'Good Neighbor Agreement' Aims To Speed Up Forest Maintenance Work

Jul 18, 2016

Governor Steve Bullock signed an agreement today with the U.S. Forest Service aimed at speeding up the work targeted at reducing fire danger and disease on federal land.

Just before noon on Monday, Governor Bullock stood in front of Chessman Reservoir west of Helena and signed the Good Neighbor Authority agreement, under the 2014 Farm Bill.

Now that Montana and the U.S. Forest Service have signed the agreement, the State’s Department of Natural Resources and Conservation can begin staffing the planning and research required for these projects under the National Environmental Policy Act.

U.S. Agriculture Under Secretary Robert Bonnie says this agreement speeds up the process of important forest maintenance.

"We all know about the forest health challenge; we see it all around right now. Our fire seasons are 80 days longer than they were three decades ago. Fires are burning bigger and longer and more catastrophic. So it is important for us to do the restoration so we get more natural fire regimes back into the woods."

About 22 projects are planned or in progress using Farm Bill authority around the state.

Some environmental advocacy groups in Montana are skeptical of the speed with which Farm Bill projects move through environmental review.

In 2014, Governor Bullock designated almost 5 million acres of national forest land in Montana as Priority Landscape under the Farm Bill -- that means they get less environmental review than typical federal logging or fire mitigation thinning projects. 

That year Bullock also allocated around $3.5 million in state dollars to help fund those projects. Last October Bullock announced an additional $3 million in funding.

Bullock’s Republican opponent in the gubernatorial race, Greg Gianforte, is criticizing him for not signing the Good Neighbor Agreement sooner.

In an emailed press release Gianforte said, "At least 18 other states have already entered into Good Neighbor Agreements with the U.S. Forest Service."

Bullock said during the announcement Monday that Montana has been funding this work even before the official paperwork was signed.