As We See It.... Give thanks for the Farm Bill

President Obama signed into law on February 7, 2014 The Agricultural Act of 2014 better known as the Farm Bill. The Senate had passed it a few days earlier by a 68-32 vote with bipartisan support. The Act contains numerous forestry provisions that are important to our industry. Most would agree that the forestry provisions in this Farm Bill are some of the best we’ve seen in recent memory. It was encouraging to see that the two sides could put partisan politics aside and come together to pass a Farm Bill that should be very beneficial to our industry.

Of the numerous forestry provisions in the bill, arguably none are higher profile or has the potential to have a greater impact on our industry than the Forest Roads Provision. It will preserve the treatment of forest roads and forest management as “non-point sources” subject to state derived Best Management Practices under the Clean Water Act. More importantly it will provide legal and economic certainty by codifying the EPA’s long standing policy that specified silvicultural activities do not require a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit. This means that for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, that forestry activities should continue to use state developed Best Management Practices (BMP’s) as it has successfully done for the past 38 years under the CWA.

While it appears the issue is now resolved, the language in the legislation does leave the EPA the authority to take measures regarding these activities if future circumstances demonstrate the need to address adverse impacts to water quality caused by point source discharges of storm water from silvicultural activities.

This has been a long and tedious road with numerous groups and organizations from across the country working together to find a solution to this problem. With this success comes responsibility. There has been considerable time and effort on the part of many to get this issue resolved and we surely wouldn’t want to do anything to jeopardize it. I’m sure there will be groups out there that will have us “under a microscope”, so we all need to do our part to protect the quality of our waters. We can do this by being diligent in applying BMP’s to all activities on our logging jobs. It took a lot of work to get this resolved and will take the effort of all of us not to lose it.

Other key forestry provisions in the Farm Bill include:

  1. Permanent reauthorization of stewardship contracting authority
  2. Authorizes Categorical Exclusions up to 3,000 acres for disease and insect infestations
  3. Authorizes Good Neighbor Authority
  4. Authorizes designation by description and designation by prescription as valid methods of designation for timber sales.
  5. Includes forest products within the labeling and procurement preferences of the USDA’s “bio based” program.
  6. Full PILT funding payments to counties and schools for twelve months.
  7. Expands Healthy Forest Restoration Act authorities to streamline projects in “critical areas” that have been identified as facing forest health threats.
  8. Reaffirms the projects conducted under Categorical Exclusions should not be subject to Administrative Appeals.
  9. Fire liability provisions in stewardship contracts will now be the same as in timber sale contracts.
  10. Governors are given greater authority in the identification of critical areas for CE’s on national forest lands.

I would encourage all of you to thank your legislators for their work and support of the pro forestry provisions being included in the Farm Bill. It seems we’re quicker to give a “kick in the back side” than to give a pat on the back but here’s a case where we should show them that we appreciate their support of the timber industry.

Until next time, LOG SAFE

Brian Nelson is the current President of the American Loggers Council and he and his brother David and father Marvin own and operate Marvin Nelson Forest Products, Inc. based out of Cornell, Michigan.

The American Loggers Council is a non-profit 501(c) (6) corporation representing professional timber harvesters in 30 states across the US. For more information, visit their web site at or contact their office at 409-625-0206.