The House and Senate Agriculture Committees are putting pen to paper on the next Farm Bill because the current version expires this year. In communications with Congressional staff, it is clear that the House is on a glide path to finish drafting the bill by the end of February. The Senate is on a slower track, but not that far behind – likely early spring. The timing of marking up these drafts is a little less certain as Farm Bill authorizers (House and Senate Agriculture Committee Chairmen) will want assurances from leadership that floor time is available for Farm Bill consideration. They will not want to report out a bill from committee and then have it languish for potential opponents to pick apart.
The Hardwood Federation has been working hard with colleagues on a few key policy areas in the Farm Bill. Our highest priority is seeing that the Market Access and Foreign Market Development programs are authorized for another five years and fully funded. We are supportive of a group that is lobbying Congress to significantly increase funding for both these programs, but based on our feedback from key Congressional staff, we believe that preserving current funding levels is the best we can expect. Funding for programs in this round of Farm Bill negotiations will be particularly tight.
We have also been active with the Forests in the Farm Bill Coalition on a couple of policy deliverables. One is the Timber Innovation Act, which would promote using wood to construct taller buildings. We believe there is tremendous potential for moving markets for hardwood products as acceptance of mass timber grows, and we are lending our advocacy help to enact this legislation as part of the Farm Bill.
Finally, we are working on a biomass energy proposal for inclusion in the Farm Bill which we think will help with our challenges dealing with sawmill residuals. The program is called the Community Wood Energy Program (CWEP) which would provide grants for installing advanced wood heating systems in public institutions across the country. The proposal we are advocating, again as part of the Forests in the Farm Bill Coalition, is to expand the program’s scope to include private institutions and to give the program the funding it needs to deliver on its goals. Feedback from committee staff and leadership has been generally positive. We should know definitively in the coming weeks about the progress on all three efforts as details about the drafts become available.
International Trade Developments
NAFTA talks continue with the most recent round concluding in Montreal, Canada. There remains concern that the United States will withdraw from talks and agreements, but the most recent statements from President Trump and his administration suggest that talks are moving forward and have seen some progress in negotiations. On January 30th a group of 36 GOP Senators including Mitch McConnell, Lindsey Graham, John Cornyn, John Thune, Rob Portman, Chuck Grassley, Ben Sasse, Ted Cruz, and Bob Corker sent a letter to President Trump asking that he preserve NAFTA and “support the 14 million jobs, representing thousands of jobs in each of the 50 states… [and] the next step to advance the economy requires that we keep NAFTA in place, but modernize it to better reflect our 21st century economy.”
There is still a long way to go, especially on some of the thornier issues, but any sign that things are progressing is encouraging.
Northern Long-Eared Bat/ White Nose Syndrome
White-nose syndrome has killed over six million bats in the United States and Canada over the past decade, killing 90- 100% of bats with the disease. The Northern Research Station recently announced that the fungus, Pseudogymnoascus destructans, that causes white-nose syndrome (WNS) in bats may have a weakness. Research conducted by the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the University of New Hampshire shows that the fungus is negatively impacted by ultraviolet (UV) light. The study found that small doses of UV light destroyed about 85% of the fungus exposed to the light and that only 1% of exposed areas survived against modest exposure. In this case a small hand-held UV light device was used for only a few seconds.
This new information could lead to big breakthroughs for the disastrous disease, and many government agencies are encouraged by the news. Lead author of the study and research botanist in the Norther Research Station lab, Jon Palmer, is “very hopeful that the fungus’ extreme vulnerability to UV light can be exploited to manage the disease and save bats.” The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service believes that “investing in defeating WNS must be a priority, and the results from this study and contributing research give us hope that we can develop the tools to more effectively manage the fungus that causes the disease,” according to WNS coordinator Jeremy Coleman. Director of the Forest Service’s Northern Research Station and the Forest Products Laboratory, Tony Ferguson, noted “Bats play a key role in the health of forests as well as the production of food in the United States, and developing an array of tools with which we can treat bats for white-nose syndrome is important to preserving these very important species.”
The next step is to conduct farther research on if a UV light treatment can be used on already diseased bats. The disease has led to the listing of the Northern Long- Eared Bat as a threatened species, with potential impacts on forest management.