Confirmation Hearing Offers Vilsack Opportunity to Discuss His Plans for Addressing Structural Racism, Strengthening Conservation Programs, Forest Policy

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee's hearing on the nomination of Tom Vilsack for secretary of agriculture offers an opportunity for him to discuss how he will build on his legacy at the department and "how the Biden Administration will address the challenges facing wildlife and people alike."

Vilsack left a solid legacy during his previous eight years at the helm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture in advancing soil health initiatives and in improving implementation of conservation programs. The National Wildlife Federation looks forward to working with the Biden Administration to build on that legacy while taking stronger actions to confront the longstanding issues of discrimination in Department of Agriculture programs and further strengthen conservation programs, forest policy and management, and food-security programs.

“The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a leading role to play in supporting food security, promoting more sustainable use of our nation’s working lands and in righting historic injustices and structural racism in its own programs,” said Julie Sibbing, associate vice president for land stewardship for the National Wildlife Federation. “It’s good to hear that the former secretary and governor has promised he will do better to tackle these pressing issues, and we hope that he will take the opportunity at his nomination hearing to explain how the Biden Administration will address the challenges facing wildlife and people alike.”

The National Wildlife Federation encouraged members of the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee to raise the following questions:

  • The Department of Agriculture has a painful history of systemic racism that led to a lack of access to credit, technical and financial assistance, and even opportunities to participate in conservation programs for Black, Indigenous, Hispanic, and women farmers. This damaging legacy has led to financial struggles, constrained growth, and an enormous loss of farmland ownership. What will you do to dismantle systemic racism at the Department of Agriculture, rebuild the civil rights office, rectify historic wrongs and set the department on the path to becoming a fully equitable and just agency?
  • The Forest Service has said for decades that it lacks the capacity to adequately increase the pace and scale of its forest restoration work. Experts estimate an infusion of several billion dollars annually for a decade is necessary to ensure our forests support clean water for communities, habitat for wildlife, and are not unnecessarily at risk of severe wildfires. Do you agree? And besides more money, what else would you need for the agency to be successful?
  • Food insecurity disproportionately impacts communities of color. Black and Latinx households are twice as likely to suffer from food insecurity when compared to white households. What swift, proactive steps can you commit to around leveraging Department of Agriculture programs to address these systemic problems and the systemic racism underpinning these inequities?
  • The Conservation Reserve Program, one of the most important conservation programs for wildlife habitat, soil health, water quality, and carbon sequestration, is at its lowest enrollment level in decades, representing a huge missed opportunity for conservation. What actions will your administration take to get CRP back on track and increase enrollment to the levels authorized by the 2018 Farm Bill?
  • Well-managed working grasslands sequester carbon while providing benefits for wildlife, yet are one of the more overlooked areas for climate investment.  With the new administration’s focus on climate at USDA, what actions will you take to increase investment in grasslands and well-managed grazing lands? 

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