Duane Hovorka, IWLA Agriculture Program Director
Congress has approved a new five-year Farm Bill that will provide full funding for conservation programs that help farmers put in place conservation systems that address soil, water, and wildlife needs in rural areas. Farm Bill conservation programs provide $6 billion per year – the largest single source of funding for private lands conservation in America.
For wildlife, there are some clear wins in the new Farm Bill:
- USDA will be able to enroll more acres in the Conservation Reserve Program, with the program cap rising from 24 million acres today to 27 million acres in 2023. Whether in whole fields, buffer strips, windbreaks, or wetlands, the grasses, shrubs, and trees planted through CRP contracts provide good habitat for wildlife across the country.
- The new Farm Bill reserves 10 percent of Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) funds for projects that benefit wildlife habitat. EQIP reimburses farmers and ranchers for a share of the cost of installing conservation practices. The 2014 Farm Bill only reserved 5 percent of EQIP funds for wildlife habitat. With an overall increase in EQIP funding and a larger share designated for wildlife habitat, EQIP dollars for wildlife will grow from about $60 million today to $200 million by 2023.
- Increased funding for the Regional Conservation Partnership Program will provide more opportunities to address regional fish and wildlife priorities, such as sage grouse in the west, waterfowl nesting in the prairie pothole wetlands of the northern plains, lesser prairie chickens in the southern Great Plains, aquatic habitat in the Chesapeake Bay and Great Lakes, and longleaf pine forests in the southeast.
- Increased funds for conservation easements that restore and protect wetlands and native prairie will benefit ducks, geese, cranes, and other wetland critters and the grassland birds that depend on native prairie.
- People who fish, hunt, hike, or watch wildlife will find more private land open to public recreation, thanks to an increase in funding for the Voluntary Public Access program. The program supports state and Tribal walk-in hunting, fishing, and recreation access programs, and will see an increase to $50 million over five years (from $40 million in the 2014 Farm Bill).
Overall, the League didn’t get all we asked for in the new Farm Bill, but Congress renewed America’s commitment to funding vital farm and ranch conservation programs for another five years.
Stay tuned for more updates on the new Farm Bill.