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The Farm Bill passed Congress!

Posted by Renee Magyar on February 6, 2014

Congress finally delivered on the Farm Bill, which should really be known as the Food, Farms, Jobs, and Energy Bill.

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Many in the rural West are celebrating the fact that both houses of Congress have given final approval to the long-awaited Farm Bill. President Obama signed the bill into law on Friday, February 7.

There is a lot included in this bill, which no doubt was the reason it took so long - nearly 2 years - to pass. We're particularly excited about a few items that will benefit forest and ranching communities in the West: permanent authorization for stewardship contracting, payments in lieu of taxes (PILT), the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), and the Community Wood Energy Program (CWEP). Here's a brief overview of these provisions, and why they are important to the rural West.

What is stewardship contracting?

Stewardship contracting is a tool used by the US Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management that makes collaborative forest restoration possible, for the benefit of the land and the people. In essence, the agencies contract for forest restoration work in a way that stewards the land and provides jobs to local workers. We're considering it a huge win that this has been permanently authorized, since it's something we've worked toward for years, and will allow an increased pace and scale of restoration and improved ecological health of our forests and the economic health of local forest communities.

Learn more about Stewardship Contracting here

Payments in Lieu of Taxes (a.k.a County Payments)

60% of all forest lands in Oregon are managed by the US Forest Service. In other parts of the country where there is more privately owned land, counties are able to collect taxes to pay for essential services like roads and schools. In lieu of these taxes, the government is providing around $425 million to counties nation-wide, determined by a formula based on how much federal land they have. Without this important funding, many rural counties in the West would struggle to provide essential services like fire and police protection, and construction of public schools and roads. 

Renewable energy incentives

The Farm Bill provides dedicated funding for very important and innovative energy and job-creation programs, including Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), and the Community Wood Energy Program (CWEP). REAP provides resources to business owners to help finance the installation of renewable energy systems or upgrade existing systems, including those utilizing biomass. CWEP helps fund state and local government energy projects that utilize locally available biomass resources, such as wood chips, wood pellets, or other biomass energy feedstocks.

These programs will provide important economic incentive for forest restoration projects across eastern Oregon, central Idaho, and other parts of the country where forest communities are becoming increasingly energy independent as forest-to-boiler thermal energy projects are constructed.