ID: Agricultural programs benefit wildlife

We are all aware of the heated battles taking place in
Washington D.C. and around the nation regarding reducing federal
spending and cutting government programs.

The conversations are full of arguments and generalized
statements that often miss the finer details of a program or bill.
As we all know, the devil is in the details, and a 30-second sound
bite never explains the whole story.

People may or may not be aware that Idaho’s wildlife benefit
greatly from some of these federal programs. One of the biggest is
the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Conservation Reserve Program
(CRP) and its program, State Acres For Wildlife Enhancement. This
program reimburses farmers to take marginally-productive and highly
erodible cropland voluntarily out of grain production and plant it
to permanent vegetation, which provides “ecological services.”

So what are “ecological services?” That sounds like a fancy way
of covering up a financial boondoggle. These acres provide many
services to the public: Wildlife habitat, reduced soil erosion,
increased water quality and filtration, carbon sequestration,
improved air quality, economic certainty to rural communities,
recreational opportunities, and the list goes on.

In my years of working on these programs I have heard many
derogatory sound bites related to these programs, most follow the
line that the government is paying farmers to “do nothing with
their land.” This couldn’t be further from the truth. Receiving
federal dollars to help improve wildlife habitat in Idaho is a good
deal. The landowner is still required to manage these lands to
ensure they meet program requirements, and while not producing
grain on these acres, what they produce is just as important to
society, Idaho and the nation.

What are the numbers in Idaho? Idaho has about 700,000 acres
enrolled in CRP. These acres provide habitat to many of the game
species we enjoy, such as pheasants, quail, mule deer, elk and
grouse as well as non-games species and habitat for threatened and
endangered species.

The State Acres For Wildlife Enhancement program in Idaho
continues to grow.

Idaho is nearing the state’s allocation cap of 94,300 acres. The
program is designed to provide habitat for the Columbian
sharp-tailed grouse, which has been petitioned twice under the
Endangered Species Act. These acres also provide habitat for sage
grouse, pheasants, mule deer and a host of non-game species.

Idaho’s State Acres For Wildlife Enhancement program recently
became the largest in the nation with more acres enrolled than any
other state.

In addition to the habitat they provide, these acres provide
recreational opportunities through hunting, fishing, wildlife
watching or just quiet enjoyment for thousands of people across the
state. This results in people spending money in the rural towns
near these lands and continuing the outdoor traditions and
lifestyle many Idaho residents enjoy.

Sal Palazzolo is the private land/ Farm Bill program manager for
Idaho Fish and Game.

 

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