Guidance for Identification of Nonindustrial Private Forest Land (NIPF), 81871-81872 [2020-27703]
[Federal Register Volume 85, Number 243 (Thursday, December 17, 2020)]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2020-27703]
DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
Natural Resources Conservation Service
[Docket No. NRCS-2020-0009]
Guidance for Identification of Nonindustrial Private Forest Land
AGENCY: Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), U.S. Department
of Agriculture (USDA).
ACTION: Notice and request for comments.
SUMMARY: NRCS is requesting input about guidance it intends to provide
its agency staff concerning the identification of NIPF for NRCS
conservation programs. NRCS welcomes input from the public prior to
NRCS incorporating the guidance into the NRCS conservation program
manual. This guidance will be used by staff to identify NIPF and
relates to eligibility for certain NRCS programs.
DATES: Comment Date: We will consider comments received by January 19,
ADDRESSES: We invite you to submit comments on this notice. You may
submit comments through the:
Federal eRulemaking Portal: Go to http://www.regulations.gov and search for Docket ID NRCS-2020-0009. Follow the
online instructions for submitting comments.
All comments will be available on http://www.regulations.gov.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Martha Joseph; (814) 203-5562;
NRCS is one of the USDA agencies that identifies nonindustrial
private forest land (NIPF) for program enrollment. In particular, NRCS
identifies NIPF for enrollment in the Agricultural Conservation
Easement Program (ACEP), the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP),
the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), and the Regional
Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP).
Identification for NIPF enrollment under these NRCS programs is
based upon section 1201(18) of the Food Security Act of 1985 (the 1985
Farm Bill), which defines NIPF as rural land, as determined by the
Has existing tree cover or is suitable for growing trees;
Is owned by any nonindustrial private individual, group,
association, corporation, Indian Tribe, or other private legal entity
that has definitive decision-making authority over the land.
NRCS recently attempted to clarify how it identifies NIPF for
program enrollment in the fiscal years 2020 and 2021 RCPP Announcement
for Program Funding (https://www.grants.gov/web/grants/view-opportunity.html?oppId=328578), by summarizing language from the USDA
Forest Service's Forest Inventory & Analysis (FIA) glossary. NRCS used
text that specified NIPF does not encompass industrial lands but the
attempted clarification resulted in further confusion. After becoming
aware of the confusion, the NRCS Acting Chief identified during a House
Agriculture Committee hearing, on October 1, 2020, that NRCS would
welcome input from stakeholders about how NRCS identifies NIPF, which
is the purpose of this notice.
Identification of Land as NIPF
NRCS identifies NIPF as defined by the 1985 Farm Bill and program
regulations. To make the identification, NRCS examines the components
of the definition to determine if the land can be identified as NIPF,
as explained below. In its identification, NRCS must also ensure that
such identification is consistent with how other USDA agencies identify
NIPF under identical or similar program definitions.
In order to determine whether land offered for enrollment meets
land eligibility criteria, NRCS must identify whether the land is
``rural land'' that ``has existing tree cover or is suitable for
growing trees'' and whether the land is owned by ``a nonindustrial
private landowner.'' NRCS has long identified land use in accordance
with its National Resources Inventory (NRI). The NRI provides updated
information about the status, condition, and trends of land, soil,
water, and related resources on U.S. non-Federal lands, and identifies
the four primary land types (forest, rangeland, cropland, and pasture)
of non-Federal rural land. In particular, the NRI defines forest land
Forest land. A land cover/use category that is at least 10 percent
stocked by single-stemmed woody species of any size that will be at
least 4 meters (13 feet) tall at maturity. Also included is land
bearing evidence of natural regeneration of tree cover (cut over forest
or abandoned farmland) and not currently developed for non-forest use.
Ten percent stocked, when viewed from a vertical direction, equates to
an areal canopy cover of leaves and branches of 25 percent or greater.
The minimum area for classification as forest land is 1 acre, and the
area must be at least 100 feet wide. See Glossary, 2017 National
Resources Inventory, p. 8-3.
The NRI identification of forest land is consistent with how both
the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) and Forest Service identify forest
land for NIPF purposes, with some slight differences such as the Forest
Service requires a canopy cover or crown cover of only 10 percent and a
minimum area that is at least 120 feet wide.
The landowner component of NIPF identification is more complex as
it relates to identification of whether the forest land is owned by a
``nonindustrial private individual, group, association, corporation,
Indian [T]ribe, or other private legal entity that has definitive
decision-making authority over the land.'' FSA specifies in its
Emergency Forest Restoration Program that owners or lessees principally
engaged in the primary processing of raw wood products are excluded
from the definition of an owner of nonindustrial private forest. NRCS
refers to this criterion as the ``mill status'' criterion (that is,
whether or not the applicant owns a wood-processing facility on their
The Forest Service identifies industrial versus nonindustrial
private forest landowners for its FIA with reference to several factors
that reflect current trends in the forestry industry. In particular,
the Forest Service
similarly identifies NIPF landowners with respect to their mill status
but are also collecting information about whether corporate owners are
``industrial'' irrespective of mill status based on size of the
landowner's forest holdings. Based on a series of analyses the Forest
Service conducted, they looked at owner behavior as a function of size
of holdings. The Forest Service identified that holdings greater than
45,000 acres are associated with large corporate forest owners and that
this acreage threshold provides a quantitative measure that assists
with identification of industrial landowners in the FIA database.
Specifically, the Forest Service analysis observed:
Many of the largest industrial forest owners, including many
established timber companies, can be easily identified based on
expert knowledge. However, many cannot be so readily identified,
particularly many holding companies and some TIMOs/REITs [timberland
investment management organizations and real estate investment
trusts]. Therefore, the most practical way to define large corporate
forest owners using consistent methodology is to determine an
acreage threshold above which a corporate forest owner will be
considered to be a large corporate owner.\1\
\1\ Caputo, Jesse; Butler, Brett; Hartsell, Andy. 2017. How
large is large? Identifying large corporate ownerships in FIA
datasets. Res. Pap. NRS-29. Newtown Square, PA: U.S. Department of
Agriculture, Forest Service, Northern Research Station. P. 1.
Therefore, from a practical manner in which to identify NIPF
landowners consistently with both FSA and the Forest Service, NRCS
intends to clarify in its conservation program manual the following
Nonindustrial private landowner means a private individual, group,
association, corporation, Indian Tribe, or other private entity. NRCS
will identify someone as a nonindustrial private landowner if they:
(1)(i) Own fewer than 45,000 acres of forest land in the United
(ii) Do not own or operate an industrial mill for the primary
processing of raw wood products as determined by NRCS in consultation
with the State Technical Committees; or
(2) Meet criteria established for a nonindustrial private landowner
by NRCS in a State in consultation the State Technical Committee.
NRCS believes that item (1)(i) will ensure consistency with the
Forest Service identification of owners of industrial private forest
lands under its FIA. NRCS believes that item (1)(ii) will ensure
continued consistency with both the Forest Service and FSA with respect
to the role that the primary processing of raw wood products serves for
identification of industrial landowners. However, NRCS is aware that
with the advent of portable mills common among family forestry
operations, a strict mill criterion may inadvertently exclude
assistance to the very operations that conservation assistance for NIPF
lands is intended to reach. Therefore, NRCS intends to incorporate in
its guidance that such determinations about whether a mill is of
industrial scale should be made in light of more localized criteria
identified by the State Conservationist, in consultation with the State
NRCS believes that incorporation of item (2) will ensure that NRCS
national guidance does not supersede more localized expert knowledge
that may exist for identification of NIPF landowners. In particular,
NRCS believes that it should coordinate at the State level with FSA,
Forest Service, the State Forester, and other members of the State
Technical Committee in circumstances where the national criteria do not
encompass adequately the nature of NIPF operations within the State.
Public Comments Requested
NRCS requests public comment on these technical criteria for the
identification of NIPF eligibility for its conservation programs. In
particular, NRCS seeks input about how these criteria may either
exclude lands that should be considered NIPF or include lands that
should not be considered NIPF. NRCS also welcomes input about what
alternative criteria should be considered in its technical guidance.
The guidance for identification of NIPF will be adopted after the
close of the 30-day period, and after consideration of all comments.
Acting Chief, Natural Resources Conservation Service.
[FR Doc. 2020-27703 Filed 12-15-20; 8:45 am]
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