Friday, May 16, 2008

Farm Bill Seeds On-the-ground Conservation Benefits for Wildlife and Wildlife Habitat

Four billion dollar increase in conservation spending for critical new and renewed programs will enhance states’ ability to manage public trust resources

WASHINGTON, DC -- A four billion dollar increase in funding for programs that maintain and advance conservation of vital fish and wildlife habitat passed today as part of the 2007 Farm Bill Conference Report by an 81-15 vote in the Senate and a 318-106 vote in the House yesterday. Pay-as-you-go rules, a declining Congressional baseline budget and a promised Presidential veto have threatened the report’s passage before both chambers came to an agreement this week. The votes are sufficient to override a veto.

“While 70 percent of U.S. land is privately owned, all fish and wildlife is held in the public trust,” said Corky Pugh, President of the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (AFWA) and Director of the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division. “Landowners work in partnership with state fish and wildlife agencies to undertake wildlife-friendly habitat management on their properties. The Farm Bill delivers important funding that enables these tremendous opportunities for on-the-ground conservation.”

Provisions in the bill renew the Wetland Reserve Program, an easement process for landowners to retire and restore drained wetlands; the Grassland Reserve Program to protect native grasslands; and the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program to address priority fish and wildlife concerns within states such as early successional dependent species like the woodcock in Northeast states or critical salmon habitat in the Pacific Northwest.The bill significantly ramps up the funding for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and the new Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). The EQIP provision has specific language mentioning wildlife, while both programs contain language directing the Secretary of Agriculture to consider national, regional and state conservation priorities.

“This is great news for national wildlife conservation initiatives like the North American Waterfowl Management Plan and the Northern Bobwhite Conservation Initiative,” said Dan Forster, Vice-Chair of AFWA’s committee on Agriculture Conservation, and Director, Georgia’s Division of Wildlife.

The 2007 Farm Bill also introduces the new “Open Fields” Programs. Open Fields expands upon USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program to assist states with voluntary programs providing public access to private lands for fishing, hunting and other wildlife-related recreation. The Farm Bill further provides new federal tax deductions for landowners who make efforts to protect endangered species, as well as extending federal tax deductions to individuals who donate easements on their land for conservation purposes.

In addition to the conservation and environmental gains, the economic results derived from increased hunting, fishing and outdoor recreational opportunities are particularly important to rural agricultural families and communities. Hunters and anglers nationwide are a $76 billion market force.

“While the bill did not include all the things for conservation we had worked for, like a strong Sodsaver provision, we applaud Congress for passing this critically important bill and look forward to working with our partners in USDA to deliver these new conservation programs across all 50 states,” said Jennifer Mock Schaeffer, Agriculture Conservation Policy Analyst, Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. “When fish and wildlife benefit from improved habitats, all Americans benefit from the healthier environment, improved quality of life and benefits to the economy.”

The Farm Bill is reauthorized every five years to support American producers, ensure consumers an abundance of food and fiber at reasonable prices and provide various conservation opportunities for farmers, ranchers and landowners. It is the single largest federal investment in conservation on private land, covering more than half of the landscape of the lower 48 states.

Press release: Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies