Washington, D.C. National fish and wildlife organizations have
launched a coordinated effort to ensure that conservation programs
are included in the congressional reauthorization of the Farm Bill,
which is likely to occur in 2002.
During the first week of June, Ducks Unlimited and Pheasants
Forever brought a group of Midwestern farmers, conservationists,
and hunters to Washington D.C. to meet with politicians and their
staff to discuss the importance of continuing programs such as the
Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), the Wetland Reserve Program
(WRP), and other conservation efforts.
Representing a coalition of 38 fish and wildlife groups with 9.5
million members, Jeff Nelson, director of operations for Ducks
Unlimited’s Great Plains Regional Office, testified before the U.S.
House of Representatives Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation,
Credit, Rural Development, and Research on the importance of
“We urge you to continue and expand an agriculture policy
approach that has proven successful in achieving recent
conservation gains along with providing economic benefits for
family farmers,” Nelson told committee members.
The nation’s Farm Bill is reauthorized about every five years,
with the last reauthorization occurring in 1996. Since then, the
political landscape in Washington has changed. There is a new,
Republican president, a Republican-controlled House and a
Democrat-controlled Senate. Although the timetable for
reauthorization is uncertain, the House is presently moving forward
and is expected to mark up a bill in July. Senate hearings may
begin in late summer or fall. The Administration is expected to
announce its priorities in July.
Conservationists say that now is the time to emphasize the need
for farmland conservation and its benefits.
“We can’t be complacent,” says Dave Nomsen of Pheasants Forever.
“We need to make sure policy makers know how important conservation
is to the Farm Bill.”
Nomsen, of Alexandria, Minn., has spent three of the last four
weeks in Washington, meeting with members of Congress and the
Administration. The fish and wildlife community is trying to send a
consistent message about important farmland conservation programs.
Simply put, their agenda is:
Expand the Conservation Reserve Program to the original level of
45 million acres.
Expand the Wetland Reserve Program to 250,000 acres per
Increase funding for the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program to
$100 million per year.
Initiate a new, Grasslands Reserve Program to enroll up to one
million acres of grassland in 30-year or permanent easements to
prevent conversion of grasslands to row crops.
Conservationists are optimistic that conservation will be a
facet of the Farm Bill. Ron Helinski of the Wildlife Management
Institute says that conservation will probably be the centerpiece
of Senate legislation under the leadership of new Agriculture
Committee chair Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa. Legislation from the House
is likely to be more commodities-oriented. He hopes conservation
funding will be enhanced from a present level of $2 billion to
$3-$5 billion. He says the public is giving closer scrutiny to
agricultural funding and its public benefits. Existing conservation
programs are showing success and demand from farmers to participate
exceeds available funding.
However, there are some wild cards in the political landscape,
especially with the administration of President George W. Bush.
Conservationists note that the Wetland Reserve Program received
zero funding in the President’s budget. Nomsen said fish and
wildlife advocates have had a cordial discussion about their
priorities with Agriculture Secretary Anne Venneman.
The Sportsman’s Congressional Caucus, under the leadership of
Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson, D-7th, is also advocating farmland
conservation. Peterson is heading a Farm Bill Task Force that
supports the fish and wildlife agenda, says Matt Hogan, executive
director of the caucus.
For Midwestern hunters and anglers, the Farm Bill
reauthorization is likely to be the most significant legislation
Congress will consider within the next two years. Current
conservation programs have resulted in an abundance of farmland
game species such as pheasants and ducks. Game fish populations
have benefited from cleaner water due to erosion and run-off
Conservationists on the political front lines say hunters and
anglers should not take these benefits for granted.
“Now is the time to be writing letters and making phone calls to
your politicians,” says Nomsen. “We need to get them behind