By: Kent Jacobson, Timber Business Program consultant, Division of Forestry, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR)
The 2014 Farm Bill enacted by Congress authorized Good Neighbor Authority (GNA) for the USDA Forest Service and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. The GNA allows the Forest Service to enter into agreements or contracts with states that enable the states to perform forest, rangeland and watershed restoration services on national forest system lands that add to ongoing projects. The GNA can also improve efficiencies by working across state and federal boundaries on similar projects.
While helping to achieve and maintain conditions called for in the Forest Plan
for each national forest, projects also provide additional wood fiber to Minnesota's vital forest products industry. A portion of the receipts from the timber sales will reimburse the state for its costs to do the work. Remaining funds are available to conduct additional restoration activities on the forest.
There are two agreements under the GNA that have been completed for use in Minnesota: the master and supplemental project agreements. The completed master agreement between Minnesota's Chippewa and Superior national forests and the Minnesota DNR follows similar agreements signed by the national forests in Michigan and Wisconsin.
These agreements are among the first signed GNA master agreements in the country. The master agreement is a broad pact allowing the state to supplement the work being done by Forest Service staff on the national forests. The supplemental project agreement (SPA) is the document that contains specific project details to be completed on the Chippewa and Superior national forests.
A range of forest and watershed restoration work may be accomplished under GNA, including: project planning and environmental analysis; project preparation work such as treatment area design, layout, and sale preparation; fuel reduction, commercial timber removal and reforestation; road decommissioning; and noxious weed treatment. Some road reconstruction and maintenance is also allowed. Both these agreements expire in 10 years.
In Minnesota last year, the initial SPA covered two pilot projects consisting of scaled commercial timber sale projects on 100 acres in each national forest. Forestry staff from both the Minnesota DNR and the USDA Forest Service worked collaboratively to design the projects, which then allowed the DNR to work independently to appraise federal timber within the national forests. The result will be the state administering from start to finish two DNR timber sales on federal lands. The proceeds will be used to reimburse the state for its work and to fund various forest restoration projects within each forest.
The SPA is designed to be annually updated and revised as needed. So for 2016, DNR and Forest Service forestry teams will meet this summer to select a new set of timber sale projects for work under the GNA. The team will also consider long-term scope and use of GNA on each national forest. Landscape-level project planning and implementation across the mixed forest land ownership patterns in Minnesota will be discussed with a broader set of stakeholders. With this approach, both agencies can provide multiple benefits across more acres for the good of Minnesota's forests.