The Farm Bill awaiting President Obamas signature this afternoon is good news for the forestry community across America. Among other things the bill improves bio-based and green building markets for wood, increases forest owner access to conservation programs, and provides badly needed authorities to combat invasive pests and pathogens on federal lands. The bill also preserves the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) nearly four-decade-old approach to treating forest roads and other forest management activities as nonpoint sources under the Clean Water Act.
As remarkable as the outcome of the Farm Bill for forestry is the bipartisan leadership that carried it across the finish line. Members of both parties stepped forward together to do the right thing.
Take the forest roads provision, for example. In this case Republicans and Democrats stood together to defend the EPA policy under litigation attack—an unusual response to the outside observer in a sharply divided Congress.
To end the legal uncertainty, Representatives Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA) and Kurt Schrader (D-OR) and Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Mike Crapo (R-ID) agreed up front on the right policy outcome and introduced companion legislation in their respective chambers. More than one hundred of their colleagues from both chambers representing 31 states followed their lead in support.
Through a strong bipartisan coalition and with the help of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, House Appropriations Committee and House Leadership, the House Agriculture Committee welcomed consideration of the forest roads bill as an amendment to the Farm Bill on the House floor. In a strong affirmation of bipartisan support, the full House approved the provision by a voice vote—an unusual occurrence to those familiar with House process.
The House-Senate conference presented a more difficult path for the forest roads provision as both chambers approached the narrow end of the legislative funnel where sentences, phrases and punctuation receive increased scrutiny. This time a strong bipartisan coalition in the Senate stood behind the Wyden-Crapo legislation to include a modified—but still very strong—provision in the final Farm Bill. This was a rare outcome.
Since passage of the Farm Bill, many have asked how the forest roads provision survived the process. The answer is simple—bipartisan leadership. That is what produced up-front agreement on the right policy outcome, and that is what carried the provision through the legislative process. In fact, that is what secured all of the forestry provisions in the Farm Bill.
Regardless of what lies ahead in this highly political year, we in the forestry community can be grateful that, when it really mattered, forestry champions in the House and Senate rose to the occasion and showed true bipartisan leadership on behalf of our forests throughout the U.S. In the weeks and months ahead, our response to all who stepped forward should resonate loud and clear—thank you, thank you, thank you.