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Forest Policy Update

June 24, 2013
Author: Suz-Anne Kinney
This past week in Washington was a challenging one as far as forest policy goes.  The House of Representatives focused on the farm bill, and the Senate worked on an immigration reform package, but neither effort resulted in progress on issues important to forest landowners.

On Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed an amendment to the farm bill that specifies that forest roads are non-point sources of pollution and therefore not subject to permitting requirements. The amendment, the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act, was introduced by Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA) and Kurt Schrader (D-OR)and became part of the final bill, a win for the industry.

The celebration was short-lived, however. On Thursday, the final farm bill came up for a vote and was defeated by a vote of 195-234, 23 votes shy of the 218 votes needed to pass legislation in the House. The reason for the bill’s failure was a disagreement between Democrats and Republicans over cuts to the food stamp program. Many Democrats refused to vote for the bill because the cuts were too steep and many Republicans refused because the cuts weren’t deep enough.

Many believe this is the last work the House will do on a farm bill this year. The current extension of the 2008 farm bill expires on September 30, and Congress will need to act in some way before this deadline. (It should be noted that food stamp benefits are permanent, and therefore they will not disappear on that date).

Even if the farm bill does not make a reappearance on the House stage this year, it may not mean the end for forest roads legislation. The Silviculture Regulatory Consistency Act (H.R. 2026), which was introduced on May 16, may still come up for a vote this year.

Another option is that, since the Senate has already passed a farm bill, the House could send members to conference without a bill just as they did with the highway bill last year. If a final compromise bill could be agreed upon in committee, however, both houses of Congress would still need to vote on the bill before it could be sent to the President for his signature. The food stamp disagreement may raise its head once again at this point, as the President has vowed to veto any bill that cuts food stamp benefits significantly.

The other major debate in Washington this week happened in the Senate, which worked on an immigration reform bill. As part of the discussion, Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) introduced an amendment that would require additional bureaucratic red tape from reforestation contractors who rely on the H-2B guestworker visa program for workers to hand plant trees. The amendment was approved and has now become a part of the bill that will be voted on in the Senate. While this is bad news for forest landowners, if House action on the farm bill is any indication, the House will not be able to pull together the votes required to pass the bill.

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