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Guest Editorial: Inaction on Farm Bill threatens wildlife and hunting heritage

September 22, 2012 at 03:11 PM

Ducks Unlimited

Recently, farmers and ranchers have been calling on Congress to pass the Farm Bill, which comes as no surprise since this legislation authorizes programs that ensure drought funding as well as agricultural and food safety policies.

However, many Americans may be surprised to learn that hunters and conservationists have also been rallying for a vote.

That’s because the Farm Bill contains provisions affecting important wildlife conservation programs.

These programs have allowed conservation groups like Ducks Unlimited to work hand-in-hand with farmers and ranchers to restore and conserve millions of acres of wetlands, grasslands and other vital wildlife habitats across America.

The Farm Bill’s Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) not only have a positive impact on wildlife populations but also help conserve soil and keep our streams, rivers and lakes clean.

These incentive-based programs benefit wildlife, ranchers and farmers, the environment, and wildlife-associated recreation, which generates significant financial support for our nation’s economy.

A preliminary report from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service indicates that hunters, anglers and wildlife watchers spent $145 billion on wildlife-related recreation in 2011. 

Waterfowl are a migratory resource, and Ducks Unlimited and its many partners work across the continent to conserve habitat that fulfills the needs of waterfowl throughout their life cycle.

One of our conservation priorities is the Prairie Pothole Region (PPR) of the Northern Plains, which is the most productive—and most threatened—breeding habitat for North American ducks.

The PPR has already lost half of its wetlands, and more than 3.2 million acres of grassland were converted to cropland in the Northern Plains between 1982 and 2003.

Ducks nesting in the PPR need both grasslands and shallow wetlands to be successful.

Grasslands provide nesting cover, and nearby wetlands provide food for hens and their broods.

That’s where the Farm Bill’s conservation programs come into play.

These programs help prevent wetland drainage and keep native grasslands intact.

However, Congressional inaction on the Farm Bill jeopardizes these programs and, in turn, millions of acres of habitat and millions of ducks that rely on it.

Three aspects of the Farm Bill are of great concern to Ducks Unlimited and other conservation groups:

Maintaining and strengthening effective wetland protections.

For more than 25 years, incentive programs have been in place to deter wetland drainage.

These protections work because they’ve been linked to commodity support and other incentive programs.

Congress wants to eliminate many commodity support programs and shift these supports to crop insurance, which is not currently linked to any wetlands protection provisions.

This could open the door to further wetland drainage and habitat loss.

Farmers need a safety net against catastrophic weather events and volatile markets, but taxpayer resources should not be used to incentivize wetland drainage and habitat destruction.

We are asking Congress to link conservation compliance with crop insurance. Long-term sustainability of wetland habitats and waterfowl populations depends in part on this provision.

Including a national Sodsaver provision to protect native prairie.

More than 70 percent of the nation’s original grasslands have been lost, and today’s growing trend to convert grasslands for farming threatens the future of waterfowl populations and our hunting heritage.

Conversion of native grasslands reduces available grazing lands, increases soil erosion and destroys critical habitat for waterfowl, pheasants and many other wildlife species.

The accelerated loss of native prairie has been fueled by technological advancements and unintended consequences of federal farm policy.

A provision that gives farmers incentive to conserve grassland is needed to protect America’s native prairie.

Preserving conservation programs.

We support holding the line on no more than $6 billion in cuts to conservation programs and providing strong baseline funding for CRP, WRP, the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program and the Voluntary Public Access Program.

These programs are vital to conservation and help provide hunting opportunities, which is an economic driver in many states.

Ducks Unlimited members are actively engaged in trying to protect conservation programs in the Farm Bill, and we encourage everyone who enjoys hunting and wildlife to do the same.

Contact your member of Congress and let him or her know that conservation of grasslands and wetlands in the 2012 Farm Bill is important to you, and that Congress needs to pass a comprehensive five-year Farm Bill this year.

Dale Hall is the CEO of Ducks Unlimited

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Very bad days ahead for our feathered and furred friends and those of us that pursue them.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 09/23 at 07:59 AM

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