ISSUE ALERT

30 BY 30 -

ISSUE UPDATE

What is 30 by 30 and why should you care?

You may have heard about the Biden Administration’s plan to protect 30 percent of U.S. land and water by the year 2030 (30 by 30) and have some questions. How will the Administration actually implement and achieve this objective? What exactly counts as protected land and water? What will the role of private landowners and working lands stewards be in achieving this ambitious objective? These are important questions, and WLA is working to ensure that 30 by 30 and other environmental initiatives value and support working lands stewardship as a primary tool in advancing durable conservation.

ACTION ALERT

30 by 30 could bring landowners to the table, or it could drive us apart

We all know we need to stem the biodiversity crisis. Without these natural systems and the ecosystem services they provide, our communities and economies will collapse. Given this fact, there is a palpable sense of urgency to develop solutions to these challenges. Some of them are smart. Some are outdated. And some could be counterproductive. 

As we move beyond broad, ambitious objectives into actionable policy, how those lands are “protected” will ultimately define whether 30 by 30 objectives succeed. 

Traditional mechanisms of land protection like permanent acquisition, easement or federal designation will rightfully play a role in achieving 30 by 30. At the same time, over-reliance on these tools, or an insistence that these mechanisms are the only way to protect land fails to recognize the contributions to conservation of those already on the land. Working landscapes are the cornerstones of communities and functional ecosystems in the West. They are disappearing and taking nature with them as they go.

To protect working lands, we must think beyond existing legal and regulatory constructs. We must recognize that the link between durable conservation and economics isn’t just tangential, but essential. Most importantly, we must empower land stewards already protecting vulnerable landscapes, rather than falsely insist that land must be protected from them.

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Join us to ensure 30 by 30 is good for working lands and the West

We rely on a strong constituency of land stewards and allies to ensure that policymakers make the right choices for the future of the West. Add your strength to the Alliance by joining today!

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Working lands are the future of conservation

By Lesli Allison

Farms and ranches are the cornerstones of both human communities and the ecosystems we all depend on. And they are disappearing. In this article from On Land, WLA's executive director lays out the contributions working lands can and must make to conservation, and how to make it happen.

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Policy News

USDA promised to invest in regional markets. Now, it’s happening

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack has said many times since taking office that the agency would invest in local and regional markets in an effort to make the food system more resilient.

Now, it’s happening. So, what does that investment look like in the West?

USDA on Monday announced a $90.2 million investment in 203 projects nationwide. Across California, Oregon, Washington and Idaho, 21 projects received funding.

The funding comes through two grants run by the Agricultural Marketing Service: the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Programs and the Regional Food System Partnerships.

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The Bureau of Land Management begins evaluation of plans for sage-grouse conservation

In order to protect the long-term health of sage-grouse populations, review new science and comply with court direction, the Bureau of Land Management is beginning a process to consider updates to the range-wide management plans for sagebrush habitat adopted in 2015 and amended in 2019. More than 70 resource management plans currently guide habitat conservation and restoration on 67 million acres of greater sage-grouse habitat the bureau manages in 10 Western states.

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Interior and Agriculture Departments Take Action to Strengthen Tribal Co-Stewardship of Public Lands and Waters

During the White House Tribal Nations Summit, President Biden announced that the U.S. Departments of the Interior and Agriculture have created the “Tribal Homelands Initiative.” This collaborative effort will improve federal stewardship of public lands, waters, and wildlife by strengthening the role of Tribal communities in federal land management. Through a joint Secretarial Order (Order), the two Departments codified a policy to facilitate agreements with Tribes to collaborate in the co-stewar

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Feds reverse Trump-era rule that dramatically reduced critical habitat for spotted owls

The USFWS recently announced a decision to maintain protections on over 3 million acres of forest habitat deemed critical for the survival of the threatened northern spotted owl. Those protections, in parts of Washington, Oregon and Northern California, were removed in the waning days of the Trump administration. The revised designation under the Endangered Species Act determined that removing those protections would cost the owl critical habitat necessary for its continued survival.

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What’s in the Build Back Better Act for ag?

The reconciliation bill includes $28 billion for conservation, $2 billion for ag research and $12 billion for farmer debt relief. According to a fact sheet released by the House Agriculture Committee, the Build Back Better Budget Reconciliation bill will make timely investments that will “provide resources to mitigate climate change, improve quality of life in rural communities and commit millions of dollars to agricultural education across the country.”

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Feds and conservation groups reach agreement on Canada lynx

More than 20 years after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service deemed the Canada lynx a threatened species, the agency has agreed to prepare a recovery plan for the elusive, forest-dwelling carnivores. Last week the agency entered into a settlement agreement with six conservation groups that sued USFWS in 2020 over its management of lynx.

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Senators urge emergency protections for wolves in U.S. West

A group of Democratic lawmakers on Thursday urged the Biden administration to enact emergency protections for gray wolves in the U.S. West in response to Republican-backed state laws that make it easier to kill the predators. Twenty-one U.S. senators asked Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to shield wolves from being killed for 240 days while permanent protections are considered.

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USDA conservation vacancies pose challenge for Biden agenda

The trillion-dollar budget bill pushed by the Biden administration would pour billions of dollars into the Agriculture Department’s conservation programs at a time when the agency’s field staff is already stretched thin. Staffing shortages at the NRCS and other USDA agencies that work directly with producers have troubled the department for several years. Farm policy and conservation groups said the expanded conservation funding in the “Build Back Better Act” highlights the need to fill those gaps and may just help USDA finish the job.

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More protections for Mexican wolf proposed

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to amend management regulations for Mexican wolves in Arizona and New Mexico. The proposed changes would remove limits on the current number of wolves allowed and restrict previously allowed methods of population control on public and private land.

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USDA Announces Initial Supporters of Sustainable Productivity Growth Coalition

USDA Secretary Vilsack announced that more than 50 organizations and countries have officially declared their support for the Sustainable Productivity Growth for Food Security and Resource Conservation (SPG) Coalition, which the United States launched at the UN Food Systems Summit. The goal of the coalition is to accelerate the transition to more sustainable food systems through productivity growth that optimizes agricultural sustainability across social, economic, and environmental dimensions.

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Wildlife agencies to cancel Trump-era endangered species rules

The Biden administration moved to rescind two Trump administration environmental rollbacks that crimped the designation of critical habitat to protect threatened or endangered species.

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Court strikes down Trump EPA water permitting rule

A federal judge on Friday struck down a Trump-era regulation that limited the ability of states and Native American tribes to regulate water pollution.

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White House Announces Nomination of Martha Williams as Director of the Fish and Wildlife Service

The White House today announced the intent to nominate Martha Williams as Director of the Fish and Wildlife Service. Martha has been serving as Principal Deputy Director since January 20, 2021, exercising the delegable authority of the Director. The nomination will now be considered by the U.S. Senate.

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USDA launches first phase of soil carbon monitoring efforts through Conservation Reserve Program

The USDA is investing $10 million in a new initiative to sample, measure and monitor soil carbon on Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres to better quantify the climate outcomes of the program.

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As drought worsens, California farmers are being paid not to grow crops

The farmers are paid to leave a portion of their lands dry and fallow, and the water saved over the next three years is expected to translate into three feet of additional water in Lake Mead, which has declined to its lowest levels since it was filled in the 1930s following the construction of Hoover Dam.

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Western Lawmakers Unveil Alternative to 30×30 Initiative

U.S. Senator Steve Daines, chair of the Senate Western Caucus, today unveiled a blueprint for responsible, effective conservation supporting Montana and the West. Daines’ “Western Conservation Principles” serves as an alternative to the Biden administration’s “30 by 30 initiative” and America the Beautiful report.

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Forest Service: Prescriptive easements on Crazy Mountain trails ‘likely non-viable’

A lawsuit over Custer Gallatin National Forest’s handling of disputed trails is nearing resolution, and could have national implications for public access.

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Wildfire resilience, America the Beautiful top Forest Service priorities

Better wildfire resilience in America’s forests is a top priority for the U.S. Forest Service, but so is the Biden administration’s America the Beautiful Initiative to set aside more land for parks and other uses, an agency official says. The initiative’s goal is to conserve 30% of U.S. lands and water by 2030 with focuses on collaborative conservation and restoration of lands and fish and wildlife habitat, voluntary conservation, creating more parks, increasing access for outdoor recreation and creating jobs.

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Biden signs bill providing $10B to cover wide range of ag disasters

A stopgap-funding bill that will keep the government operating this fall includes a $10 billion expansion in agricultural disaster aid and temporarily extends authority for USDA’s livestock price reporting system.

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USDA Announces $3 Billion Investment in Agriculture, Animal Health, and Nutrition; Unveils New Climate Partnership Initiative

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack recently announced a comprehensive set of investments to address challenges facing America’s agricultural producers. These include assistance to address challenges and costs associated with drought, animal health, market disruptions for agricultural commodities, and school food supply chain issues. He also outlined and requested public comments on a new climate partnership initiative designed to create new revenue streams for producers via market opportunities for commodities produced using climate-smart practices.

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Moore launches bill to boost U.S. Forest Service staffing

The leaders of numerous conservancy groups have endorsed bipartisan legislation proposed by Rep. Blake Moore (R-UT) to bolster U.S. Forest Service staffing to mitigate wildfire risks. The Save Our Forest Act would allocate $46 million to allow the Secretary of Agriculture to fill longstanding personnel vacancies in the U.S. Forest Service.

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How Biden’s 30×30 conservation plan may affect western ranchers, federal grazing lands

President Biden’s “America The Beautiful” executive order mandates the federal government to work on conserving 30 percent of land by 2030. Here is how the Bureau of Land Management is working towards that goal on federal grazing lands. Deputy Director Nada Culver said the BLM is hoping to move forward with a collaborative approach.

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Enviros aim to eliminate states’ funding over wolf hunting laws

(Subscription) States would lose federal wildlife funding if they “excessively” target predator species like wolves, cougars and grizzly bears, under a new petition to the Interior Department filed by myriad environmental groups. The petition seeks to add enforcement teeth to an existing requirement that states not compromise healthy wildlife populations.

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BLM to round up half of Wyoming’s wild horses

The BLM will round up most wild horses in five herd management areas in southwestern Wyoming, beginning as soon as Oct. 7. Removed horses will be “freeze branded, vaccinated, dewormed and given a Coggins test,” a blood test for viral Equine Infectious Anemia. Officials will then return about 1/4 of the removed horses to the range, administering temporary fertility controls to all returned mares, in an effort to reduce the wild horse population in those areas, the agency said Friday.

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Regan eyes November for next step in WOTUS process

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan says a proposal to restore regulations defining “waters of the U.S.” to those that were in place before the Obama administration’s 2015 rule could be issued by November, with another proposal redefining WOTUS to follow a year after that.

