WASHINGTON– U.S. Senators John Boozman (R-AR) and Michael Bennet (D-CO) introduced legislation to help address housing needs and provide new opportunities for growth in rural communities. The Forest Service Flexible Partnerships Act of 2017 would allow local entities to collaborate with the U.S. Forest Service to use existing, underutilized facilities or land to address local needs. In return, the Forest Service would be authorized to receive in-kind forms of compensation, such as facility improvements and restoration, to address the growing maintenance backlog, or enable the shared use of renovated facilities.
“Allowing the Forest Service to efficiently use the resources in rural Arkansas will improve its ability to address the needs of communities and encourage private sector participation,” Boozman said. “This will provide economic opportunities and growth for rural communities, as well as enable the Forest Service to be better stewards of public resources.”
“The Forest Service is an important partner to counties and towns across Colorado,” Bennet said. “This legislation builds on this relationship by enabling the Forest Service to work with local entities to invest in and help solve challenges in rural communities. At the same time, it will provide tools for the Forest Service to more efficiently and effectively manage federal property.”
Currently, the Forest Service is unable to lease administrative sites, such as storage buildings, or vacant parcels outside of forest boundaries, even if they are unneeded or only partially used. This measure would expand upon authorities provided by the Forest Service Facility Realignment and Enhancement Act (FSFREA), which expired in 2016, to provide greater flexibility for the Forest Service to lease sites in exchange for construction, maintenance, or the shared use of the renovated facilities. Throughout the process, the Forest Service would be required to consult with local and state officials to identify and propose sites eligible for leasing.
The development of new federal-local partnerships across National Forests in Arkansas and across the country will provide opportunities for growth in rural communities and support Forest Service management objectives that will better serve the public.