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Farm Bill advancing forest health

Making up approximately 39 percent of Idaho’s land, forests have an important role in our quality of life and economy in Idaho. Environmentally, our forests are central to air and water quality, wildlife habitat, and they are resources for recreation. Economically, they support communities through wood and paper products jobs and recreation dollars. We must ensure that federal forest policy keeps up with this sector, and the enacted Farm Bill makes progress. 

It often goes unrecognized that the Farm Bill covers important policy that stretches far beyond just agriculture commodity support.  One relevant example is the Forestry Title of the bill. The enacted 2014 Farm Bill contains forest resource provisions that assist with the conservation, restoration and production of forest lands. 

The Farm Bill included a new law called the Silviculture Regulatory Consistency Act, which I joined Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) in introducing in the Senate. This law codifies the Environmental Protection Agency’s silviculture rule recognizing that water quality impacts from forest management and forest roads are most effectively regulated by states as non-point sources through Best Management Practices. The bipartisan legislation would protect federal, state, county, tribal and private forest roads from costly permit requirements or other point source regulation along with litigation expenses and citizen suit liability. The provision preserves jobs, recreational access and working forests. 

In addition to this improvement, the Farm Bill contained a number of other provisions to advance forest health.  I worked to include stewardship contracting authority, which provides another tool for federal land managers to carry out forest stewardship projects and avoid costly and time-consuming lawsuits. Additionally, Good Neighbor authority was obtained that expands the federal government’s ability to partner with state foresters on restoration projects, including bark beetle treatments, across state-federal boundaries. 

The Farm Bill also contained provisions to streamline permitting requirements for projects to improve the health of our forests while meeting several restrictions. This provision is already seeing movement. Idaho Governor Butch Otter proposed, and the U.S. Forest Service approved, 50 appropriate treatment areas totaling 1.8 million acres of forest in Idaho. The Forest Service must now design projects that address susceptibility to insect infestations or disease in these areas. The projects must stay within a 3,000 acre limit, so only a few areas will get expedited treatment. But, it is a start.

While improvements to federal forest policy were achieved in this Farm Bill, we must continue to find ways to implement further market-based reforms that create an environment for growth, eliminate unnecessary obstacles for producers and better enable America’s small businesses to compete, increase jobs and grow our economy. 

The best way to manage our natural resources is through working together to advance locally-driven, collaborative solutions. Federal forest policy must support these efforts. As work continues to address wildfire budgeting, invasive pests and other issues affecting the health of our forests, many of these Farm Bill enacted provisions are helping ensure the tools are in place to improve the health and production of our forest lands. 

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