Why join Farm Bureau? Some people think about all the discounts received with the membership benefits or the Mountain West Farm Bureau Mutual insurance. Those are great reasons to become a member—or renew your membership—but the most important reason to become a Farm Bureau member is the influence we have in Helena and especially now in our Nation’s Capital. We have people in leadership positions in Washington, D.C. who understand agriculture and the rural way of life. We have people at government agencies who have met with Montana Farm Bureau members. We have Farm Bureau members who had the opportunity to meet Vice President Mike Pence when he came to Billings. What did he say when they asked for a photo with him? “Farm Bureau? I love Farm Bureau.” We have state Farm Bureau leaders who have met with the president in the White House.

We have the American Farm Bureau Federation Congressional Relations staff who are well-known and respected at the agency level. American Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall, a farmer himself from Georgia, is well-connected with Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Purdue, and Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, is from Montana. It’s a fine time to be a Farm Bureau member.

Because Washington is listening, this summer during the Western States Farm Bureau Presidents’ and Administrators’ Conference in Alaska, 13 western states presidents representing 385,000 Farm Bureau members met and drafted a letter to Secretaries Zinke and Perdue regarding forest and wildfire management.

In the letter, Western States Farm Bureau presidents and administrators told Secretary Zinke that they “hold a shared, strong belief that ineffective land management practices and policies in the West over the past several decades have contributed to increased risk of catastrophic wildfires. An emphasis on fire suppression, reductions in commercial timber harvest and forest thinning, additional regulations related to permitting, and restrictions on livestock grazing have slowed the ability of the states’ public and private forest land managers to make significant improvements in forested landscapes. Those concerned about the recurrence of catastrophic wildfires should also be concerned with current management practices and policies that hinder private and public responses to the wildfire crisis in the West.”

The letter went on to say that sustainable forest management and protecting and preserving our environment are not mutually exclusive. The U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management must both work toward a series of significant reforms that accomplish these equally important goals. Targeted, active forest management practices will have a significant positive impact on the ability of Western states to combat catastrophic wildfire, protect lives and property, safeguard our water supplies, and prevent the destruction of farming and grazing lands.” 

The letter noted, “healthy forests are critical to rural communities in the West whose economic and social fabric rely on the revenues generated by the multiple uses of the National Forest System and BLM lands. These lands have a direct impact on agricultural activity, jobs and annual payroll in many counties throughout the West. Our timber and ranching industries depend on these lands for a merchantable supply of wood to keep our forest products economy viable, and to ensure the sustainability of our livestock producers. However, there has been a significant reduction in timber harvesting and livestock grazing in the past several decades, which has been a major contributing factor to the increased fire hazard we are now experiencing.” 

The group presented several suggestions including management plan flexibility, emergency NEPA alternatives, expanding categorical exclusion eligibility, strengthening milling infrastructure, improving intergovernmental coordination, prioritizing grazing and ensuring biomass funding.

“In light of the recent catastrophic wildfires, it is abundantly clear that we need to implement thoughtful, sophisticated and scientifically-based strategies immediately to improve the health of our forests and to protect lives and property. Federal agencies working in conjunction with the states must work individually and collectively to allow responsible management of our natural resources,” the letter added. “We refuse to accept the status quo as part of a so-called “new normal” that brings continued devastation to our Western communities. A humane response should reassert solutions that will diminish human suffering and renew our natural resources.”

What other group would do so much representing so many? As we prepare to enter our 100th year Farm Bureau’s political clout is impressive. Encourage your neighbors and friends to join because Farm Bureau has never been stronger and our voice has never been louder.