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Charting a course for nonfederal forests.

Congress is expected to act this year on sweeping new proposals affecting our nation's state and private forestlands. The proposals represent some of the most innovative forestry ideas to emerge in Congress in more than a decade. They have been brought together in both houses under the banner of a new Forestry Title for the 1990 farm bill.

The proposals include policies and programs to protect existing private forestlands from encroaching urban-development pressures, to encourage private forest management for multiple-resource values oriented toward long-term environmental protection and improvement, and to provide more and better-coordinated assistance to landowners from various federal, state, and local agencies. They also cover a wide variety of more traditional programs such as cooperative fire, insect, and disease protection, research and education, rural development, and international commerce in wood products.

The Senate and House versions of the Forestry Title, as I view them, are more similar than different. Though developed and packaged differently, they basically pursue the same objectives and propose the same types of policies and programs. Many of the differences relate to specific projects that have a local or regional reference, such as a Senate proposal for an agroforestry research center in the Plains states and a House proposal for a continuation of the Northern Forest Lands Study (see AMERICAN FORESTS, May/ june 1990). Such differences should not pose much problem when members from the two houses meet in conference committee to merge their titles.

Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana worked cooperatively on the Senate's Forestry Title. Their staffs met frequently with representatives from forestry and conservation organizations, including the American Forestry Association, over a four-month period to develop these proposals. The aim was to design constructive proposals that could gain widespread support. Leahy and Lugar, respectively chairman and ranking minority member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, brought great credibility to this process and generated significant interest in a Forestry Title.

Out of this process came the Forest Stewardship Act of 1990 (S. 2427), which became the centerpiece of the Senate's Forestry Title. At its introduction on April 5, Leahy stated, "The Forest Stewardship Act challenges the eight million private forest owners-who manage 482 million acres of forest covered by 200 billion trees-is-to sustain and protect those forests for the future."

One key provision expands existing technical and financial assistance programs for nonindustrial private forest landowners to encourage activities beyond traditional timber management, such as fish and wildlife management, windbreak and shelterbelt establishment, and forest wetlands restoration. Another creates a Forest Legacy Program that would use easements to protect private forestlands with unique ecological resources from conversion to alternative land uses.

In the House, Representative Harold Volkmer of Missouri, chairman of the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Forests, Family Farms, and Energy, led the efforts to develop a Forestry Title. It is expected to become part of the Food and Agriculture Resources Act of 1990 (H.R. 3950) introduced by Agriculture Committee Chairman Kika de la Garza as the markup vehicle for the farm bill.

Volkmer's subcommittee and staff worked internally for about a month on the title. For the most part, they incorporated state and private forestry initiatives that had already received favorable subcommittee consideration, such as the Forest Stewardship Assistance Act (H.R. 3454), the Urban and Community Forestry Act (H.R. 2144), and the National Fire Forces Mobilization Act (H.R. 3955). The title also included assistance for rural tree planting and care, and an America the Beautiful foundation similar to the one in President Bush's budget proposals (see AMERICAN FORESTS, May/June 1990).

At the subcommittee's markup of this title on April 18, Volkmer noted that "over 50 percent of this nation's commercial forestland is in nonindustrial private ownership, yet we provide relatively small amounts of assistance for the management of these lands." He said that the Forestry Title would help assure that these lands contribute more to satisfying the nation's timber-supply needs and also provide better care for nontimber resources.

I first heard about the proposal for a Forestry Title last fall. Senate and House Agriculture Committee staff members began discussing it as a means of enhancing the image of forestry within the context of the farm bill. They saw a significant opportunity since interest in state and private forestry was surging just in time for the 1990 farm bill debate, a legislative exercise that occurs only once every five years.

The underlying reason for the increased interest was growing public awareness and concern about environmental issues such as global warming, tropical deforestation, biodiversity, clean air, and clean water. This concern is reflected most clearly in President Bush's America the Beautiful program, which proposes to plant one billion additional trees a year for the next 10 years on state and private lands to address mounting public concerns about the buildup of atmospheric carbon dioxide" and leave an environmental legacy for future generations.

Senator Leahy also stressed environmental and ecological concerns in his Forestry Title proposals. In a January 23, 1990, speech to the U.S. Forest Service's regional supervisors and directors, he recognized the threat that acid rain poses to forests and the importance of urban forests in the communities where three-quarters of the nation's population live.

He also discussed the concept of coordinated regional planning to preserve and manage all forestlands, and cited the Northern Forest Lands Study as a model of cooperation among federal, state, and local agencies, and private citizens.

He told top Forest Service officials that one of the agency's most important considerations in charting its future directions should be an increasing role in nonfederal forestlands. "We all know that the Forest Service's basic charge is to oversee federal forestlands," said Leahy, "but the problems that face our nation's forests know no political boundaries or private property lines. "

Another reason for the increased interest in state and private forestry is growing concern about future timber supplies. The current timber-supply crisis in the Pacific Northwest, revolving around spotted-owl and old-growth forest-management issues, is a symptom of increasing pressure on national forests and other federal lands to both produce timber and protect environmental values (see "Minnesota Turnabout" on page 22). The controversy prompted Congress to look seriously at opportunities to improve timber management on private lands as a means of reducing pressure on federal lands for timber production.

The Forest Service has been proposing this shift in emphasis in its long-term planning effort, the Resources Planning Act Program, but the crisis in the Pacific Northwest brought the issue into focus for Congress.

Farm bills are the means by which Congress revisits agricultural policies and programs every five years, to renew and update them. The most recent, the Food Security Act of 1985, is a massive and complex bill that includes 17 major titles, mostly dealing with agricultural commodities such as dairy products, wheat, feed grains, and soybeans. According to Food and Fiber, an authoritative newsletter on agricultural policy, the 1990 farm bill is the most complicated yet, "with new and different political pressures converging on members of Congress."

Forestry has played a small part in past farm bills. It appeared in only one subtitle of the 1985 Food Security Act-the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) within the Conservation Title. Though CRP is an important state and private forestry initiative that has resulted in nearly 2.2 million acres of tree planting on highly erodible crop and pasture lands since then, it is relatively insignificant in the broad scheme of the farm bill.

AFA Executive Vice President Neil Sampson says the farm bill is a popular legislative vehicle because "it is virtually assured of getting onto Congress' extremely busy agenda and receiving action." That is why the 1990 farm bill presents an attractive opportunity for state and private forestry advocates. In a typical year, most proposals would be unable to gain the attention of Congress on their own, but in a farm bill year and a part of a broad Forestry Title, their chances improve significantly.

The Forestry Title was generally expected to encompass a wide range of state and private forestry concerns. At the outset, however, it was far from clear how many legislative proposals would be included. In January 1990, it appeared that the title's scope might be limited, and that a number of other state and private forestry initiatives might remain separate. But as the title built momentum and time in the session grew shorter, many of the other proposals were joined with it.

And new proposals continued to be introduced late into the process to take advantage of the opportunity. As one staff person told me last March, "State and private forestry is so hot that everyone wants a piece of the action. "

The strategies adopted by advocates of new urban-and community-forestry legislation illustrate the tremendous amount of maneuvering that went on with respect to the Forestry Title. Urban and community forestry falls within the realm of state and private forestry and would logically be included in a comprehensive Forestry Title. In 1989, however, urban and community forestry generated significant congressional interest in its own right.

One bill (H.R. 2144), introduced by Congressman Jim Jontz of Indiana, passed the House in November. A similar urban-forestry proposal passed the Senate in November as part of the Global Climate Chang Prevention Act (S. 1610) introduced by Senators Leahy and Lugar. The enthusiasm that this created encouraged congressional members and staff to try to pass urban-forestry legislation quickly rather than wait for the Forestry Title. They developed a strategy to pass it as part of global-warming legislation, before the farm bill debate began. The strategy, however, did not work.

In January 1990, President Bush announced his America the Beautiful program, which included a significant tree-planting campaign for urban and community areas, as well as rural areas. The White House wanted to pass this initiative independently as the President's program. This further complicated the picture.

We then had several urban- and community-forestry initiatives and several strategies for passing them. Presently, the House bill has become part of its Forestry Title, the Senate proposal has become part of the Senate's Research Title of the farm bill, and the President's initiative is in negotiation between the White House and Congress as to whether it will be considered separately or as part of the Forestry Title.

