Farm Bill Amendments Threaten Hoosier National Forest and Endangered Species

Hoosier National Forest

Update: A victory for now — U.S. House rejects Farm Bill reauthorization

On May 18th, the U.S. House of Representatives rejected H.R. 2, the Farm Bill reauthorization, by a vote of 198-213.   The bill was controversial for a variety of reasons, including its attacks on national forests and endangered species (described in more detail below).

The House may again consider a Farm Bill proposal, and the U.S Senate is expected to take up the Farm Bill in June.  Indiana Senator Joe Donnelly will be a key figure in the Senate’s Farm Bill debate, as a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee.

Learn more about how you can take action below!


Background: 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 includes 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 — 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.

Take Action:

Contact Senators Joe Donnelly and Todd Young today and urge them to support a bipartisan 2018 Farm Bill that invests robustly in conservation and rejects controversial and damaging amendments that would harm our national forests and endangered wildlife.


Contact your member of the House of Representatives and urge him or her to oppose both the extreme federal forest provisions, and the damaging poisoned pollinators provision, if included in any House Farm Bill version that follows the unsuccessful H.R. 2.

Find contact information for Senators Donnelly and Young, and your member of the House, here.