This week, updates were made to H.R.4760 - Securing America's Future Act of 2018, which includes the Agricultural Guestworker Act. Due to the itinerant nature of forest work and the lack of definition in the current legislation, including a carve-out in the special procedures for our industry is important. The updates in this legislation address multiple agricultural concerns and are an effort to improve the legislation and broaden support. Our industries’ needs were favorably taken into account. CLICK HERE for FAQ sheet to help understand AG Act concerns and answers, you can see the language added below:
“(s) PROCEDURES FOR SPECIAL PROCEDURES INDUSTRIES.—
“(1) WORK LOCATIONS.—The Secretary of Homeland Security shall permit an employer in a special procedures industry or that engages in a forestry-related activity that does not operate at a single fixed place of employment to provide, as part of its petition, a list of places of employment, which—
“(A) may include an itinerary; and
“(B) may be subsequently amended at any time by the employer, after notice to the Secretary
Last week, FRA learned that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) intends to initiate a 12-month study of the tri-colored bat in order to decide whether this species needs to be listed pursuant to the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The action follows a 90-day review period of a petition filed by the Center for Biological Diversity and the Defenders of Wildlife arguing that listing the tri-colored bat may be warranted under the ESA. The tri-colored bat, like the northern long-eared bat (NLEB), continues to suffer population declines due to White Nose Syndrome (WNS). You will recall that FRA worked hard to achieve a generally favorable outcome on the NLEB, whereby the bat was listed as “threatened”—not “endangered”—with an accompanying 4d rule that allowed existing forest practices in the NLEB’s 39-state range to continue. A challenge has been brought by the Center for Biological Diversity on this listing and FRA is party to an action defending the Fish and Wildlife Service.
But the path forward on the tri-colored bat remains uncertain. Like the NLEB, the tri-colored bat has a broad range—spanning the Midwest all the way to the Atlantic—essentially half the country. An endangered listing with prescriptive land management directives would certainly be problematic for the forest products value chain. We will be engaging on this issue and working with our forestry and forest products industry association allies as this process unfolds, and will keep you apprised of our progress.
At a meeting this week with House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R-TX), he indicated that his committee is on track to release a draft Farm Bill and begin marking up the proposal in early April. This year’s Farm Bill is expected to be the vehicle for a number of forestry and forest product industry priorities, including the Timber Innovation Act and a federal forest management reform proposal if one is not already enacted by the end of this month in the upcoming FY 2018 budget deal. The Senate is on a bit of a slower track on writing its version of a Farm Bill, but we will continue working with our champions in the House and Senate to see that our priorities are addressed.
News of Note
Forest Service Chief Tony Tooke abruptly resigned this week. In a letter to agency staff he stated “The choice… I make today and the choice of a path for the future that is best for our employees, the Forest Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. I must also think about what is best for my family. Therefore, I have decided that what is needed right now is for me to step down as Forest Service Chief and make way for a new leader that can ensure future success for all employees and the agency.”
FRA will keep you updated as news comes out regarding a replacement.