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Last year, I introduced and prioritized LB 243, which created the Healthy Soils Task Force. Since the bill’s passage last April, the Governor has appointed 14 members to the task force, representing production agriculture, agribusiness, Natural Resource Districts, environmental organizations, and academic experts in the fields of agriculture and natural resources. In addition, the Director of the Department of Agriculture serves on the task force, along with representatives of the Agriculture Committee and the Natural Resources Committee of the Legislature. Lisa Lunz of Wakefield and Jeff Steffen of Crofton were appointed to the task force and I am serving as the representative of the Natural Resources Committee. Keith Berns, of Bladen, was selected as chair and is doing a fantastic job.
The task force, which is charged with developing a comprehensive healthy soils initiative and action plan, has met numerous times since last summer. Another meeting is scheduled for February 6. Additionally, task force members have broken out into four subcommittees: Economics, Education, Ecosystem Services, and Initiative. The subcommittees are meeting in between our full task force meetings. There is a page on the Nebraska Department of Agriculture’s website devoted to the Healthy Soils Task Force. It can be found at: https://nda.nebraska.gov/healthysoils/index.html. I have been very impressed with the knowledge of the task force members and their dedication to this project. The task force is to submit its comprehensive action plan and report its findings and recommendations to the Governor and the Agriculture Committee of the Legislature by January 1, 2021.
LB 126 was introduced last year by Senator Dan Hughes of Venango, the chair of the Natural Resources Committee. This legislation would give landowners up to four free firearm deer hunting permits and allow them to hunt prior to the beginning of the season if the landowner consented to make at least 50% of his land available for public deer hunting during the firearm season. Senator Hughes asked the Natural Resources Committee to advance the bill at the end of the session last year, in an effort to put pressure on the Game and Parks Commission to work with him and other farmers experiencing damage by herds of deer on their land. This is a serious issue so I voted to advance LB 126 to the floor of the Legislature.
Since that time, the Game & Parks Commission has worked with Senator Hughes and other senators on the depredation permit issue. However, Senator Hughes still decided to take up LB 126. Furthermore, the Natural Resources Committee amendments struck the requirement for landowners to open up their land to public hunting if they take advantage of the early permits. The Legislature debated LB 126 for several hours this past week and only a couple of senators, including myself, had problems with the bill, which was easily advanced to the second stage of debate. Although I am concerned with the damage that deer cause on farmer’s land, this bill does nothing to resolve that issue. I have no problem with the free permits for landowners experiencing damage, but I do have a problem that these permits aren’t “doe” permits, thereby allowing landowners to get the “big buck” ahead of other hunters who aren’t fortunate enough to own their own land, when the underlying issue is the overpopulation of deer. Furthermore, this would interfere with the bow hunting season and could cause hunters to lose interest in the sport. There are individuals that invest a good deal of time and money in enhancing their hunting areas on leased land, by planting food plots, clearing cedar trees, etc.
Governor Ricketts visited the O’Neill and Spencer fire departments on January 31, recognizing them for their heroic efforts to serve Nebraskans during the historic floods of 2019. It was an honor for me to be able to attend the ceremonies.
If you have any comments on legislation before us, please contact my office. Your input helps me do my job in representing you. I can be reached at District #40, P.O. Box 94604, State Capitol, Lincoln, NE 68509. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and my telephone number is (402) 471-2801.