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Texas lawmaker visits first tree farm

More scientific data and a common sense approach are needed whendiscussing environmental rules and regulations for forest and dairyoperations such as those in southwest Mississippi, says the rankingminority member of the U.S. House Agriculture Committee.

Rep. Charles Stenholm, D-Texas, visited his first pine tree farmTuesday while touring with Fourth District Rep. Ronnie Shows at theM.M. Moak Tree Farm in Bogue Chitto. The congressmen also visited adairy farm in Pike County.

Stenholm, considered to be the House’s voice for agriculturebecause of his time on the committee, said more scientificassessment is needed on environmental regulations such as TotalMaximum Daily Load (TMDL) provisions as part of the Clean WaterAct. TMDLs govern acceptable levels of runoff from pesticides,herbicides and other agricultural chemicals.

“It was going to be very devastating on the timber industry,”Stenholm said about permitting and other aspects of theregulations.

Stenholm said owners of small operations, whether it’s forest,dairy, cotton or other agricultural endeavors, were in a betterposition to make decisions regarding their land and that of theirneighbors.

“I quarrel not with anyone who wants to preserve the quality ofwater,” Stenholm said.

The congressman said regulations were needed for largeoperations. However, until more assessment is done, smalleroperations should not be subject to the same regulations.

“We believe we’re doing what we should do to be proper stewardsof our land,” said J.P. Moak, who owns the farm with his brothers,Huey and Louie, and sister, Janice.

Under the environmental regulations, Moak said the farm wouldhave had to get four permits for recent tree-cuttingactivities.

Steve Corbitt, president of the Mississippi ForestryAssociation, said the six-month permitting process presents thechance for missed markets for timber and the possibility of lowerprices. He said the TMDL rules “stood to be the death blow toforest operations.”

Corbitt credited Shows and fellow “Blue Dog” Democrats such asStenholm with coming to the rescue, raising awareness and delayingimplementation of the regulations.

“To us, agriculture is not a partisan issue,” Shows said. “It’sa non-partisan issue.”

Corbitt and Shows said the issue is somewhat resolved. Whileefforts to get environmental regulations are still ongoing, Showswas hopeful implementation can be delayed further.

“I think we’ve raised the awareness level enough to hopefullydefeat that issue,” Shows said.