Support Foresters, Farmers, and Ranchers Using Responsible, Climate-Friendly Land Practices

Build a Community-Based Rural Economy


Support Foresters, Farmers, and Ranchers Using Responsible, Climate-Friendly Land Practices

Not all agriculture is good for the planet, but regenerative agriculture and forestry practices are climate-friendly, not only sequestering carbon, but building healthy soil that retains water and increases habitat for wildlife and pollinating insects. These methods have been used by Black and Indigenous communities for generations, and they are increasingly being employed more broadly by farmers across the country. 

The gold standard of regenerative farming practices is managed grazing (also called intensive rotational grazing), in which ruminants like cattle, sheep, or goats graze on a rotation of perennial grasses. The practice sequesters carbon, builds soil health and moisture absorption, and reduces fuels in fire-prone regions. Pasture-based livestock farms and ranches also offer an array of beneficial environmental services and contribute to the rural economy by providing healthy food for the local community. There is a wide range of policy options to promote healthy soils and climate-friendly farm practices in ways that will work in any political environment, and managed grazing should be incentivized and prioritized whenever possible.

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Regenerative Farming at Medicine Creek Farm

Well-managed state forest lands also provide rural communities with economic opportunities and environmental benefits. State policymakers should consider public land forest management that protects mature forests and caps annual timber harvest. Many states have passed legislation similar to the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA), which requires an environmental analysis of activities on state-owned lands. Any state-level environmental protection act should ensure robust public comment, environmental analysis, and assessment of the impact on Indigenous communities and the climate. Policy to actively manage the wild/urban interface through prescribed fire, small-diameter thinning, and managed grazing can help to reduce fuels and protect communities from catastrophic wildfire.

On private forest lands, policymakers should consider policies to incentivize sustainable management practices that protect clean water, promote carbon sequestration, and protect habitat. Practices that should be disincentivized on private land include streamside logging, clear-cutting (particularly on slopes), and use of pesticides and herbicides. Finally, policymakers should consider the financial aspects of the timber economy and consider creating economic trusts or other structures that separate county budgets from the timber harvest, to avoid the boom-and-bust cycle of reliance on a single industry.

Policy Priorities

  1. Federal: Reform federal farm programs while supporting local food systems and expanding conservation programs for family farmers. Stop subsidizing extractive, industrial agriculture that promotes overproduction of commodities, as well corporate livestock production controlled by multinational corporations. Instead, expand grant programs for local food processing and infrastructure as well as conservation programs that support family-farm-based conservation practices.

  2. Federal: Pass the Forest Management for Rural Stability Act, which would create a permanent endowment fund that offers stable and reliable funding for rural public lands, county services, and education. The bipartisan bill would appropriate money for the fund initially, but all commercial revenue generated on National Forests, Oregon & California lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management, and Fish & Wildlife refuges would then help capitalize the fund in the future. The bill would prevent underpayment or nonpayment of federal obligations to local governments through annual appropriations shortfalls, as well as preventing federal lands extraction due to county government shortfalls.

  3. State: Incentivize healthy soils.

  4. State: Prioritize managed grazing.

  5. State: Protect state forests.

State Examples

  • Nebraska (2019 NE LB 243) enacted legislation to establish a Healthy Soils Task Force, which is responsible for developing an action plan and timeline to implement soil quality benchmarks.

  • Indiana (2021 IN SB 373) is one of several states that has directed state agencies to study and make recommendations for the role of the state in a voluntary carbon market.

  • Colorado (2021 CO HB 1181), Texas (2021 TX SB 1118), and Maine (2021 ME LD 437) have established healthy soil programs or conservation programs that protect soil and water.

  • Colorado passed legislation to launch a study on the biomass in the state and create policy recommendations for improving soil health, and another bill to leverage federal COVID-19 stimulus money to fund their soil health program (2021 CO SB 235).

  • The New York (2021 NY A 5386) Soil Health and Climate Resiliency Act establishes a program to assist farmers in improving the health of their soil. The bill creates a funding stream to support research and provides matching grants to fund projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, implement water management systems on farmland, and encourage soil health and resiliency. The program is designed to prioritize socially disadvantaged farmers.

  • Minnesota’s (2021 MN HF 701) soil health bill not only centers race and equity but also sets an ambitious goal that 100 percent of tillable and grazeable acres employ cover crops, perennial crops, no-till, or managed rotational grazing by 2040.

  • New Mexico (2021 NM HB 9) policymakers considered allowing taxpayers to select donating their tax refund to fund the state’s soil health program.

  • Minnesota (2021 MN HF 701) lawmakers introduced a bill to establish soil-healthy farming goals and incentives. Policymakers can also consider incentives to employ responsible managed grazing practices on state-held lands.

  • Several states have state National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)-like laws that trigger an environmental impact assessment (EIA) or review of any project that could potentially negatively impact state lands. State NEPA laws can be an important tool to protect state forests.