment from the Biden Administration.”

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