New step in Biden administration plan to limit old-growth logging

The government will protect millions of acres of old-growth forest on public lands from threats that include wildfire, insects, disease, and climate change with an updated management plan, said Biden administration officials on Thursday. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the U.S. Forest Service would employ “science-based management and conservation strategies that can be adapted to unique local circumstances on national forests.”

Swampbuster rule is unconstitutional, says Iowa lawsuit

The Agriculture Department violates the Constitution by barring farmers from its support programs if they plant crops on wetlands, said an Iowa lawsuit that challenges the four-decade-old Swampbuster rule. The Pacific Legal Foundation, which won a Supreme Court decision last May that narrowed federal protection of wetlands, is one of three conservative law firms representing the plaintiff, CTM Holdings LLC.

USDA launches Working Lands Climate Corps

The new Working Lands Climate Corps will train young adults for careers in climate-smart agriculture and conservation, said Agriculture deputy secretary Xochitl Torres Small on Monday. She announced the initiative at the National Association of Conservation Districts convention in San Diego, with the NACD, Americorps, and The Corps Network as partners.

USDA announces plan to conserve old-growth forests

In a first-of-its-kind step, the Agriculture Department proposed to amend all of its 128 forest management plans to conserve and steward old-growth forests in its 193 million acres of national forests and grasslands on Tuesday. "This will provide consistent direction across the Forest Service on how to conserve and restore old-growth forest conditions across the nation," said the White House.

Grasslands surge to No. 1 in Conservation Reserve enrollment

The skyrocketing popularity of the grasslands option is adding a working lands dimension to the Conservation Reserve, created four decades ago to take fragile cropland out of production. Grasslands now account for 35 percent of the land enrolled in the reserve, up from 28 percent in fiscal 2023, according to USDA data.

Claim: Farm bill debate pits conservation vs. commodities

The current tug-of-war among lawmakers for farm bill funding "offers a case study" of the long-running tension between conservation and crop subsidies, said Jonathan Coppess, associate professor at the University of Illinois. This time, the issue is whether to shift up to $18 billion that was earmarked for climate mitigation (in the 2022 climate, healthcare, and tax law) into crop subsidies.

Biden to announce $5 billion in funding for land stewardship and rural development

President Biden will open his administration’s “investing in rural America” blitz on a Minnesota farm on Wednesday with the announcement of $5 billion in funding for soil and water conservation, rural infrastructure, and economic development. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the $1.7 billion allotted for stewardship was the largest single-year injection of money ever into USDA conservation programs.

Claim: USDA’s ‘incredibly shrinking’ conservation program a warning about the farm bill

Congress has voted repeatedly to constrain spending under the Conservation Stewardship Program, created to pay farmers to make soil and water conservation a part of their daily operations. University of Illinois associate professor Jonathan Coppess, writing at the farmdoc daily blog, said the "incredible shrinking of CSP ... may also serve as a warning" about stewardship funding in the 2023 farm bill.

Spend more on food and ag research, says ASU food leader

Congress perennially recognizes the long-term payoff from agricultural research but repeatedly fails to adequately fund the work in the near term, said Kathleen Merrigan, who served as Deputy Secretary of Agriculture during the Obama era. During a panel discussion on the future of global agriculture, she put ag research at the top of her list of issues that need attention.

Put the whole-field Conservation Reserve out to pasture, proposes analyst

Congress has a once-in-a-generation opportunity in the new farm bill to remodel the land-idling Conservation Reserve to focus on small tracts that merit attention and to encourage carbon capture on grasslands, said a farm policy expert on Monday. The reserve was created in 1985 to retire entire fields or even farms of fragile land from crop production, but those "general" enrollments have fallen steeply since 2007.

Senate votes to overturn Biden’s ‘waters of the United States’ rule

The Senate joined the House on Wednesday in voting to overturn the Biden administration’s “waters of the United States” regulation, which spells out the upstream reach of water pollution laws. The White House said earlier this month that President Biden would veto the Republican-sponsored resolution of disapproval if it reached his desk.

One in seven on House ag panel collected farm payments

Eight current members of the House Agriculture Committee received farm subsidies at some point since 1998, said the Environmental Working Group on Tuesday. Seven of the eight describe themselves on their congressional websites as farmers or the offspring of a farm family.

USDA puts part of its climate windfall into land stewardship

Four popular USDA land stewardship and working lands programs will receive an additional $850 million this year to handle the perennial crush of applications for assistance, said the Biden administration on Monday. The outlay will be the Agriculture Department's first use of the $19.5 billion earmarked for its conservation programs in the climate, health and tax law passed last summer.

Farm bill priorities: More stewardship, less reliance on subsidies

The 2023 farm bill should eliminate wasteful subsidies to the biggest farmers and landowners in favor of programs that reach more producers at a lower cost, said a coalition of budget hawks, a consumer group and a small farm advocate in a letter to lawmakers on Tuesday.

Report: Biodiversity loss, climate change driving an ‘escalating nature crisis’

Wildlife populations plummeted 69 percent worldwide between 1970 and 2018, according to a report released Wednesday by the World Wildlife Fund. Food systems were a key driver of this biodiversity loss, responsible for 70 percent of the population decline of land animals and half of the decline in freshwater species. Conservation alone will not be enough to halt these declines, wrote the authors, who said that scaling up sustainable food production is crucial. (No paywall)

Experts stress importance of farmers in water conservation efforts

Modernizing a crumbling 19th-century irrigation system in Colorado and building spawning habitat for salmon downstream from thirsty California farms are among the nature-based projects in the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill designed to help western states cope with drought.

Senate approves additional $20 billion for voluntary conservation practices

The climate, tax and healthcare bill passed by Democratic senators on Sunday included $20 billion to ramp up USDA's voluntary land stewardship programs, a potential windfall for climate mitigation ahead of the 2023 farm bill. "We are equipping farmers, foresters and rural communities with the necessary tool to be part of the solution," said Senate Agriculture chairwoman Debbie Stabenow.

Frustrated by official process, conservationists release plan for wolves in Colorado

In November 2020, Colorado voters approved a measure to reintroduce gray wolves to the state, 76 years after the last wolf was killed there. Now Colorado Parks and Wildlife is developing a plan to reintroduce wolves. But conservation groups say the process to date hasn’t included enough public input and has instead been dominated by the very groups responsible for the eradication of wolves in the first place — hunters and ranchers. (No paywall)

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