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USDA Accepts More Than 2.5 Million Acres in Grassland Conservation Reserve Program

The USDA has accepted more than 2.5 million acres into this year’s Grassland Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) signup. This is double last year’s enrollment and brings the total acres enrolled across all CRP signups in 2021 to more than 5.3 million acres, surpassing the administration’s 4-million-acre goal. USDA also noted that the enrollment of more than 2.5 million acres of grazing land into Grassland CRP will mitigate an additional estimated 22,000 metric tons of CO2 equivalent.

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Wyoming to ask US to lift Yellowstone grizzly protections

Wyoming will ask the federal government to remove its protections for grizzly bears in the Yellowstone region and permit the region’s three states to manage and potentially allow hunting of the big bruins in certain areas. Wyoming will submit the request after which the USFWS will have 90 days to determine whether delisting under the ESA might be warranted in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.

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US Forest Service hits brakes on Arizona restoration project

The U.S. Forest Service has put the brakes on an effort to thin hundreds of square miles of land in Arizona to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires, drawing sharp rebukes from elected officials.

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Feds consider re-listing wolf as state hunts start

Gray wolves in the West could go back under federal ESA protection due to the risk of “potential increases in human-caused mortality,” the USFWS announced. The decision to start a 12-month review of the wolf’s status came on the same day Montana and Idaho opened hunting and trapping seasons on the predator.

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US tribes demand emergency protection for wolves

Dozens of American Indian tribes asked the Biden administration Tuesday to immediately enact emergency protections for gray wolves, saying states have become too aggressive in hunting the animal.

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USDA Expands Assistance to Cover Feed Transportation Costs for Drought-Impacted Ranchers in California

In response to the severe drought conditions in the West and Great Plains, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced today its plans to help cover the cost of transporting feed for livestock that rely on grazing. USDA is updating the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees and Farm-Raised Fish Program (ELAP) to immediately cover feed transportation costs for drought impacted ranchers. USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) will provide more details and tools to help California ranchers get ready to apply at their local USDA Service Center later this month at fsa.usda.gov/elap

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Grassland Conservation Reserve Program acres grow to more than 2.5 million

Landowners and agricultural producers enrolled more than 2.5 million acres of grassland in the 2021 Grassland Conservation Reserve Program, double the number of acres they enrolled last year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced on Friday, Sept. 10

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USDA expands ELAP to cover feed transportation for drought-impacted ranchers

USDA is updating the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honey Bees and Farm-raised Fish Program (ELAP) to immediately cover feed transportation costs for drought impacted ranchers. USDA’s Farm Service Agency provides more details and tools to help ranchers get ready to apply at their local USDA Service Center at fsa.usda.gov/elap.

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Biden administrator charts path for dramatic solar growth

The U.S. could get as much as 40% of its electricity from solar by 2035 if the country commits to federally-backed decarbonization efforts and adopts policies to promote the technology, the Department of Energy said in a recent report.

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Wildlife damage mitigation payment debate heats up

Late last October, the America’s Conservation Enhancement (ACE) Act was signed into law. It was described as “the most significant wildlife conservation and sportsmen’s law in decades,” by U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., who introduced the bill. The act includes a little-known provision, promising to help compensate ranchers for lost livestock from predator attacks. Local leaders were excited by the prospects of future budget relief, yet Wyoming game and fish continues to foot the bill for compensation as funding from the bill has yet to be appropriated.

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Bill reintroduced to expedite forest projects

The Resilient Federal Forests Act seeks to restore forest health on over 80 million acres of national forests through active management, increase resiliency to wildfire and support rural communities. The bill would expedite thinning and logging projects up to 30,000 acres by “ending frivolous ligation” and remove interagency consultation requirements that delay forest management activities. Additionally, it would accelerate salvage operation and reforest activities, improve existing authority on insect and disease infestations and codify the principles of the Good Neighbor Authority.

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House Democrats Agree to $100 Million Allocation for Critically Endangered Species

In a memo released by the House Natural Resources Committee, House Democrats will provide $550 million to the US Fish and Wildlife Service in the upcoming budget reconciliation package, including $100 million for some of the most critically imperiled species in the United States.

The legislation will include $25 million to conserve and restore four of the most imperiled types of endangered species in the United States: butterflies, eastern freshwater mussels, Southwest desert fish and Hawaiian plants.

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Interior Department Announces Largest Expansion of Fishing and Hunting on U.S. Fish and Wildlife Managed Lands and Waters

The Department of the Interior announced today that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) has opened new or expanded hunting and sport fishing opportunities across 2.1 million acres, the largest expansion of outdoor recreation opportunities in recent history.

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Climate programs will be voluntary, incentive-based, says USDA nominee

The USDA’s climate mitigation initiatives will be built on a simple rule: “If they don’t work for producers and landowners, they’re not going to work for the climate,” said Robert Bonnie, the Biden nominee to run the USDA’s crop subsidy and land stewardship programs.

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New Mexico governor signs order to preserve 30 percent of public lands

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed an executive order that calls for 30 percent of New Mexico’s public lands to be protected by 2030, putting the state in line with a larger federal conservation effort.

The order directs a half-dozen state agencies to coalesce behind the “30 by 30” plan by establishing programs that conserve, protect and enhance public lands for a variety of uses. An additional 20 percent will be designated as climate stabilization areas.

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Climate-friendly ag practices need $30 billion, Democrats told

More than 60 groups are urging Democratic congressional leaders to prioritize climate-friendly agriculture, food systems and equity in their $3.5 trillion domestic spending package. About $89 billion in the budget reconciliation measure will be designated for agriculture and forestry in the package, and groups want to see $30 billion of that allocated to conservation programs.

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Recognizing monarch butterflies under the Endangered Species Act may do more harm than good

Insect populations are declining worldwide, and monarch butterflies are no exception. Efforts to reverse the trends are underway across the United States and Canada. Even with these efforts, many national insect conservation groups are advocating for the USFWS to list the monarch butterfly as “threatened” under the ESA. But a recent op-ed from scientists says that listing the monarch as endangered would trigger regulatory protections that could actually harm monarch populations and current conservation efforts.

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Senate OKs bipartisan infrastructure bill

The Senate passed a bipartisan infrastructure bill Tuesday that would provide $550 billion in new funding to repair America’s rural roads, ports and waterways, while dramatically increasing high-speed internet access.

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Push for conservation funding raises farm bill questions

Congressional Democrats are pushing for a historic increase in conservation program funding that would help pay farmers to address climate change, but the money also could create some challenges for the House and Senate Agriculture committees as they write the new farm bill.

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BLM PREPARES FOR EMERGENCY ACTION TO SAVE DROUGHT-STRICKEN WILD HORSES AND BURROS ON PUBLIC LANDS

The BLM is prepared to ramp up wild horse and burro gathers over the next two months as extreme heat and drought conditions across much of the West threaten the safety of thousands of federally protected animals. BLM estimates that as many as 6,000 additional wild horses and burros need to be rounded up and removed from federal rangelands by the end of September in order to “prevent widespread thirst and mortality in wild horse and burro herds as drought intensifies across most of the West”.

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Coalition seeks relisting of gray wolves in US West

Wildlife advocates petitioned federal officials to restore federal protections for gray wolves throughout the U.S. West after Idaho and Montana passed laws intended to drastically cut their numbers. The agency is supposed to respond within 90 days on whether there is enough information for a potential listing under the Endangered Species Act.

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What is the future of WOTUS?

The U.S. District Court in South Carolina dismissed a challenge to the Navigable Waters Protection Rule written during the Trump administration and granted a remand without vacatur, ensuring the rule remains in effect until the Biden administration finalizes a new rule.

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OPINION | Private, public lands have common interests

Melissa Daruna: “Colorado’s virtues may have inspired the U.S. government when it titled its recently released report ‘Conserving and Restoring America the Beautiful.’ The report highlights the importance of protecting both public and private lands. This is an essential component here in Colorado. Because nearly 60 percent of Colorado’s lands are privately owned, voluntary actions of private landowners can play a significant role in helping ensure conservation resiliency and connectivity across the state’s many different communities.

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USDA Announces Pandemic Assistance for Timber Harvesters and Haulers

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is providing up to $200 million to provide relief to timber harvesting and timber hauling businesses that have experienced losses due to COVID-19 as part of USDA’s Pandemic Assistance for Producers initiative. Loggers and truckers can apply for assistance through USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) July 22 through Oct. 15, 2021. The Pandemic Assistance for Timber Harvesters and Haulers program (PATHH) is administered by FSA in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service.

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Can Family-Owned Forests Help the U.S. Achieve a Low-Carbon Future?

A USDA Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) project is trying to reimagine how carbon markets can work with and for small landholders. The Family Forest Carbon Program (FFCP) bases carbon payments on specific forest management practices. The project’s goal is to facilitate the participation of nearly 300 million acres of family-owned American forests in carbon markets.

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Bipartisan lawmakers call for united effort on wildfires

Four Western members of Congress have issued a bipartisan call for their colleagues to prioritize funding for wildfire resiliency and prevention in this year’s appropriations bill. The four are members of the Bipartisan Wildfire Caucus, which sent a letter to House Appropriations Committee leaders in April asking for the funding.

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Biden order to strengthen hand of small farmers in legal fights

A new executive order from President Biden targeting anti-competitive business practices is expected to give a major boost to sustainability efforts in the agriculture industry by potentially making it easier for small farmers to sue some of the biggest food producers.

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US to take longer look at contentious Montana bison proposal

Federal officials will give the public more time to comment on a contentious proposal to expand bison grazing on public lands in north-central Montana. The move comes after Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte criticized the BLM for holding just one virtual meeting on the proposal, which covers about 108 square miles (280 square kilometers) south of Malta.

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USDA Announces Dates for Conservation Reserve Program Grasslands Signups

Agricultural producers and landowners can apply for the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) Grasslands signup from July 12 until August 20. This year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) updated signup options to provide greater incentives for producers and increase the program’s conservation and climate benefits, including setting a minimum rental rate and identifying two national priority zones.

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Biden executive order targets consolidation in ag sector

(Subscription) A wide-ranging executive order that President Joe Biden signed Friday seeks to address consolidation throughout the economy and includes a special focus on actions the Department of Agriculture could take to address the meat industry and antitrust enforcement.

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US proposes removing Colorado River fish’s endangered status

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Tuesday it plans to propose reclassifying a rare Colorado River Basin fish called the razorback sucker from endangered to threatened status after a multiyear and multistate effort throughout the Southwestern U.S.

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Producers Can Now Hay, Graze and Chop Cover Crops Anytime and Still Receive Full Prevented Planting Payment

Agricultural producers with crop insurance can hay, graze or chop cover crops for silage, haylage or baleage at any time and still receive 100 percent of the prevented planting payment. Previously, cover crops could only be hayed, grazed or chopped after November 1, otherwise the prevented planting payment was reduced by 65 percent.

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Trump roundups worked: Herds drop for first time in 9 years

(Subscription) The Bureau of Land Management’s aggressive Trump-era wild horse and burro roundup strategy, slammed by critics as cruel and unnecessary, apparently cut herd sizes on federal rangelands for the first time in nearly a decade.

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Legislation reduces taxes for veterinarians in rural areas

Bipartisan legislation introduced by Sens. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, would address the shortfall of veterinarians in rural areas by offering tax relief. The Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program Enhancement Act would help meet the growing demand for veterinarians nationwide by eliminating taxes on programs that encourage veterinarians to practice in underserved areas.

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Bipartisan agriculture climate bill clears Senate

The Senate on Thursday passed bipartisan legislation aimed at granting farms access to carbon offset markets by a 92-8 vote.

The Growing Climate Solutions Act, introduced by Sens. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), next heads to the House. The measure would establish a Department of Agriculture certification process through which producers can generate and sell carbon credits.

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USDA to Invest $10 Million to Support Climate-Smart Agriculture and Forestry through Voluntary Conservation

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is providing $10 million to support climate-smart agriculture and forestry through voluntary conservation practices in 10 targeted states. This assistance, available through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), will help agricultural producers plan and implement voluntary conservation practices that sequester carbon, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate the impacts of climate change on working lands.

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Vilsack says family farmers won’t be hit with new taxes

During a visit to a farm in Michigan, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack tried to allay fears that proposed tax changes by the Biden Administration would put family farms in jeopardy. Vilsack said that the act contains a provision that if the farm “continues to be owned and operated by the family, it’s not going to be subject to any tax incident…[with exemptions] We’re confident in saying that 98.9% of farms in this country will not be negatively impacted from a tax perspective.”

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(Opinion) For greater sage grouse success, local control matters

North Dakota congressman Kelly Armstrong and National Association of Conservation Districts president Michael Crowder write that local experts and communities offer important knowledge and perspective that should be relied upon when making decisions that affect them, especially when it comes to protecting species that rely on their lands for habitat, like the sage grouse.

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Biden’s Proposed Tax Changes Could Cause Family Farms to Accrue Additional Debt, Study Shows

The Biden Administration’s proposed tax changes could be costly for family farms. This takeaway from a new report from Texas A&M University’s Agricultural & Food Policy Center (AFPC) conflict with reports that say the possible tax changes wouldn’t have a have a widespread impact on family farms.

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USDA Announces Dates for Conservation Reserve Program General and Grasslands Signups

The USDA has set a July 23, 2021, deadline for agricultural producers and landowners to apply for the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) General signup 56. Additionally, USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) will accept applications for CRP Grasslands from July 12 to August 20. This year, USDA updated both signup options to provide greater incentives for producers and increase its conservation benefits.

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USDA to Invest $41.8 Million in Conservation Assistance for Producers in Drought-Impacted States

In response to historic drought conditions, the USDA is offering $41.8 million through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to help agricultural producers in Arizona, California, Colorado and Oregon alleviate the immediate impacts of drought and other natural resource challenges on working lands. NRCS will accept applications through July 12, 2021.

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U.S. Congresswoman Liz Cheney Introduces NEPA Reform Bill to Streamline Regulations and Empower State/Local Leaders

Wyoming Congresswoman Liz Cheney (R-WY) introduced the UNSHACKLE Act (Undoing NEPA’s Substantial Harm by Advancing Concepts that Kickstart the Liberation of the Economy Act) in the House of Representatives, a bill that combines five standalone NEPA-related pieces of legislation aimed at maintaining the previous Administration’s much-needed NEPA revisions.

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USDA to Invest $41.8 Million in Conservation Assistance for Producers in Drought-Impacted States

In response to historic drought conditions, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is offering $41.8 million through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to help agricultural producers in Arizona, California, Colorado and Oregon alleviate the immediate impacts of drought and other natural resource challenges on working lands.

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) will make available this funding through Conservation Incentive Contracts, a new option available through EQIP. Signup for this targeted funding begins today, and NRCS will accept applications through July 12, 2021.

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In the face of new laws trapping and killing wolves, groups vie for greater protections

Wildlife advocates asked the U.S. Forest Service to double-up on protections for wolves in Idaho and Montana following recent pushes to dramatically cut wolf populations. The petition, submitted to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Wednesday, comes shortly after these states passed a slew of laws making it easier for hunters and trappers to hunt the canid predators.

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USDA to Invest More Than $4 Billion to Strengthen Food System

Citing lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic and recent supply chain disruptions, the Department of Agriculture (USDA) today announced plans to invest more than $4 billion to strengthen critical supply chains through the Build Back Better initiative. USDA said the new effort will strengthen the food system, create new market opportunities, tackle the climate crisis, help communities that have been left behind and support good-paying jobs throughout the supply chain.

Today’s announcement supports the Biden Administration’s broader work on strengthening the resilience of critical supply chains as directed by Executive Order 14017 America’s Supply Chains, USDA said. Funding is provided by the American Rescue Plan Act and earlier pandemic assistance such as the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021.

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Does Biden’s ’30×30′ plan trade science for popularity?

(Subscription) Some proponents of a concerted push to protect large swaths of natural spaces across the country are raising concerns that the Biden administration’s new conservation proposal is too timid, failing to lay out a plan to truly preserve vulnerable lands and waters.

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9th Circuit hears arguments on “grazing preference”

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals heard earlier this month arguments on the first-of-its-kind denial of a “grazing preference” by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to an Oregon family.

The case could set precedence regarding Congress’ intent when it passed the Taylor Grazing Act (TGA) in 1934 and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) in 1976. Both give an existing permit holder the right to stand first in line when it comes time to renew that permit—commonly referred to as a “preference” by the TGA and a “first priority” by FLPMA—or when passing the permit to a family member.

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Endangered Species Act listing proposed for lesser prairie-chicken

The Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing federally protected status under the Endangered Species Act for two populations of the lesser prairie-chicken that occupy parts of Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado.

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USDA Announces New Initiative to Quantify Climate Benefits of Conservation Reserve Program

The USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) recently announced an initiative to quantify the climate benefits of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) contracts. This multi-year effort will enable USDA to better target CRP toward climate outcomes and improve existing models and conservation planning tools while supporting USDA’s goal of putting American agriculture and forestry at the center of climate-smart solutions to address climate change.

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Beef lobby rift: JBS leaves NCBA

The moves stem from widespread anger among producers who say they are being squeezed with unfairly low cattle prices while consumers are paying near-record prices for burgers and steaks.

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Group wants to reintroduce jaguars; mining ban eyed to protect birds

Environmental groups and scientists with two universities want U.S. wildlife managers to consider reintroducing jaguars to the American Southwest. In a recently published paper, they say habitat destruction, highways and existing segments of the border wall mean that natural reestablishment of the large cats north of the U.S.-Mexico boundary would be unlikely over the next century without human intervention. 

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Vilsack wants ag conservation focus on incentives, not regulations

Vilsack said last week that in President Joe Biden’s administration, “the ultimate goal is to reduce emissions” but that his preferred method is through incentives and education, not the heavy hammer of regulatory enforcement.

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30×30 Plan: Panelists Discuss Conservation Policy for Western States

The Western Landowners Alliance (WLA) hosted a panel of landowners and land managers to share their perspective on the Biden administration’s 30×30 Plan. While the policy has not been completed, WLA is advocating the final policy should respect property rights, improve conservation outcomes and benefit rural communities. 

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Forest Service moves to weaken bighorn protections in Wyoming Range

Domestic sheep could graze anew on national forest land in the Wyoming Range where conservationists bought grazing rights to separate them, their pathogens and their impacts from bighorn sheep and their habitat.

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USFWS must consider petition for wild horse’s protection

A federal appeals court ruled on Monday that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) wrongly refused to review an animal advocacy group’s bid to include a wild horse on the country’s list of imperiled species because its refusal hinged on a rule that is inconsistent with the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

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Groups call for reintroduction of jaguars in US Southwest

Environmental groups and scientists with two universities want U.S. wildlife managers to consider reintroducing jaguars to the American Southwest. In a recently published paper, they say habitat destruction, highways and existing segments of the border wall mean that natural reestablishment of the large cats north of the U.S.-Mexico boundary would be unlikely over the next century without human intervention.

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Westerners react to ‘America the Beautiful’ 30×30 conservation plan

Despite being called a “federal land grab” by at least one legislator on the far right, landowners from across the West gathered with leaders in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Department of Interior in a webinar hosted by the Western Landowners Alliance Thursday to discuss the Biden Administration’s “America the Beautiful” 30×30 conservation plan.

“I think the thing that has everybody worried that we just have to tackle head-on is this question about federal lands, this idea that has been pushed out there quite a bit that this is a federal land grab, or that there could be uses of eminent domain and massive federal land expansions and taking of private properties,” WLA Executive Director Lesli Allison said during the live online session.

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Biden’s 30×30 plan report released

Lesli Allison, executive director of the Western Landowners Alliance, called the report “an overdue national conversation” that should occur from those closest to the matter and not from the top down.

“We are pleased to see that the administration is taking seriously that conservation is more than just setting land aside. It is really about how we steward the land,” Allison said in a statement. “The report suggests they understand that economics matter. Farmers and ranchers need to be able to earn a reasonable livelihood providing the many goods and services that society needs, such as food and fiber, but also things like wildlife habitat and healthy forests.”

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Biden nominee says Yellowstone area grizzly population ‘doing very, very well’

While she did not directly answer questions regarding grizzly bears should be removed from Endangered Species List protection, one of President Joe Biden’s nominee’s for the U.S. Fish and wildlife service said Wednesday that grizzly populations in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem are doing “very well”.

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USDA names key NRCS staff

USDA announced Wednesday the appointment of Meryl Harrell as deputy undersecretary for Natural Resources and Environment and the appointment of Terry Cosby as chief of the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

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Biden’s Climate Corps could help preserve soil and water, say advocates

(Subscription) Some conservation and environmentalists say the new Civilian Climate Corps should create private landowner partnerships with the Agriculture Department to protect soil, both to reduce greenhouse emissions and protect water quality.

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EPA relaunches website tracking climate change indicators

The EPA last week announced the relaunch of its website tracking climate change indicators in the U.S. for the first time since the beginning of the Trump administration. The assessment, delayed under the Trump presidency, includes information on 54 phenomena associated with climate change, including temperature increases, flooding, droughts, rising sea levels and ocean acidity.

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Agency plans ‘regional roundtables’ for WOTUS review

President Biden’s pick for EPA’s water office said today that the agency is planning “robust stakeholder engagement” and “regional roundtables” this summer to discuss its review of which waterways and wetlands qualify for federal protections. 

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Panel to probe farm conservation’s role in climate change

(Subscription) A House Agriculture subcommittee this week will explore the impact of farmland conservation programs on climate change, potentially giving clues on how the next farm bill will address the issue in 2023.

