USFS outlines operations during COVID-19 pandemic

Issue Date: April 1, 2020
By Christine Souza

As the country shelters in place to enhance protections from the virus that causes COVID-19, the U.S. Forest Service has transitioned to virtual operations, with varying effects on those who rely on the agency's services, including ranchers holding range permits for grazing and timber operators.

Forestry has been identified federally as an essential service, and USFS Pacific Southwest Region 5, which oversees national forests in California, has moved to providing virtual services except for "mission critical work" such as law enforcement, wildfire suppression and other responsibilities.

Regarding grazing permit holders, California Farm Bureau Federation Federal Policy consultant Erin Huston explained that "all permittee meetings will happen online or virtually, and the Forest Service is not saying that turnout will be delayed, so that is good."

In a memorandum, Region 5 provided guidance on how grazing permits will be administered during the COVID-19 crisis. The document noted that as ranchers prepare for turnout of their livestock, range permittees who must meet with Forest Service personnel prior to turnout must call their Forest Service office to arrange for annual meetings to be conducted remotely. To streamline administration of grazing permits, USFS staff asked permittees to pay their grazing bills online, without delay.

"On the forestry side, since all of the offices have gone virtual, we are concerned about the potential inability to complete required environmental documentation and surveys, which is likely to have an impact on timber sales," Huston said.

Licensed timber operator Zane Peterson owns Peterson Timber, a logging company based in Redding that purchases USFS timber permits and does salvage logging and fuel-reduction work. He also delivers harvested logs to sawmills and harvests timber for private landowners. He said in-person pre-meetings and inspections of timber harvest jobs have halted new Forest Service projects.

"The biggest effect that COVID-19 is having on us is the Forest Service not putting contracts out when they're supposed to," said Peterson, who chairs the CFBF Forestry, Fish and Wildlife, and Public Lands Committee. "They have more logging and fuel reduction jobs that are supposed to be bid, but they're not because they can't do the bid openings and the pre-meetings right now. This means new projects are being held up; I know of at least four projects that are being held off right now because of COVID-19."

USFS Region 5 added that timber surveys, permit inspections, prescribed fires, scientific surveys and forest health monitoring related to critical research and forest health may be affected temporarily or even permanently with loss in annual data collection.

For timber and vegetation-management projects, the agency said field work will focus on managing vegetation, restoring ecosystems, reducing hazards and maintaining forest health, and that meetings will be limited to the minimum levels necessary to complete tasks.

Related to new ignitions for prescribed fire on national forest lands, Region 5 announced suspension of all prescribed fire activities until further notice due to COVID-19, to prevent any effects from smoke that might worsen conditions for those who are at risk, while reducing exposure for employees and creating social distancing.

Information about USFS Region 5 activities is available at https://www.fs.usda.gov/main/r5/home.

(Christine Souza is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at csouza@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.




Special Reports

Features

Series

Special Issues

Special Sections