Tuesday, the Senate passed an amendment offered by U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) to the Farm Bill (S. 954), which would require the U.S. Department of Agriculture to treat Tribes on the same level as states and local governments for soil and water resource conservation efforts. The Senate passed the Cantwell amendment with bipartisan support by a vote of 87-8. Debate on the full Farm Bill will continue in the U.S. Senate.
"American Indian Tribes have increasingly been involved in federal conservation and stewardship initiatives and have been enormously successful in carrying out conservation programs for their own communities," said Cantwell. "This amendment would be a major step towards ensuring that Tribes have a strong voice in conservation efforts that affect their communities and the national landscape. I appreciate the strong bipartisan support of placing Tribes on equal footing with their state and federal partners, and I look forward to working with my colleagues to pass the Farm Bill into law."
The Soil and Water Resources Conservation Act of 1977 established a national soil and water conservation program within the U.S. Department of Agriculture. However, the Act only authorized coordination with existing federal, state, and local governments, and did not include Tribes.
Senator Cantwell's amendment would correct this omission so that Tribes can participate in the nationwide appraisal of soil, water, and related resources. Once included in the Act, Tribal programs will be able to receive technical assistance from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Ensuring Tribes have equal access to technical assistance will improve conservation efforts for all stakeholders involved by allowing for greater collaboration between Tribes, states, and local partners.
Since becoming Chair of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, Senator Cantwell has consistently advocated for fuller recognition of the government-to-government relationship between federal agencies and Tribes in legislation considered by the Senate.