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Bill lifts cover crop penalties for grazing, animal feed

The Cover Crop Flexibility Act of 2021, a bipartisan bill introduced to the U.S. senate, would permanently lift crop insurance penalties for farmers who plant cover crops that can be used for animal feed or livestock grazing in response to extreme weather events.

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Ag, conservation alliance issues recommendations for USDA carbon bank

A broad coalition of farm and conservation groups says a USDA-run carbon bank should be used to test ways to establish carbon accounting guidelines, expand the use of climate-friendly farming practices and enable small-scale farms and minority producers to benefit from carbon markets.

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Ag groups encouraged by agriculture’s role in 30×30 plan

The Biden administration outlined ideas in achieving the nationwide conservation goal to conserve 30% of U.S. lands and waters by 2030. As the report was identified as “big on ideas, short on details,” by the American Farm Bureau Federation, several groups weighed in on how this administration will proceed in accomplishing its lofty conservation goals.

The preliminary report – Conserving and Restoring America the Beautiful – is a joint effort from the United States Department of Agriculture, Department of Interior, Department of Commerce and Council on Environmental Quality. It is the Administration’s initial effort toward developing the executive order signed in President Biden’s first days of office.

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EPA administrator won’t return to Obama-era WOTUS rule

In a hearing in the House of Representatives, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan said he doesn’t intend to go back to the Obama-era waters of the U.S. – WOTUS – rule and again made that claim before members of the Senate.

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GOP pans 30×30 report, saying its still too light on details

Despite clear efforts to reassure property owners, farmers, ranchers, foresters and fishers that the 30×30 initiative they announced in January would not be a pretext for federal overreach, Republican lawmakers were not pacified by the “America the Beautiful” report.

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Biden’s conservation plan puts WOTUS in the crosshairs

(Subscription) A vision the Biden administration laid out this month for preserving 30% of the nation’s land and water by 2030 is already fueling calls for EPA to reverse a controversial Trump-era water rule that rolled back federal protection for wetlands and streams.

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Interior Department takes steps to revoke Final Rule on Migratory Bird Treaty Act incidental take

Today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced a proposed rule to revoke the January 7, 2021, final regulation that limited the scope of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA). Significant concerns about the interpretation of the MBTA have been raised by the public, legal challenges in court and from international treaty partners. This proposed rule provides the public with notice of the Service’s intent to revoke the January 7 rule’s interpretation of the MBTA and return to implementing the MBTA as prohibiting incidental take and applying enforcement discretion, consistent with judicial precedent.

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NCBA & PLC: Ranchers and Farmers’ Input Adopted In 30×30 Guidelines

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) and Public Lands Council (PLC) recognized the inclusion of agricultural producers’ recommendations in the Biden administration’s conservation goals report.

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Biden 30×30 plan emphasizes landowners’ key role in conservation’s future

The Biden administration today released a long-anticipated report detailing their proposal to conserve 30 percent of US lands and waters by 2030 (known as 30×30). While the initiative has generated significant speculation and controversy, today’s report appears to indicate a determination on the part of the administration to chart solid middle ground. 

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A narrow path for Biden’s ambitious land conservation plan

Months after President Biden set a goal of conserving 30 percent of the nation’s land and waters by 2030, the administration Thursday laid out broad principles — but few details — for achieving that vision.

The “America the Beautiful” report outlines steps the U.S. could take to safeguard key areas on land and in the sea to restore biodiversity, tackle climate change and make natural spaces more accessible to all Americans.

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USDA Investing Nearly $22 Million to Improve Soil Health and Climate Smart Ag

The USDA is investing nearly $22 million into research initiatives aimed at helping improve soil health and climate smart agriculture. USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) is investing in several important programs to assist ag producers navigate the effects of climate change and its impact on production.

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Farm groups, enviros to USDA: Prioritize climate, update crop insurance

Farm and environmental groups that often disagree on ag policy are urging the Agriculture Department to prioritize climate change in conservation programs and to consider changes to crop insurance that would promote the use of cover crops and other carbon-conserving practices.

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Group asks US to cut funding to Idaho over wolf-killing bill

The Center for Biological Diversity is asking the U.S. government to cut off millions of dollars to Idaho used to improve wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation opportunities over concerns recent legislation will lead to 90% of wolves in the state being killed.

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Sage grouse supporters urge Congress: Ditch the rider

(Subscription) Sage grouse champions are asking congressional appropriators to end a recent tradition and omit an annual budget rider that bars endangered species protections for the rotund Western bird.

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New funding to curb wildfires pushed in Congress, as another fire season looms

As wildfires across the United States grow in size, intensity and duration each summer, members of Congress from the West are pushing for massive new investments in ecosystem management and wildfire mitigation.

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U.S. agency to look at bringing back bison on Montana refuge

U.S. officials said they will consider in coming years whether to reintroduce wild bison to the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge, a million-acre federal wildlife refuge in central Montana, a move that would be at odds with Republicans in the state who want to limit where bison can roam.

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Climate-friendly farming strategies can improve the land and generate income for farmers

Agriculture has not been a central part of U.S. climate policy in the past, even though climate change is altering weather patterns that farmers rely on. Now, however, President Biden has directed the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to develop a climate-smart agriculture and forestry strategy.

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Stabenow pushing for big boost in conservation, says Biden plan falls short

Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow says President Joe Biden’s $2.7 trillion infrastructure plan is “woefully inadequate” when it comes to funding for climate-friendly farming practices, and she’s pushing for a major increase in funding for conservation programs.

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Yellow-billed cuckoo gains habitat protections in New Mexico, other states in Western U.S.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced April 21 it had designated 300,000 acres in New Mexico, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Texas and Utah as protected habitat for the Yellow-billed Cuckoo, an imperiled bird that dwells along riverbeds throughout the West. The move marked a decline in the designated habitat for the cuckoo in a rule issued in 2014 that set aside about half a million acres but was revised last year.

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Native American lawmakers seek federal help on Montana bison

Native American lawmakers in Montana called on the Biden administration to help craft a plan to reintroduce wild bison to the landscape in and around Glacier National Park and the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge.

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Working group formed to address drought in West

The Biden-Harris Administration recently announced the formation of an interagency working group to address worsening drought conditions in the West and support farmers, tribes, and communities impacted by ongoing water shortages. The working group will be co-chaired by the Departments of the Interior and Agriculture to build upon existing resources to help coordinate across the federal government.

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Interior asked to halt grazing rights to protect wild horses

A coalition of more than 70 equine protection, animal welfare and environmental groups, as well as numerous wild-horse and ecotourism businesses, called on newly confirmed U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland to halt livestock grazing and revoke grazing permits on the Bureau of Land Management’s Herd Management Area lands in an open letter to the secretary.

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USDA Expands and Renews Conservation Reserve Program in Effort to Boost Enrollment and Address Climate Change

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced today that USDA will open enrollment in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) with higher payment rates, new incentives, and a more targeted focus on the program’s role in climate change mitigation. Additionally, USDA is announcing investments in partnerships to increase climate-smart agriculture, including $330 million in 85 Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) projects and $25 million for On-Farm Conservation Innovation Trials. Secretary Vilsack made the announcement today at the White House National Climate Task Force meeting to demonstrate USDA’s commitment to putting American agriculture and forestry at the center of climate-smart solutions to address climate change.

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Regan pledges not to return to Obama-era WOTUS definition

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan told Congress Wednesday he does not intend to go back to the Obama administration’s definition of Waters of the U.S.

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Report gives USDA options for operating carbon bank

A new report from the AGree coalition recommends alternatives for the Agriculture Department to consider in setting up a carbon bank that could be used to develop private credit markets and to assist producers who may be left out of them.

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USDA Seeks Comments on Food System Supply Chains in Response to President Biden’s Executive Order to Support Resilient, Diverse, Secure Supply Chains

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack recently announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is seeking comments on a Department-wide effort to improve and reimagine the supply chains for the production, processing and distribution of agricultural commodities and food products.

The comments received will help USDA assess the critical factors, risks, and strategies needed to support resilient, diverse, and secure supply chains and ensure U.S. economic prosperity, national security, and nutrition security for all Americans. 

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One senator’s idea to save forests and help the climate — and create jobs

Colorado Senator Michael Bennet introduces legislation that would put billions into restoring and maintaining forests, watersheds and rangelands in the West.

More than 10.2 million acres of the United States burned last year from wildfires, killing 46 people and causing $16.6 billion in damages. Senator Michael Bennet said the country needs to be more proactive with fire prevention by putting people to work maintaining forests.

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Growing Climate Solutions Act reintroduced

The bipartisan Growing Climate Solutions Act, which will break down barriers for farmers and foresters interested in participating in carbon markets so they can be rewarded for climate-smart practices, was reintroduced today. The bill has broad, bipartisan support from over 60 leading agricultural and environmental organizations.

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Bonnie tapped to lead USDA farm programs

Robert Bonnie, a proponent of ag carbon markets who has been serving as Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s chief climate adviser, will be nominated by President Joe Biden to oversee farm and conservation programs at USDA as well as federal crop insurance.

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Missoula activist Tracy Stone-Manning in running to lead BLM

President Biden intends to nominate Tracy Stone-Manning to lead the Bureau of Land Management, according to several Washington D.C. sources. Stone-Manning served as a senior aide to Senator Tester (MT) before becoming former Gov. Steve Bullock’s chief of staff. She is also senior advisor to the National Wildlife Federation.

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USDA Allocates Up to $10 Million to Partner with California and Oregon to Assist Producers Impacted by Drought in Klamath River Basin

The USDA today announced the availability of up to $10 million in assistance from their Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Program Plus to assist agricultural producers impacted by the worsening drought conditions in the Klamath River Basin of California and Oregon.

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Biden Administration Budget Request Gives Boost To Agriculture Funding

The Biden Administration’s recent discretionary budget request gave agriculture a big step up in funding. Friday’s request called for a 16 percent increase from the 2021 enacted level, a jump of $3.8 billion to $27.8 billion.

Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, stated that the discretionary budget would expand broadband access; provide more funds for agricultural research, extension and outreach programs; would address wildfires by providing more money for forest management; and would increase the funding for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC).

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Carbon Contract Reality: Why Conservation-Minded Farmers May Not Qualify for Private Carbon Programs

The chase to capture carbon continues. It’s a possible new source of income for farmers and ranchers, but it’s also bringing a set of challenges and questions. The answer could be both public and private programs.

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New frameworks guide conservation action on working rangelands

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is unveiling new action-based frameworks to increase conservation work to address threats facing America’s working rangelands. These frameworks are designed to benefit both agriculture and wildlife in sagebrush and grassland landscapes of the western United States.

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Habitat reserves set up to help lesser prairie chicken

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must decide by May 26 whether to relist the bird under the Endangered Species Act to comply with a court order spurred by three conservation groups suing the agency in 2019.

