Guidance for Identification of Nonindustrial Private Forest Land (NIPF), 81871-81872 [2020-27703]


[Federal Register Volume 85, Number 243 (Thursday, December 17, 2020)]
[Pages 81871-81872]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office []
[FR Doc No: 2020-27703]



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 and search for Docket ID NRCS-2020-0009. Follow the 
online instructions for submitting comments.
    All comments will be available on

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Martha Joseph; (814) 203-5562; 
[email protected].



    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 
Secretary, that:
     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 (, 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 
as follows:
    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

[[Page 81872]]

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.

NIPF Guidance

    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 
States; and
    (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 
Technical Committee.
    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.

Kevin Norton
Acting Chief, Natural Resources Conservation Service.
[FR Doc. 2020-27703 Filed 12-15-20; 8:45 am]