Good News! New Farm Bill maintains protection for national forests, endangered species and expands conservation funding

Hoosier National Forest

Update:  2018 Farm Bill Approved by Congress

 

On December 12th, the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved the Senate-House conference report on the Farm Bill, one day after the U.S. Senate had voted its approval.

This overdue reauthorization of the Farm Bill rejected virtually all of the harmful provisions that the House had sought to include in the final Farm Bill.   Instead, the Farm Bill’s Forestry Title strengthened some of the provisions related to national forests, including reauthorization and doubling of funding for the successful Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program (CFLRP) which encourages communities to work together on science-based ecosystem restoration of priority forest landscapes.   The bill also established new wilderness areas in the Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee, permanently protecting 19,556 acres of this splendid Southern Appalachian forest.

Moreover, damaging provisions to weaken the Endangered Species Act were rejected, including the “poisoned pollinators” language.

The final bill’s Conservation Title provides full funding — roughly $5 billion — for important farm conservation programs including the Conservation Reserve Program, Conservation Compliance and Sodbuster.

Jamie Williams, President, of the Wilderness Society, said,

“Thankfully, common sense prevailed and this farm bill rejects efforts to weaken protections for our national forests, including attempts to cut the public out of decisions for our public lands.  Instead, it embraces bipartisan proposals to restore forests, protect drinking water and preserve wilderness for future generations.”

Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, stated,

“We’re relieved to see a Farm Bill move forward before this Congress concludes, because every day we go without critical programs for habitat and access it creates more uncertainty for rural America. With full funding for conservation and increased funding for states to create new walk-in access for hunting and fishing, this bill is a win all around—for sportsmen and women, landowners, wildlife, water quality, and our economy.”

Background

In June 2018, the Senate Agriculture Committee adopted its bipartisan, positive Farm Bill legislation — S. 3042 — by an overwhelming vote.   Indiana Senator Joe Donnelly, a member of the committee, supported the bipartisan bill.   The final Senate bill replaced the language of HR 2, the House Farm Bill, so this is the bill that will be considered in conference committee.

HEC and our many state and national allies worked to keep the Senate Farm Bill and its Forestry title free of damaging amendments that not only threaten our magnificent national forests, including the Hoosier National Forest, as well as put endangered plants and animals at risk, but which also threaten the ultimate passage of a strong, effective Farm Bill that provides invaluable conservation assistance and funding for farmers and rural landowners.

Below is a letter to the editor that was published June 26, 2018 in the Jeffersonville News and Tribune. It was written by Jason Flickner, Lower Ohio River Waterkeeper.

“The Waterkeeper Alliance fights for our right to fishable, swimmable, and drinkable waters. As the Lower Ohio River Waterkeeper, I work to protect our Ohio River watershed, an immense, diverse system with hundreds of major and minor tributaries, and thousands of acres of backwaters, wetlands, nature preserves, and forested lands.

Unsustainable logging practices and irresponsible development destroy waterways. That is why I am encouraged by the positive Forestry Title contained in the Senate Farm Bill that is headed for a floor vote possibly this week. It preserves existing national forest laws, which protect water, wildlife, and popular recreation destinations like our Hoosier National Forest, from harmful logging and road building. It also allows the Forest Service to work with the public in protecting clean water, soil, wildlife habitat, and recreation on our national forests.

Thankfully, it bears no resemblance to the failed House bill that included partisan attacks on environmental protection, public input on forest management projects, and endangered species while prioritizing logging over clean water, recreation, and wildlife.

As a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Senator Donnelly helped put forth a bipartisan Farm Bill Forestry Title. Please join me in thanking Senator Donnelly and encouraging him and Senator Todd Young not to vote for any amendments that would eliminate environmental review of national forest management projects, hinders public participation, or attacks conservation and species protections, like the Roadless Rule, Endangered Species Act, or National Environmental Policy Act.”

 

Here’s another letter to the editor published in the Bloomington Herald-Times, written by Thomas Tokarski of Bloomington.

“Protect Our National Forests
Our National Forests are national treasures that belongs to all of us, now and for the future. Unfortunately, included in the House version of the reauthorization of the National Farm Bill
are several proposals that would seriously degrade our National Forests. We should not allow the exploitation of these treasures for the temporary monetary benefits of a few.

