All-Lands Partnerships in Southern-Central Oregon: Reporting Out From a Peer Learning Exchange

All-lands projects, which involve planning and implementation across landownership boundaries with multiple partners and landowners, are increasingly common. On May 1st, 2018, a peer learning exchange was held in Klamath Falls to bring together all-lands partners in Lake, Klamath, Jackson, and Josephine Counties. Over 60 participants representing a range of landowner, nonprofit organization, state and federal agency, private sector, and other perspectives attended. The purpose of the workshop was to:

·        Share specific activities, experiences, and lessons learned

·        Explore tools and ideas that improve the practice of all-lands management

·        Connect to a community of area practitioners and form new peer relationships

Meeting presentations and breakout sessions were provided on the following topics:

  • An overview of all-lands management: who, what, and why?
  • North Warners and Chiloquin Community Forest and Fire projects
  • Ashland Forest Resiliency project
  • Inventory and mapping methods
  • Neighborhood and smaller-scale efforts
  • Private landowner outreach including My Southern Oregon Woodland
  • Tools, funding, and mechanisms

Presenters, facilitators, and attendees were asked to discuss how they were accomplishing all-lands work and key lessons they were learning. Some of the theme, questions, and ideas shared included:

  • Strategic prioritization and landowner engagement: How do we balance prioritization (e.g., around ecological or fuels goals) with landowner involvement? What if the willing landowners are not in the priority landscapes? NRCS has some approaches in this vein including their Strategic Approach to Conservation, Long Range Plans, and Conservation Implementation Strategies. May also try using neighbors and social networks to try to branch into the priority areas.
  • Climate change: How can all-lands projects incorporate planning for probable climate futures, and frame forest resiliency and health in that context?
  • NEPA readiness: Choosing to do all-lands work in areas adjacent to federal planning areas where the environmental analysis process is done or nearly done can help ensure that projects are ripe, rather than subjecting partners and landowners to years of planning. Conversely, there could be opportunities for collaboration and co-development of priority landscapes and purposes if partnership begins earlier in or before the NEPA process.
  • Role of nonprofits: Nonprofit organizations such as watershed councils or community-based organizations can write, administer, and manage multiple grants with flexibility that other partners may not have. They may also be able to bring capacity for various aspects of planning and implementation that agencies can lack.
  • Workforce development aspects: All-lands projects should have an effort to train and develop local workforces. The economic and social aspects of doing so are important. Having multiple projects/locations to share the workforce helps sustain it and ensure its capacity is available.
  • The eight-step pathway: Parties in the Klamath-Lake Forest Health Partnership suggest an eight-step approach to designing and implementing all-lands projects. This is being published in an OSU Extension document in the fall of 2018.
  • Mixing and matching: Different sources of funding can be obtained and used strategically to match the personality of involved landowners.
  • Landowner outreach: All-lands projects appear to be fostering innovation in landowner outreach, including new efforts at segmentation, using social networks and media, approaches to mailings, and use of template binders and map books to delve into project opportunities and increase knowledge of the landscape. Examples include the My Southern Oregon Woodland effort.
  • Leadership: The importance of individual leaders or “champions” remains key to all-lands work. It is not institutionalized and is not given a particular job title. Bottlenecks may exist in middle levels of agencies that inhibit more of these efforts.

This meeting was planned and implemented by: Oregon State University Forestry and Natural Resources Extension, Oregon Department of Forestry, Rural Voices for Conservation Coalition, Oregon Forest Resources Institute, Fremont-Winema National Forest, and Klamath Basin Research and Extension Center.

Meeting materials will be available shortly. These include powerpoints that were given, results from a lessons learned exercise, and a list of attendees.

Western Week in Washington

RVCC’s annual fly-in to the nation’s capital – was a great success! Ten RVCC partners spent last week meeting with Congressional staff, public lands agency administrators, and national partners. The trip allowed us to share our priorities for the Farm Bill and appropriations process, as well as to listen and get a better understanding of the state of play in Washington. We shared the value of innovative, targeted programs like the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program and the Joint Fire Science Program, raising awareness and garnering support for both. We also advocated for working lands conservation and rural development programs in the Farm Bill, telling the story of how such programs roll out on the ground for communities.

Our conversations with agency staff were also valuable, providing insights into evolving policies within the Forest Service, BLM, and NRCS. These meetings offered an opportunity for RVCC to share thoughts on how such policies affect rural communities, conservation projects on the ground, and local economies. It was great to hear how receptive agency administrators are to working with partners like RVCC and local collaboratives.  

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Western Week was an opportunity to listen to and spend time with RVCC partners from around the West and in Washington. Often the conversations between or after official meetings were just as valuable as the formal meetings. It’s encouraging to hear about the good work being done, and to celebrate our recent successes like the fire funding fix. Just as at the local level, building real human connections is the only way that we can work to find durable, inclusive solutions to the complex problems facing rural communities and the land.

In a time when our national political discourse can feel ugly and divisive, I’m reminded all the more of the deep value of our collaborative efforts. Communities and diverse parties coming together to do the hard work of developing mutual respect and finding common ground based on a shared understanding of problems is the essence of the democratic process. Let’s make sure we continue to model that process for our lawmakers in Washington. 

Omnibus Policy Update

On March 23, Congress finally passed the Consolidated Appropriations Act (or Omnibus) for FY 2018. A long-sought fire funding fix was included within the Omnibus, as well as a few forest management policy changes and a two-year extension of Secure Rural Schools funding. In addition, the Omnibus carried funding increases for many programs that RVCC supports, putting us in a better position to advocate for stable funding moving into the next fiscal year. 