Senator Wyche Fowler of Georgia adopted a Forestry Title strategy that kept a lot of people guessing. As chairman of the Agriculture Committee's Subcommittee on Conservation and Forestry, Fowler is an important player in forestry. He coordinated his efforts to some degree with those of Senators Leahy and Lugar. However, it was also known that he was concerned about a regional emphasis in the Forestry Title proposals-particularly an easement program based on the Northern Forest Lands Study-and wanted to make sure that the South's interests were well represented.

After much behind-the-scenes staff work, Fowler finally introduced his Timber Research, Education, and Enhancement Act (S. 2463) on the day before the Forestry Title was considered by the Agriculture Committee. It provided the language for the research, education, and international trade sections in the Forestry Title.

The momentum behind the Forestry Title created a lot of excitement about prospects for positive new state and private legislation, but it also created a lot of confusion. Even those of us in Washington who deal with forestry legislation on a day-to-day basis had difficulty keeping track of the rapidly changing events.

At one meeting between Senate staff members and representatives of various conservation groups, former Forest Service Chief Max Peterson, currently executive vice president of the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, asked, "We count about eight bills in the Senate related to state and private forestry-how do they all come together in a Forestry Title?"

As I pointed out in the March 7 issue of AFA's Resource Hotline, there are risks in all of this activity. "The multitude of bills might disperse the energies of the forestry community, leaving us in disarray as a political force," I wrote. "Worse yet, it might create factions competing for the passage of different bills." That statement anticipated a later controversy that took place over some of the more innovative and far-reaching proposals.

In October 1989, Senate staff members asked AFA to convene a working meeting of representatives from forestry and conservation organizations to develop some initial ideas for a Forestry Title. Among the ideas from this meeting, two emerged as potential new forest-policy tools.

One was to offer federal cost-sharing to private forest landowners for a broader range of forestry and conservation practices, such as establishing windbreaks and shelterbelts, improving fish and wildlife habitat, and restoring wetlands, as well as producing timber. The other idea was to have the federal government work with state and local agencies and nonprofit private organizations, such as land trusts, to acquire long-term conservation easements from private forestland owners to ensure that their lands are not converted to other uses.

These ideas became key provisions of the Senate's Forest Stewardship Act. They were refined through a series of working meetings between Senate staff and representatives of forestry and conservation organizations. Despite the staff's efforts to build consensus, however, controversy began to stir over these provisions as the bill's introduction became imminent. Several organizations pulled out of the process. They argued that, if passed, the new cost-share and easement programs would become very expensive and compete with existing forestry programs for scarce federal dollars. In essence, they would threaten to reduce federal spending on national-forest programs.

When the Senate staff asked whether AFA would continue to support the proposals, Neil Sampson said, "We understand the concern, but these are some of the most constructive proposals that we have seen in years, and we believe they should be set before Congress for its consideration."

AFA initiated a joint letter with 10 other conservation organizations to convey to Congress the broad support for these proposals in the environmental community. Appreciative Senate staff members later told us that this letter helped significantly in generating a favor able reception for the proposals.

On April 20, the Senate Agriculture Committee unanimously approved a Forestry Title as part of its farm bill. The House Agriculture Committee is expected to pass its title soon. Cost will be a major factor during final consideration, since significantly increased funding for new programs in state and private forestry flies in the face of budget constraints imposed by Gramm-Rudman-Hollings deficit reduction. However, even President Bush proposed-and the Office of Management and Budget approved-an additional $175 million for a new tree-planting initiative. That roughly doubles the total budget for state and private forestry for each of the last two years.

As we go to press, the Senate and House agriculture committees are in the midst of a marathon schedule of markups on their farm bills, aiming for final versions by the end of May. Both houses hope to take floor action by June, and to put a final bill on the President's desk by August 1. That bill is expected to include significant new initiatives for state and private forestry.
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Copyright 1990, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:new Forestry Title for 1990 farm bill
Author:Gray, Gerald J.
Publication:American Forests
Date:Jul 1, 1990
Previous Article:The woodman cometh.
Next Article:Minnesota turnabout.

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