Bennet's Forest Health Bills Included in Senate Farm Bill

Bill Includes Bennet-Introduced Measures to Streamline Forest Insect and Disease Treatments, Reauthorize Stewardship Contracting

Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet welcomed the inclusion of two bills to improve forest health in a new draft of the Farm Bill draft unveiled by the Senate Agriculture Committee today. Bennet introduced both measures earlier this year and worked with the Committee to have them included in the comprehensive long-term Farm Bill. The Committee is expected to begin consideration of the bill early next week.

“Colorado’s forests, like many across the country, have suffered from the effects of a warming climate and persistent drought conditions. Last summer’s devastating wildfires demonstrated the importance of actively managing our impaired and overgrown forests,” Bennet said. “The inclusion of these two measures in the underlying Farm Bill will help the Forest Service and local businesses maintain healthy forests and reduce the risk of wildfires; all while respecting our wilderness areas and existing agency plans.”

Bennet’s National Forest Insect and Disease Treatment Act, which is cosponsored by Senators Mark Udall (D-CO), Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Max Baucus (D-MT), would create a program to designate new national forest acreage suffering from insect and disease epidemics for expedited treatments. The treatments that would be carried out under the authorities provided in the Healthy Forest Restoration Act (HFRA) of 2003. The Agriculture Secretary, at the request of state officials, would designate at least one subwatershed on at least one national forest in each state that is experiencing these forest health challenges.

Areas treated through the pilot program would prioritize the preservation of old-growth and large trees, if possible, as well as wilderness areas, while still promoting forests that are resistant to insect and disease damage.

Also included in the larger Farm Bill is Bennet’s Permanent Stewardship Contracting Authority Act, also cosponsored by Udall and Baucus, which would permanently reauthorize nationwide Stewardship Contracting authority for the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. The contracts support public-private partnerships that create Colorado jobs, reduce fuel loads on public lands and allow the private sector to turn the problem of excess biomass into profit.

The bill also contains the Sodsaver Prairie Protection Act, a bill Bennet helped introduce last month, which would modify crop insurance premium assistance for insured crops grown on native sod converted to cropland. This provision is projected to save taxpayers $200 million over 10 years, and would encourage conservation of grasslands that pheasants, ducks, and other wildlife use as a habitat.

Bennet is the Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Subcommittee on Forestry, Conservation and Natural Resources, whose jurisdiction includes the policies that manage all 193 million acres of public lands controlled by the United States Forest Service.