IWLA Farm Bill: Providing Wildlife Habitat

In many states, Farm Bill conservation programs are the largest single source of funds available to protect and conserve wildlife habitat on private land. The programs provide incentives to landowners to conserve and improve habitat on tens of millions of acres of land. That provides habitat for ducks, pheasants, grouse, deer, elk, butterflies and other wildlife, and it benefits outdoor recreation as well. 

The habitat conserved can help keep critters off the Endangered Species List. For example, through targeted efforts, Farm Bill conservation programs help landowners provide habitat for the sage grouse in the west, lesser prairie chickens on the Great Plains, and Monarch butterflies in the central and eastern United States.

fly fisherman Seneca Creek tributary in Pendleton County WV_credit Ches Bay Prog (1)

The Farm Bill can also support state and tribal programs that provide free access for hunters, anglers, and hikers to private lands – bringing recreation dollars and jobs to rural communities. 

The 2018 Farm Bill should continue to make a place for fish and wildlife on America’s farms and ranches and should fund state and tribal public access initiatives. 

Promote Targeted Conservation

The 2014 Farm Bill eliminated important regional programs, including the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Program and Great Lakes Basin Program, combining them into a single Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP).

The new program brings partners together in a watershed or region, using USDA’s suite of conservation programs to leverage state and private funds to focus on a conservation challenge important in that area. The projects often deliver $2 or $3 in state or private funds for every $1 of federal funds30

Using a cooperative, integrated approach and leveraging state and private funding means solutions can be put in place at the scale needed to solve conservation problems in a targeted area. Most RCPP projects address water quality or quantity problems while improving habitat for fish and other aquatic species. Other RCPP projects benefit wildlife by promoting better-managed grazing systems, restoring grasslands, or improving forest or shrub-land. 

► We support increasing the share of conservation program funds allocated through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program from 7 percent to 10 percent. We will work to ensure the program addresses our greatest conservation challenges like cleanup of agricultural pollutants from the Chesapeake Bay. 

Boost Wildlife Benefits of Conservation Programs

The 2014 Farm Bill eliminated the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program, merging it into the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) but requiring that at least 5% of EQIP dollars go for wildlife habitat practices. The Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), USDA’s other large working lands program, rewards farmers and ranchers practicing the highest levels of conservation, but it has no designated minimum funding for fish and wildlife habitat.

Many of the practices funded through these programs benefit fish or wildlife indirectly by reducing polluted runoff into streams, improving grazing systems, or reducing the use of pesticides and other chemicals. Only a few of the practices provide direct benefits to wildlife by restoring or conserving habitat in our uplands, wetlands or streams. 

The 2018 Farm Bill should ensure that a fair share of these working lands program dollars directly support fish and wildlife habitat on farms and ranches. 

► We support allocating at least 10% of both major working lands programs (EQIP and CSP) for practices that directly benefit fish and wildlife by restoring or conserving habitat in our uplands, wetlands, or streams. 

The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) provides wildlife habitat, reduces soil erosion, and improves water quality by restoring grasslands and forests on marginal cropland. But it could do much more to help bees, butterflies, and other pollinators by restoring milkweeds and other flowering plants to the landscape. 

► We support adding pollinator-friendly plants to seed mixes farmers use when restoring grasslands on lands enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program and for other conservation purposes like grass waterways, buffer strips, and cover crops. 

Fund Public Access

The 2014 Farm Bill continued a voluntary public access initiative to support programs that use state, tribal, and private funds to pay landowners to provide public access for fishing, hunting, and other recreation. Federal conservation dollars provide valuable wildlife habitat, and incentives for landowners to give the public access to that land for recreational uses helps the economy of rural communities and is especially important in states with very little public land. 

► We support increased Farm Bill funding for state and tribal programs that provide incentives for landowners to open their private farm, ranch, or forest land to the public for recreational use. 

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