May 2nd, 2012 by

Credit: kevin dooley/Flickr

Every five years, Congress passes a massive piece of legislation called the Farm Bill. It serves as the primary funding source for food and agriculture policy. The current bill is set to expire in October, so the House and Senate are crafting and passing a new version prior to that deadline. The Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry passed their draft of the bill last week, sending the measure off to the Senate floor for a vote. On the other side of the Hill, the House continues to hold hearings and has yet to draft their version of the bill.

What does the Farm Bill have to do with forests? While farming regulations do make up a major part of the bill, there is also an entire section (called a “title”) dedicated to conservation programs. Conservation plays such a significant role that the 2008 Farm Bill was deemed the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act, emphasizing the importance of conservation practices for landowners and farmers. The bill’s Title II: Conservation is a major vehicle for restoration in this country; offering incentives, education, and technical assistance for farmers and landowners to incorporate conservation projects on their land.

In fact, the suite of tools in Title II make up the largest conservation program in the U.S. in terms of acreage and assistance provided. With so much at stake in one piece of legislation, conservation groups want to ensure they have a seat at the table. American Forests has been an active part of the Forests in the Farm Bill Coalition since the group first came together in preparation for the 2008 Farm Bill. The coalition brings together a diverse group of community organizers, forest landowners, industry representatives, conservation non-profits and academics who work on conservation. Their goal is to ensure that landowners and farmers are given the appropriate resources and tools to do conservation work. The group successfully advocated for conservation programs in 2008; new opportunities supporting wetland restoration, wildlife habitat recovery, reforestation, and forest disease mitigation were added to the bill.

I’ve mentioned in previous posts that the current political climate is tough, with the upcoming presidential election and federal agency budget cuts. The Senate draft includes funding cuts for conservation programs, but the result was not a total loss for conservation. These programs will still be able to function with the funding they received; it just means we have to push even more for funding increases. With the help of forest-supporting Senators to back us up and the House still mulling over the measure, it’s important that we continue the conversation to increase funding so that we can protect and restore our forests, wildlife habitats and wetlands for years to come.