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Chairwoman Stabenow Opening Statement at Hearing on Conservation and Forestry Programs in the Next Farm Bill

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Chairwoman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, Today released the following opening statement at a hearing titled “Farm Bill 2023: Conservation and Forestry Programs.”  Live video of the hearing is available here.

I call this hearing of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry to order.  

I welcome our witnesses – Chief Cosby, Administrator Ducheneaux, and Associate Chief Coleman.  Thank you all for being here today. 

This Committee has a very important job ahead of us – passing the next Farm Bill with strong, bipartisan support, and it’s our job to make sure it supports our farmers, our families, and our environment. 

Our farmers have a critical job to do as well – growing food, fiber and fuel for our country and our world while also protecting our land and water.  This is nothing new for those of us in Michigan, where protecting the Great Lakes is part of our DNA.   

The Farm Bill provides important conservation and forestry tools that help farmers and foresters keep our water clean, improve the resiliency of our land, and protect habitat for wildlife.   And importantly, they are the kind of tools our farmers use, want, and need.  But right now, many of our conservation programs are oversubscribed – some as much as 3-1! 

With recent, new investments in programs such as EQIP and the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, which I created in the 2014 Farm Bill, we are finally able to address the backlog of farmers who want to be able to use these important conservation tools. 

The Farm Bill is a jobs bill – and conservation and forestry investments are no exception.  Conservation and forestry provide economic opportunities and jobs across our country in rural and urban communities.    

In 2018, for the first time, we recognized urban agriculture in a significant way.  My Urban Agriculture Act laid the groundwork to establish the Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production, which is housed in the Natural Resources Conservation Service.  I am pleased to see all of the work USDA has done to integrate and accelerate urban agriculture. 

In the 2018 Farm Bill, this Committee made great strides to give the Forest Service additional tools to manage our national forests.  We provided for expedited treatment of forests impacted by insects and disease, built on the successful Good Neighbor Authority to create efficient partnerships between state and Federal foresters, and established competitive programs to fund source water protection and landscape scale restoration projects.   

These investments and many others in the 2018 Farm Bill will aid in overall economic growth and development in rural areas, combat climate change, and increase the health and protection of wildlife habitats.  Without healthy forests, air, water, and other natural resources suffer. 

As we support farmers’ efforts to address emerging challenges across the country - from algae blooms in the Great Lakes to drought in the West, voluntary conservation tools are more important than ever. 

Matching public dollars with private investment was a success in the 2018 Farm Bill and the impact of these projects is seen in all 50 states.  The interest and involvement from the private sector have increased since 2018, and I look forward to hearing today how conservation programs are helping farmers succeed, as well as bringing new investments and partners into this work.  

I’m sure we will hear about the disastrous wildfires that are hurting our western states.  Since forest health and wildfire threats do not end at the Federal property line, I want to hear about the Forest Service’s plan to aggressively treat 50 million acres of national, state, tribal, and private forest land.  I want to hear more about how the Forest Service will continue to coordinate restoration efforts across ownership boundaries while engaging on creating fire adapted communities.    

As we look toward the 2023 Farm Bill, we must continue to support smart forestry and conservation practices, recognizing the importance of the investments we have made, and looking ahead to the needs of the future.  

I have letters from stakeholder groups with over 700 signatures supporting our robust investments in conservation and forestry.  I ask unanimous consent that these letters be entered into the record.

Without objection, so ordered.

I also want to acknowledge the chair and ranking member of the Conservation, Climate, Forestry, and Natural Resources Subcommittee, Senator Bennet and Senator Marshall.  I know both of them will be strong partners on these topics as we move forward.

With that, I’ll turn to Ranking Member Boozman for any opening remarks he’d like to make.