Washington, DC (February 5, 2014) – With the Senate’s final approval yesterday, Congress passed a new $956.4 billion Farm Bill, which President Obama is expected to sign on Friday. The massive 959-page bill sets policies for a broad range of agriculture, nutrition, conservation and forestry programs for the next five years.
Good news for urban trees. The Forest Service’s Urban and Community Forestry Program fared well in the compromise Farm Bill, retaining its existing legislative and funding authorities, which had been threatened in a previous House version of the bill.
The 2014 Farm Bill, officially called the Agricultural Act of 2014 (HR 2642), represents a rare bipartisan agreement on major legislation, following on the heels of the FY 2014 Consolidated Appropriations Act a couple of weeks ago.
After three years of challenging politics on the Farm Bill in a divided Congress, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) and Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) led efforts over the past few months to develop a compromise between House and Senate versions of the legislation and move the compromise through both chambers. The House passed the bill last week by a vote of 251-166 and the Senate approved it yesterday by a vote of 68-32.
According to Congressional leaders, the bill achieves two major goals—reducing the deficit by $23 billion while providing the most significant reform of American agriculture in decades. The bill aims to streamline conservation programs through the consolidation of 23 existing programs into 13 programs while strengthening tools to protect and conserve land, water and wildlife. Funding cuts in conservation programs are expected to reduce the deficit by $6 billion.
While the Forest Service’s Urban and Community Forestry Program fared well in the compromise Farm Bill, a number of other Forest Service programs were not as fortunate. The Forest Land Enhancement Program and the Watershed Forestry Assistance Program, for example, were repealed in the Forestry Title of the legislation (Title VIII).
The Farm Bill’s Forestry Title also contains another important provision for urban and community forestry. Section 8301 calls on the Forest Service to revise its current strategic plan for forest inventory and analysis and to include an urban forest assessment as one of the elements of the plan, as follows:
“(2) Implement an annualized inventory of trees in urban settings, including the status and trends of trees and forests, and assessments of their ecosystem services, values, health, and risk to pests and diseases.”
ACTrees is pleased with Congress’ bipartisan passage of a new Farm Bill that continues to support the Forest Service’s Urban and Community Forestry Program and provides new direction for strengthening annual assessments of the status and trends in urban forests across the nation.