Senate Farm Bill Passed- Includes Funding for Forestry and for Communities to Manage Emerald Ash Borer

Washington, DC (December 14, 2007)- After a protracted struggle, the U.S. Senate finally passed the Farm, Nutrition, and Bioenergy Act of 2007 (H.R.2419) by a vote of 79 to 14. During debate, 12 amendments to the bill were considered. None passed. Among these failed attempts were amendments by Senator Lugar (R-IN) and Senator Dorgan (D-ND), both seeking to reform agricultural payments by replacing subsidies with crop insurance and fixing income caps on payment eligibility, respectively.

Senator Dick Durbin’s bill, the Invasive Species Revolving Loan Fund, is included in the 2007 Farm Bill, which the full Senate approved. “It has been a year and a half since the first case of Emerald Ash Borer was found in Illinois. Since then, the infestation has worsened,” said Durbin. “With over 131 million ash trees in Illinois, it’s crucial that we reverse this trend. The legislation the Senate passed today will make the funds available for communities to get ahead of this problem and others caused by similar invasive species.”
Durbin’s bill, the Invasive Species Revolving Loan Fund, is designed to help municipalities defray the costs of invasive species management activities normally performed by the federal government. EAB management activities, for instance, include surveying trees, removing infested trees and replacing removed trees. The bill creates a low-interest revolving loan fund for communities for the purchase of capital equipment and replacement trees to perform duties on municipal government land within quarantine areas. Communities would have a 20-year window to repay the loan. In addition, the bill would allow states to contract with local units of government to perform invasive species management duties.
The current federal program does not reimburse municipalities for expenses related to invasive species prevention. While states are able to contract with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, for cost-sharing assistance, the funding does not reach the municipal level. States are not directed to enter into cooperative funding agreements with local governments.
There are also a number of forestry highlights in the Farm Bill passed by the Senate. They include:
* Community Forest and Open Space Conservation Program- While chairman of the Agriculture Committee, Sen. Leahy created the first Forestry Title in a Farm Bill and has crafted several forestry initiatives in the years since then. The latest is Leahy’s new Community Forest and Open Space Conservation Program in the Senate’s Farm Bill, which will provide matching funds to help local governments or nonprofit groups acquire town forests. This new program will help to protect forestlands that are economically, culturally and environmentally important to their communities.
* National Forest Priorities- The 2007 Senate Farm Bill will establish national priorities to guide federal and state efforts in private forest conservation, including: conserving and maintaining working forest landscapes for multiple uses, protecting forests from threats to forests and with forest health, and enhancing public benefits from private forests.
* Comprehensive Statewide Forest Planning- The comprehensive statewide forest planning program established in the Senate Farm Bill provides both financial and technical assistance to develop and implement a new statewide forest resource assessment and plan, to identify critical forest resources, incorporate existing forestry plans, and identify how plans connect with larger regional forestry needs.
As in the 2002 farm bill, the newly passed legislation includes a separate energy title, Title IX – Energy.
The farm bill is now headed to a Senate-House conference to work out the differences between the two versions of H.R. 2419. After the bill is conferenced and (hopefully) signed into law, it will be essential to follow the appropriations process to ensure that funding is provided to implement these important new programs.
Related Resources:
2007 Farm Bill Passes the House
Farm Bill Funding Squeeze
Farm Bill Moving Forward
Farm Bill Comments Posted by USDA
Senate Agriculture Committee
Senator Richard Durbin
Senator Patrick Leahy
Environmental and Energy Study Institute