Letter on Farm Bill

The National Wildlife Federation sent the attached letter on public access and the Farm Bill to Congress last week. We've received quite a bit of interest in our proposal in various house and senate offices. June 1, 2007 The Honorable Chairman Tom Harkin United States Senate 731 Hart Senate Office Building Washington, DC 20510 The Honorable Saxby Chambliss United States Senate 416 Russell Senate Office Building Washington, DC 20510 Dear Chairman Harkin and Ranking Member Chambliss: The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) and its state affiliates have long been strong supporters of the Farm Bill’s Conservation Title. We believe the many programs authorized through the Title provide a wealth of benefits for America’s fish and wildlife and provide important incentives for farmers across the country to incorporate solid conservation practices into their farming operations. As farmers, hunters and anglers, together we seek the funding necessary to expand the Farm Bill’s conservation programs; we believe that Congress should help build this alliance. Such a broad based alliance will not only help with this year’s legislation, but also, if done right, will serve as a base on which to build for future Farm Bill programs. We believe that strengthening this partnership is vitally important. One way to solidify this alliance is to provide incentives for voluntary public access to private lands enrolled in Farm Bill conservation programs. NWF and its affiliates support a two-pronged approach to enhancing public access to private lands. First, we support the “Open Fields” legislation, which will soon be reintroduced in Congress. The Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program Act of 2007 would provide matching funds to state-administered, voluntary, incentive-based programs to expand public access to private lands for hunters, anglers, and outdoor enthusiasts and encourage the creation and conservation of quality fish and wildlife habitat. Second, we believe provisions should to be added to the Conservation Title that reward farmers who voluntarily provide public, non-fee, access to their land enrolled in Farm Bill conservation programs. Allowing farmers to provide public access as part of their bid for conservation program contracts is a cost-effective mechanism that will be a win-win for farmers, hunters and taxpayers. Many farmers across the country welcome hunters to hunt on their land every fall and these farmers should be credited with providing an added public benefit when they seek to enroll their lands in Farm Bill programs. Providing extra points to an overall Farm Bill contract to those farmers who provide access would encourage more landowners to open their land to reasonable public access. This can be accomplished by adding points to an overall contract or by adding points to the Environmental Benefits Index (EBI). We believe that adjusting the EBI or adding bonus points will help increase the public support and the strong alliance between farmers, hunters and anglers necessary to pass Farm Bill legislation in future years, all at little, or no, cost to the American taxpayer. At NWF’s 2007 Annual Meeting, the delegates unanimously passed a resolution that called on Congress and the President to give farmers and ranchers a competitive advantage in participating in Farm Bill programs if they provide “reasonable levels” of public access to their lands. It is important to recognize that this resolution recognizes that farmers need only provide “reasonable” access for the general public to hunt or access their lands. A total of 20 states already have established programs to work cooperatively with private landowners to pay for access to their lands and many of these states’ programs include additional incentives for habitat improvement. Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming, in particular, have very successful programs that open millions of acres of land to the public each year, and several other states are initiating similar programs. Providing bid incentives for farmers who provide access would only enhance these state efforts to provide access and promote hunting and other outdoor recreation. We believe the combination of both state programs and appropriate incentives in the Farm Bill would open millions of acres for hunting, while growing support for the whole array of Farm Bill conservation programs. On behalf of NWF and its affiliates, we look forward to working with you to enact this much-needed and timely addition to the 2007 Farm Bill. Sincerely, Jim Lyon, Senior Vice President for Conservation Programs, National Wildlife Federation David Carruth, President, Arkansas Wildlife Federation Mary Jo Forman Miller, President, Arizona Wildlife Federation Manley K. Fuller, III, President, Florida Wildlife Federation Jerry McCollum, President & CEO, Georgia Wildlife Federation Kent Marlor, President, Idaho Wildlife Federation John Goss, Executive Director, Indiana Wildlife Federation Joe Wilkinson, President, Iowa Wildlife Federation Ronnie Wells, President, League of Kentucky Sportsmen Randy Lanctot, Executive Director, Louisiana Wildlife Federation Donna Stine, Executive Director, Michigan United Conservation Clubs Gary Botzek, Executive Director, Minnesota Conservation Federation Craig Sharpe, Executive Director, Montana Wildlife Federation Dave Murphy, Executive Director, Conservation Federation of Missouri Dan Stahr, Executive Director, Nebraska Wildlife Federation Kent Salazar, President, New Mexico Wildlife Federation Kevin Cabble, President, Nevada Wildlife Federation Larry Thompson, Executive Director, North Carolina Wildlife Federation Shawn McKenna, Executive Director, North Dakota Wildlife Federation Larry Mitchell, President, League of Ohio Sportsmen Andy McDaniels, Executive Director, Oklahoma Wildlife Federation Norm Ritchie, Executive Director, Association of Northwest Steelheaders Chris Hesla, Executive Director, South Dakota Wildlife Federation Mike Butler, Executive Director, Tennessee Wildlife Federation George Meyer, Executive Director, Wisconsin Wildlife Federation Mark Winland, Acting Executive Director, Wyoming Wildlife Federation