Federal Policy News
February 17, 2022
Foothill Yellow-Legged Frog
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) has issued a Proposed Rule to list four of the six Distinct Population Segments (DPSs) of the foothill yellow-legged frog in California. If finalized, the proposal would list two DPSs, the South Sierra and South Coast, as endangered and the other two DPSs, North Feather and Central Coast, as threatened with a 4(d) Rule. Collectively, the listing would impact 25 counties in California including Alameda, Amador, Butte, Calaveras, Contra Costa, El Dorado, Fresno, Kern, Los Angeles, Madera, Mariposa, Merced, Monterey, Plumas, San Benito, San Luis Obispo, San Mateo, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Tehama, Tulare, Tuolumne, and Ventura. CAFB worked with Congressional offices on a letter seeking a comment period extension beyond the current February 28 deadline. CAFB is also working on comments to submit prior to the deadline. 
Congress Sends Letter to President Biden Regarding China Phase I Ag Purchases
On February 15th, a letter signed by over 60 members of congress wrote to President Biden expressing concerns regarding China’s commitment to the Phase One agreement and outlines specific questions in relation to strategy and reporting of trade initiatives by this Administration. More than two years ago, the United States and China signed the two-year Phase One trade deal which, among other things, required China to make structural reforms to its trade regime and import $73.9 billion of U.S. agricultural products. China has failed to meet their commitment to the U.S. to purchase additional agricultural goods by nearly $16 billion in 2020 and 2021 combined. 
This letter outlines concerns that China has not lived up to its Phase One commitments, and that the administration has not sufficiently reported to Congress on China’s compliance, brought forward enforcement actions on their shortcomings, nor sought to negotiate new commitments from the country, including on agriculture. 
Joint Congressional Letter on Wildfire Mitigation
On February 7th, Senator Alex Padilla, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Representative Zoe Lofgren led a letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack requesting that the federal government prioritize wildfire mitigation projects in California as the U.S. Forest Service allocates funds from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law in order to implement its new 10-year strategy to combat wildfires. Additional signatories of the letter included Senator Dianne Feinstein and the entire California Democratic Congressional Delegation. The USDA and U.S. Forest Service’s recently released strategy identified that a majority of western high-risk firesheds, large, forested landscapes with a high likelihood that an ignition could expose homes, communities, and infrastructure to wildfire, are located in California. 
Pandemic Cover Crop Program
For a second year, the Pandemic Cover Crop Program (PCCP), offered by USDA’s Risk Management Agency, will provide premium support to producers who insured their crop with most insurance policies and planted a qualifying cover crop during the 2022 crop year. The premium support is $5 per acre, but no more than the full premium owed. A full list of qualifying cover crops is available in FSA Handbook 2-CP. Also, PCCP does not change acreage reporting dates, reporting requirements, or any other terms of the crop insurance policy.
PCCP is available for most insurance policies, including Whole Farm Revenue Protection beginning in 2022. There are a few exceptions related to policies that already provide the benefit through underlying coverage. Producers automatically receive the benefit if they filed the Report of Acreage form (FSA-578) by March 15, 2022 with their local FSA office. To file the report, producers should contact their local USDA Service Center to make an appointment. 
Judge Relists Gray Wolf in Many Areas Including California
On February 10, Senior District Judge Jeffrey S. White, of the U.S. Court for the Northern District of California, found that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (Service) November 2020 delisting of the gray wolf violated the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and vacated the delisting. Previously, on January 14, 2021, environmental groups sued the Service, challenging the November 2020 gray wolf delisting. Judge White found that the Service did not comply with the ESA in several areas and vacated the rule. The result is a relisting of gray wolves in the lower 48 states, including California, with the exception of populations in the Northern Rocky Mountains that were previously delisted. In California, the gray wolf is also listed under the California Endangered Species Act. 
USDA Expands Wild Bird Surveillance for Avian Influenza Following HPAI Outbreaks
The United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is announcing the expansion of wild bird surveillance for avian influenza to include the Mississippi and Central Flyways. APHIS confirmed highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in wild birds in several states in the Atlantic Flyway in January as well as in a commercial turkey flock in Indiana on February 8. The full press release can be found here. APHIS will post all future wild bird HPAI findings on its website listed below. Stakeholders should check the website on a routine basis, as no future stakeholder announcements are planned for wild bird findings. 
Questions Remain on DHS Vaccination Requirements
Late last month, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) moved forward with vaccination requirements for workers traveling into the United States at land and ferry crossings. Importantly, DHS refused to offer exemptions for critical infrastructure workers, such as H-2A visa holders. In addition, the requirement states that only CDC- or WHO-approved vaccines can count towards entry into the US. Unfortunately, some of the most common vaccines in Central and South American countries do not include these approved versions, despite widespread adoption of these other options. Although there have been few reports of issues with workers traveling into the US thus far, CAFB encourages members to reach out if they encounter any such challenges. 
National Council of Agricultural Employers Holds Annual Meeting
Last week, CAFB attended the annual meeting for the National Council of Agricultural Employers (NCAE) in Washington, DC. Speakers from the Departments of Labor, Agriculture, Justice, and others spoke to attendees, as well as several US Senate and House members. The group has been active in helping push legislators and federal officials towards adopting worker visa and immigration reforms, as well as bringing attention to labor issues impacting farming and ranching more broadly. CAFB’s Matthew Viohl was recently elected to their Board as one of California’s two representatives. 
US Suspends Imports for Mexican Avocados
Earlier this week, the US officially suspended avocado imports from Mexico after a USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) official received a threatening call from an unidentified entity while conducting inspections in Michoacan. Mexican production has at times been tied to criminal enterprises, giving a possible explanation for the threat issued to the APHIS inspector.
In recent years, overall imports have grown exponentially, with Mexico being the primary source for avocados sold in US stores. Few details have been provided on a possible end to the suspension, meaning an extended suspension would likely lead to higher prices and broad scarcity for retailers and restaurants. Per reporting elsewhere, USDA officials have said they will only end the pause after they determine the region is safe for their inspectors to resume their work.
Contact Federal Policy
Sara Arsenault
Federal Policy, Director
Matthew Viohl
Federal Policy, Associate Director
Erin Huston
Federal Policy, Consultant