June 27th, 2012 by

The Farm Bill benefits farms as well as forests. Credit: NRCS

I’ve mentioned the Farm Bill in a previous post, talking about its significance for forests and conservation program funding. The comprehensive bill also determines national policies for trade, rural development, research and many other affairs under the authority of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The current bill passed in 2007 to begin in fiscal year 2008. Now, halfway through its fifth year, the bill’s expiration date is quickly approaching. Congress has been working to get a new version together this year; ideally before the election takes over the agenda.

Despite the challenges of a partisan and stagnant Congress, several groups have helped move the Farm Bill forward. For example, American Forests — as part of the Forests in the Farm Bill Coalition — advocated that the Farm Bill prioritize issues like increasing forest research opportunities, combating invasive species, and strengthening forest conservation programs. The coalition distributed a list of forest priorities and letters to the House and Senate Agriculture committees to ensure that forests have a voice in the Farm Bill discussion.

The Senate passed their version on Thursday last week and the House plans begin their drafting process soon after it returns to session on July 11. In the weeks leading up to the Senate vote, we tracked several amendments to the bill. We supported some and opposed others. The main effort was geared towards making Senators aware of the harmful amendments so they would not vote for them. Here are the ones we opposed:

  • Amendment 2313, from Senator Mike Lee (R-UT), would eliminate the Forest Legacy Program, a voluntary grant program of the U.S. Forest Service that helps states acquire or purchase conservation easements for threatened forest lands, wetlands and wildlife habitats. Many of these privately owned lands would otherwise be lost to development.
  • Amendment 2314, also from Lee, would repeal the Conservation Stewardship Program and Conservation Reserve Program which provide economic incentives for landowners to implement conservation practices on their land.
  • Amendment 2353, from Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), would repeal two critical Natural Resources Conservation Service programs: the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and Conservation Stewardship Program. Both programs have been critical means for providing financial and technical assistance to landowners that want to implement conservation practices on their land.
  • Amendment 2291, also from Coburn, would repeal the International Forestry Program, which deals with trade issues and prevention of invasive species.
  • Amendment 2292, also from Coburn, would repeal the Urban and Community Forestry Program which helps reforest urban areas and create green space.

In the voting process, the first two amendments were voted against and the last three were not even brought up for vote. Passing the Farm Bill and voting against amendments that threaten conservation programs is a big win for the forest conservation community!