BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT
Mr. BENNET. Mr. President, it is a great privilege to be here tonight with the senior Senator from Colorado because the topic I come to the floor to talk about tonight is the West. Similar to the Presiding Officer, I have been thinking a lot about our home State of Colorado because we currently have a terrible wildfire burning just west of Fort Collins. Susan and I and the girls went up to Jamestown this weekend--I think I told the Presiding Officer this earlier--and dropped them off at camp, and that is far away from where this fire is. It is on the other side of Estes Park. But even from there, we could see an incredible plume of smoke, and in the 45 minutes or so we were there, I would say the volume of that plume of smoke increased by three-or fourfold and we could tell something terrible was going on.
As the Presiding Officer knows better than anybody in this Chamber, this devastating fire has destroyed over 100 structures and has tragically claimed one life and endangered many others. In fact, as we stand in this Chamber tonight, there are many endangered by this fire. At over 43,000 acres and growing, it is the third largest fire in Colorado's history.
Today, I think I can say for both of us, our thoughts go out to the family who lost a loved one and to the hundreds of firefighters who are bravely working on the ground as we are here tonight. We wish them well and we wish them success in battling this blaze.
As the Presiding Officer knows, wildfires are simply part of life in the West. Managing our land to improve resiliency needs to be a focus of ours in this Congress. That is why I am pleased, as a member of the Committee on Agriculture, to say the farm bill reauthorizes stewardship contracting, which allows our Federal land management agencies to implement high priority forest management and restoration projects. Much of the Presiding Officer's career has had to do with these programs. I thank him for his support, and I have been pleased to be able to carry on his work as a member of the Agriculture Committee. This is a critical tool for initiatives that restore and maintain healthy forest ecosystems and provide local employment. The Presiding Officer, I think, was on the floor maybe yesterday talking about the importance of this to our timber industry in Colorado and across this country.
Another truly western aspect of this bill I would like to focus on tonight is conservation and specifically the stewardship of our western landscape. In my travels around Colorado, I have been heartened to see over and over farmers and ranchers arm in arm with conservation groups and with sportsmen, all in the name of proper stewardship of the land, of protecting our open spaces. They all share the recognition that keeping these landscapes in their historical, undeveloped state is an economic driver--as family farms, as working cattle ranches; for tourism, for wildlife habitat, and to preserve our rural way of life and our rural economies.
Every citizen knows the American West is a destination for those seeking wide-open spaces--a ``home on the range,'' as they say, a way of life that is focused on working the land and the wise stewardship of our natural resources. We also know that as we have grown as a country, there has been increasing development pressure on this way of life and on the landscape. That pressure is exactly why the farm bill's conservation title is so vital to people in the West.
I serve as chairman of the Conservation Subcommittee of the Senate Agriculture Committee, and through the dozens--literally dozens--of farm bill listening sessions I have held over the last 18 months, farmers and ranchers were always talking about the importance of conservation; conservation of their way of life and conservation of their land, particularly the use of conservation easements which help landowners voluntarily conserve the farming and ranching heritage of their land, a heritage that is so important to our State and to the entire West.
So I wished to spend a few minutes sharing some of the stories Coloradans have shared with me and, maybe more important than that, showing our colleagues what this looks like. Of course, we live in the most beautiful State of all 50 States, in Colorado. This photo is from the Music Meadows Ranch outside Westcliffe, CO, elevation 9,000 feet. On these beautiful 4,000 acres, Elin Ganschow raises some of the finest grass-fed beef in the country. Thanks to the Grassland Reserve Program, Elin's ranch now has a permanent conservation easement. So this beautiful land will likely always have someone running cattle on it.
This photo I have in the Chamber is from the San Luis Valley, where my predecessor, Ken Salazar, is from. Fifteen different conservation easements--finalized by the Colorado Cattlemen's Agricultural Land Trust--protect nearly all of the private land over a 20-mile stretch in the valley.
The great work of the Cattlemen's Agricultural Land Trust, aided by the programs in the farm bill conservation title before us, is protecting our western way of life in Colorado.
This beautiful picture is also from the valley. This is not a movie set, by the way. This is how we live our lives in the great State of Colorado and why these programs have been so important.
Finally, I want to share one more Colorado story about preserving our State's fruit orchards. Most people do not know this, as I have traveled the country--and I imagine Senators Isakson and Chambliss from Georgia might even be surprised to hear--Colorado is a national leader in the production of peaches. This picture is of a peach orchard in Palisade.
My friends from California might also be interested to know that Colorado has a burgeoning wine industry as well. In Colorado's Grand Valley, pictured here, conservation programs have been efficiently employed to protect 14 family farms growing peaches and wine grapes among other things.
The Federal investments made available to protect these lands have not only ensured they will stay in agricultural production, but the resources provided from the Natural Resource Conservation Service, NRCS, help these family farms acquire new land to plant and new equipment to plant it.
Mr. President, as you can see--and as you already know--conservation is an integral part of what we are all about in the West. It helps define who we are. Sometimes people only focus on conserving public land in its undeveloped state, and that is an important endeavor in Colorado and across the West. But private land conservation--the type aided by the farm bill--is critical for so many reasons: to protect the agricultural heritage of the land, and for wildlife habitat: elk, bighorn sheep, pheasant, Colorado cutthroat trout--the list goes on and on--so many of the prized species that are important to our Nation's sportsmen and nature lovers.
Finding open landscapes and the species that inhabit them are a fundamental part of what it is to be in the West. We need to preserve these open spaces. That is what this title does. I strongly support this new conservation title as reported out of the committee on a bipartisan vote.
I know some would look to amend this bipartisan consensus, to cut conservation resources in the name of deficit reduction or to apply it to some other purpose. I am the first to say we need to cut our deficit. We need to put the entire budget under a microscope--including agriculture--to cut waste and eliminate redundancies. And, by the way, we have.
This committee--the Senate Agriculture Committee--under the leadership of the chairwoman and the ranking member, is the only committee I am aware of in this entire Congress--the House or the Senate--that has actually come up with a bipartisan consensus on deficit reduction. I thank the ranking member and the chairwoman for their leadership, for setting a model, an example for the other committees that are working--or should be working--to get our deficit under control.
I might say, $6.4 billion of those cuts do come from conservation, not all of which I like. But we made difficult compromises at the committee level. We have a more efficient conservation title that won support from both sides of the aisle, and we ought to move this bill forward.
I know there has been a little bit of the usual back-and-forth about amendments that are not necessarily related to the topic at hand, and we have a habit of doing that in the Senate. I hope there can be an agreement reached by the leadership so we can move this critically important bill forward.
Again, at a time when so much partisan bickering is going on around this place, to have seen the fine work that was done by this committee--Republicans and Democrats working together--to strengthen this commodity title, create real deficit reduction, and actually end direct payments to producers--one of the most significant reforms in agricultural policy that we have had around this place in decades--it would be a shame--worse than a shame; it would be terrible--to let that work go to waste.
With that, Mr. President, the hour is late. I am going to stop so we can close. I thank the Presiding Officer very much and say again what a privilege it was to be able to talk about our home with him in the chair.
So with that, I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum.
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT