Bill Includes Bennet-Introduced Measures to Streamline Forest Insect and Disease Treatments, Reauthorize Stewardship Contracting, Expand Good Neighbor Forestry Agreements
The Farm Bill conference report unveiled this week includes three measures previously introduced by Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet to improve forest health. Bennet, a member of the conference committee that negotiated the final bill, worked with conferees to maintain the measures from the Senate-passed bill.
The conference report passed the House of Representatives today by a vote of 251-166. It now heads to the Senate for a final vote before it goes to the president to be signed into law.
“Colorado’s forests are part of our state’s identity, but their health has been threatened by persistent drought conditions and the effects of a warming climate,” Bennet said. “Two consecutive summers of devastating wildfires in Colorado demonstrate why we need to actively manage our impaired and overgrown forests. These measures in the Farm Bill will help both the Forest Service and local businesses maintain healthy forests and reduce the risk of wildfires.”
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 would then 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 a version of 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 final farm bill conference report also contains a version of a Bennet amendment that would reauthorize so-called “Good Neighbor” Forestry authority and expand the authority nationwide. Good neighbor agreements allow state forestry departments to carry out limited forest health treatments on adjacent federal lands.
The bill also contains a version of the Sodsaver Prairie Protection Act, a bill Bennet helped introduce last year, 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.