Column: Congress passes strong Farm Bill

By Brandon Butler

At the beginning of December, Congress delivered an early Christmas gift on every conservationist’s list - the Farm Bill.

This enormous piece of legislation is the most important for conservation programs in the country. It appropriates $400 billion to agriculture, conservation and food subsidies. Each Farm Bill reauthorization is for five years. The President is expected to sign the bill.

Hunting and fishing are recreational activities. Escapes from having to worry about everyday struggles and challenges. We look forward to evenings on a pond bank catching fish and weekends in the woods waiting on a deer, because these experiences refresh our soul. Most who participate don’t follow the politics of conservation, but it is critical that some do. Without strong grassroots support for the funding necessary to support the conservation initiatives that provide for wildlife habitat and clean, healthy water systems for fish, we wouldn’t have these opportunities.

The Congressional Sportsman’s Foundation compiled the following bullet points of notable provisions within the Farm Bill include:

  • The Conservation Reserve Program will provide contracts for 27 million acres of private land by 2023, allocating around $2 billion annually for farmers to remove environmentally sensitive land from their agricultural production in order to improve the land quality.
  • The Agricultural Conservation Easement Program will provide $450 million per year (totaling $2.25 billion over five years) for financial assistance to help conserve agricultural lands and wetlands.
  • The Voluntary Public Access - Habitat Improvement Program (VPA-HIP) will include $50 million total to enable state/tribal governments to increase public access to private lands for recreational opportunities and enhance fish/wildlife habitats.
  • The Environmental Quality Incentives Program will allocate $9.2 billion over five years to allow agricultural producers to plan and implement conservation practices to improve soil, water, and fish and wildlife habitat.
  • Through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, which will provide $300 million annually ($1.5 billion total), the Natural Resources Conservation Service will help producers increase restoration and sustainable use of natural resources by implementing and maintaining conservation projects on select areas.
  • The Conservation Stewardship Program will allocate $3.9 billion over five years to help agricultural producers maintain and improve existing conservation systems; with payments increased based on conservation project performance.
  • The bill also includes a significant investment to address feral hog populations in the U.S. as well as a provision to reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfires by renewing the insect and disease categorical exclusion and expanding its purpose to allow for expedited reduction of hazardous fuels.

The management of fish and wildlife through conservation work is a complicated and expensive endeavor. It requires a lot of government support, but nothing is more critical to the future of most species than the management of private land and the efforts of private landowners. The Farm Bill provides opportunities for citizens to implement proper practices on their private property.

Ducks Unlimited CEO Dale Hall said, “By providing full-funding for the conservation title, Congress ensures these voluntary, incentive-based conservation programs will continue to create opportunities to work with farmers, ranchers and landowners across the country. Without their cooperation, Ducks Unlimited could not reach our goal of filling the skies with waterfowl today, tomorrow and forever.”

Conservation is so much more than just hunting and fishing. While those pastimes are my passions, I also identify as a bird watcher and all-around lover of wildlife and wild places. While consumptive and non-consumptive users of our fish and wildlife resources and the places they call home sometimes find themselves at odds, the Farm Bill is something for all of us to rally around together.

Steve Holmer, Vice President of Policy for American Bird Conservancy said, “This Farm Bill marks a victory for birds and the conservation work of farmers and landowners, and utilizing the RCPP, we can better target conservation efforts to bird species most in need. The final agreement also dropped numerous harmful provisions affecting federal forests, endangered species, and dangerous pesticides that kill millions of birds each year.”

If you are still looking for a late gift for that hard to buy for guy or gal in your life who loves the outdoors but seems to already have everything they need, consider buying them a membership in a conservation organization. Let them know you chose to give them this gift because you know how much the outdoors means to them, and you are happy to help support their passion by making a contribution to an organization that fights to ensure the future of their favorite species, landscape or destination is being cared for.

Like Cousin Eddie said in the movie a Christmas Vacation, “That’s the gift that keeps on giving the whole year.”

See you down the trail…




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