Why the Farm Bill Matter for Trees

Washington, DC (August 13, 2013) – Why is the Farm Bill important for urban trees advocates? It’s often confusing to learn that legislative provisions for the major federal urban forestry program—the Urban and Community Forestry (U&CF) Program of the U.S. Forest Service—are included in the Farm Bill. Dr. Gerry Gray, ACTrees Policy Consultant, explains how this happened, and why it’s important for your organization and all urban forestry advocates to pay attention to the Farm Bill.

By Dr. Gerry Gray

A recent Congressional Research Service report, “What is the Farm Bill?” describes it as follows:

“The farm bill is an omnibus, multi-year piece of authorizing legislation that governs an array of agricultural and food programs. Although agricultural policies sometimes are created and changed by freestanding legislation or as part of other major laws, the farm bill provides a predictable opportunity for policymakers to comprehensively and periodically address agricultural and food issues. The farm bill is renewed about every five years.”

Since forestry historically has been associated with agriculture, the House and Senate Agriculture Committees have had significant jurisdiction over forestry issues. The Agriculture Committees have focused on Forest Service Research and State and Private Forestry programs, which include the U&CF Program as well as cost-share and technical assistance programs for private forest landowners and rural communities.

While many agriculture programs need to be reauthorized periodically through the Farm Bill, nearly all forestry programs authorized through previous Farm Bills have permanent legislative authorities. The U&CF Program, for example, was established with a permanent legislative authority in Section 9 of the Cooperative Forestry Assistance Act, which passed as part of the 1990 Farm Bill. The U&CF Program also has an open funding authority based on “such sums as may be necessary” language. Given this broad funding authority, the key place for urban forestry advocates to focus their funding efforts is the annual Interior Appropriations bill rather than the Farm Bill.

The Farm Bill is best seen as a potential opportunity, as well as a threat, for U&CF. As a “must pass” bill for Congress, the Farm Bill is an attractive vehicle for attaching other bills and provisions. It’s important for U&CF advocates to identify new authorities they’d like to see for the U&CF Program and to strategize on how they might include those authorities in the next Farm Bill. On the other hand, they must also be wary of possible changes through the Farm Bill that would adversely impact the U&CF Program, such as proposals to reduce or eliminate existing program or funding authorities.

To learn more about the Farm Bill and forestry programs in the Farm Bill here are two helpful reports from the Congressional Research Service:

Ross Gorte, Forestry in Next Farm Bill
Renee Johnson and Jim Monke, What is the Farm Bill?