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The Healthy Forests Initiative and Healthy Forests Restoration Act
Interim Field Guide

Title IV—Insect Infestations and Related Diseases

This title focuses primarily on developing an accelerated program of basic and applied research, development, and technology transfer to combat infestations by forest-damaging insects and associated diseases. The act notes the need for cooperation with colleges and universities, State agencies, and private landowners to carry out the program. Although healthier forests should be less susceptible to wildland fire, this title emphasizes methods to prevent and suppress infestations of insects and related diseases, utilization options for infested trees, and restoration of forest ecosystems.

In Section 402 of the HFRA, applied silvicultural assessment means “any vegetative or other treatment carried out for information gathering and research purposes.” Applied silvicultural assessment includes timber harvesting, thinning, prescribed burning, pruning, and any combination of those activities. Although applied treatments—including new insect attractants—are not specifically listed, they also will be of interest. Eight specific forest-damaging insects are listed, including: southern pine beetle, mountain pine beetle, spruce bark beetle, gypsy moth, hemlock wooly adelgid, emerald ash borer, red oak borer, and white oak borer. To address other species that might become serious forest pests, the title includes the language “and such other insects as may be identified by the Secretary.” The term Secretary refers to the USDA and DOI. Both departments are covered by Title IV.

Accelerated Information Gathering

Section 403 of the HFRA establishes an accelerated program to:

  • Plan, conduct, and promote comprehensive and systematic information gathering on forest-damaging insects and associated diseases, including an evaluation of several factors:

    • Infestation prevention and suppression methods

    • Effects of infestations and associated disease interactions on forest ecosystems —Efforts to restore forest ecosystems

    • Utilization options for infested trees

    • Models to predict the occurrence, distribution, and impact of outbreaks of forest-damaging insects and associated diseases

  • Help resource managers develop treatments and strategies to improve forest health and reduce the susceptibility of forest ecosystems to severe infestations of forest-damaging insects and associated diseases on Federal, State, and private land

  • Disseminate the results of the information gathering, treatments, and strategies

These activities will be conducted under the auspices of both the Secretary of Agriculture, acting through the USDA Forest Service for NFS land, and the Secretary of the Interior, acting through appropriate offices of the U.S. Geological Survey for Federal land administered by the DOI, in cooperation with colleges; universities; Federal, State, and local agencies; and private and industrial landowners.

Applied Silvicultural Assessments

Section 404 provides for information gathering and research. The language provides for field studies, or applied silvicultural assessments,on Federal land that is “at risk of infestation by, or is infested with, forest-damaging insects.” Within the USDA Forest Service, the applied silvicultural assessments may be conducted under the category of administrative studies (FSM 1991), research studies (FSM 4072.3), or special pest management projects (FSM 3440; FSH 3409.11, chapter 50). All three options provide the opportunity for collaboration among USDA Forest Service Research and Development, National Forest System, and State and Private Forestry. Within the U.S. Geological Survey, the applied silvicultural assessments occur under the auspices of research studies.

Each applied silvicultural assessment should be covered by a study plan, whether the assessment is a research study, administrative study, or special pest management project. Research personnel should be involved in study plan development, in any case. Table 3 includes the references for further information on the specific types of studies.

Table 3—References for research study plans, administrative studies,
and special pest management plans.
Agency Research
study plans
Special pest-management projects
USDA FS FSM 4072.3 FSM 1991.05 FSH 3409.11
chapter 50
USGS Department Manual, part 305, chapter 4    

Each silvicultural assessment authorized under this title must be peer reviewed by “scientific experts,” including non-Federal experts. Existing peer review processes may be used. Peer review is not specified under FSM 1991 for administrative studies. However, peer review is required to use HFRA authorities. Table 4 includes references for peer review of study plans for research studies.

Table 4—References for peer review of study plans for research studies.
Agency Peer review references
USDA FS FSM 4072.3
USGS Draft (9/17/03) Department Manual, part 305, chapter 5 (Scientific Review)

Peer Review Guidelines: http://biology.usgs.gov/pubs/brdpeer.htm

Section 404 carries a requirement for public notice and comment and, “where significant interest is expressed,” for multiparty monitoring under Section 102(g)(5) of the HFRA. Persons using this authority must provide public notice of each proposed applied silvicultural assessment. For guidance on public notice and comment within the USDA Forest Service, refer to FSH 1909.15—Environmental Policy and Procedures Handbook, chapter 11: Conduct Scoping.

This section includes a provision for a categorical exclusion for certain applied silvicultural assessment and research treatments, with a limit of 1,000 acres for an assessment or treatment. This provision is the title’s major new authority. The assessment or research treatments may be categorically excluded from documentation in an EIS or EA under NEPA with the provisions that:

  • The assessments or research treatments shall not be in an area that is adjacent to another area that is categorically excluded and is being treated with similar methods

  • The assessments or research treatments shall be subject to the extraordinary circumstances procedures (40 CFR 1508.4)

  • The total number of acres categorically excluded under Section 104(d) shall not exceed 250,000

  • No additional findings are required to determine whether an assessment project, either individually or cumulatively, has a significant effect on the environment

Tracking acres under this title will be a joint effort for USDA Forest Service Research and Development and the U.S. Geological Survey.

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