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More water spending sought for West in infrastructure bill

As drought worsens in the West, a coalition of more than 200 farm and water organizations from 15 states that has been pushing to fix the region’s crumbling canals and reservoirs is complaining that President Joe Biden’s new infrastructure proposal doesn’t provide enough funding for above- or below-ground storage.

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Feds recommend grizzly bears remain listed

In a five-year status review, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has recommended that grizzly bears in the lower 48 states remain protected under the Endangered Species Act — drawing immediate complaints from officials in Wyoming and western states. “The grizzly bear in the lower-48 states is not currently in danger of extinction throughout all of its range, but is likely to become so in the foreseeable future,” the report, released late last month, concludes.

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Commissioners set to oppose controversial federal ’30X30′ program

The resolution says, in part, that 30 by 30 “would set (private property) aside through conservation, preventing the productive use of these lands and their resources.”

Not so much, according to one of Colorado’s leading land conservationists. Erik Glenn, executive director of Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust, told the Journal-Advocate that, while he has concerns about Section 216, there is a lot of misinformation being put out about what it would do.

“We are working to try to influence the administration to adopt a set of guiding principles that honors private property, rural communities, and production agriculture,” Glenn said. “Other western-focused and agriculture-focused organizations like Western Landowners Alliance and the American Farmland Trust are working on similar statements.”

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New Mexico tribes sue US over federal clean water rule

Two Indigenous communities in New Mexico are suing the U.S. EPA over a revised federal rule that narrowed the types of waterways that qualify for federal protection under the half-century-old Clean Water Act, saying the federal government is violating its trust responsibility to Native American tribes.

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US judge blocks Nevada grazing; sage grouse totals dwindling

A federal judge has blocked a Nevada project that would expand livestock grazing across 400 squares miles (1,036 square kilometers) of some of the highest priority sage-grouse habitat in the West and accused the government of deliberately misleading the public by underestimating damage the cattle could do to the land.

The ruling comes as scientists continue to document dramatic declines in greater sage-grouse populations across 11 western states — down 65% since 1986 and 37% since 2002, according to a new report by the U.S. Geological Survey.

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Biden mulls giving farmers billions to fight climate change. Even farmers are unsure about the plan.

The Biden administration’s ambitious plan to create a multibillion-dollar bank to help pay farmers to capture carbon from the atmosphere is running into surprising skepticism, challenging Agriculture Department officials to persuade the industry to get behind the massive climate proposal.

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Lummis introduces bill to delist grizzly bears in Wyoming

A bill removing grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem from the Endangered Species List was introduced today by Senator Cynthia Lummis. The bill titled The Grizzly Bear State Management Act of 2021 was drafted alongside Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming, Senators Mike Crapo and James Risch of Idaho, and Senator Steve Daines of Montana.

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After Identifying Gaps in Previous Aid, USDA Announces ‘Pandemic Assistance for Producers’ to Distribute Resources More Equitably

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack recently announced that USDA is establishing new programs and efforts to bring financial assistance to farmers, ranchers and producers who felt the impact of COVID-19 market disruptions. The new initiative—USDA Pandemic Assistance for Producers—will reach a broader set of producers than in previous COVID-19 aid programs, including socially disadvantaged communities, small and medium-sized producers, and farmers and producers of less traditional crops.

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USDA official promotes federal purchases of carbon credits

The U.S. government should be prepared to support prices farmers receive for carbon credits but avoid setting up a federally run carbon market that would compete with nascent private markets, a senior Agriculture Department official said Tuesday.

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Vilsack: US carbon market needs a focus on farmers

A priority for the USDA in the coming years will be judging the feasibility of setting up, executing and paying for a federal carbon bank to help farmers reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reward them for their actions, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Monday.

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Saving the West’s open spaces comes at a cost. A Colorado county may have a model for the nation’s conservation efforts.

How can we keep working lands open and providing all the ecosystem services and landscape values we care about? Chaffee County’s Community Conservation Connection program, implemented by the Central Colorado Conservancy, may have an answer, according to this story by Judith Kohler.

Featured as well is WLA’s roadmap “Redefining Conservation for the 21st Century” suggesting how the administration can address climate change and conservation while staking out common ground with farmers, ranchers and rural communities that depend on those working lands.

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Conservationists renew push to save New Mexico lesser prairie chicken. Feds to decide by May

Federal protections for the lesser prairie chicken could be enacted this spring as a federal judge in 2019 called on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to decide by the end of May. The lesser prairie chicken is a species of grouse native to southeast New Mexico and parts of West Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado.

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Economist examines death taxes and their misconceptions

While delivering estate-planning presentations across Montana, Marsha Goetting, Montana State University Extension family economics specialist, saw a pattern among some attendees. When it came to understanding state and federal taxes after death, many people were misinformed.

Goetting said there was a time when the federal estate tax affected many Montanans and, as a result, tax minimization became a major goal for families in their estate planning. But now, the federal estate tax affects less than 1% of deceased persons’ estates because Congress increased the amount of the federal estate tax exemption and indexed the amount yearly for inflation until 2026. 

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USDA Seeks Public Comment on Revised Conservation Practice Standards

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is seeking public comment on proposed revisions to 23 national conservation practice standards through a posting in the Federal Register. The proposed revisions will publish March 9 with comments due April 8.

NRCS is encouraging agricultural producers, landowners, organizations, Tribes and others that use its conservation practices to comment on these revised conservation practice standards. NRCS will use public comments to further enhance its conservation practice standards.

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USDA invests $285M to improve national forest and grassland infrastructure

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the U.S. Department of Agriculture will invest $285 million to help the Forest Service address critical deferred maintenance and improve transportation and recreation infrastructure on national forests and grasslands.

This $285 million investment is made possible by the newly created National Parks and Public Land Legacy Restoration Fund, established in 2020 by the Great American Outdoors Act. These funds will allow the Forest Service to implement more than 500 infrastructure improvement projects essential to the continued use and enjoyment of national forests and grasslands.

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Stateline Range grazing project challenged

Despite President Joe Biden signing an executive order to “consider suspending, revising, or rescinding the agency actions” made during the Trump administration, environmentalists continue their efforts to halt projects. Western Watersheds Project and Wilderness Watch recently filed a suit in the U.S. District Court for Arizona seeking to halt the renewal of grazing permits in the Apache-Sitgreaves and Gila National Forests in Arizona and New Mexico.

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USDA encourages producers to complete the cash rents and leases survey

Farmers and ranchers may have received a Cash Rents and Leases survey from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS). This survey provides the basis for estimates of the current year’s cash rents paid for irrigated cropland, non-irrigated cropland, and permanent pasture. If you received the survey, we encourage you to complete it by June 21. This survey can be completed and returned by mail, over the phone, or at agcounts.usda.gov.

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Big questions about grizzlies await Haaland at Interior

(Subscription) The grizzly bear questions will only get tougher for Interior secretary nominee Deb Haaland. If confirmed, the New Mexico Democrat will confront legal, scientific, management and, yes, political challenges concerning grizzlies far more specific than the Republican queries that pressed her during her two-day confirmation hearing.

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Tribes flex political muscle in quest to co-manage parks

The nation’s 574 federally recognized tribes are gaining momentum in their long drive to co-manage the country’s national parks and other public lands — and they’ve got a new occupant in the White House who may help make it happen.

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Environmental attorney to lead Bureau of Land Management (BLM)

The Bureau of Land Management announced that an attorney who previously worked on agency issues for environmental groups will serve as the new deputy director.The U.S. Department of the Interior said Nada Culver, who was appointed to the Denver position, will effectively run the agency for the short term, replacing former agency director William Perry Pendley.

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How Biden can rein in the Big Meat monopoly

The meat industry is bad for farmers, workers, consumers, animals, and the environment. It should be the next target in Democrats’ antitrust push.

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Haaland, with a key vote in her column, appears headed for confirmation

Senator Joe Manchin III, the West Virginia Democrat who heads the Senate Energy Committee, announced that he would vote to confirm Representative Deb Haaland of New Mexico to head the Interior Department, most likely ensuring that one of President Biden’s most embattled cabinet nominees will be confirmed to office.

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Bipartisan, bicameral bill provides flexibility for haying and grazing of cover crops

Currently, under the Federal Crop Insurance Program, producers unable to plant a crop due to adverse weather conditions are eligible to receive a small indemnity but prohibited from growing a cash commodity due to a missed window in the growing season. A new bipartisan, bicameral bill – the Feed Emergency Enhancement During Disasters with Cover Crops Act (FEEDD Act) — would create a clear emergency waiver authority for USDA to allow producers to graze, hay or chop a cover crop before November 1st in the event of a feed shortage due to excessive moisture, flood, or drought.

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Vilsack confirmed as Agriculture secretary

The Senate easily confirmed Tom Vilsack, President Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the Agriculture Department, by a 92-7 vote. The confirmation gives Vilsack a second spin in the same role he held for the entirety of the Obama administration.

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U.S. Department of Agriculture announces key leadership in farm production and conservation mission area

The USDA announced the appointment of Gloria Montaño Greene as Deputy Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation (FPAC) and the appointment of Zach Ducheneaux as Administrator of the Farm Service Agency (FSA). They will begin their positions on Monday, Feb. 22.

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30 by 30 could be big win for wildlife, if hunters, anglers, farmers, tribes have a say

The president’s executive order is short on details, but sportsmen’s groups are pushing for it to create more wildlife habitat, and hunting and fishing opportunities. WLA’s policy director Zach Bodhane suggests that habitat leases should be a critical piece of the government’s strategy. Ultimately, he says, leases offer flexibility at a time when all conservation cards should be on the table.

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Could Biden use private land to reach 30×30 goals?

The idea isn’t simply to buy up private property or establish traditional easements. Instead, groups like the Western Landowners Alliance, which represents 15 million acres across the western United States and Canada,
see an opportunity to rethink what conservation means.

“Conservation as usual isn’t working, and this is an opportunity to actually do something different and change that trajectory, but it’s going to involve economics and people who live and work on the land,” Lesli Allison, the group’s executive director, told E&E News.

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USDA extends general signup for Conservation Reserve Program (CRP)

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is extending the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) General Signup period, which had previously been announced as ending on Feb. 12, 2021. USDA will continue to accept offers as it takes this opportunity for the incoming Administration to evaluate ways to increase enrollment.

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Biden Administration delays rollback of migratory bird protections

The Biden administration delayed a ruling finalized in the Trump administration’s last days that would significantly weaken bird protection under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The Biden administration’s one-month delay of the new rule will allow for the re-opening of a 20-day comment period for the public to engage with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

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Biden executive order seeks to involve ag in battling climate change

Addressing climate change is the focus of one of the Biden administration’s latest executive orders, which pauses new oil and gas leasing on public lands or offshore waters, seeks to more than double the amount of land conserved in the United States, and looks to involve the agriculture sector in the federal government’s efforts.

