Washington, D.C. – May 9, 2008 – After nearly four months of extensions, House and Senate Farm Bill conferees have reached an agreement on the main elements of the 2008 Farm Bill. Pheasants Forever (PF) and Quail Forever (QF) urge both the House and the Senate to pass the legislation, and for President George W. Bush to sign the bill into law as quickly as possible. If passed, the bill would provide an additional $4 billion in new funding for conservation programs; welcome news for wildlife conservation and hunters.
“The Farm Bill is the single biggest opportunity for conservation. Any further delay to a new bill would have jeopardized three decades worth of progress toward cleaning our water, protecting our soils and creating habitat for wildlife,” said Dave Nomsen, PF/QF’s Vice President of Government Affairs who has played a critical role in shaping the Farm Bill’s conservation title.
“Dave Nomsen has been fighting this Farm Bill battle for wildlife conservation, our members, and all hunters across America non-stop for over a year,” reported Howard Vincent, PF/QF’s President & Chief Executive Officer. “Dave’s voice has carried the PF and QF conservation values to the halls of Congress, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the White House. Surrounded by challenging circumstances, we have a conservation title in this Farm Bill that can help America’s wildlife move forward again.”
The bill does come at a time of intense pressure on today’s agriculture industry: Record high commodity prices and record low commodity supplies; skyrocketing land values; the nation’s dependence on foreign oil and the demand for ethanol-based biofuels; just to name a few. Despite this “perfect storm” of challenges, there are tremendous conservation opportunities within the new proposed Farm Bill.
“The alternatives to a new bill were extremely grim,” said Dave Nomsen, PF/QF’s Vice President of Government Affairs, “While we are concerned with the overall reduction in CRP, this new Farm Bill represents a strong array of conservation programs, and the importance of $4 billion in new conservation funding necessary to augment some very important programs cannot be understated,” Nomsen said.
While final language is not yet confirmed, major conservation provisions likely in the bill are:
- Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) – The bill will reauthorize CRP; the most successful conservation program in U.S. history and crucial for the continued success of pheasant, quail and other wildlife populations. While disappointed that CRP’s overall authority is reduced to 32 million acres, PF and QF strongly support new language and safeguards that will strengthen and improve CRP as an economically competitive and viable program. “Given the current agricultural climate, our goal was to shore up and strengthen CRP as a voluntary incentive-based program by improving the rental rates, and building the program’s demand back up again. Demand will dictate a strong CRP,” Nomsen said, “Establishing a more dynamic and economically competitive CRP is critical going forward.” Other important components of the CRP program as outlined in the bill include:
- New provisions to adjust rental rates will ensure CRP’s competitiveness. “We thank Chairman Collin Peterson for his continued commitment to CRP and for recognizing the need to improve rates in an effort to maintain the program’s effectiveness,” Nomsen said.
- The bill includes provisions that would provide incentives for thinning and burning of CRP tree plantings. “This is huge news for quail,” Nomsen said, “Ranking member Saxby Chambliss must be commended for spearheading these provisions that will help a game bird in desperate need. In all honesty, this may be the biggest news for quail and quail hunters in a generation, and certainly the biggest news Quail Forever can deliver to our members during our two year existence.”
- Recent activity in South Dakota shows that landowner support for CRP remains strong. Despite the expiration of over 300,000 CRP acres last fall, over 20,000 acres were offered for enrollment in South Dakota’s new State Acres For wildlife Enhancement (SAFE) program in just two weeks time. SAFE represents an important change to the Conservation Reserve Program that encourages state-specific wildlife focused projects. Minnesota’s SAFE program is also up and running at this time with additional states to follow soon. The success of these programs demonstrates the demand for conservation, given competitive rental rates.
- Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) –The bill provides $1.3 billion to re-establish WRP, as well as a new appraisal process to make the program more competitive.
- Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) – Expansion of CSP (formerly the Conservation Security Program) with $1.1 billion to enroll 80 million acres in the program nationwide. The additional funding would encourage better wildlife management of CSP lands. “Chairman Harkin has fought hard to solidify the future of this program, and we thank him for that,” said Nomsen. “There is certainly potential for CSP to be a new wildlife jewel. We’re hoping this level of commitment will make that hope a reality with enhanced language generated from this bill.”
- Open Fields – $50 million for new provisions to help states develop and enhance access programs for hunters. Often called “walk-in” programs, they provide for improved public access to private lands, but also require those lands be managed to optimize their value to fish and wildlife.
The bill is also expected to include provisions for the Grasslands Reserve Program (GRP), the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP) and to address the conversion of native prairies – one of the nation’s most threatened ecosystems. Details regarding these programs will be available soon on the PF (www.PheasantsForever.org) and QF (www.QuailForever.org) websites.
“Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever applaud Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) and ranking member Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) and House Ag Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN) and ranking member Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) for their commitment to this crucial legislation,” Nomsen said. “Their leadership in the language of this bill will deliver a conservation legacy to the next generation.”
“As with all Farm Bills, passage represents the first step and then our challenge will be to deliver and implement these programs across the countryside – especially challenging considering the aforementioned pressures – but we need this bill’s passage in order to get these programs in the ground,” Nomsen said.
Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever are non-profit conservation organizations dedicated to the protection and enhancement of pheasant, quail, and other wildlife populations in North America through habitat improvement, land management, public awareness, and education. PF/QF has more than 127,000 members in 700 local chapters across the continent.