The House version of the Farm Bill would open up national forests for resource extraction, road building and logging, among other destructive abuses. They would degrade water quality, wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities. In addition, the House bill would severely restrict regulatory review not only by federal agencies, but also by the public. Here in Indiana,
the House Bill’s proposed changes would exempt most forest management projects within the Hoosier National Forest from review by citizens and regulatory agencies.

The Senate version of the Farm Bill passed with bipartisan support and it does not include the malignant aspects that are in the House version.

Please contact Senators Todd Young and Joe Donnelly and ask them to support only the Senate version of the Farm Bill’s Forestry Title as the bill heads into final negotiations. Our national forests need our help, now.”

About the Conservation and Forestry Titles of the Farm Bill

Besides several commodity and nutrition programs, the Farm Bill provides funding for a variety of agricultural land conservation programs intended to reduce soil erosion, pesticide runoff, and protect wildlife habitat on idle farmland.

The Farm Bill’s conservation programs are contained in Title II of the law.  The Conservation Stewardship Program and Environmental Quality Incentives Program provide incentives to implement conservation practices on working farmland.   The well-known Conservation Reserve Program (CRP)  provides cost-share and rental payments to farmers to protect highly erodible or environmentally-sensitive land that has been used for row crop production.  CRP-funded practices include reforestation planting and riparian buffer strips along waterways.   Indiana has established a companion program to CRP that expands its impact by adding state funds — known as the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program.

Conservation and environmental organizations support reauthorization of the Farm Bill, but with increased funding, program flexibility, and accountability.  We do not support amendments that weaken protection for America’s wild national forests or endangered wildlife.    Read more about the conservation community’s recommendations for the 2018 Farm Bill here.

Unfortunately, the Farm Bill has also become a target for anti-environmental amendments intended to rollback key protections for our national forests and for endangered species.

The recently defeated House version of the 2018 Farm Bill, H.R. 2, included language to exempt forest management projects in national forests, such as logging and road building – including in Indiana’s Hoosier National Forest – from public participation or environmental review now required by federal law.  H.R. 2 does this by allowing management activities covering as much as 6,000 acres to be considered “categorically exempt” from review or public involvement.  Collectively, the group of new categorical exclusions means any logging, road building, or other land disturbing projects on the Hoosier National Forest will be exempt from review, since virtually every HNF project covers less than 6,000 acres.

The House Farm Bill also included other harmful amendments – including language to eliminate a requirement that U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists – who are best qualified to evaluate impacts to endangered species – be consulted when a national forest management project might harm endangered wildlife or its habitat.

Read the letter from 120 national, regional, and state organizations opposing the federal forest provisions of H.R. 2.

Another very harmful provision included in the House Farm Bill — dubbed the “Poisoned Pollinators Provision” — would allow registration of new pesticides to go forward without review by Fish and Wildlife Service biologists for their effects on endangered species, particularly invaluable pollinators like bees and butterflies.

Here’s how Defenders of Wildlife describes this dangerous language: The Poisoned Pollinators Provision would significantly weaken protections for endangered species provided under Sections 7 and 9 of the ESA. Section 7 of the ESA requires all federal agencies to consult with the expert wildlife agencies — U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) — to ensure that their actions do not jeopardize species. Section 9 strictly prohibits any person from killing or harming an endangered animal unless they have special permission from the government to do so in a way that minimizes harm to the species. Violating this fundamental protection normally results in a criminal penalty.  In place of the ESA’s strong measures to protect endangered species under Section 7, the language in the Poisoned Pollinators Provision would allow the EPA to make unilateral, self-interested determinations regarding the impact of pesticides on threatened and endangered species, years after approving their use. And those reviews wouldn’t be required until the 2030s! The new self-consultation procedures would cut the expert federal wildlife agencies out of Section 7 consultations, waive the EPA’s duty to minimize harm to listed species caused by pesticides, and seek to prevent citizens from going to court to protect imperiled species from pesticides. Additionally, the provision would waive Section 9 liability when pesticides kill and harm species, as long as they have been registered under the new procedures of this proposed legislation.

This outcome would actually harm farmers, given that certain pesticides have been demonstrated to injure pollinators.  Neonicotinoids, a class of seed coating pesticides, have been linked to bee deaths, and what’s more, have been shown to be ineffective for their intended purpose.  Honey bees, native bees, and other pollinators provide pollination services to American farmers worth as much as $45 billion annually.  Read Purdue University’s 2017 statement about honey bees and pesticides.