While Congress is in recess for August, the chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, Rep. G.T. Thompson of Pennsylvania, held a listening session at Minnesota’s Farmfest on August 2, 2023. Joined by six members of Congress from Minnesota and the agriculture committee, Thompson took two nearly two hours of suggestions from the public, including the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.
RMEF Director of Government Affairs Ryan Bronson offered comments in support of the conservation title of the Farm Bill, including the potential creation of a Forest Conservation Easement Program (FCEP) to incentivize landowners keeping their forests intact for habitat and ecological benefits.
He also advocated for reducing the litigation that is keeping many western federal lands from being thinned, prescribe burned and generally managed because of the “Cottonwood decision,” a 2015 ruling by the Ninth Circuit Court requiring federal agencies to reinitiate consultation about land management practices and forest management plans in relation to the Endangered Species Act. That ruling blocked or severely slowed many previously approved forest management, wildlife enhancement and wildfire fuel reduction projects. Representative Pete Stauber of Minnesota participated in the listening session and is a co-sponsor of legislation to fix Cottonwood.
(Photo credit: Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation)
RMEF Comments at the Farmfest Listening Session:
Thank you, Chairman Thompson and members of Congress, for being here today. I am Ryan Bronson, Director of Government Affairs of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. The Elk Foundation is a 225,000-member hunting-conservation organization with a mission to ensure the future of elk, other wildlife, their habitat and our hunting heritage.
The Farm Bill is the most important mechanism for delivering private, working land conservation in America. A robust Conservation title is critical to maintain voluntary, incentive-based land stewardship that helps to sustain rural communities. Farmers, ranchers, sportsmen and society benefit from private lands that provide wildlife habitat and clean water.
The Elk Foundation also strongly supports the establishment of a Forest Conservation Easement Program (FCEP) in the Conservation Title of the Farm Bill. Building off the established model for Agriculture Conservation Easements, FCEP can be a powerful tool for keeping America’s working private forest intact and providing habitat, economic and ecological benefits.
Elk in America are increasingly spending their time on private lands. There are many causes, but declining habitat quality on undermanaged and overgrown national forests and federal lands is chief among them. Thinning, prescribed burning and timber harvest proposals are too often tied up in litigation. In the West, the “Cottonwood decision” by the 9th circuit court in 2015 has stopped hundreds of forest management projects by weaponizing the Endangered Species Act to endlessly delay management activities. The House Natural Resources committee has marked up HR200 to correct this, and we hope that a Cottonwood fix can be passed by Congress this term.
Thank you for your time.