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House Farm Bill Includes $1.58 billion for Ag Land Easements

Advocates Alert: July 12, 2012

In the wee hours of this morning, the House Agriculture Committee approved its version of the Farm Bill, by a vote of 35 to 11. In the context of tight budgets and divisive politics, our programs fared very well.

Strong Foundation for the Next Decade of Agricultural Land Easements

Approaching this Farm Bill, we faced a very real threat that Congress would greatly reduce or eliminate funding for perpetual easements, or merge programs in a way that would render them unworkable for land trusts and landowners. This bill isn't yet a done deal, but here's a look at the common elements now approved by the full Senate and the House Agriculture Committee:

  • Strong funding -- Despite cutting $12 billion more than the Senate bill overall, the House provides about $200 million more than the Senate for easements -- a total of $1.58 billion over the next decade. Given the fiscal pressures now at work on the federal budget, this is a remarkable achievement.
  • A merger that embraces land trust partnerships -- The new Agricultural Lands Easement (ALE) program merges the Farm and Ranch lands Protection Program (FRPP) and Grassland Reserve Program (GRP) in a way that fully embraces the successful model of providing grants to local land trusts and governments to purchase  permanent easements. Federal acquisitions, short-term easements, and yellow book appraisals are gone.
  • Successful amendments define the federal role -- Last month, we celebrated the Senate's unanimous adoption of the Bennet/Crapo amendment to clearly limit the federal role in  the acquisition and stewardship of ALE easements. Thanks to the efforts of Congressmen Chris Gibson (R-NY), Scott Tipton (R-CO) and others, this and other important changes were included in the House draft.
  • Waiver for grasslands is maintained -- Both bills allow the Secretary of Agriculture to provide up to 75% of appraised value for easements on grasslands of special environmental significance.
  • Harmful amendments averted -- One of the most notable outcomes of all of your outreach to Congressional offices –none of the 100+ amendments considered in the House committee proposed further cuts to conservation.

These successes would not have been possible without your hard work and the strong partnership we've had with American Farmland Trust, the Partnership of Rangeland Trusts, the Trust for Public Land, and The Nature Conservancy on these issues.

Two Disappointments

We did not succeed in adding further flexibility to the match requirements, so that landowners could donate more value in place of cash match from local land trusts and governments. Our friends on the House Agriculture Committee carefully considered proposing an amendment on this issue, but decided against it after weighing the risks. We will continue exploring ways to advance these proposals.

Early in the Senate process, we succeeded in greatly increasing authorization limits on the Forest Legacy and Community Forest programs. Unfortunately, the House bill brings those caps back, at $55 million a year for Forest Legacy and $1.5 million for Community Forests. We will be working to see that the Senate language prevails in a final bill.

It's Not Over, Yet!

House leaders have not yet committed time to consider the Farm Bill on the floor. Rumors are rampant about alternative procedural approaches to advance the bill in the coming weeks or months. In order for the bill to become law, the full House must pass it (no easy thing) and the House and Senate must negotiate a final bill and enact it.  They have a deadline -- the October 1 expiration date of the 2008 Farm Bill. We will keep you posted!

Learn more at: www.lta.org/farmbill.

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