Section 8204 of the Agricultural Act of 2014 directs within 60 days of enactment, the Secretary shall, if requested by the Governor, designate at least one landscape-scale area in at least one national forest as part of an insect and disease treatment program in each State that is experiencing an insect or disease epidemic. After the end of the 60-day period, the Secretary may designate additional landscape-scale areas as needed to address insect or disease threats.
On March 19, 2014, a letter from the Chief was sent to Governors of States with national forests and Puerto Rico informing them of the opportunity to request insect and disease area designations in their State to address insect and disease infestations. Requests were due from the States by April 8, 2014 (60 days from enactment). In total, thirty-six states responded to request designations.
In order to be eligible for designation, an area must meet certain requirements. Any areas designated must meet at least one of the following criteria:
- the area is experiencing declining forest health based on annual forest health surveys, or
- the area is at risk of experiencing substantially increased tree mortality over the next 15 years due to insect and disease infestation based on the National Insect and Disease Risk Map, or
- the area is in an area where hazard trees pose imminent risk to public infrastructure, health or safety.
The Forest Service evaluated the requests from each State against the required criteria using a three part process. First, areas were validated against the annual Aerial Insect & Disease Detection Surveys completed in 2013 and the composite Insect and Disease Risk as projected by the National Insect and Disease Risk Map 2013-2037. Second, if an area was not identified on either the Aerial Insect & Disease Detection Surveys or the composite Insect and Disease Risk as projected by the National Insect and Disease Risk Map, the area was further evaluated using individual risk maps for specific insects or diseases by host to determine if an area was at risk based on a particular species and host. Lastly, areas that did not meet at least one of the above criteria were evaluated to determine if hazard trees were present that posed an imminent risk to public health, infrastructure, and safety. If an area met at least one of the three criteria, it was considered eligible for designation.
In the table below, you will find the designations requested by each State and the official areas designated within that State. The Forest Service has designated approximately 46.7 million acres across the National Forest System that are either already experiencing or are at risk of experiencing insect and disease infestations. The designations exclude Wilderness and Wilderness Study Areas.
The designated areas will not immediately result in treatment, nor are the designations a commitment to treat all acres within designated areas. Designated areas will be further evaluated in an open, transparent and collaborative manner to identify potential projects that reduce the risk or extent of, or increase resilience to insect and disease infestations. Additionally, these designations do not change or exempt the Forest Service from complying with any other existing law, regulation and policy such as the National Environmental Policy Act, Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act, National Historic Preservation Act, agency Roadless Rules, and any other applicable law, regulation, and/or policy that affects the designated areas. The designations also do not come with any new funding. While the Farm Bill authorized up to $200 million dollars annually, no money has been appropriated. Any projects that are accomplished within designated areas will be funded with existing funding.
The Forest Service will continue to place priority on increasing the pace and scale of restoration. These designations will provide useful tools to plan insect and disease treatment projects more efficiently in designated areas through streamlined NEPA procedures, as we seek to increase the pace and scale of restoration across the National Forest System as a whole. These designations bolster the agency’s ability to accomplish restoration projects that not only combat insect and disease threats, but reduce the risks of catastrophic wildfire and impacts from invasive species. The Forest Service will work with States, Tribes, partners, and stakeholders to develop and implement projects in the designated areas. Collaborative approaches and early stakeholder engagement will continue, as well as involving the public in an open and transparent manner.