Heinrich Conservation Measures Clear Senate Farm Bill

WASHINGTON, D.C. (July 2, 2018) - U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, announced the passage of several conservation measures that he has championed to improve the health and resiliency of New Mexico’s forests and watersheds. The measures were included in the 2018 Farm Bill, which passed the Senate with an 86 to 11 vote.

Included in the Farm Bill are provisions from Senator Heinrich’s bipartisan Restoring America’s Watersheds Act to improve the health of watersheds on national forest lands. The three measures would direct greater resources toward fire-impacted watersheds, encourage partnerships with non-federal stakeholders to invest in forests that provide important water resources, and encourage local collaboration in restoring our forests’ health.

“Watersheds are integral to life in New Mexico. The resources they provide ensure our communities have clean drinking water and bolster agriculture. These forested watersheds also provide critical habitat for New Mexico's wildlife and are vital to our growing outdoor recreation economy,” said Sen. Heinrich. “I'm pleased to have secured these common-sense measures to improve the management of watersheds in our national forests and reduce the risks of costly catastrophic wildfire.”

Senator Heinrich also helped secure the Sage-Grouse and Mule Deer Habitat Conservation and Restoration Act in the Farm Bill. According to the Fish and Wildlife Service, piñon and juniper forests have been encroaching on key sagebrush habitat at a rapid rate. This invasion erodes and fragments sagebrush habitat and provides artificial roosting and nesting sites for sage-grouse predators. Wildlife managers in the West have long worked to convert piñon and juniper stands to sagebrush because doing so increases forage and soil water availability, which improves wildlife carrying capacity and benefits big game populations, particularly mule deer.

“Outdoor traditions like hunting are part of New Mexico’s way of life. This legislation builds on the success of habitat restoration projects to ensure sage brush landscapes are maintained for mule deer and other sage-dependent species for generations to come,” said Sen. Heinrich.

Details about Senator Heinrich’s conservation provisions included in the Farm Bill are below:

Water Source Protection Program: Establishes the Water Source Protection Program within the Forest Service. The Water Source Protection Program would build on partnerships between cities, businesses, water utilities, farmers and ranchers, and the Forest Service to provide matching funds for forest health projects on lands that provide water resources for downstream users. In New Mexico, the Santa Fe Water Fund and Rio Grande Water Fund are successful examples of these partnerships. This provision clarifies and enhance the Forest Service’s ability to partner with communities to protect forest watersheds and provide reliable jobs for forest workers.

Watershed Condition Framework: The Forest Service developed the Watershed Condition Framework (WCF) in 2011, but it has never been authorized by Congress. The WCF is a system to evaluate the health of watersheds on national forest lands, identify priority watershed for restoration, develop restoration action plans, implement those plans, and monitor the effectiveness of the restoration projects. This provision requires the Forest Service to coordinate with states, private landowners, and the public throughout the process. It also allows an emergency designation of priority watersheds that are newly damaged by catastrophic wildfire without waiting for the regular evaluation cycle.

Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program: CFLRP was established in 2009 to select high-priority forest restoration projects as designed and proposed by local community collaborative groups. Over the last nine years, CFLRP projects have demonstrated that large, landscape scale restoration projects can improve forest and watershed health while bringing economic development to rural communities. CFLRP has reached its authorized funding cap, so no new projects can be added. This provision doubles the allowed spending cap and extends the program authorization for five more years.

Sage-Grouse and Mule Deer Habitat Conservation and Restoration Act: The bill includes Heinrich’s Sage-Grouse and Mule Deer Habitat Conservation and Restoration Act. The provision directs the secretary of the Interior to develop one or more categorical exclusions, in accordance with NEPA, to allow specified vegetative management activities to improve sage grouse and mule deer habitat. The legislation also includes several limitations on what activities may be included, and where those activities may take place.