Coalition Sees Progress, Room for Improvement in Farm Bill

Group encouraged by proposed funding levels, improvements for many key programs, concerned by lack of Sodsaver provisions WASHINGTON – The Agriculture and Wildlife Working Group (AWWG) of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership today commented on the draft proposals for the conservation programs in the Farm Bill that were circulated by the House Committee on Agriculture late last week. The programs contained in the Farm Bill’s Conservation Title represent the single largest federal investment in conservation on private land, and their scope is of huge importance to fish and wildlife. The programs’ futures are to be discussed today by a House subcommittee that will be using the draft proposal as a point of departure. “The committee’s language for the Conservation Title is a good starting point,” said Dave Nomsen of Pheasants Forever, a co-chair of the AWWG. “We applaud the proposed reauthorization of these individual programs and we look forward to working with the committee to incorporate a few things that did not make this draft – like Sodsaver and funding for WRP & GRP.” Indeed, funding for programs still remains a top priority to the AWWG. Two of America's most popular conservation programs, the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) and the Grasslands Reserve Program (GRP) face the reauthorization of the Farm Bill without any money. “We were pleased to see that the House bill reauthorizes these programs, but finding the money to fund them is still a huge question,” said Barton James of Ducks Unlimited, a co-chair of the AWWG. “We ask that the House leadership work with members of the Agriculture Committee to make conservation a top priority in the budget process so these essential programs can survive.” Sodsaver provisions, which carry the added benefit of being a source of budget savings in this tight fiscal climate, would make non-cropland that is converted to cropland ineligible to receive federal benefits, such as price and income support payments, crop insurance, disaster payments, conservation program enrollment and Farm Service Agency loan benefits. “Too much ecologically valuable native prairie already has been plowed under because government price supports and insurance programs make it economically feasible to do so,” said Brad Redlin of the Izaak Walton League of America. “We need to remove the economic incentive provided by the federal government for destruction of a dwindling resource.” The AWWG strongly backs an Open Fields access provision in the Farm Bill that would help fund state-managed, voluntary sportsmen’s access programs. Program funds will enhance wildlife management and improve recreational opportunities on land enrolled in Farm Bill conservation programs. Landowner assurances that reduce liability and risk can be provided through the state-managed public access programs. “Open Fields is a winner not only because it promotes the outdoor heritage vital to rural America,” said TRCP Chairman James D. Range, “but also because it will give a needed economic booster shot in the [arm] to parts of the country that need it." The AWWG also noted the substantial proposed funding increase in the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). “We want to be sure state level priorities and the proper focus are applied to this funding,” said Jen Mock Schaeffer of the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies and AWWG co-chair. “It is important that fish and wildlife see the benefits of this increased funding and the provision’s language should reflect that.” Inspired by the legacy of Theodore Roosevelt, the TRCP is a coalition of organizations and grassroots partners working together to preserve the traditions of hunting and fishing.