Issue Update

Farm Bill: Senate Appoints Conference Committee Members

On June 28, 2018, the U.S. Senate passed the 2018 Farm Bill on a strong bipartisan 86-11 vote.

On August 1, the Senate appointed Farm Bill Conference Committee members, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Senators to serve on the committee are:

  • Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan.
  • Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
  • Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark.
  • Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D.
  • Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa
  • Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.
  • Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.
  • Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio
  • Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D.

The Conference Committee is expected to begin meeting later this month.

ESA Reform Review of Activity

In the last couple of months, a number of developments have occurred on the Endangered Species Act (ESA). These developments include both regulatory and proposed legislative changes. A review of these developments is below.

Regulation

On July 24, the Department of the Interior and the Department of Commerce proposed amendments to ESA regulations for a 60-day comment period. The proposals adjust some long-standing rules and also revisit changes made by the Obama administration. These include:

  • Asking for public comments on whether economic impact data would be useful at the time of listing (though the law will continue to prohibit the consideration of economic impacts in a listing decision);
  • Restoring the pre-2016 rule that limits consideration of unoccupied areas as critical habitat to situations where there is inadequate occupied habitat;
  • Rescinding the Blanket Rule by Interior that automatically gave threatened species the same protections as endangered species
  • Amending the consultation regulations to reduce the red tape on national forest projects.

Legislation

On July 2, Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, released the ESA amendments of 2018 discussion draft. The release of the discussion draft amendments reauthorizes the ESA for the first time since its funding authorization expired in 1992. The discussion draft includes provisions that provide more authority to state agencies in the development of recovery plans for ESA species.

On July 12, members of the Western Caucus introduced nine individual bills amending the ESA on a variety of issues such as requiring the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to make available all data it uses to come to a determination of a listing. That data would be available online.

Other introduced legislation would:

  • Codify incentives that recognize voluntary conservation agreements;
  • Improve the consultation process between the USFWS and state governments;
  • Reform the petition process for listing of a species;
  • Allow the Secretary to enter into cooperative agreements to better manage species and improve habitat conservation;
  • Ensure all conservation measures being implemented will be considered prior to taking federal actions that impact a species.

FRA supports changes in the regulatory and legislative process that would streamline and “improve and modernize” the law. Changes that alter how the listing and delisting of certain species and critical habitat are done, could help resolve conflict and provide more regulatory certainty for the business community.

FRA Submits Comments on the Lake States Forest Management Bat HCP

 

Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan are seeking comment on the first three chapters of the Lake States Forest Management Bat Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP). In total, the LSFRM Bat HCP will have 8 chapters.

The HCP Steering Committee will consider submitted comments and if changes are necessary they will be incorporated into the final administrative draft of the HCP that will be submitted to the US Fish and Wildlife Service (US FWS) for review and consideration. Ultimately, the US FWS will make the final decision as to what can be included in the HCP. After the Lakes States HCP is complete, each state will, individually, apply to the US FWS for an incidental take permit and develop a Certificate of Inclusion process for covering forest management on non-state lands.

The Forest Resources Association prepared and submitted comments on the LSFM Bat HCP, chapters 1-3. These comments were endorsed and supported by the following groups:

  • Michigan Forest Products Council
  • Minnesota Forest Industries
  • Minnesota Timber Producers Association
  • Great Lakes Timber Producers Association
  • Wisconsin Paper Council
  • National Alliance of Forest Owners
  • Healthy Forests, Healthy Communities

FRA recommended that the HCP:

  • Recognize that white-nosed syndrome (WNS) as the primary threat and forest habitat is not limiting to the viability of the four bat species;
  • Recognize that the Northern Long-eared bat 4(d) rule should serve as the baseline for HCP conservation measures;
  • Recognize the benefits of Forest Certification Programs, BMPs, Forest Management Guidelines that are beneficial for wildlife the HCP should include stakeholder involvement during development of conservation measures prior to public comment. These stakeholders include private forest land owners and County land managers;
  • Include private forest roads as covered activities;
  • Recognize that normal forest management activities such as road use, herbicide application, and tree planting do not adversely affect forest dwelling bats;
  • Clarify how harvest acreage estimates will be used in determining take of bat species.
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