WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, & Forestry, today released the following opening statement – as prepared for delivery – at the hearing entitled “Conservation and Forestry: Perspectives on the Past and Future Direction for the 2018 Farm Bill”
Stabenow’s statement, as prepared for delivery, follows:
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding this important hearing.
As the world population continues to grow, American farmers and ranchers are growing more food with fewer resources, while also protecting our land and water.
This is nothing new for those of us from Michigan, where protecting the Great Lakes is a part of our DNA.
With 70 percent of U.S. land privately owned, our farmers, ranchers, and foresters are the original conservationists and our first responders to sustain the health and diversity of our natural resources.
However, they should not have to bear this responsibility alone. The Farm Bill provides important conservation and forestry tools that help farmers and foresters keep our water clean, improve the resiliency of our landscapes, and protect habitat for wildlife.
In addition to these important environmental benefits, conservation and forestry also create economic opportunities. I’ve always said that the Farm Bill is a jobs bill—and conservation and forestry is no exception.
The 2014 Farm Bill made historic investments in voluntary conservation methods that maintain healthy soils to boost productivity and increase a farmer’s bottom line.
The Farm Bill also supports farmers who open up their farmland to be used as wildlife habitat for hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation. These activities pour $100 billion into the U.S. economy and support over 700,000 jobs in small towns and rural communities.
Matching public conservation dollars with private funding was another success of the 2014 Farm Bill. The Regional Conservation Partnership Program is a new and innovative approach to voluntary conservation, which has leveraged more than $1.2 billion in private funding and brought together over 2,000 diverse partners to address local conservation goals.
The impact of these projects can be seen in all 50 states. Nearly half of the partnership projects awarded are addressing water quality – something that’s very important to the economy and way of life in Michigan, where people come from near and far to visit our Great Lakes.
Our forest lands are equally important to our economy. From loggers and bio-manufacturers, to hunters and hikers, the health of our forests impacts everyone. Many rural communities depend on forests as the foundation of their economy.
In the 2014 Farm Bill, we made great strides to give the Forest Service new tools to manage our national forests.
The Good Neighbor Authority has been one of the biggest accomplishments of the bill, allowing state foresters to manage forest lands more efficiently by preparing federal timber sales and partnering on restoration projects.
In addition, the last Farm Bill allowed expedited treatment of forests ravaged by insects and disease. To date, 38 governors have worked with USDA and Forest Service Chief Tidwell, who is here with us today, to designate over 55 million acres for expedited restoration.
As we look to the 2018 Farm Bill, we must continue to support smart forestry and conservation practices that are helping the environment and our economy.
I’m sure we will hear about the broken Forest Service budget – an issue that most people from both sides of the aisle agree we ought to fix. It’ll also be important to continue to coordinate restoration efforts across ownership boundaries because forest health challenges don’t end at the federal property line.
Additionally, voluntary conservation must continue to be a priority in this Farm Bill. As we support farmers’ efforts to address emerging challenges across the country – from algae blooms in Lake Erie to drought in the Dakotas, conservation tools are more important than ever.
The 2014 Farm Bill also included a linchpin agreement to protect highly erodible soils and wetlands. According to USDA, more than 99% of farmers are meeting this requirement which benefits taxpayers, our environment, and our farmers. Maintaining this agreement will be critical.
Mr. Chairman, I welcome this opportunity to discuss the important ways the conservation and forestry titles protect our land and water, and contribute to our economy and way of life.