WASHINGTON, D.C. — The House of Representatives narrowly passed its 2018 Farm Bill, “The Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018,” with a 213-211 vote Thursday, June 21.
According to reports, while there are some positive provisions for conservation and sportsmen’s access in the bill – the single largest source of federal conservation funding – it also includes a number of provisions that would undercut long-term conservation benefits to headwaters, forests, and wetlands.
The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership said in a news release that it is pleased to see a 25-percent increase for the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program. As the only federal program aimed at opening private land to public access, VPA-HIP is a valuable tool for increasing hunting and fishing access to sportsmen and women across the country, the TRCP said. It added that the funding increase provided by the House bill is a much-needed step toward meeting the $150 million required to meet landowner demand for the program. To date, the program has opened more than 950,000 acres of private land to the public for hunting and fishing across 30 states, the TRCP said.
But the TRCP also said in the release that this boost for hunting and fishing access is somewhat overshadowed by the long-term cuts to conservation funding in the bill. Unmet demand for Farm Bill conservation programs is at an all-time high, and sportsmen and women believe Congress should provide increased conservation funding to meet farmer and rancher demand, the TRCP said, adding that also of concern is the inclusion of an amendment that seeks to repeal the Clean Water Rule, which protects our nation’s most vulnerable waterways.
Other positive provisions overshadowed by cuts to conservation, according to the TRCP release: An additional $250 million in funding for the Agriculture Conservation Easement Program, which incentivizes landowners to conserve agricultural land and wetlands; an additional $3 billion per year for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, which helps landowners plan, install, or maintain practices that enhance water quality and wildlife habitat or reduce soil erosion and sedimentation; increased flexibility and $250 million per year for the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, which supports partnerships between conservation groups and agricultural producers to enhance soil, water, and wildlife conservation in multi-state or watershed-scale projects; an amendment from Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-Pa.) that would prioritize USDA research on controlling the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease in deer.
“The Farm Bill ensures that fish and wildlife continue to thrive in and around private lands to hunting and fishing opportunities and the economic health of rural America,” said Whit Fosburgh, TRCP president and CEO. “Especially since the House bill includes many of our community’s recommendations, we would have liked to see it move forward without short-sighted funding provisions or the handful of amendments that American sportsmen and women simply cannot support – like a repeal of the rule that clarifies Clean Water Act protections for headwater streams and wetlands and forestry provisions that would weaken the Endangered Species Act and National Environmental Policy Act.”
According to a National Wild Turkey Federation news release, the legislation includes many important measures for private forest conservation that were recommended by the Forests in the Farm Bill coalition, which the NWTF helps to lead. Inclusion of these measures will ensure that private forests are managed to provide quality wildlife habitat, clean water and reduced risk of forest fire, the NWTF said.
“The House Farm Bill includes strong conservation measures,” said Becky Humphries, NWTF CEO. “We look forward to working with Congress to finalize a farm bill that will allow private landowners to continue to care for our natural resources.”