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Western landowners respond to Biden climate and conservation executive actions

The Biden administration’s announcement today of a package of executive actions on climate and conservation includes several elements that the Western Landowners Alliance (WLA) has insisted are critical to making conservation and climate action successful in the West. While many in the rural West are taking a prudent wait-and-see approach, the administration’s directive on engaging people whose livelihoods are tied directly to stewarding land and water was a step in the right direction. In particular, WLA is heartened by the administration’s emphasis on engagement with farmers and ranchers and the interest in creating good jobs in land stewardship and restoration in rural communities and on working lands. 

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USDA temporarily suspends debt collections, foreclosures and other activities on farm loans due to Coronavirus

Due to the national public health emergency caused by COVID-19, the USDA announced the temporary suspension of past-due debt collections and foreclosures for distressed borrowers under the Farm Storage Facility Loan and the Direct Farm Loan programs administered by the FSA.

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New U.S. strategy could create massive $10B fund to fight climate disasters

One of the latest Biden administration plans introduces a new framework that will shape U.S. policy to tackle climate change by allocating about $10 billion to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to proactively address natural disasters related to climate change.

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Former FWP Director appointed to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Former Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Director Martha Williams was appointed on Wednesday as second-in-command at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the Biden Administration. As principal deputy director of FWS, Williams will oversee a federal agency tasked with managing wildlife and habitat across the country.

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Interior to set a new course for ESA

The Biden administration wasted no time in pledging a wholesale review and potential reversal of its predecessor’s actions on the Endangered Species Act and other hot-button environmental laws.

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USDA offers new forest management incentive for Conservation Reserve Program

The USDA is making available $12 million for use in making payments to forest landowners with land enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) in exchange for their implementing healthy forest management practices.

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Colorado begins wolf reintroduction plans OK’d by voters

Pending litigation over the Trump administration’s delisting of the gray wolf from the Endangered Species Act could complicate Colorado’s efforts to reintroduce the wolf to the state.

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Owl’s critical habitat cut dramatically

The Trump administration has cut designated critical habitat for the northern spotted owl by millions of acres in Oregon, Washington and California. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Wednesday that it would remove 3.4 million acres of critical habitat protections for the bird, including all of what’s known as the O&C Lands, which is big timber territory in Western Oregon.

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Sage grouse review done, but scant time for Trump’s changes

The Trump administration has completed a review of plans to ease protections for a struggling bird species in seven states in the U.S. West, but there’s little time to put the relaxed rules for industry into action before President-elect Joe Biden takes office

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New rule improves partner flexibility in Regional Conservation Partnership Program

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today released the final rule for its Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). The rule updates USDA’s partner-driven program as directed by the 2018 Farm Bill and integrates feedback from agricultural producers and others.

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With historic picks, Biden puts environmental justice front and center

President-elect Joe Biden chose Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) to serve as the first Native American Cabinet secretary and head the Interior Department, a historic pick that marks a turning point for the U.S. government’s relationship with the nation’s Indigenous peoples.

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New conservation bill from Senator Bennet would fund wildfire mitigation and river clean-ups, create 2 million jobs

The Outdoor Restoration Force Act would set up a $60 billion fund to support a range of projects from wildfire mitigation to river clean-ups. The money would be split, $20 billion for state and local governments and $40 billion for federal efforts at the Departments of Agriculture and the Interior, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency. 

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Grand Junction is ‘darn hard to get to’: ranchers split on public lands agency’s move west

The Bureau of Land Management is moving from Washington D.C. to Grand Junction, Colorado. Ranchers, some of the constituents with whom the agency works most closely, are divided on the BLM’s move “to the field”. Some are enthusiastic about the possibility of a more approachable, and more western agency; other argue that it will make the agency too isolated. Article quotes WLA board member Tom Page and policy associate Jessica Crowder.

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Biden chooses Vilsack to return as ag secretary

After days of speculation and anonymous sources, President-elect Joe Biden officially announced that he has asked Tom Vilsack to return to serve as the agriculture secretary after serving eight years during the Obama administration. 

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USDA announces increase to certain incentive payments for Continuous CRP

The USDA is increasing incentive payments for practices installed on land enrolled in the Continuous Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). USDA’s FSA is upping the Practice Incentive Payment for installing practices, from 5 percent to 20 percent. Additionally, producers will receive a 10 percent incentive payment for water quality practices on land enrolled in CRP’s continuous signup. FSA administers CRP on behalf of the Commodity Credit Corporation.

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NRCS announces January 8 EQIP deadline for New Mexico ag producers

The USDA NRCS announced today that a sign up for fiscal year 2021 Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) is underway. All New Mexico agricultural producers who would like to be considered for financial assistance under general EQIP or special conservation initiatives need to apply by January 8, 2021.

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Commentary: Congress would be wise to listen to landowners on wildfire bill

WLA’s executive director Lesli Allison, writing in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, commends congress for taking up National Prescribed Fire Act of 2020, and urges a continued focus on solutions that work across land management boundaries and that empower landowners to use prescribed fire as a tool in wildfire risk mitigation.

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Trump administration will raise California dam, expand reservoir

(Subscription Required) The Trump administration yesterday announced it has finalized its plan to extend one of the largest dams in Northern California, one of its most ambitious and controversial water projects. At issue is a proposal to raise the 600-foot Shasta Dam by about 18.5 feet, to store more water. The dam impounds one of the largest reservoirs in the state, and that water is then shuttled to farmers in California’s Central Valley.

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Trump plans would ease protections for sage grouse in West

The Trump administration announced plans Thursday that ease protections for sage grouse in the West, prompting an outcry by critics who say the move paves the way for widespread mining and drilling and ignores a federal court ruling. U.S. officials plan to formally publish supplemental environmental impact statements (SEIS) on Friday for the management of greater sage grouse habitat on public lands in seven states.

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USDA Forest Service announces key changes to NEPA procedures

The USDA Forest Service today announced the publication of a final rule implementing key changes to its National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) regulations. The changes include new tools and flexibilities to tackle critical land management challenges as part of a broader agency effort to better serve the American people through timely, high-quality management decisions affecting infrastructure, permitting and restoration of natural resources on their national forests and grasslands.

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Obama-era official could lead Biden’s BLM

The Biden transition team is in the early stages of developing a shortlist of potential nominees to lead the BLM. Public lands advocates have floated a number of possible contenders for BLM director in the Biden administration: Steve Ellis, who held the highest-ranking career position at BLM during the Obama administration; Nada Culver, a lawyer with the Audubon Society; and Neil Kornze, who led the agency under former President Obama.

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USDA to open signup for the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and CRP Grasslands

The USDA announced the 2021 signup periods for general Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and CRP Grasslands offers. General signup for CRP will be open from January 4, 2021 to February 12, 2021; signup for CRP Grasslands runs from March 15, 2021 to April 23, 2021. Both programs are competitive and provide annual rental payments for land devoted to conservation purposes.

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BLM Wyoming proposes to offer 383 parcels in March 2021 oil and gas lease sale

The BLM Wyoming State Office plans to offer 383 parcels totaling about 483,017 acres in an oil and gas lease sale the week of March 15, 2021. This includes 285 parcels nominated for the March sale as well as 141 parcels totaling about 244,086 acres that the BLM deferred from lease sales earlier this year because they overlap Greater Sage-Grouse priority habitat.

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Congressman Panetta introduces Save our Forests Act to increase staffing and decrease wildfire risk in national forests

Congressman Jimmy Panetta (D-CA) has announced the introduction of the Save Our Forests Act to address chronic staffing shortages in National Forests, to improve risk mitigation and response to wildfires. The legislation directs the Chief of the Forest Service to fill vacancies in National Forests for recreation and management planning staff, authorizes funding to fill positions, and prioritizes filling vacancies in National Forests facing a high risk of wildfires.

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Trump administration returns management and protection of gray wolves to states and tribes following successful recovery efforts

More than 45 years after gray wolves were first listed under the ESA, the Trump Administration and its many conservation partners are announcing the successful recovery of the gray wolf and its delisting from the ESA. U.S. Secretary of the Interior David L. Bernhardt announced that state and tribal wildlife management agency professionals will resume responsibility for sustainable management and protection of delisted gray wolves in states with gray wolf populations, while the USFWS monitors the species for five years to ensure the continued success of the species.

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Feds to announce gray wolf delisting

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Thursday will announce a new rule to remove federal Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves across the Lower 48 states. The move will hand wolf management back to individual states and tribal governments.

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USDA updates EQIP rule

The U.S. Department of Agriculture released the final rule for its Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). The rule updates USDA’s flagship program as directed by the 2018 farm bill and integrates feedback from agricultural producers and others.

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USDA issues $1.68 billion in payments to producers enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program

The USDA is issuing $1.68 billion in payments to agricultural producers and landowners for the 21.9 million acres enrolled in CRP, which provides annual rental payment for land devoted to conservation purposes. CRP participants with contracts effective beginning on October 1, 2020, will receive their first annual rental payment in October 2021.

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Trump signs order backing 1 Trillion Trees effort

President Trump signed an executive order on Tuesday to make his pledge to help plant, restore, and conserve a trillion trees a reality. The executive order puts some federal government muscle behind Trump’s announcement in January that the United States would help plant a trillion trees as part of a World Economic Forum initiative designed to address climate change.

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Wyoming officials call for endangered species reform with grizzly population ‘booming’

Wyoming Game and Fish Director and Wyoming Stock Growers Association Executive Vice President have penned a joint editorial calling for changes to grizzly bear protections under the ESA citing a booming population and expanded range.

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Biden’s CSP expansion could face Hill resistance, staffing questions

The centerpiece of Joe Biden’s plan to help farmers address climate change is a “dramatic” expansion of the Conservation Stewardship Program, but he’ll quickly find skeptics on Capitol Hill and among environmental groups if he gets elected and tries to carry out the proposal. “You are not going to be able to double the size of CSP or EQIP without increasing the staff at the local level,” said Coleman Garrison, director of government affairs for the National Association of Conservation Districts

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Western politicians from both parties back wildfire bill

The Emergency Wildfire and Public Safety Act of 2020 would require the U.S. Forest Service to pick forests in three western states on which to carry out landscape projects to reduce fire risk. It includes numerous provisions to speed up removing dead trees and other fuels from public lands, including a couple that would loosen up existing environmental regulations. It would exclude removing fuels along Forest Service roads, trails and transmission lines from environmental review, and raise the threshold for what is considered “new information” requiring an Endangered Species Act review of some land management actions.

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The BLM to award contracts for seven new wild horse off-range pastures

The BLM is completing contracts with ranchers in four states to place as many as 5,000 wild horses and burros rounded up off federal rangelands onto private pastureland. As part of a strategy to reduce overpopulation of wild horses and burros on public lands, the BLM announced today that it will award the first of seven contracts for new wild horse off-range pastures in Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Washington.

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USFWS proposes listing New Mexico thistle

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today proposed protecting as threatened the Wright’s marsh thistle. Along with the litigation-pressured Endangered Species Act listing, the federal agency proposed designating as critical habitat 159 acres in Chaves, Eddy, Guadalupe, Otero and Socorro counties in New Mexico.

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Judge rules Pendley illegally leading BLM

A federal judge in Montana has ordered William Perry Pendley, the acting director of the Bureau of Land Management, to leave the position after finding that he had served unlawfully as acting director for 424 days. Mr. Pendley was also prohibited from using any authority to make decisions about federal lands. “Pendley has served and continues to serve unlawfully as the Acting B.L.M. director,” the judge, Brian Morris of the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana, wrote in a 34-page ruling he issued on Friday.

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Groups threaten suit over rare bird’s fate in Colorado, Utah

The Center for Biological Diversity and the Western Watersheds Project said yesterday they intend to file a lawsuit contending that several federal agencies are relying on an outdated plan to save the Gunnison sage grouse, a rare bird found only in Colorado and Utah.

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USDA to provide additional direct assistance to farmers and ranchers impacted by the coronavirus

President Trump and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture announced up to an additional $14 billion for agricultural producers who continue to face market disruptions and associated costs because of COVID-19. Signup for the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP 2) will begin September 21 and run through December 11, 2020.

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USDA invests $50 million in innovative, partner-driven conservation projects

USDA’s NRCS today announced a $50 million investment in 10 conservation projects across 16 states through its Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) Alternative Funding Arrangements (AFA). Through these projects, partners will contribute more than $65 million to amplify the conservation work that can be performed on agricultural land and privately owned forests across the nation.

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A cuckoo keeps its protections, but debate continues

The Fish and Wildlife Service declared today the western population of yellow-billed cuckoo still warrants federal protection under the Endangered Species Act. In a noteworthy defeat for mining and ranching organizations, the federal agency rejected a petition to strip away the bird’s status as a threatened species.

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‘Growing Climate Solutions Act’ gives farmers a seat at the carbon market table

At last, farmers and foresters might have a seat at the carbon market table. Bipartisan legislation has been introduced in both the U.S. Senate and House to create incentives and remove barriers for farmers and foresters to receive credits for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and increasing soil organic matter – carbon.

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Trump administration plans to remove endangered gray wolf protections by end of year

The Trump administration plans to lift endangered species protections for gray wolves across most of the nation by the end of the year, the director of the Fish and Wildlife Service said yesterday. “We’re working hard to have this done by the end of the year, and I’d say it’s very imminent,” Aurelia Skipwith told the Associated Press.

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EPA office to focus on western lands cleanup, from the West

The EPA announced a new Colorado-based office that will oversee Western land cleanup. The Office of Mountains, Deserts, and Plains will focus especially on mining cleanup and will provide oversight, guidance, and technical assistance

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BLM looks to establish new wild horse and burro corrals in Wyoming, Colorado, Utah

The BLM has taken an additional step forward in implementing a strategy focused on removing excess wild horses and burros from federal rangelands. BLM announced yesterday that it has completed an environmental assessment evaluating the addition of three privately contracted off-range corrals, and the expansion of an additional one, to hold thousands of additional wild horses and burros rounded up and removed from federal herd management areas in the West.

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Great American Outdoors Act signed into law

President Trump on Tuesday signed the Great American Outdoors Act, which would provide $900 million annually in oil and gas revenues for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which helps secure land for trails and parks. The legislation would also provide billions of dollars over five years to address a maintenance backlog at national parks. 

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Wildlife agencies float definition of ‘habitat’ in ESA

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service are proposing to define “habitat” in the Endangered Species Act for the first time, in response to a 2018 Supreme Court decision.

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Wild horses home on the range

As of March 1, approximately 95,000 federally protected wild horses and burros were estimated to roam on BLM-managed public lands in the West — more than three and a half times what the land can sustainably support and the most ever estimated by the BLM in a given year. Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management Casey Hammond highlighted the BLM’s challenging mission to preserve and protect these animals in an op-ed published last week in the Las Vegas Review Journal.

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Federal regulators throw wrench into Klamath River dam-demolition plan

Federal regulators have thrown a significant curveball at a coalition that has been planning for years to demolish four massive hydroelectric dams on a river along the Oregon-California border in order to save salmon populations that have dwindled to almost nothing. Federal regulators refused to let the current owner fully transfer the impoundments to a nonprofit to carry out the demolition.

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Service Completes Initial Review of Petition to List Dunes Sagebrush Lizard

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has completed its initial review of a petition to list the dunes sagebrush lizard under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The Service has concluded that the petition presents substantial information indicating listing may be warranted. Accordingly, the Service will now begin an in-depth review of this species to determine whether it should be listed under the ESA. 

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Dems’ tree-planting plan highlights agency’s mixed mission

House Democrats have proposed planting trees on tens of millions of acres of land to help head off climate change. On federal land, though, the goal raises a question: How many of those trees will one day be cut down?Reforestation on land overseen by the Forest Service isn’t strictly about planting new trees. The agency’s mixed missions of protecting wild areas and watersheds while providing timber supplies are bound to keep playing out as Democrats push the agenda, according to congressional and industry sources.

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USDA announces more than 1.2 million acres accepted in recent signup for Conservation Reserve Program Grasslands

The USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) today announced the acceptance of more than 1.2 million acres in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) Grasslands during the recent signup period that began March 16 and ended May 15. The number of acres offered during this signup period was 1.9 million acres, over 3 times the number offered during the last signup period in 2016.

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Outside of Colorado, revamped WOTUS rule takes effect

The Trump Administration has taken action throughout 2020 to narrow the scope of which wetlands and waterways are protected under the Clean Water Act (CWA). The recently limited rule took effect on June 22, 2020, which in essence, opens the doors for developers anxious to get to work ahead of future legal action and the 2020 presidential election. Colorado’s position as being the sole state refusing to comply with the WOTUS rule is significant, and is worthwhile to monitor.

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Center for American Progress launches “Race for Nature”

“To save family farms, ranches, and rural communities from economic collapse, the United States should launch a major effort—a “Race for Nature”—that pays private landowners to protect the water, air and natural places that everyone needs to stay healthy.” The report focuses on expanding conservation easement programs and increasing conservation easements nationwide, setting aside as much as 55 million acres by 2030 under long-term or permanent protections.

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NACD examines Executive Order on bolstering economic recovery in the COVID-19 era

The National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD) outlines key information from President Trump’s Executive Order (EO), titled “Accelerating the Nation’s Economic Recovery from the COVID-19 Emergency by Expediting Infrastructure Investments and Other Activities.” The EO streamlines infrastructure investments by instructing agencies, including executive departments, to use “emergency authorities” for swift implementation of projects.

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Senate approves $2.8B plan to boost conservation, parks

The Senate has approved a bipartisan bill that would spend nearly $3 billion on conservation projects, outdoor recreation and maintenance of national parks and other public lands, a measure supporters say would be the most significant conservation legislation enacted in nearly half a century.

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Secretary Perdue announces modernization blueprint for the USDA Forest Service

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue today issued a memorandum to Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen providing direction that will serve as a blueprint to help modernize the agency’s systems and approaches to ensure national forests and grasslands continue to meet the needs of the American people.

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Rule change would cause more migratory bird deaths — FWS

The Trump administration’s proposed narrowing of Migratory Bird Treaty Act protections will have a “likely negative” impact on birds that includes “increased” mortality, according to a Fish and Wildlife Service study made public today.

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Bill aims to help farmers sell carbon credits

The agriculture industry would be able to participate in a growing carbon credit market under bipartisan legislation introduced recently that would funnel money to farmers who use sustainable practices. The legislation tasks the U.S. Department of Agriculture with creating a certification program to assist farmers and forest landowners in “implementing the protocols and monetizing the climate value of their sustainable practices.”

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Trump signs order to waive environmental reviews for key projects

President Donald Trump will sign an executive order directing agencies to waive the requirements of environmental statutes like the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act in order to expedite federal approval for new mines, highways, pipelines and other projects, according to four people briefed on the matter. The president cites the current “economic emergency” in his rationale for the order.

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In rare bipartisan bill, U.S. senators tackle climate change via agriculture

U.S. senators on Thursday introduced a bipartisan bill that would direct the Agriculture Department to help farmers, ranchers and landowners use carbon dioxide-absorbing practices to generate carbon credits, a rare collaboration on climate change. The proposed Growing Climate Solutions Act directs the USDA to create a program that would help the agriculture sector gain access to revenue from greenhouse gas offset credit markets.

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BLM proposes streamlining timber rules to reduce wildfires

The BLM is proposing to streamline rules governing timber harvests, sales and other forest management activities in the name of reducing wildfire risks across the West. The BLM announced a proposal to establish a new categorical exclusion (CX) under the National Environmental Policy Act, which would streamline the agency’s review of routine timber salvage projects and operations.

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Invoking the Defense Production Act for the rest of the food supply

President Donald Trump’s executive order late last month invoking the Defense Production Act to keep meat and poultry plants open got a ton of media attention, but there’s one big thing that was largely missed: The EO could actually grant USDA the same sweeping authority over, well, the rest of the country’s food production.

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EPA report: Dams play large role in raising water temperatures

The EPA issued a report Tuesday detailing summertime water temperature problems on the lower Snake and Columbia rivers and assigning significant responsibility to federal dams. The report said dams on both rivers play a role in raising water temperatures above 68 degrees — the state water quality standards of Washington and Oregon, and the point at which the water becomes harmful to salmon and steelhead. The causes of the increasing water temperatures are known as Total Maximum Daily Load, or TMDL. A draft TMDL is now out for public comment through July 21, 2020.

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USDA announces details of direct assistance to farmers through the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program

USDA announced details of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP), which will provide up to $16 billion in direct payments to deliver relief to America’s farmers and ranchers impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. In addition to this direct support to farmers and ranchers, USDA’s Farmers to Families Food Box program is partnering with regional and local distributors to purchase $3 billion in fresh produce, dairy, and meat and deliver boxes to Americans in need.

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Pandemic relief could become next forest policy battleground

The long-running debate about how best to care for national forests — and what to do with timber that’s taken from them — is quietly brewing again as lawmakers look for ways to promote a more intensive approach to forest management. A spending package for the pandemic offers one opportunity.

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To reach sustainable wild horse levels, feds say it will take more than $1 billion and years of work

Federal land managers say it will take two decades and cost more than $1 billion over the first six years alone to slash wild horse populations to sustainable levels necessary to protect U.S. rangeland. The BLM’s latest plans envision capturing 200,000 mustangs over the next two decades, building corrals to hold thousands more than current capacity and adopting regulations allowing the permanent sterilization of horses roaming federal lands.

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Feds, tribes raise concerns about cuckoo habitat proposal

The Fish and Wildlife Service has rekindled an Endangered Species Act debate with its proposal for a large, multistate critical habitat for the western yellow-billed cuckoo. The Army Corps of Engineers cautions that the proposal could complicate operations of a key California dam. Tribes have worries of their own. Some bird lovers, meanwhile, want more than the proposed 493,665 acres spanning seven Western states.

