30 Eastern Montana farmers and ranchers to get $2.5 million to offset damage from wildfire

from the Helena Independent Record:

About 30 Montana farmers and ranchers whose property was destroyed by wildfires will get $2.5 million in federal assistance to help rebuild.

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., sent a press release Friday announcing the money, which is from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Environmental Quality Incentive Program.

“After our relentless persistence, Montana farmers will begin to see some relief from what has been a historically difficult summer,” Tester said in the release. “This is the first wave of meaningful resources that will help producers rebuild after horrific devastation. I will keep rattling cages in Washington to ensure every farmer gets what they need to rebuild.”

Montana’s congressional delegation, which also includes Republicans U.S. Sen. Steve Daines and U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte, all called for federal assitance to help offset the impact of the more than 1 million acres that have burned statewide this year. Two fires, the Lodgepole Complex that burned about 50 miles northwest of Jordan, and the Lolo Peak fire, still burning about 10 miles outside Lolo, have been approved for Federal Emergency Management Agency grants that can match state spending up to 75 percent for approved firefighting costs.

Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat, also announced Thursday he was seeking to fast-track additional money from FEMA.

The money Tester announced Friday can be used to assist with livestock grazing deferment, damaged fence and post removal, livestock fencing, water facility development, critical area plantings, and cover crops.

In July, Tester penned a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue asking the USDA to tap into disaster assistance initiatives. He also invited Republican President Donald Trump to tour Montana fires.

Miles City, FSA offices off the chopping block for now

Senate committees pass bills with language prohibiting closure of essential agricultural facilities

The Miles City cattle research farm and county Farm Service Agency offices appear likely to stick around, with both winning language in budget bills for fiscal year 2018 that prohibit their closure.

Language in the Senate’s FY2018 Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill nixes closing both the Fort Keogh Range and Livestock Research Laboratory in Miles City and the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station in Idaho.

The two centers were among 17 USDA-Agricultural Research Service centers listed for closure in President Donald Trump’s budget proposal. The bill rejects closing any of them.

The Miles City unit is home to the famous Line 1 Hereford herd, which has helped lead research discoveries in beef cattle and is responsible for much of what is known about cattle genetics in the United States. The herd there is an asset that has been 75 years in the making and is not duplicated anywhere else.

The MonDak’s Congressional delegation has been unanimously opposed to cutting research centers in the past and had promised they would fight the latest attempt to target what they said is valuable research that keeps American farmers and ranchers on the cutting edge.

“Montana’s farmers and ranchers are some of our state’s most hardworking folks, and I’m doing all I can to ensure they have the support they need,” Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., said. He is a member of the Senate’s agricultural appropriations committee.

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., meanwhile, who is chairman of the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Committee, said the bill also includes $2.55 billion to support agricultural research that is conducted by the Agricultural Research Service and the National Institute of Food

and Agriculture.

Hoeven also touted additional support for farmers and ranchers facing severe drought in the Midwest, including North Dakota and Montana, that was included in the bill. These provisions  include funding for transporting hay and livestock under the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honey Bees and Farm-raised Fish program (ELAP), and a requirement to report on any backlog in drought relief programs. That part of the bill also directed USDA to consider making additional conservation acres available for emergency grazing and haying and to allocate additional staff and resources to drought-stricken areas.

“We worked hard to maintain our agriculture budget and ensure this legislation supports our farmers, ranchers and rural communities, especially in the face of such severe natural disasters,” Hoeven said. “This legislation makes additional support available to areas struggling with drought, including funding to help move hay and livestock. In addition we maintained a robust safety net, while also making strong investments in farm service programs, agricultural research and rural development programs to help make our agricultural communities strong and vibrant.”

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., touted amendments to strengthen the ban on Brazilian beef imports and to force the nomination of a USDA Rural Development Undersecretary in the 2018 Agriculture Bill. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue had sought to eliminate the position.

“During times of drought and market uncertainty, it is critical that Montana family farmers and ranchers have the resources they need to protect their bottom line,” Tester said. “This important bill invests in agriculture research, protects FSA jobs, improves water infrastructure and ensures rural America has an advocate at USDA. Republicans and Democrats support this bill because folks worked together to address the needs of rural families and rural communities.”

Funding for rural water and wastewater infrastructure development was also included in the 2018 Energy and Water Appropriations Bill, along with $10 million for the Blackfeet Water Compact ratified by Congress last fall.

“Montana’s rural water projects are vital to families, businesses and family farms and ranches across the state, and they create good-paying jobs,” Tester said. “The water infrastructure investments secured today will help close that funding gap and provide folks with additional certainty. Reliable access to clean water is essential for every Montanan.”

The bill also:

• Rejects proposed cuts to crop insurance and other farm bill programs

• Prohibits closing county Farm Service Agency offices and provides $1.2 billion for the FSA, a significant increase over what Trump had proposed.

• Includes language prohibiting any federal funds from being used to obstruct industrial hemp pilot projects, authorized under the 2014 Farm Bill, so long as they are being cultivated in accordance with the respective state’s laws

• Provides $375 million for the Agriculture and Food Research initiative, $244 million for the Hatch Act formula that funds research at state agriculture experiment stations and $300 million for Sith-Lever programs that support overall extension service activities

• Urges the Food and Drug Administration to collaborate with federal agencies on the opioid epidemic and prepare guidelines to ensure that only the lowest effective dose is prescribed

• Includes funding to continue Hoeven’s Agriculture Risk Coverage pilot program that allows an alternate calculation method for crop payments if National Agricultural Statistics Service data is insufficient

• Maintains funding for the Water Bank initiative, which compensates farmers and landowners for flooded land through 10-year voluntary conservation agreements.

• Directs the Animal Plant Health Inspection Service to work with local, state and federal agencies on managing brucellosis and other zoonotic disease outbreaks in animals and humans and directs funding to advance research into vaccines and other tools to counter the disease

• Maintains fiscal year 2017 funding levels for USDA Rural Development programs including $12.5 billion for loans, $394 million for grants and $18 million for the Circuit Rider program in Rural Water and Waste Programs; $6.94 billion rural electric and telephone infrastructure loans and $30 million in broadband grants.

• Urges the U.S. Trade Representative and Department of Commerce to prioritize unfair wheat grading practices in trade negotiations with Canada

• Provides funding for the U.S. Wheat Barley Scab Initiative to help fight the disease that causes vomitoxin contamination in small grains

• Appropriates $2.75 million for the Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural Areas program, which helps find work opportunities for veterans through the Armed to Farm program

• Includes research grants and extension services for Montana’s seven tribal colleges

• Directs USDA to disclose costs associated with analyses required by the National Environmental Policy Act.

Source:  Renée Jean of the Williston Herald

Tester, Daines resume effort to overturn lynx decision

Montana senators Jon Tester and Steve Daines have rounded up a lengthy list of supporters for a bill to overturn a federal court decision on lynx protection.

Republican Daines and Democrat Tester join Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, and Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minnesota, on the bill to reverse the Cottonwood decision, which found that the U.S. Forest Service must do a top-level review of new critical habitat for lynx under the Endangered Species Act.

The decision name refers to the Bozeman-based Cottonwood Environmental Law Center, which won the case before the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals last year. The ruling was essentially confirmed when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a Forest Service appeal in October.

“This bipartisan legislation enjoys the support of diverse stakeholders and will protect Montana jobs and common-sense collaborative forest management projects that have been harmed by this court decision,” Daines wrote in an email.

“The Cottonwood decision could lead to endless red tape for folks working on timber projects, trail maintenance and conservation efforts,” Tester added in the same email. “To restore certainty for Montana mills and folks who work in the woods, we need to eliminate these hurdles created by the court and get this bipartisan bill signed into law.”

“I wish they had consulted me first,” replied John Meyer, the lead attorney at Cottonwood Environmental Law Center. “They are seeking to completely overturn or deform part of the Endangered Species Act. That should be of concern to all Americans.”

The list of 33 supporters includes 10 timber products groups such as the Montana Woods Products Association and Washington Contract Loggers; eight conservation groups including the National, Montana and Idaho Wildlife Federations and Wildlife Management Institute; and three agricultural groups including the Montana Stockgrowers and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. It features a number of hunting and fishing groups, such as Trout Unlimited, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and Boone and Crockett Club.

Tom France of the National Wildlife Federation in Missoula added that the legislation was a product of widespread consultation. He disagreed with Meyer about how much change it might impose on the Endangered Species Act.

“Both Daines and Tester have been very careful in crafting a very targeted bill,” France said. “The conversations we’ve had with them are very responsive. And when you see a bill that really proposes significant changes in the ESA, you will know it. It’s not going to sneak up on anybody. The National Wildlife Foundation is very concerned about weakening protections and we’ll oppose that.”

The Cottonwood decision found that the Forest Service has to take a big-picture look at how it protects lynx critical habitat across 12 million acres touching 11 national forests. It grew out of a controversial mishandling of lynx policy dating back to the predator’s original ESA listing in 2000.

A 2006 critical habitat map left out all national forests, but an investigation found that former George W. Bush administration official Julie MacDonald improperly excluded millions of acres of federal, state and private lands. MacDonald resigned and FWS redid its lynx habitat analysis, increasing the cat’s critical territory from 1,841 square miles to about 39,000 square miles.

Daines’ office consulted with the Obama administration Justice Department in crafting the bill, which takes the same position the Forest Service argued before the 9th Circuit. The agency claimed it was more effective to address lynx habitat concerns on a project-by-project basis, rather than redoing full consultation with the FWS.

“When they say they’re upholding the Obama Forest Service, that’s different than the Obama Fish and Wildlife Service,” Meyer said. “And the Fish and Wildlife Service told the Forest Service if new critical habitat is put in place, you need to consult at the agency level.”

Not quite, according to American Forest Resource Council attorney Lawson Fite. While he acknowledged that the critical habitat maps from the original consultation were flawed, the on-the-ground protections for lynx remain in place. Those include checking snowshoe hare prey populations, winter snowpack levels, potential denning sites and the matrix of habitat connectivity.

“Any project that might affect lynx must be analyzed for effects on those elements,” Fite said. “That’s going to happen whether or not you do plan-level consultation. The bill basically insures that those procedures are still followed, but made in way that you don’t do things that don’t have meaningful conservation benefit.”

The Forest Service estimates 80 forest projects are on hold because of legal challenges based on the Cottontwood decision in Regions 1, 2 and 4. Region 1 challenges include the East Reservoir Restoration Project in the Kootenai National Forest and the Colt-Summit Restoration and Fuels Reduction Project in the Lolo National Forest.

Those Region 1 challenges in lynx critical habitat accounted for about 29 percent of the planned fiscal year 2017 timber harvest volume, amounting to 95.3 million board-feet of lumber on 17,764 acres.

Source: Missoulian

Daines to Lead Montana Ag Summit 2017

U.S. Senator Steve Daines today announced that he will be spearheading the Montana Ag Summit 2017 in Great Falls this spring.

The summit, sponsored by Daines, will take place in Great Falls on May 31 and June 1, 2017. U.S. Senator Pat Roberts, the Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry will deliver a keynote address at the summit.

‘The summit will highlight our state’s number one economic driver by bringing together agricultural leaders to discuss how to keep our agricultural heritage strong for generations to come,’ Daines stated. ‘Farmers and ranchers are the backbone of Montana’s economy and I look forward to a Montana family conversation about the future of agriculture.’

Audio of Daines’ statement is available for download HERE.

Chairman Pat Roberts: ‘I am pleased to travel to Montana with one of our Committee’s newest members, Senator Daines, to speak at his Agriculture Summit. I appreciate Senator Daines’ hard work and enthusiasm for promoting and serving farmers and ranchers. His leadership on behalf of Montana’s rural constituents will serve his home state well during the 115 Congress.’

The Montana Ag Summit will bring the nation’s agricultural leaders to Montana’s Golden Triangle. The focus of the summit is on strengthening international relationships for Montana agriculture, showcasing technological advancements, promoting the next generation of farmers and ranchers, and discussing the challenges of federal policies and regulations.

John Youngberg, Montana Farm Bureau Federation Executive Vice President: ‘We are excited that Senator Daines has chosen to host an Agriculture Summit in Montana. Senator Daines understands the importance of agriculture to Montana’s economy and we appreciate that he is bringing this great opportunity to our state.’

Lola Raska, Executive Vice President of the Montana Grain Growers Association: ‘The 2017 Montana Ag Summit offers an exciting opportunity to meet with some of our nation’s key ag leaders, who will be speaking on issues important to the Montana growers who work hard to provide food for their families and for the world’s consumers. We owe a big thank you to Senator Steve Daines for setting a place at the table for our farmers and ranchers and for his recognition of agriculture’s importance to Montana’s economy.’

Errol Rice, Montana Stockgrowers Association Executive Vice President: ‘The Montana Ag Summit will provide a great platform to discuss the opportunities and challenges facing Montana’s farmers and ranchers. The Montana Stockgrowers Association is enthusiastic about participating and thanks Sen. Daines for his ongoing work on behalf of Montana’s ranchers and for bringing ag leaders from across the state and nation to Great Falls for the summit.’

John Rauser, President, Montana Pork Producers Council: ‘Montana Pork Producers are looking forward to participating in the Montana Ag Summit sponsored by Senator Daines. A tremendous portion of pork produced in the U.S. Is exported overseas, including hogs supplied by Montana hog farms. We are a part of the global market, and we want to be a proactive member involved in markets domestically and internationally. The Montana Ag Summit 2017 will be hosted at the Montana ExpoPark Pacific Steel & Recycling Arena in Great Falls.’

Kim Murray American Pulse Association Board Montana Pulse Advisory Committee: ‘Pulse crop acres have increased dramatically in recent years bringing with it new jobs and an excitement for the future of agriculture in our great state of Montana. Having Senator Daines placed on the Senate Ag Committee along with being on the Senate Appropriations Committee is huge for Montana farmers and ranchers. Thank you for hosting the Montana Ag Summit and for all you do for Montana. We look forward to working with you going forward.’

Dave McEwen, President of the Montana Wool Growers Association – Galata:‘The Montana Wool Growers Association is pleased and excited to participate in the Montana Ag Summit, which is set to be hosted by Senator Daines in Great Falls in late Spring 2017. Montana’s agriculture producers are leaders in their communities and in philanthropy , leaders in developing innovative agriculture commodities and land conservation practices, and leaders in producing food and fiber that cloth and feed the world. As such, the Association is particularly excited that Senator Pat Roberts, Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee will be coming to Montana as part of that event to directly hear the legislative priorities of Montana’s agriculture producers and to see our producers in their own fields Since his election to Congress, Senator Daines has been a steadfast supporter of Montana’s biggest economic generator, agriculture, and this Summit is just another way the Senator is making agriculture and natural resources a priority.’

Webb Brown, CEO, Montana Chamber of Commerce: ‘We’re excited to work with Senator Daines to focus on the backbone of Montana’s economy – agriculture. From family farms to high-tech operations, we’ll examine the challenges and opportunities in Big Sky Country. Join us!’

Krista Lee Evans, Executive Director of Montana Agricultural Business Association: ‘Agriculture in Montana continues to face multiple challenges from multiple angles and we welcome the opportunity to meet with our nations key agricultural leaders. The Montana Agricultural Business Association commends Senator Daines and his ongoing support for agriculture and its importance in Montana. We look forward to participating in the 2017 Montana Ag Summit.’

Larry Hendrickson, Liberty County Commissioner, Chair of the MACO Ag Committee: ‘It is very exciting to have Senator Daines hosting the Montana Ag Summit in Great Falls. It is a great opportunity for local Ag producers to have input on the upcoming farm bill. I hope to see you there!’

Daines serves as a member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry and is the Chairman of the Conservation, Forestry and Natural Resources Subcommittee.

To register and for more information please visit www.agsummitmontana.com.

MSGA Leadership Travels to Washington D.C. to Advocate Top Priorities Facing Montana’s Cattle Industry

Helena, MT – A leadership delegation from the Montana Stockgrowers Association traveled to Washington D.C. April 12-14 to lobby numerous issues with Congress and Federal agencies. These issues included: Eradication of Brucellosis, Country of Origin Labeling for U.S. Beef, stopping the proposed federal bison quarantine facility, federal water regulations, sage grouse, endangered species, Antiquities Act (i.e. monument designations) reform and international trade.

MSGA brought forth tactical ideas to eliminate the threat of Brucellosis expansion beyond Montana’s Designated Surveillance Area (DSA). In a meeting with Dr. T.J. Myers, Associate Deputy Administrator with USDA-APHIS Veterinary Services MSGA requested that Brucella Abortus be removed from the USDA and Center for Disease Control’s select bioterrorism agents list. This would allow for more research to develop a more effective vaccine for bison, elk and cattle. MSGA also requested continued federal funding support for Montana’s DSA implementation but to also develop a renewed Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Montana, Wyoming and Idaho along with USDA and the National Park Service that commits to the elimination of brucellosis from the Greater Yellowstone Area. Montana’s DSA is not a long-term solution to brucellosis management.

MSGA met with senior staff on the U.S. House Agriculture Committee, chaired by Congressman K. Michael Conaway (R-TX) to discuss possible industry led alternatives to the recently repealed mandatory country of origin labeling of beef. In particular MSGA has policy to work on the development of a comprehensive, broad-based industry led labeling program for U.S. beef.

MSGA has a strong relationship with Montana’s Public Lands Council and Association of State Grazing Districts to work on federal land grazing matters.  MSGA and PLC met with Neil Kornze, Director of BLM, and requested that BLM reconsider the decision to allow year-round bison grazing on Montana’s Flat Creek Allotment located in Phillips County.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) was another top priority for MSGA while in D.C. It was universally felt by Montana’s Congressional delegation that a vote on TPP would not happen until after the 2016 election, however MSGA feels that TPP should be a top priority for Congress regardless of political elections. The TPP will remove tariff barriers in some of our major export markets including Japan – one of our largest beef export markets. The TPP is expected to increase cash receipts and net exports from Montana by $86.9 million and $56.6 million per year respectively.

It is vitally important for Montana’s ranching community to have representation in Washington, D.C. and MSGA was very pleased with the outcome of the many high-level meetings that were held with members of Congress and Administration officials. MSGA would also like to thank Senator Tester, Senator Daines and Representative Zinke and their professional staff for their time and commitment to Montana’s cattle and ranching industry.

house ag committee

L to R back row: Senior House Agriculture Commmitte Staff Christine Heggem; Public Lands Council Vicki Olson – Malta, MT; Montana Cattlewomen Wanda Pinnow – Baker, MT; MSGA President Gene Curry – Valier, MT; MSGA Director of Natural Resources Jay Bodner – Helena, MT; MSGA Executive Vice President Errol Rice – Helena, MT. Front row: MSGA 1st Vice President Bryan Mussard – Dillon, MT; MSGA 2nd Vice President Fred Wacker – Miles City, MT.