Bush announces extension of CRP

PF: A grand slam for wildlife’

Associated Press and Staff Reports

Le Sueur, Minn. Stopping during a campaign swing through the
Midwest last Wednesday, President Bush told several hundred
farmers, ranchers, and sportsmen that he plans to expand the
Conservation Reserve Program. The popular farmland conservation
program pays landowners to keep environmentally sensitive lands out
of production.

Standing in a field on a farm, Bush said the government
initiatives to conserve sensitive farmlands help “the best stewards
of the land become better stewards of the land.”

The farm, owned by Mark and Shirley Katzenmeyer, has about 20 of
the 1.7 million acres that are enrolled in Minnesota in CRP, which
pays farmers to take environmentally sensitive farmland out of
production for 10- and 15-year contracts. Nationally, about 800,000
landowners enroll nearly 35 million acres in the program.

The administration is strongly committed to expanding the nearly
two-decade-old federal payments program to cover grasslands and
additional wetlands, Bush said. Some 16 million acres of contracts
under the Agriculture Department program would expire in 2007, and
another 6 million acres would expire in 2008.

“Farmers no longer need to worry about whether or not they will
be re-enrolled in this program,” Bush said. “You will be.”

Leaders of conservation groups from around the country,
including Pheasants Forever, Ducks Unlimited, the National Wild
Turkey Federation, and the Ruffed Grouse Society, were among the
150 people present for the president’s speech.

Bush’s announcement “is a grand slam for wildlife and
conservationists,” said Howard Vincent, president and CEO of St.
Paul-based Pheasants Forever.

Bush’s announcement specifically directs the U.S. Department of
Agriculture to: 1) fully enroll CRP from its current 34.8 million
acres to its 39.2 million-acre authorization, 2) implement a
bobwhite quail buffer practice with a budget to add 250,000 CRP
acres, 3) adjust the “CP-23 wetland restoration rule” to include
prairie and other wetlands with a budget to add 250,000 CRP acres,
and 4) announce a new CRP general signup (late this summer) that
will be budgeted to accept 800,000 total new acres. 

The “Northern Bobwhite Quail Habitat Initiative” aims to
increase the population of the northern bobwhite quail by 750,000
birds annually, the president said. It creates an automatic
enrollment of 250,000 additional acres of grass buffers on
farms.

The 2002 Farm Bill that Bush signed provided $40 billion over 10
years to restore millions of acres of wetlands, protect sensitive
habitats, conserve water and improve streams and waterways near
farms and ranches, he said.

“The best thing from the Farm Bill was the conservation title,”
Bush said. “It encouraged people to put aside lands for the right
reasons, to protect the soil, protect the water, provide habitat
for wildlife.

“The Administration has taken an important step today to promote
CRP enrollment in this crucial area and to ensure it remains a key
part of the Conservation Title of the next Farm Bill,” said DU
President John Tomke, who was on hand for the announcement. “This
announcement is big news.”  

David Nomsen, vice president of governmental affairs for
Pheasants Forever, said Bush’s words are critical because they
assure farmers that they won’t have to reopen acres to farming.

The president’s announcement enables the Farm Service Agency to
work toward early re-enrollment options and contract extensions,
thus preventing massive roll-out of CRP lands in the next two
years.

Scott Sutherland, government affairs coordinator of Ducks
Unlimited, called the 300-acre Katzenmeyer farm a perfect example
of the program. While other farms in the area were planted
fencepost to fencepost, the Katzenmeyer’s farm was broken up by
stands of woods and natural grasses.

Mark Katzenmeyer said he was happy with Bush’s policy
announcements but said they didn’t talk about crop programs during
a brief chat: They talked about their mutual affinity for mountain
biking. “I’m sorry I didn’t bring mine,” Bush told the crowd,
prompting Katzenmeyer to offer, “You can borrow one.”

“Well, I’m not that sorry,” Bush said, to laughter.

Associated Press writers Pete Yost, Ashley H. Grant, and Patrick
Howe contributed to this report, as did Outdoor News Editor Rob
Drieslein.

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