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Weekly Column: Water Resources Development Act--Expanding Collaborative Partnerships In Idaho

Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo

Through collaborative processes, we can achieve workable solutions to some of the most challenging issues involving our natural resources that balance the clear need for ecological health, adhere to multiple-use principles and achieve economic vitality.  Good Neighbor Authority (GNA) plays a key part in preventing forest fires and is a prime example of what can be achieved when agencies work together to implement a shared vision of healthy, productive lands.  The Senate-passed Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) extended GNA to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to improve federal lands in Idaho.  

Congress generally enacts WRDA legislation every two years to support the Army Corps of Engineers water resource development programs and projects.  The House of Representatives passed its version of WRDA on June 8, 2022, by a vote of 384-37, before the Senate passed the bill with my support by a vote of 93-1 on July 29, 2022.  The recent WRDA legislation would authorize the Corps to carry out water resources development projects and revise civil works policies and programs of the Corps.  

Very importantly, WRDA contained language fellow U.S. Senator for Idaho Jim Risch, Governor Brad Little and I backed to establish a Good Neighbor Authority pilot project in Idaho to reduce fire risk around Corps projects.  Specifically, the legislation authorizes the Corps to carry out a pilot program to enter into GNA agreements with the Governor of Idaho to carry out forest, rangeland and watershed restoration services on federal land.  

Congressionally authorized as a pilot program in the early 2000s, GNA has since been expanded by Congress to enable the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to work with states, counties and Tribes to conduct certain projects on federal lands to achieve land management objectives.  Enactment of WRDA will enable the Corps to also use Good Neighbor Authority to create partnerships to improve the health of federal lands in Idaho is a productive step that will build on GNA successes in our great state.  

For example, a GNA program coordinated by the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests and Idaho Department of Lands (IDL) was recognized with the 2017 Regional Forester Awards.  Through the program, forest management has supported fuels reduction and watershed restoration.  

Statewide, the IDL reported the 2018 Agreement for Shared Stewardship between the state of Idaho and Regions 1 and 4 of the U.S. Forest Service “formalized interagency efforts to prioritize and expedite landscape level treatments focused on fuels reduction and improved forest, rangeland, and watershed conditions.”  The IDL detailed results of the partnerships that have enabled the treatment of 17,119 acres through 30 timber sales on four national forests in Idaho from 2016 to 2020.  GNA was also used to treat 52,406 acres through 16 botany, heritage, wildlife, hydrology, soils, fisheries and forest stand exams related projects on four national forests in Idaho during the same time period.    

WRDA supports and advances critical water infrastructure projects across the nation and right here in Idaho that include channel maintenance to improve navigation capability at the Port of Lewiston and a study to improve domestic flood control capability in the Northwest.  This reauthorization of WRDA will help facilitate commerce, promote project efficiencies and better ensure effective responses to current and future needs.


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