Heinrich Secures Forest Health And Water Conservation Measures In Farm Bill

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Dec. 12, 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 conference report—the final agreement between the House and Senate—which passed the Senate with an 87 to 13 vote. The bill must now be passed by the U.S. House of Representatives and be signed into law by the president.

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.

“I'm proud to pass these common-sense measures to improve the management of watersheds in our national forests and reduce the risks of costly catastrophic wildfires,”said Heinrich. “We are living in an era of severe drought, extreme wildfires, and climate disruption. We must utilize the best available science and deliver resources to help our communities promote long-term sustainable use of New Mexico's land and water.” 

Senator Heinrich also helped secure the Sage-Grouse and Mule Deer Habitat Conservation and Restoration Act in the Farm Bill. Across the West, sagebrush habitat is in decline at a rapid rate. Wildlife managers in the West have long worked to restore sagebrush habitat because doing so increases forage and soil water availability, which improves wildlife carrying capacity and benefits big game populations, particularly mule deer.

“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 Heinrich. “It will also enhance outdoor traditions like hunting that are part of New Mexico’s way of life and support our local economies.”

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 facilitate collaboration and 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 enhances 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 and implement restoration action 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 to $80 million a year and extends the program authorization for five more years. This will allow the successful forest health collaboratives in the Zuni Mountains and Jemez Mountains to continue their important work. 

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 will streamline projects to improve sage grouse and mule deer habitat by restoring the sagebrush steppe landscape across the West.