Summer is an essential time for Montana’s agricultural producers, but this summer is also an important time for agriculture policymakers. The current federal farm bill expires in September, pushing federal legislators to craft a new multi-year package focused on agricultural and food issues. Since the first farm bill in 1933, the package has been reevaluated roughly once every five years and has been expanded to cover 12 different sectors, spanning from commodities to nutrition to forestry. While farm bills come with a major price tag–the 2018 farm bill is estimated to cost $867 billion–bill negotiations also come with the opportunity to shape agricultural policy.
One major area of opportunity with the ongoing farm bill negotiations is to include forest management policy. As the wildfire crisis continues to grow, it is widely acknowledged that actively restoring our forests through tools like mechanical thinning, timber harvest, and prescribed burns will reduce wildfire risk, protect watersheds, and conserve wildlife habitat. The problem is that obstacles including red tape, litigation, and capacity challenges make it difficult for forest managers to actually conduct the work needed on the ground to protect forest ecosystems. The 2023 farm bill provides the opportunity to remove the obstacles to fixing America’s forests.
Here are some recommendations on how Congress could make meaningful improvements to forest management through the farm bill: