Thursday, May 23, 2024

Farm Bill Proposals Gain Momentum


Ag Committee leaders continue spelling out their plans for the next Farm Bill 

We’re now over halfway through a one-year extension of the 2018 Farm Bill, and several years of work have already gone into making sure the next Farm Bill is a good one for fish and wildlife, as well as hunters and anglers. Behind the scenes, this work has never stopped, whether we’re talking about Ag Committee Members, Congressional staff, or the conservation community. But from the outside, deadlock, gridlock, and election year politics have made getting a bill done this year look increasingly unlikely. But optimism persists and perseverance endures. 

In the past two weeks, for the first time in a long time, we’ve seen tangible progress. Last Friday in the House, Chairman G.T. Thompson (R-Pa) put forward a summary of the bill he has scheduled for a committee markup on May 23rd. The week prior, Senate Ag Chairwoman Stabenow (D-Mich) released a detailed section-by-section breakdown of her own proposal.  

Before we get into the substance of each proposal, there are a few things to remember: 

Farm Bills must be bipartisan to become law. With Democrats controlling the Senate and a Republican majority in the House, bipartisanship will be essential. Both frameworks were produced by the Ag Committee Chair of their respective chamber, and it is not entirely clear where disagreements exist between parties or among constituencies at this point. However, we can be certain that a final farm bill will look different and contain more points of compromise than these frameworks. Thankfully, Ag Committee leadership from both parties has a long history of navigating the challenges that come with bipartisanship. 

Farm Bills are huge. All twelve titles (topic-based sections) of the Farm Bill impact hunters and anglers in one way or another, but Title II – Conservation and Title VIII – Forestry get most of our attention, and for good reason. Our review of proposals will focus on those two titles.  

More and better details will emerge with time. The information currently available is in a summary form, rather than actual bill text. As expected, we are receiving more details with time. It will be important for the TRCP and our partners to review bill text before fully forming a position. This will help ensure that any changes made will accomplish what they are intended to do. 

Negotiations will continue. Nothing in either of these publicly available proposals is set in stone. The first formal action, barring a quick schedule change in the Senate Ag Committee, will be the House Ag Committee’s markup on May 23rd. In this markup, committee members will have the opportunity to offer amendments to the Chairman’s bill, speak for or against individual provisions, and vote on whether to advance the bill to a Floor vote. Changes can also happen through Floor amendments and during a Conference Committee between the House and Senate. All of this to say, what we’re seeing in these proposals is not necessarily what will become law. 

A lot must be done in a short time. We are in an election year, and a presidential election year at that. While this will motivate some Members of Congress to show efficacy in getting a Farm Bill done, party conferences and campaigning also compress the legislative calendar. The months of May and June will be critical if we’re going to get a bill done. 

Farm Bill programs have a huge impact on hunters and anglers. Engaging in this bill is crucial, as policy and funding changes in this Farm Bill will impact fish and wildlife habitat and hunting and fishing access for the next five years and beyond. You can find explanations about how Farm Bill programs support hunters and anglers here. 

Keeping these dynamics in mind, let’s dig in. What exactly is in the proposals? How might they impact habitat, fish, wildlife, and our sporting traditions? Below, we run through a few of the key elements of the proposals from Chairman Thompson and Chairwoman Stabenow.


Chairman Thompson’s Overview 

Following the release of a broad overview on May 1, Chairman Thompson released a more detailed title by title summary of his bill on Friday, May 10. This summary includes multiple references to marker bills, or bills filed with the intent of later inclusion in the Farm Bill base text, which gives us a glimpse at what base text might look like, although we still can’t make assumptions. There are several items’ hunters and anglers will want to follow in Chairman Thompson’s proposal including:    

Reallocates Inflation Reduction Act funding for conservation programs into the Farm Bill Conservation baseline.

This is a major investment in conservation. Making this funding permanent will increase the Title II-Conservation baseline by close to 25%, the first such increase in decades. The TRCP and our partners have been calling for this throughout the Farm Bill process, and Chairman Thompson and his staff should be commended for resisting calls to repurpose these funds for non-conservation purposes. 

Creates a new Forest Conservation Easement Program. 

Depending on how it’s structured, the Forest Conservation Easement Program would streamline the process by which willing landowners can permanently protect working forests, creating and enhancing wildlife habitat while supporting sustainable timber harvest. We look forward to seeing bill text on this program and are encouraged to see it included in the Chairman’s summary. 

“Modernizes” the Conservation Reserve Program. 

The details will be very important here. The marker bill referenced in this section (H.R.8270) makes multiple positive changes to the Conservation Reserve Program, including increasing rental rates on marginal cropland, providing cost share for mid contract management, and increasing the CRP’s payment limitation. On the negative side, the bill would reduce rental payments for CRP reenrolling at the end of a contract, which could lead to lower enrollment in the long run. We still don’t know what parts of the marker will be included in the Farm Bill’s base text. 

Reauthorizes the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program. 

The Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Improvement Program is the only federal program designed to incentivize landowners to allow public hunting and fishing. The TRCP and our partners have been leading the charge to reauthorize and plus-up VPA-HIP, as was proposed in the Voluntary Public Access Improvement Act, and we are thrilled to see that Chairman Thompson’s proposal does just that. Beyond that, Chairman Thompson’s proposal states that they will “create continuous funding” for programs like VPA-HIP, which would put us in a much stronger position in future Farm Bills  

Incentivizes active forest management through public-private partnerships. 

Expanding existing authorities like the Good Neighbor Authority and Stewardship End Result Contracting enhances flexibility for our partners to increase the pace and scale of forest and watershed health restoration and wildfire risk reduction efforts. These updates are commonsense, widely supported, and will provide benefits to fish and wildlife.    


