The Western Governors Association has sent a letter to the leaders of the conference committee deliberating on the farm bill outlining the unique concerns of western states.
“The farm bill’s conservation and forestry titles are of great significance to western governors and to the region’s agricultural producers. Western states include 75 percent of our national forest and rangeland ecosystems, and their responsible management represents a significant gubernatorial concern,” the association said in the letter.
The farm bill’s conservation programs address a wide range of western issues including threatened and endangered species, wildlife habitat, water quality, groundwater recharge, drought response, soil health, air quality and wildfire resistance, the letter said.
The forestry title authorizes the tools upon which western governors rely to promote responsible land-management practices, and both titles promote the viability of the livestock industry — an essential component of the West’s agricultural base, they said.
“Grazing management and targeted grazing are tools to achieve restoration and other land-management goals including habitat improvement, drought and wildfire mitigation and resilience, water quality and watershed health, effective soil-health management and invasive species control,” the letter said.
Provisions in the conservation and forestry titles are critical for protecting wildlife habitat, managing for wildfires and restoration after wildfires and to help state, federal and private land managers address needs on the ground, Troy Timmons, WGA’s director of strategic initiatives, said.
“There’s an awful lot in this farm bill that is important for western agriculture and western land management,” he said.
The governors also support reauthorization of the Conservation Reserve Program and full funding of conservation programs.
Most are aimed at private landowners, but others — such as the Regional Conservation Partnership and State and Private Forest Landscape Restoration programs — are in partnership with federal agencies. In addition the governors support codifying the Working Lands for Wildlife program.
“Western governors support collaborative, targeted, voluntary conservation to address locally identified natural resource concerns for farm, rangeland and forest resources on private and public lands,” they said.
They also support the rural-development provisions that support sustainability and economic opportunities and increase rural communities’ ability to compete economically, Timmons said.
“The farm bill has a lot of good things that governors can leverage to try to address some of those concerns,” he said.
One such issue is funding for broadband connectivity in rural and remote areas. Lack of access has left many rural businesses at a competitive disadvantage and citizens without access to telework, telemedicine and distance learning opportunities, the governors said.
The governors also support a strong safety net that maintains funding for key commodity, crop insurance, research, energy and export-promotion programs.