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‘Hydrologists should be happy.’ Big Supreme Court ruling bolsters groundwater science

A new U.S. Supreme Court ruling puts groundwater science at the center of decisions about how to regulate water pollution. Today, in a closely watched case with extensive implications, the court ruled six to three that the federal Clean Water Act applies to pollution of underground water that flows into nearby lakes, streams, and bays, as long as it is similar to pouring pollutants directly into these water bodies.

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EPA finalizes Trump administration rollbacks on stream and wetland protections

The Trump administration published a final rule Tuesday rolling back Obama-era environmental protections. The final rule, written by the Engineers Corps and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), redefines the scope of waters federally regulated under the Clean Water Act, passed under President Obama in 2015.

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USDA announces coronavirus food assistance program

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue today announced the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP). This new USDA program will take several actions to assist farmers, ranchers, and consumers in response to the COVID-19 national emergency. President Trump directed USDA to craft this $19 billion immediate relief program to provide critical support to our farmers and ranchers, maintain the integrity of our food supply chain, and ensure every American continues to receive and have access to the food they need.

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Historic agreement to protect monarch butterfly issued by FWS

The candidate conservation agreement with assurances (CCAA) potentially applies to over 26 million acres managed by energy companies and departments of transportation across the United States. Via the agreement, public and private partners can voluntarily adopt conservation measures that are beneficial to the monarch butterfly, which is currently being considered for listing under the Endangered Species Act.

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Department of State waives interview requirement for H-2A workers

The Department of State is taking steps to reduce delays in the processing of H-2A workers caused by the COVID-19 crisis. Because of the COVID-19 outbreak, the Department of State suspended routine visa services at all U.S. Embassies and Consulates on March 20, creating alarm about potential delays in H-2A worker availability. A March 26 move by the Department of State should ease that potential bottleneck, especially for workers from Mexico, the source of the majority of U.S. guest agricultural workers.

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Court rejects critical habitat for jaguar

A federal appeals court yesterday rejected the Fish and Wildlife Service’s designation of critical habitat for the endangered jaguar. Reversing a trial judge’s 2017 opinion that had been hailed by environmentalists, a unanimous three-judge panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals concluded the federal agency was “arbitrary and capricious” in its decisionmaking.

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White House seeks $45B for agencies

Congress is rushing to respond to the novel coronavirus on multiple fronts, including eyeing a new $45 billion White House request to bolster agencies and a far broader $1 trillion package that would include help for the ailing airline industry.

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Letter requests federal support to rural areas for COVID-19 response

A bipartisan group of 24 senators is asking FEMA to coordinate with USDA and the Interior Department to deploy federal workers trained in emergency response to rural communities overwhelmed by the pandemic. The Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management are “uniquely qualified,” the senators wrote. Link is to PDF of the letter. Thanks to Politico’s MorningAgriculture report for the tip.

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U.S. Department of the Interior approves paintballs to haze grizzly bears

According to a Facebook post from Montana FWP Prairie Bear Monitor, people may now legally shoot grizzly bears with paintballs if they come too close to homes or other possible areas of threat, such as barns, grain bins or schools. 

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Study looks at realities of increasing Yellowstone fees to pay for wildlife conservation

Longtime Wyoming researcher Arthur Middleton wondered what that could look like in practicality. So he assembled a team of economists, lawyers and biologists to run the numbers and probabilities of what would be the impact of either raising park fees for conservation efforts outside of park boundaries, or levying some form of tax to help pay for those efforts. What they found could be a basis for a statewide, or regional, conversation for conserving those wildlife that call Yellowstone, Grand Teton and the surrounding three states home.

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Land and Water Conservation Fund set for Senate floor vote

One day after President Trump tweeted his support, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is expected to take steps today to bring to the floor legislation that would permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund and address the national parks maintenance backlog, senators said.

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Legislation introduced in US House to require delisting of gray wolves

Legislation proposed Friday by Natural Resources Committee ranking member Rob Bishop (R-Utah) and Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) would require Interior Secretary David Bernhardt to remove gray wolves from Endangered Species Act protection.

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BLM may be forced to repay $125M in latest legal setback

A federal judge’s order nixing yet another attempt by the Trump administration to revise greater sage grouse protections may prove to be a costly bureaucratic mess. Chief Magistrate Judge Ronald Bush yesterday threw out rule changes adopted by the BLM in 2018 that shortened public comment times and administrative protest periods involving oil and gas lease sale parcels that overlap sage grouse habitat. Bush’s order requires BLM to conduct a “notice-and-comment rulemaking” to adopt these changes and comply with the National Environmental Policy Act and other federal laws.

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A comprehensive new federal roadmap for climate action on farms

Representative Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) introduced legislation that would set a national goal of reaching net-zero carbon emissions from the U.S. agriculture sector by 2040. The Agriculture Resilience Act also introduces sweeping changes to federal conservation and agriculture programs to reach that goal.

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Western yellow-billed cuckoo clocks in renewed habitat debate

The Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing a noticeably shrunken but still sprawling critical habitat for the threatened western yellow-billed cuckoo. In a long-awaited revision today, the federal agency proposed designating approximately 493,665 acres across seven Western states as critical habitat. The move would extend ESA protections to parts of Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, New Mexico, Texas and Utah.

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BLM calls wild horses ‘existential threat’ to public lands

The Bureau of Land Management is now formally referring to wild horses and burros as an “existential threat” to federal lands, mirroring acting BLM chief William Perry Pendley’s controversial characterization of growing herd sizes.

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Perdue outlines green goals for farmers

The USDA will redouble its efforts on carbon sequestration and reducing farming’s environmental impact, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said today — without referencing global climate change. Perdue said the department would encourage more practices that limit carbon emissions, a goal that would also improve soil health and boost farm productivity as the world’s population continues to grow.

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BLM seeks comments on sage-grouse management plans

The BLM will publish six draft supplemental environmental impact statements (SEISs) on Friday for management of Greater Sage-Grouse habitat on public lands in seven Western states, highlighting the collaborative process undergone in 2019 to develop plans that reflected the needs of western communities and Greater Sage-grouse habitat. Public comments will be accepted through April 6, 2020.

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Administration proposes deep energy, environmental cuts

President Trump’s $4.8 trillion fiscal 2021 budget request released today proposes major cuts to energy and environmental programs to help shore up national security spending.

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BLM struggles to fill top positions in new Western HQ

When the Bureau of Land Management moves its Washington-based headquarters to Grand Junction, Colo., this year, more than half of the senior leaders there may be as new as the office itself. BLM has been scrambling to fill more than a dozen high-level positions in the new agency headquarters.

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USFWS: Trump regulations boost risk for migratory birds

The Trump administration’s controversial narrowing of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act will reduce environmental protections that can be expected from industry, the Fish and Wildlife Service predicted today. In proposed new regulations that have immediately prompted heated debate, the federal agency today acknowledged diminished private mitigation as one likely result of limiting the law’s coverage to the intentional killing of migratory birds.

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House committee votes to overturn Trump ESA revisions

The House Natural Resources Committee voted today to approve a suite of bills along party lines, including legislation that would overturn the Trump administration’s controversial rules revising the Endangered Species Act. The full committee also voted to approve two bills that would advance the establishment of wildlife corridors on federal and Native American lands nationwide.

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Conservation reserve program is ‘competitive’ this year, despite lower rental rates

Despite lower rental rates, enrollment in the Conservation Reserve Program is “competitive” this year, a USDA official said at a House Agriculture subcommittee hearing on Tuesday. The 2018 farm bill raised the cap on the number of acres to be enrolled in the CRP from 24 million to 27 million.

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ACEP interim rule comment deadline extended

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has extended the public comment period on its interim rule for the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP).Comments will now be accepted through March 20, 2020.

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Final Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule unveiled

The final Waters of the U.S. rule unveiled by the Trump administration today eliminates Clean Water Act protections for the majority of the nation’s wetlands and more than 18% of streams, and replaces regulations set in the Reagan administration.

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Petition seeks federal protections for Rio Grande fish

Environmentalists are asking federal wildlife managers to use the Endangered Species Act to protect a fish found only in the Rio Grande in Texas and the Pecos River in New Mexico. WildEarth Guardians filed the petition with the Fish and Wildlife Service yesterday, saying it is part of a campaign focused on vulnerable species found in rivers and streams across the West.

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ESA scores a win with Colorado River fish

A humpbacked Colorado River fish that’s been federally protected for more than half a century has escaped from the edge of doom, the Fish and Wildlife Service announced today. In what officials are calling an Endangered Species Act success story, the federal agency is proposing to downlist the humpback chub from endangered to threatened status. The move would retain protections for the fish but also signify its “partial recovery” and ease some regulatory requirements.

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BLM to consider proposed revisions to grazing regulations

The Bureau of Land Management has published a Notice of Intent in the Federal Register to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement to consider proposed revisions to the agency’s grazing regulations. The proposed revisions aim to “update, modernize and streamline the grazing regulations and provide greater flexibility for land and resource management.” Comments on the proposed revisions may be submitted in writing until February 28, 2020.

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Final Trump WOTUS rule expected soon

The Trump administration is expected to finalize a rule limiting which waterways are protected by the Clean Water Act this month.

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Trump admin launches review of grizzly bears

The grizzly bear’s future as a protected species will get another gander, as the Fish and Wildlife Service today initiated a full-bore study of the iconic animal. The review will mark the federal agency’s first comprehensive update on the grizzly bear since 2011 and could lead to proposed revisions of its Endangered Species Act status.

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New bill would encourage native plants on federal land

Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) want the Interior Department to create a five-year pilot program promoting native plant species to preserve ecosystems and help reverse land and water degradation. Their new bill, S. 3150, aims to prevent and eradicate devastating invasive species through greater use of native plant material for federal land maintenance and restoration.

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NRCS seeks comments on ACEP interim rule

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) seeks public comments on its interim rule for the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), USDA’s premier conservation easement program that helps landowners protect working agricultural lands and wetlands. Comments will be accepted through March 6, 2020.

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Delisting gray wolf leads end-of-year legislation blitz

Lawmakers introduced a flurry of bills before leaving the capital for the holidays, including legislation to delist the gray wolf under the Endangered Species Act. S. 3140 would direct the Interior Department to issue a rule removing the gray wolf from federal protections.

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Bennet unveils discussion draft to create new tax credit for farmers and ranchers to capture carbon in the land sector

Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet today released a discussion draft of legislation to establish a new tax credit for farmers and ranchers, state and local governments, and tribes, to sequester carbon in agriculture, forestry, rangelands, and wetlands.

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Allison: Farm bill is a big win for every American

It didn’t appear in many front-page headlines, but Congress just passed a five-year, $867 billion piece of legislation in a bipartisan, landslide vote. In today’s political climate, this kind of thing doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, it should be newsworthy.

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