Farm Bill may see action

Associate Editor

Washington, D.C. Following delays caused by terrorist events in
New York City and at the Pentagon, federal legislation that will
affect wildlife and the Minnesota landscape was scheduled to be
debated in the U.S. House this week.

However, an amendment due to be reviewed by the House Rules
Committee on Tuesday, Oct. 2, could mean major changes in the
10-year, $171 billion bill changes benefitting conservation
programs.

According to information last week from Rep. Sherwood Boehlert,
R-New York, the amendment ” aims to restore equity to federal farm
policy, and help the environment, by shifting $1.9 billion from
commodity payments targeted for the nation’s largest farm
operations to voluntary conservation programs.”

The amendment would not increase spending in the bill.

Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wis., a co-sponsor of the amendment, said it
restores levels of conservation funding requested by a coalition of
about 40 conservation organizations, including Ducks Unlimited, the
Wildlife Legislative Fund of America, the National Rifle
Association, and others.

That funding covers four main program areas, according to a
summary of the amendment.

The Conservation Reserve Program, begun in 1985, would be
reauthorized through 2011, and see the enrollment cap raised to 45
million acres. The current bill, H.R. 2646, raises the current
36.4-million-acre cap to 39.2 million acres.

The Grassland Reserve Program, new this time around, would
enable an additional 3 million acres to be enrolled in the program
designed to protect “environmentally sensitive grasslands,
shrublands and blufflands.” The current bill limited the amount for
GRP to 2 million acres.

The amendment would reauthorize the Wetlands Reserve Program
instituted in 1990 through 2011 and provide for an additional
250,000 acres to be enrolled annually. H.R. 2646 protected 150,000
acres annually.

The Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program, also a product of 1990,
would be reauthorized through 2011 under the amendment. It would be
funded at $200 million for fiscal years 2002 and 2003, and
increasing to $500 million annually by 2006. Under H.R. 2646, WHIP
would be limited to $25 million per year.

“The current bill (2646) really diminishes the amount of acreage
for conservation,” said Tom Landwehr, the Minnesota conservation
director for DU. “The amendment would bump levels up to where they
were historically.”

With the amendment, he said, some of the subsidies dollars paid
to large agricultural interests would be shifted to conservation
efforts.

Darin Schroeder, press secretary for Rep. Kind, said the farm
bill was expected to be debated the first week in October. The
Senate has yet to take up the measure.

“We’re pleased with the support we’ve received from sportsmen’s
groups,” Schroeder said. Adding Michigan Rep. John Dingell to the
list of amendment sponsors helped as well.

Some conservation leaders still are concerned with possible
alterations to and a possible weakening of “Swampbuster,” a portion
of the current farm bill that provides long-term protection for
lands enrolled in conservation programs.

“They shouldn’t even be monkeying with the language in
Swampbuster,” Landwehr said.

The first farm bill was passed in 1996 and expires in 2002.
There’s a chance the current farm bill may not be approved until
next year, depending on Senate and presidential action.

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