WRP gets Senate backing

Subcommittee backs full funding in

By Tim
Associate Editor

Washington — The full U.S. Senate has yet to vote on the matter,
but supporters of the federal Wetlands Reserve Program are
celebrating a subcommittee victory for WRP, an agricultural
set-aside program.

The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee for Agriculture, Rural
Development, and Related Agencies voted recently to provide full
funding in 2007 for the program. That would allow full enrollment
of up to 250,000 acres in the farm bill program.

“I feel confident it will be sustained out of committee,” said
Lynn Tjeerdsma, policy initiatives manager for TRCP. He said there
was a “90 percent chance” it would be passed out of the full

From there, the measure would head to conference committee,
where program funding would be challenged by House members who
recently voted to cut the program to about 145,000 acres next year
as a means to trim the federal budget.

Tjeerdsma said it’s impossible to predict an outcome there, but
he hopes the Bush administration’s backing of full funding has a
bearing on how much is funded.

Full funding would allow about 250,000 acres to be enrolled in
the WRP, which now has contracts totalling about 1.6 million acres
enrolled across the nation. However, the program has of late
enrolled about 200,000 acres, or less, each year.

In Minnesota, about 57,000 acres are enrolled in WRP, which
provides for either permanent or 30-year conservation easements.
There’s also a cost-share agreement option that’s utilized to a
lesser degree by landowners.

“It was a big victory to get 250,000 (acres) in the (Senate)
subcommittee,” Tjeerdsma said.

Ducks Unlimited also weighed in on the Senate subcommittee’s

“The subcommittee’s recommendation to fully fund 250,000 acres
in the Wetlands Reserve Program is good for farmers and ranchers
and for hunters and anglers,” DU executive vice president Don Young
said in a press statement. “Now more than ever we need strong
wetlands restoration programs in light of (the recent) Supreme
Court decision that questions how far the Clean Water Act goes in
protecting already existing wetlands. Society is quickly learning
the many benefits wetlands provide, and the Wetlands Reserve
Program is one of the best ways to bring them back.”

According to DU, scientific studies have shown the importance of
preserving wetlands. They act as filters, cleaning water and
recharging groundwater supplies. Wetlands also trap and hold flood
waters, lessening damage from floods and hurricanes. Further, they
provide homes for more than 900 species of wildlife at some time in
their lives, making wetlands the most prolific ecosystems in the
world, the press statement says.

Tjeerdsma said a grass-roots effort to contact Congress helped
secure support from members of the Senate subcommittee.

“All members of Congress received a strong message from across
the country,” he said.

Tjeerdsma said there’s great demand for WRP enrollment. For
every contract accepted, he said, three others are not.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service – part of the USDA –
administers the program in states. Tim Koehler, Minnesota’s
assistant state conservationist for the NRCS, says the state
usually receives between $15 million and $20 million annually for
WRP signup. The state already has about $50 million in applications
received. The vast majority of WRP enrolled in Minnesota is in
permanent easement contracts.

The 2007 fiscal year for federal programs begins Oct. 1 of this
year, but Tjeerdsma said that doesn’t necessarily mean the funding
level for WRP will be established by then.

PF testifies in support of NAWCA

Dave Nomsen, vice president of governmental affairs for
Pheasants Forever, recently testified before the U.S. House
Subcommittee on Fisheries, Conservation, Wildlife and Oceans in
support of reauthorizing the North American Wetlands Conservation

The bill calls for a five-year reauthorization totalling $375
million and reauthorizes the program through 2011, at a rate of $75
million annually. Officials say only about $40 million has been
spent in recent years. Other sources bring NAWCA spending to about
$60 million. NAWCA dollars require a 1-1 non-federal match, but
non-federal sources have kicked in about $3 to each federal dollar
for conservation projects.

There are 43 projects under way in Minnesota. NAWCA funding in
the state has totalled about $18.8 million, with non-federal
matches of about $69.3 million. The program first was enacted in
1990. Projects are undertaken in the United States, Canada, and

Rocky Mountain Front protection

According to the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership,
language has been introduced in the U.S. Senate’s 2007 Interior
Appropriations bill that would prevent any new oil and gas leases
from being approved within the confines of federal land along the
Rocky Mountain Front.

The move would protect an area inhabited by rich and diverse
fish and wildlife populations and cherished by hunters and anglers
throughout the country, according to TRCP.

The language was introduced by Sen. Conrad Burns, chairman of
the Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee.

In a press statement, TRCP said the Coalition to Protect the
Rocky Mountain Front, including groups such as Trout Unlimited and
the Montana Wildlife Federation, was instrumental in working the
action through with Sen. Burns.

The fiscal year 2007 Appropriations bill was expected to be
approved by the full Senate Appropriations Committee.

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