New Farm Bill Could Damage Public Lands

The farm bill is, as usual, enormous.  The recently introduced Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018 will set agricultural policy for the United States.  It includes provisions on commodities, agricultural loans, crop insurance, dairy insurance, wetland conservation, food aid to other countries, agricultural trade, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, what used to be called food stamps), rural health, broadband access for rural areas, agricultural research, etc. etc. etc.

It has been renewed every few years for decades.  The 2018 Act is intended to set policy until 2023.  If Congress can’t manage to agree on the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2016 before the current law expires, it will probably do some sort of extension until they can agree.

It is the kind of bill that will somehow manage to lumber through Congress because it covers so much and serves so many constituencies.  Those who are indifferent about, for instance, broadband access may care deeply about agricultural trade. Those indifferent about wetland conservation may be very interested on crop insurance policy. So many people depend upon something that is contained in sch a broad bill that a bill of some sort is sure to pass.  For advocates, the trick is to make sure that the policy that affects your particular interest is as you wish it to be.

The United States Forest Service is a part of the United States Department of Agriculture.  Because of this, the farm bill has provisions that set policy on how our public lands, particularly National Forests, are managed.

There are three provisions of this farm bill that are of interest to those who are interested in forest management policy:

  • Section 8302: Creates a loophole in the “Roadless Rule” to allowing logging in roadless areas. The 2001 Roadless Rule establishes prohibitions on road construction, road reconstruction, and timber harvesting on 58.5 million acres of inventoried roadless areas on National Forest System lands. The intent of the 2001 Roadless Rule is to provide lasting protection for inventoried roadless areas within the National Forest System in the context of multiple-use management.In West Virginia this could impact places like Seneca Creek, Tea Creek, Cheat Mountain, and Trout Pond.
  • Section 8303: Allows the Department of Agriculture to “self-consult” on the Endangered Species Act without including the Fish and Wildlife Service. Under present law, the Forest Service/Department of Agriculture must consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service to determine the impact of logging on endangered species. Under this section, it would be allowed to “self-consult” (ask itself what effect a project it wants to allow would have on endangered species).
  • Section 8311-8321: Expands many National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) categorical exclusions to disturbances of 6,000 acres (almost 9 square miles) or less. NEPA is the federal law which requires the government to consider the environmental impact of federal actions.  The study of the environmental impact includes a public process, including the right to review and comment upon a draft study.  Categorical exclusions are exceptions to the Act; they are instances where the requirements of the Act do not apply.  These sections would mean that forest management and logging projects less than that are not subject to the same environmental review and public comment.

Although the bill was recently introduced, the breadth of its constituencies will make it move quickly.  Anyone who wants to influence the course of this legislation should contact his or her congressman soon.