Not long ago, I was graphically reminded of the critical importance of the Farm Bill to conservation of privately owned lands in the American West.
A map of our federal lands I saw during a presentation depicted the western half of the country largely in various shades of green, showing public ownership in one form or another. Lands east of the Great Plains, however, remained largely devoid of color, indicating areas under private ownership. I realized that here – on these lands that provide key habitat to fish and wildlife species prized by sportsmen, offer unmatched outdoor recreational opportunities and feed the world – the Farm Bill’s central role in our sporting heritage becomes paramount.
The current Farm Bill expires on Sept. 30, 2012. In its present iteration, the bill has assisted farmers and landowners in conserving millions of acres of fish and wildlife habitat and making improvements to farming operation that have reduced soil erosion and nutrient runoff. If the bill is allowed to expire, private lands conservation in this country may come to a screeching halt.
By keeping nutrients and topsoil out of streams and rivers, Farm Bill conservation programs reduce the need for costly, often ineffective, water quality mitigation efforts. By conserving and restoring wetlands, these also can help reduce the impacts of downstream flooding as well as restore groundwater aquifers.
In places like the Chesapeake Bay and in Montana and Wyoming, Farm Bill programs help farmers reduce their potential regulatory burden. The Chesapeake Bay watershed initiative incentivizes farmers to reduce their nitrogen runoff to improve the health of the nation’s largest estuary, and the sage grouse initiative in the Inter-Mountain West assists ranchers in keeping this iconic bird off the endangered species list. As these conservation goals are met, farmers, ranchers and landowners can focus on making a living and not on the threat of new or expanding regulations.
For sportsmen, the list of benefits we derive from the Farm Bill is a long one. The bill’s conservation programs restore and conserve habitat for a litany of waterfowl and upland game birds, and the Voluntary Public Access program is the only federal program aimed at increasing public access to private lands for hunting and angling, thereby enhancing the quality of our days afield.
Watch an episode of “TRCP’s Conservation Field Notes” in which Steven Rinella discusses key benefits of the Farm Bill.