Outdoor Insights

Plopping down in ever-so-comfortable Delta Airlines seat 6B en
route to Grand Junction, Colo., two weeks ago, a familiar face
glanced up from my left. There against the window was Dave Nomsen,
Pheasants Forever government affairs director. “You’ll never escape
the press,” I quipped at the affable Nomsen.

On our flight west, we had a discussion about the federal Farm
Bill. Then upon our arrival at the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation
Partnership media summit in Colorado, I met Steve Kline, the TRCP’s
director of agricultural and private lands issues. Kline and Nomsen
eventually gave a one-hour presentation to the group, explaining
the dire state of conservation funding within the Department of
Agriculture’s 2012 appropriations budget.

Some facts from Kline’s presentation: Conservation spending
comprises just 8 percent of total U.S. Department of Agriculture
funding. In 2011 Farm Bill conservation programs were cut by 10
percent, or $500 million. For 2012, the House has passed an
additional 22 percent cut of $1 billion. Things aren’t much better
in the Senate, which has proposed $700 million in cuts for 2012.
The Wetlands Reserve Program, for example, could lose a third of
its acreage. The Conservation Reserve Program stands to lose 1.4
million acres in 2011, and that trend will accelerate the next few
years. As this space mentioned last week, the voluntary public
access program (aka Open Fields) has zero dollars in its ledger
column. I’ve personally never been a big fan of paying landowners
for access, but 25 participating states (including Minnesota) will
lose funding as a result. Losing voluntary public access, Kline
said, means fewer hunting and fishing license sales, less economic
impact and lost jobs for rural America.

Things deteriorated more when the president chimed in two weeks
ago with his deficit reduction plan. It hasn’t received much media
coverage, but the vibe, Kline said, is that the president went too
far when targeting agriculture expenditures. Senators in Kansas and
Oklahoma are demanding the president reduce agriculture cuts, but
they’re worried about the wrong cuts. They want to preserve direct
payments to farmers and crop insurance subsidies. They don’t care
much about the conservation title. On the bright side, Nomsen said,
the president’s pitch only reduced CRP to 30 million acres (from
existing 32 million). Unfortunately the high prices in the
commodities market make that acreage mostly irrelevant. CRP rental
rates simply can’t compete with crop prices.

Kline and Nomsen hope to find creative, affordable ways to make
programs more appealing to producers – such as allowing more
grazing on CRP lands. Neither wants to see CRP lands revert to
fencerow-to-fencerow crops, particularly riparian areas. Maybe we
can convert some to the Conservation Stewardship Program acreages
while farmers plow the flat, prime cropland. If we’re looking to
save money long-term, then perpetual easements on highly erodible
lands (that have seen multiple contracts) should be on the table,
too, Nomsen said.

Listening to Kline and Nomsen, one gentleman said, “Don’t they
realize these are the hardest-working dollars in the federal
budget?!” He’s right. The benefits to water quality, reduced soil
erosion, better upland game and hunter habitat may not create a
precise round number on a spreadsheet, but they leverage massive
state, private and nonprofit dollars to benefit every U.S. citizen.
(Nomsen makes his case for CRP at right.) The deadline for feedback
to the deficit reduction commission “super committee” is next
Friday, Oct. 14. Now’s the time for all Washington D.C. legislators
to hear from sportsmen and women who value a strong conservation
title component within USDA – the hardest-working dollars in
D.C.

Categories: Rob Drieslein

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *