Maryland may only have a 3-month legislative session, but not so the federal government – and things can heat up in the summertime!
Because of our proximity to the nation’s capital, many Maryland equestrians become activity involved in federal issues. Here is a quick look at legislation on which the American Horse Council is active this summer
Trails in National Forests
Maryland is one of only ten states that does not have any National Forest – however, many Marylanders do travel other places to enjoy backcountry riding on such trails.
On Thursday, July 16, the Senate Agriculture Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on the National Forest Service Trail Stewardship Act of 2015 (S.1110), of which the American Horse Council is in support. The bill would direct the Forest Service to take several actions to help address the current trail maintenance backlog that is adversely impacting all trail users on many national forests, including equestrians. According to AHC, the Forest Service has deferred trail maintenance needs that exceed half-billion dollars. This maintenance backlog is causing access and safety issues for equestrians and all trail users on national forests.
S. 1110 will direct the Forest Service to develop a strategy to more effectively utilize volunteers and partners to assist in maintaining national forest trails and identify and prioritize specific areas with the greatest need for trail maintenance in the national forest system. If successful, this could provide a template for local efforts.
AHC also notes that this bill will help improve trail maintenance without adding to the federal budget deficit and that it is bi-partisan and supported by a wide range of recreational users of public land.
Funding Equine Health & Protecting Horses; Defunding Slaughter
On July 8, 2015, the House Appropriations Committee approved its version of the FY 2016 Agriculture Appropriations bill. This bill provides funding for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for the 2016 fiscal year (October 1, 2015 through September 30, 2016). The bill contains several provisions that impact the horse industry, including funding for USDA equine health activities and enforcement of the Horse Protection Act.
The bill would provide $871 million for the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). APHIS is the USDA agency responsible for protecting and promoting U.S. agricultural health, including responding to contagious equine disease outbreaks. Funding for Equine, Cervid, and Small Rumiant health would be set at $19.5 million, this is the same amount that was appropriated in FY 2015.
Congressman Sam Farr (D-CA) offered an amendment to prohibit funding for USDA inspections at U.S. horse slaughter facilities that was defeated in a 24-24 vote. Congressman Robert Aderholt (R-AL) spoke in opposition to the amendment. Such a prohibition would have prevented horse slaughter facilities from operating in the U.S. had it been included in the bill.
Currently, No horse slaughter facilities are operating in the U.S and a prohibition on funding for inspectors at such facilities from last year’s FY 2015 USDA bill remains in effect until September 30, 2015. Once that prohibition expires, USDA will be required to provide inspectors and horse slaughter facilities if any were to open.
A similar defunding amendment could still be offered when the bill is debated by the full House or when the Senate begins work on their version of the USDA appropriations bill.
Horse Protection Act
The bill provides $697,000 for enforcement of the Horse Protection Act. This is the same amount that was appropriated in FY 2015.
The bill must now be approved by the full House.
Foreign Worker Programs
Does your farm, training stable or hunt club depend upon foreign labor? Do you use the H-2B Visa program? If so, click here to find out what the American Horse Council is doing about proposed new regulations.