RVCC is pleased to see a bipartisan, broadly supported solution to fire funding after years of work on the issue. These changes should help to ensure more stable budgets in programs that proactively work to reduce conditions that result in uncharacteristically severe wildfire. We look forward to working with Congress as they begin to craft the FY 2019 budget and we will continue to communicate the value of the many important programs our partners rely on.


Fire Funding Fix
The Consolidated Appropriations Act included a comprehensive fire funding fix, formally called the Wildfire and Disaster Funding Adjustment, found in Division O of the Act. The wildfire funding fix locks in fire suppression budgets at the FY 2015 10-year average ($1.011 billion for USFS; $384 million for DOI) and allows agencies to pay additional suppression costs under a disaster cap. The disaster cap starts at $2.25 billion and incrementally increases to $2.95 billion by FY 2027. 


This is a 10-year agreement, beginning in FY 2020 and running through FY 2027. Before FY 2020, fire suppression will follow the current funding process, although an additional $500 million for suppression was allocated for FY 2018 and is expected for FY 2019 as well.


Importantly, this agreement does not allow agencies to access disaster funds indiscriminately. Rather, agencies must make a budget request for both the baseline FY 2015 funding level and forecasted excess need to be paid under the disaster cap. Should costs exceed this estimate, Congress will need to approve the use of additional funds under the disaster cap. Furthermore, the agreement does not formally end the practice of “fire borrowing,” which could still occur in the event that suppression costs exceed the disaster cap. For reference, the cost of the FY 2017 wildfire season exceeded $2 billion. 


Forest Management Changes
A number of forest management changes were also included in Division O of the Omnibus. These include new Categorical Exclusions (CEs), extended stewardship contracts, changed rules for Endangered Species Act consultation (related to the Ninth Circuit Cottonwood decision), and inclusion of road work in the Good Neighbor Authority.


Categorical Exclusions: The Act establishes new 3,000 acre Categorical Exclusions for hazardous fuels reduction projects in areas already designated as at-risk for insects and disease under the 2014 Farm Bill. This CE also includes a provision requiring that it either be used in the Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI) or only in high-risk areas outside of the WUI (Condition Classes 2 or 3 in Fire Regime Groups I, II, or II). The new CEs, like previous Healthy Forest Restoration Act CEs, require a collaborative process be used. 


Stewardship Contracting: The Act extends the maximum duration of stewardship contracts to 20 years. It also includes a new preference for contractors that promote an innovative use of forest products, including cross-laminated timber. The Omnibus also changes cancellation ceilings by allowing them to be obligated in stages, ameliorating the burden of carrying the entire cancellation ceiling in a single annual budget. 


Consultation: In response to the Ninth Circuit Cottonwood decision, the Act addresses existing land management and Endangered Species Act consultation. Newly listed species will no longer require an immediate revision of a land management plan for specific projects to move forward. Rather, agencies will have 5 years to revise existing plans to reflect the new listing, and projects are permitted within that time frame, although they are halted after five years if the plan revision is not complete. Changes to consultation requirements are also applied to Bureau of Land Management O&C lands, but not to other Department of Interior lands.
Good Neighbor: The Omnibus amends the Good Neighbor Authority to include road reconstruction, repair, and restoration in the list of permitted activities. 


Secure Rural Schools
The 2018 Omnibus includes a 2-year reauthorization of the Secure Rural Schools program (SRS), which retroactively covers FY 2017 and current FY 2018. Funding levels for FY 2017 are set at 95 percent of FY 2015 and FY 2018 is set at 95 percent of FY 2017.  An important change to SRS is the inclusion of language allowing counties to use funds to pay for law enforcement patrols, a move that should help counties pay for costs incurred through search and rescue operations on federal land. 


FY2018 Appropriations
An increased budget cap in the Omnibus resulted in small increases or level funding for programs of interest to RVCC. Overall, the Forest Service received a modest budget increase of $338 million (about 5.7%) over FY 2017. 


Many Forest Service branches received increased budgets, including Research and Development (up $8.5 million), State and Private Forestry (up $106.6 million), and the National Forest System (up $410.4 million). These increases mask some reorganizations within organizations, particularly Hazardous Fuels moving to the NFS branch (see below). The Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program received flat funding relative to FY 2017 and the continuing resolution for FY 2018, staying at $40 million. The Forest Products line item received a slight decrease in funding (down $1.8 million). Look for the RVCC Appropriations position paper being distributed for sign-on the second week in April for a line-by-line breakdown.


The Omnibus also reorganized some programs within the Forest Service, including moving National Fire Capacity and Rural Fire Capacity to State and Private Forests, and moving Hazardous Fuels to the National Forest System. The Omnibus does not block broader USDA reorganization, which has been proposed by the Secretary of Agriculture. The Secretary has proposed removing the position of Undersecretary for Rural Development, as well as moving the Natural Resource Conservation Service to the Farm Production and Conservation mission area.


The Farm Bill Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) are both funded at full mandatory levels, which represents an increase over FY 2017 and FY 2018 continuing resolution levels. This also means the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) will receive full funding, as it derives funding from both CSP and EQIP. The Rural Energy Assistance Program is also funded at the full mandatory level. 
 

RVCC Comments on the Forest Service's Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on NEPA Efficiencies

The Forest Service is undertaking an effort to improve its environmental analysis and decision making processes. As part of this effort, the agency published an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) proposing to "revise its National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) procedures with the goal of increasing efficiency of environmental analysis." Read the full Federal Register Notice from January 3, 2018 here.

Public comments on the proposed rulemaking were due February 2, 2018. The RVCC Leadership Team submitted comments, suggesting that avenues for improving analysis and decision making other than Rulemaking might be just as likely to gain the efficiencies the Forest Service is seeking. Some suggestions include improving the use of existing authorities, improving training, working with partners to complete analyses, and conducting more programmatic analyses. We look forward to engaging with the Forest Service on this process in the coming months.