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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Forestry Assistance Programs

Ross W. Gorte
Specialist in Natural Resources Policy

Megan Stubbs
Analyst in Agricultural Conservation and Natural Resources Policy

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has numerous programs to support management of state and private forests. These programs are under the jurisdiction of the Agriculture Committees and are often examined in the periodic legislation to reauthorize agricultural programs, commonly known as farm bills. The 2008 farm bill (P.L. 110-246) included a forestry title with numerous provisions, and forestry activities were included in several other titles, as well. Congress might oversee the implementation as well as the funding of these programs.

Forestry-specific assistance programs (in contrast to agriculture conservation programs that include forestry activities) are primarily administered by the USDA Forest Service (FS), with permanent authorization of funding as needed. Some programs provide technical assistance— information, advice, and aid on specific projects. Other programs provide financial assistance, usually through grants (with or without matching contributions from recipients) or cost-sharing (typically though state agencies, with varying levels of contributions from recipients). Many programs provide both.

Most of the programs provide assistance to the states. The state agencies can use the assistance on state forestlands or to assist local governments or private landowners. How the states use the funds is largely at the discretion of the states, within the authorizations of each program; however, the 2008 farm bill added national priorities for state assistance and state-wide assessments and strategies to focus state efforts on achieving the national priorities. Funds are appropriated for planning and implementing forestry and related land management practices—site preparation for reforestation, tree planting, thinning, pruning, fertilizing, prescribed burning, restoring watersheds, improving wildlife habitats, and other activities. Other programs provide support for protecting forestlands from wildfires, insects and diseases, and from clearing forests for nonforest uses (such as growing crops or building houses). Two programs are designed specifically to assist landowners to recover or restore forests following catastrophic events, such as wildfires. Additional programs provide economic assistance for communities in or near federal forests whose economies have traditionally relied on forests and forest resources. In addition, International Forestry is often included as a forestry assistance program, because it provides technical forestry help and because it has often been funded out of FS appropriations for forestry assistance programs.

Finally, states are authorized to request consolidated payments, for flexibility in program administration, and several coordinating or advisory groups exist to coordinate programs or for specific purposes under one or more programs.

Funding for the forest management assistance programs—forest stewardship and urban and community forestry—has remained relatively constant over the past five years. Forest protection programs—forest health (for insect and disease identification and control), fire assistance, and forest legacy (for easements to prevent forest clearing)—grew substantially in 2001, and have remained at relatively high levels. For the first time in several years, forest recovery programs have begun to receive intermittent funding, primarily through supplemental appropriation acts. Funding for economic assistance programs has declined after peaking in FY2001.

Date of Report: March
6, 2012
Number of Pages:
Order Number: R
Price: $29.95

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