STATEMENTS ON INTRODUCED BILLS AND JOINT RESOLUTIONS
By Mr. CRAIG (for himself, Mr. HAGEL, Mr. DASCHLE, Mr. CRAPO, Mr. BAUCUS, Mr. BURNS, Mr. DORGAN, Mr. SMITH, Mr. JOHNSON, and Mr. ENSIGN):
S. 144. A bill to require the Secretary of the Interior to establish a program to provide assistance through States to eligible weed management entities to control or eradicate harmful, nonnative weeds on public and private land; to the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.
Mr. CRAIG. Mr. President, I would like to address an issue of enormous economic magnitude, but one that many are only vaguely familiar with. This issue is extremely important to those of us in the West and around the country because it affects countless farmers, ranchers, public land managers and private landowners, and it literally knows no boundaries.
Noxious weeds threaten fully two-thirds of all endangered species and are now considered by some experts to be the second most important threat to bio-diversity. In some areas in the West, spotted knapweed and thistle grows so dense that big game wildlife are forced to move out of the area to find edible plants. Noxious weeds also increase soil erosion, and prevent recreationists from accessing land that is infested with poisonous plants.
I believe stopping the spread of noxious weeds requires a two pronged effort. First, we must prevent new non-native weed species from becoming established in the United States, and second, we must stop or slow the spread of the noxious weeds currently present in our country.
I have stood before Congress for a number of years pushing legislation and speaking on the issue of noxious weeds. I know some in the Senate tire of hearing me bring up this issue, but growing up on a farm and ranch in western Idaho, I have experienced the destruction caused when noxious weeds are not treated and are left to overtake native species. Two-thirds of our land in Idaho is owned by the Federal Government. Our Montana, Washington, and Oregon neighbors all have comparable Federal ownership. State and private land borders much of these Federal lands. I have seen the devastation noxious weeds can have when unchecked and not effectively treated or managed largely due to lack of resources.
Because of these problems, during the 106th Congress I introduced and worked to pass the Plant Protection Act. That bill primarily dealt with the Animal Plant Health Inspection Service's, APHIS, authority to block or regulate the importation or movement of a noxious weed and plant pest, and it also provides authority for inspection and enforcement of the regulations. Basically the bill focused on stopping the weeds at our borders.
Last Congress, along with 16 of my colleagues, I introduced S. 198, the "Noxious Weed Control Act." We held two Committee hearings on the bill, and it passed the Senate in November. Unfortunately there was not time to reconcile the bill with the other body, so we are introducing the legislation again.
To develop the Noxious Weed Control Act, I worked tirelessly with the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, Public Lands Council, and The Nature Conservancy. This legislation will provide a mechanism to get funding to the local level where weeds can be fought in a collaborative way. Working together is what this entire initiative is all about.
Specifically, this bill establishes, in the Office of the Secretary of the Interior, a program to provide assistance through States to eligible weed management entities. The Secretary of the Interior would appoint an Advisory Committee of ten individuals to make recommendations to the Secretary regarding the annual allocation of funds. The Secretary, in consultation with the Advisory Committee, would allocate funds to States to provide funding to eligible weed management entities to carry out projects approved by States to control or eradicate harmful, non-native weeds on public and private lands. Funds would be allocated based on several factors, including but not limited to: the seriousness of the problem in the State; the extent to which the Federal funds will be used to leverage non-Federal funds to address the problem; and the extent to which the State has already made progress in addressing the problems.
The bill directs that the States may use 8 percent of their allocation to fund applied research to solve locally significant weed management problems and solutions. States may also allocate 25 percent of available funding to encourage the formation of weed management areas and to carry out projects relating to the control and eradication of noxious weeds, and 75 percent for financial awards to eligible weed management entities. To be eligible for funding, a weed management entity must be established by local stakeholders for weed management or public education purposes, provide the State a description of its purpose and proposed projects, and fulfill any other requirements set by the State. Projects would be evaluated, giving equal consideration to economic and natural values, and selected for funding based on factors such as the seriousness of the problem, the likelihood that the project will address the problem, and the comprehensiveness of the project's approach to the noxious weed problem within the State. A 50 percent of non-Federal match is required to receive the funds.
The Department of Agriculture in Idaho, ISDA, has developed a "Strategic Plan for Managing Noxious Weeds" through a collaborative effort involving private landowners, State and Federal land managers, State and local governmental entities, and other interested parties. Cooperative Weed Management Areas, CWMAs, are the centerpiece of the strategic plan. CWMAs cross jurisdictional boundaries to bring together all landowners, land managers, and interested parties to identify and prioritize noxious weed strategies within the CWMA in a collaborative manner. The primary responsibilities of the ISDA are to provide coordination, administrative support, facilitation, and project cost-share funding for this collaborative effort. Idaho already has a record of working in a collaborative way on this issue, my legislation will build on the progress we have had, and establish the same formula for success in other States.
As I have said before, noxious weeds are a serious problem on both public and private lands across the Nation. Like a "slow burning wildfire," noxious weeds take land out of production, force native species off the land, and interrupt the commerce and activities of all those who rely on the land for their livelihoods, including farmers, ranchers, recreationists, and others.
I believe we must focus our efforts to rid our lands of this devastating invader. Noxious weeds are not only a problem for farmers and ranchers, but a hazard to our environment, economy, and communities in Idaho, the West, and for the country as a whole. We must reclaim the rangeland for natural species. Noxious weeds do not recognize property boundaries, so if we want to win this war on weeds, we must integrate all stakeholders at the Federal, State, local, and individual levels. The Noxious Weed Control Act is an important step to ensure we are diligent in stopping the spread of these weeds. I am confident that if we work together at all levels of government and throughout our communities, we can protect our land, livelihood, and environment.
I urge my colleagues to support this effort.