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Farm bill abandons endangered wildlife

Farm bill abandons endangered wildlife
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The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote on the farm bill, H.R. 2, next week. The legislation contains numerous provisions disastrous to wildlife, our environment and our economy.

Title IX, the “Poisoned Pollinators Provision,” would exempt pesticide registrations from key requirements to protect imperiled species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Title VIII would weaken species protections and other safeguards on national forestlands. Title II would shortchange critical conservation programs that depend on farm bill funding and implementation which benefit wildlife in every state.

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The House should vote this partisan bill down and produce a balanced bill that serves our nation’s farmers and communities without damaging ecosystems and undermining fundamental environmental protections.

 

The bill is jammed with ESA and Clean Water Act overrides. Title IX includes provisions that would undermine protections for endangered and threatened species from potentially harmful pesticides and allow for pesticide dumping into waterways without meaningful oversight.

A third of our food is pollinated by birds, bats and insects. Native pollinators provide an estimated $3 billion worth of crop pollination services annually. The Poisoned Pollinators Provision weakens important requirements under the ESA that address the toxic pesticides effects on threatened and endangered species including butterflies, bees and other sensitive pollinators, Pacific salmon and steelhead, black-footed ferrets and orca.

Section 9111, “Registration of pesticides,” would rescind the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) legal obligation to consult with expert federal wildlife agencies to assess the effects of toxic and potentially dangerous pesticides on endangered and threatened species. It allows EPA to make unilateral, self-interested determinations regarding pesticide impacts on endangered species on an extended timeframe.

EPA would have until 2026 or 2033 to complete reviews for registered pesticides, and four years for pesticides registered after enactment of this language. This reckless approach will harm endangered wildlife and disrupt agricultural ecosystems, resulting in pollinator population declines that will hurt farmers and their crops.

Section 9114, “Unlawful Acts,” will exempt EPA, pesticide manufacturers and end users from liability for killing endangered wildlife if the EPA determines that the pesticide won’t jeopardize listed species or destroy critical habitat.

Rep. Marcia FudgeMarcia Louise FudgeTrump attacks Dems on farm bill Dem lawmaker sees 'probability’ that next Speaker will be black Moulton looks to recruit new generation of Dem leaders MORE (D-Ohio), ranking member on the Conservation and Forestry Subcommittee, said she was “deeply disappointed” by the $800 million cut to the conservation title. She highlighted the elimination of core components of the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) by folding it into Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).

We share these concerns. The bill ignores the unique role CSP plays in enrolling entire agricultural operations and in providing payments for advanced conservation enhancements and expected conservation benefits. It would eliminate certain requirements that benefit wildlife and watersheds, like the exclusion for infrastructure payments for confined animal feeding operations and the supplemental payments for resource-conserving crop rotations.

Additionally, there is no minimum amount of total EQIP funding that must be used for Stewardship Contracts, which means that these contracts may ultimately go unfunded.

The forestry provision runs contrary to the fire funding and forestry compromise Congress reached in the fiscal 2018 omnibus. It would double the size of the largest legislated exemptions (including those just agreed to) to allow approval of 6,000-acre logging projects without basic review and oversight provided under the National Environmental Policy Act.

It creates new exemptions (also for projects up to 6,000 acres) — covering almost every logging project conceivable, with no limit on the number or proximity, putting huge swaths of forests on the chopping block. It creates new exemptions for harmful grazing practices, roadbuilding and other activities on public lands that warrant review.

It attacks the Roadless Rule by allowing harmful forest management activities if consistent with local forest plans, even if prohibited by national or state-specific roadless rules. The Forest Service can ignore impacts to listed and sensitive species, wilderness areas and other extraordinary circumstances when approving the use of exemptions. And would be allowed to waive endangered species consultations and determine that an activity is not likely to adversely impact listed species or critical habitat.

Congress should craft a balanced bill that serves the needs of people and wildlife that rely on farm bill programs. The House should vote down the current version of the farm bill and the Senate should take a completely different direction. The farm bill should include protections for environmental laws, prioritizing conservation of at-risk species, supporting wildlife coexistence, measuring wildlife outcomes of farm bill conservation programs, maintaining support for Conservation Technical Assistance and encouraging federal agencies to prioritize habitat connectivity.

Jamie Rappaport Clark is the president and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife. She was previously the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from 1997-2001.