Mr. SCHWEIKERT. Mr. Chairman, I have an amendment at the desk.
The Acting CHAIR. The Clerk will designate the amendment.
The text of the amendment is as follows:
In subtitle C of title IV, strike section 4207.
The Acting CHAIR. Pursuant to House Resolution 271, the gentleman from Arizona (Mr. Schweikert) and a Member opposed each will control 5 minutes.
The Chair recognizes the gentleman from Arizona.
Mr. GARDNER. I thank the chairman of the Agriculture Committee for the opportunity to be here and for his leadership on this amendment, and also Congressman Jared Polis from Colorado. We worked together on this Emergency Watershed Protection Program.
Over the past couple of years, we've seen incredible wildfires ravage the West in New Mexico, in Colorado, in Wyoming, in Montana, and the Northwest. Millions of acres have been lost. Just this past month alone, over 500 homes have been lost in Colorado in the Black Forest fire.
We know one thing occurs as a result of wildfires, and it's not just the event that occurs during the fire, and it's not just the impact of the burning itself of the fire to the homes, but it's what happens in the days, months and years following a forest fire that leads to millions of dollars worth of damage from a single incident.
In the case of the Hyde Park fire last year, in the case of the Waldo Canyon fire last year and indeed in the case of the Black Forest fire coming up in the coming weeks, we know that when there's moisture, when there's rain and when there's snow, erosion will occur. I'm holding a vial of sediment from a river. It looks like dirt. It's black. But it actually came from a river after a forest fire in Colorado. Millions of dollars of damage has been done to the ecosystem as a result of a fire making
runoff destroy transportation systems, clog culverts and impact drinking water systems.
The Emergency Watershed Protection Program has been a critical program that helps communities prepare for and mitigate damage from natural disaster. As wildfires continue to hit the Western United States, this program will continue to do great good.
Last year was an unusually devastating year for wildfires in the United States. Across the country, 67,000 wildfires burned over 9 million acres. Significant wildfires occurred in almost every State of the Nation.
Our amendment today is simple. It requires the Secretary of Agriculture to give priority consideration for the use of the Emergency Watershed Protection funding for projects that prevent and mitigate the impacts of catastrophic wildfires. It does not prevent Emergency Watershed Program funding from being used for other types of disasters, but the EWP program has aided countless communities to protect public safety in the wake of the West's most destructive wildfires.
Before a wildfire, the Emergency Watershed Protection Program helps communities mitigate future wildfire damage by protecting critical watersheds. After a wildfire, EWP helps communities stabilize burned slopes to protect drinking water and infrastructure, prevent erosion and minimize potential hazards that cause immediate threats to people and property.
The amendment is supported by the entire Colorado House delegation, and I thank Congressman Polis for his support and work on this amendment. I urge a ``yes'' vote.
I reserve the balance of my time.
Mr. THOMPSON of Mississippi. While I'm not in opposition to the proposed amendment, I do have an amendment that I had planned to offer. However, the process is going so fast and I was not here in time, but it speaks to the Wetlands Reserve Program at USDA, [Page: H3868]
commonly referred to as the WRP program.
To date, WRP has restored over 2.5 million acres with over 12,000 private landowners. WRP benefits private landowners by restoring land that should have never been cleared for agriculture. The public benefits from the reduced financial demand for disaster assistance and/or crop insurance funds from lands that experience repeated losses; significant long-term conservation benefits obtained from the protection of wildlife habitat; the improvement of water quality; the increase of flood storage;
and the reduction of soil erosion.
The House farm bill we are considering today consolidates into a new Agricultural Conservation Easement Program. This new program will consist of agricultural easements and wetlands easements.
The components of the amendment that I have offered today are simple. First, it makes the ownership eligibility requirement for wetland easements equal to the other conservation programs by returning to the pre-2008 farm bill requirements of 1-year ownership instead of 7 years.
My amendment's last change excludes the wettest soils from the county enrollment caps. Soils in these classes frequently flood and retain moisture at levels that severely impair or prevent farming. By allowing the lands that are the least economical to farm to be enrolled in a wetland easement, we will save in potential publicly funded disaster assistance and reduce the overall cost of crop insurance.
Mr. Chairman, all of these changes have been adopted in the Senate farm bill. The WRP is reshaping how wetland conservation is carried out on private lands and is doing so in a cost-effective manner.
Had I had the opportunity, I would have offered this amendment. However, after consultation with the chair and ranking member, there is agreement that I will withdraw the amendment, and we will ensure that these important changes are considered in conference.