Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, welcomed the passage of the 2013 Farm Bill in the Senate today, which includes two measures to improve forest health. Bennet introduced both measures earlier this year and worked with the Committee to have them included in the comprehensive long-term Farm Bill.
"Colorado's forests, like many across the country, have suffered from the effects of a warming climate and persistent drought conditions. Last summer's devastating wildfires demonstrated the importance of active management to keep them healthy," Bennet said. "These two measures will help the Forest Service and local businesses maintain healthy forests and reduce the risk of wildfires -- all while respecting our wilderness areas and existing agency plans."
Bennet's National Forest Insect and Disease Treatment Act, which is cosponsored by Senators Mark Udall (D-CO), Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Max Baucus (D-MT), would create a program to designate new national forest acreage that is suffering from insect and disease epidemics for expedited treatments. The treatments would be carried out under the authorities provided in the Healthy Forest Restoration Act (HFRA) of 2003.
Also included is Bennet's Permanent Stewardship Contracting Authority Act, also cosponsored by Udall and Baucus, which would permanently reauthorize nationwide Stewardship Contracting authority for the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. The contracts support public-private partnerships that create Colorado jobs, reduce fuel loads on public lands and allow the private sector to turn the problem of excess biomass into profit.
The bill also passed with the Sodsaver Prairie Protection Act, a bill Bennet helped introduce, which would modify crop insurance premium assistance for insured crops grown on native sod converted to cropland. This provision is projected to save taxpayers $200 million over 10 years, and would encourage conservation of grasslands that pheasants, ducks, and other wildlife use as a habitat.
Bennet has worked tirelessly to support policies that will help improve forest health and prevent and fight wildfires. In addition to the forest health bills in the Farm Bill, Bennet has called for the modernization of our air tanker fleet and supported a bill allowing the Forest Service to purchase up to seven more tankers. Following last year's wildfires, Bennet led efforts to secure Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) resources to help Colorado communities recover from the Waldo Canyon and High Park fires.
Bennet is the Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Subcommittee on Forestry, Conservation and Natural Resources, whose jurisdiction includes the policies that manage all 193 million acres of public lands controlled by the United States Forest Service.