After months and months of discussion and debate, Congress has overwhelmingly passed the Farm Bill. Much has been made of this legislation's likely impact on certain agricultural subsidies, food stamp programs and alternative energy research and development. But there's another story to tell. And it is a North Country success story. Thanks to the leadership of New York's senior senator, Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), and Representatives Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), John McHugh (R-N.Y.), and Michael Arcuri (D-N.Y.) the Farm Bill will provide an unprecedented level of targeted support to help enhance upstate New York communities and promote our forest oriented businesses and outdoor heritage.

Due to the determined efforts of Congresswoman Gillibrand and Senator Schumer, the Farm Bill contains the visionary Community Forest and Open Space Conservation Program, which provides new matching funds to help towns purchase forested open spaces that are close to home and important to local residents. The grant program will be open to any New York community or county and comes with technical assistance from state government to assure outstanding forest management.

And, in response to the rapidly shrinking amount of private land open to hunting and fishing, lands purchased with funds from this program will remain open and accessible to sportsmen and sportswomen. This program, known by many as the Sportsmen's Access Amendment, has drawn enthusiastic support from hunters and anglers throughout the country. It is strongly endorsed by the New York Conservation Council. Congresswoman Gillibrand, an avid hunter, is working to help New Yorkers maintain their connection to the outdoors through shooting sports.

The new Community Wood Energy Program, championed by Sen. Schumer and Congressman Arcuri, provides grants and technical assistance to help communities shift heating and power for municipal buildings from fossil-fuel systems to wood-chip and biomass" systems. The program will give communities the incentives they need to construct, in an open and collaborative process, a "community wood energy plan" to identify how the new biomass systems can be fueled by local lands and the local forest products industry, keeping more resources in local communities and reducing their carbon impact.

Community-scale biomass can be a huge money saver for local budgets and an effective vehicle by which to reconnect New Yorkers to the forested landscape. Unfortunately, many communities cannot afford the start-up and transition costs of moving to biomass energy and rebuilding a community-wide link to the woods.

As a result, the cost savings and community enrichments that could be earned are out of reach. That is why Congressman Arcuri's effort, are so important. This program will provide 50-50 matching grants to purchase biomass energy systems for municipal buildings and construct "start-up" management plans to use the local forests to feed the new systems while insuring that appropriate forest stewardship practices are in place.

Local chambers of commerce, community wellness groups and conservation organizations are especially pleased that the Farm Bill creates the new Northern Border Economic Development Commission, which will consist of the governors of New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. Strongly supported by the Northern Forest Alliance from the beginning, the commission has been shepherded through the Farm Bill process with significant efforts from Sens. Schumer and Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), Congressmen Arcuri and McHugh and others in the Northern Forest delegation.

The commission will use a bottom-up approach to provide new grant funding for economic development projects, productive natural resource conservation, technical assistance to the forest products industry, alternative energy projects job training, infrastructure improvements, land conservation, and other projects critical to our rural counties that are confronting substantial economic challenges.

Importantly for upstate New Yorkers, the Farm Bill continues to provide essential support for private forest owners and communities through the Forest Stewardship Program, Urban and Community Forestry Program, Cooperative Extension forestry programs, which will, among other things, provide new funding to develop a cutting-edge statewide forest management plan to guide forest stewardship in New York.

The Farm Bill also provides increased funding to help landowners and municipalities manage their land through programs like the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program, and Health) Forest Reserve Program. These programs will provide the economic incentives needed to enable private forest owners to manage their lands to sequester carbon, provide habitat for threatened and endangered species, or enhance water quality.

It is impossible to thank Sens. Schumer and Clinton and Reps. McHugh, Arcuri and Gillibrand enough for effectively promoting the interests of New Yorkers and people across the Northern Forest. The inclusion of the forestry and community development programs in the Farm Bill will help New York and all the Northern Forest retain its forestlands for the future and provide much-needed resilience for the local communities that are creating new paths into the future.

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