Chairwoman Stabenow’s Summary

On May 1, Chairwoman Stabenow released a section-by-section summary of her own proposal. There is currently no scheduled markup in the Senate Ag Committee, and it is likely that many of these proposals will not go into bill text exactly as they are written now. Even so, there are many provisions in this summary that hunters and anglers will be glad to see. Key provisions to watch include:  

Reallocates Inflation Reduction Act funding for conservation programs into the Farm Bill Conservation baseline and permanently authorizes those programs.

Chairwoman Stabenow was instrumental in passing the Inflation Reduction Act and making that investment permanent would be another major achievement. Permanently authorizing conservation programs puts us in a stronger position in the next Farm Bill and lessens the impact of any future Farm Bill expiration. 

Provides substantive updates to the Conservation Reserve Program.

The proposal includes multiple positive changes to the CRP, including several components of the bipartisan CRP Improvement Act, which the TRCP and partners have supported for years. The Chairwoman is also proposing to raise the acreage cap by 2 million acres and increase rental rates, improve cost-share, and provide opportunities for longer term conservation in the CRP. 

Codifies key provisions of the USDA Wyoming Big Game Initiative.

This initiative, recently expanded to Montana and Idaho, combines USDA conservation programs to ensure that working lands and public lands provide a seamless route for migrating big game like elk, mule deer, and pronghorn. Codifying these authorities ensures that this model can be applied long term and in new areas. 

Improves and funds the Water Source Protection Program.

The Water Source Protection Program provides the U.S. Forest Service with resources to work with water users to increase the pace and scale of watershed restoration efforts, including the restoration of streams and wetlands, which in turn enhances resilience to drought and wildfire and benefits fish and wildlife that depend on healthy headwaters.      

Furthers investment in nature-based solutions and better on-farm decision making.  

Most of the provisions we’ve noted also serve as nature-based climate solutions, furthering agriculture’s role in sequestering and storing carbon while delivering wildlife habitat and food security. The proposal also enhances agricultural data protection and access to help farmers and researchers know how adopting conservation practices will impact their farm’s resilience and profitability. Additionally, it provides loan guarantees to help rural private forest landowners earn and sell carbon credits on working forests.

Reauthorizes the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program at $50 million over five years.

As discussed above, VPA-HIP reauthorization is a top TRCP priority, and we appreciate the challenge of finding funding for a program without baseline in a Farm Bill. However, given the importance of VPA-HIP to hunters and anglers and bipartisan support in both chambers for increased funding, we were disappointed to see this program held flat. 


There is a long way to go before we see the impact of these proposals on the ground. The TRCP thanks House and Senate Ag Committee leadership for their work toward a bipartisan Farm Bill that supports habitat and access.

You can help. Conservation is, and should be, a shared priority regardless of party affiliation or ideology. Congress needs to hear that this is important to you. Take action here.


 

Monday, May 20, 2024

Pheasants Forever will be at The Thumb Heritage Festival June 1st.

 On Saturday, June 1st, The Clyde Historical Society and The Thumb Land Conservancy will be hosting the first Thumb Heritage Festival at the Bill Bearss Memorial Park in Clyde Township (across from the Dorsey House).  The event will start at 10:00 A.M, and end at 4:00 P.M.

The Thumb Heritage Festival is a day dedicated to the preservation and history of our area.  The goal and objectives of the day is to educate the community on the contrast of ways of yesteryear with today's way of teaching people to preserve, recycle, reuse for the sake of future generations.

The Clyde Historical Society will display history on how lumbering, out of necessity, had to clear cut the whole area for homes, farms, towns, and villages.  History and stories of the lumber barons and lumbermen who shaped our communities.

The Thumb Land Conservancy along with the St. Clair County Pheasants Forever Chapter #74 and other conservation groups will be displaying and teaching how in today's world our environment, land, lakes and rivers, and animals must be protected.  Out of necessity, these groups are the spokesmen for our environment so future generations can enjoy our area in its purest form.

The event is open to the public and are free to attend.  We hope to see you there!

PF Breaks Ground on the Port Huron State Game Area



 After several years of planning and working with the Department of Natural Resources, the St. Clair County Pheasants Forever Chapter #74 started to remove brush from an overgrown field preparing it to be planted with a diverse NWSG mix.  This seed will include a mix of tall and short grasses and a low volume of wildflower mix.  Look for future updates on this project.


Monday, April 22, 2024

PATH TO THE UPLANDS


With the official launch of the Journey to Conservation Careers (J2CC) course at

Pheasant Fest, now is the time to share the opportunity & value this course offers! Those

who complete J2CC receive a certificate of completion, PF & QF student membership,

tickets to the 2025 Pheasant Fest, an internship with PF & QF or agency partner

(dependent on availability), admittance to the virtual Conservation & College Career

Fair, and 2.3 college credits from Bellevue University. J2CC is a fantastic resource for

students to explore options that exist in the realm of conservation, gain foundational

knowledge of biology, ecology, and upland habitat. Spring is the time of growth, help us

to grow the future conservationist of tomorrow! Find out more at

https://www.pheasantsforever.org/j2cc or reach out to Levi Day at

lday@pheasantsforever.org


Hands-On Habitat month is slated for May 2024! Through a dedicated month of on-the-

ground volunteerism and habitat projects, we are once again challenging our chapters,

volunteers, and supporters to find time in May to host or participate in a project

devoted to improving upland landscapes. This is a call-to-action for all of us to put boots

on the ground, get our hands dirty, and prove that we are the sharp end of the

conservation shovel! If you have questions, reach out to Kim at

kcole@pheasantsforever.org