Farm Bill Deal Boosts Conservation But Has Flaws
"The farm bill that has emerged from the conference boosts funding for incentives programs that are proven to help conserve grasslands and prairie that are so critical to species conservation, particularly our declining common birds and endangered birds.
"The compromise that has emerged also has a "sodsaver" provision that would expand farming on untouched lands. If it becomes law it would result in a widespread loss of native grassland habitat with a massive release of global warming gases."
In its current form the farm bill has some provisions that undercut many of the bill's positive achievements. It includes an unfavorable "sodsaver" provision originally intended to discourage farmers from planting on untouched prairie. The compromise limits the provision to only five states and only if those states' governors opt to participate. If enacted, Audubon will work in the five states affected to educate their respective governors and encourage them to make the best decision for wildlife and conservation. Another flawed provision limits eligibility for assistance in restoring or improving habitat in the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program.
Among the advancements are:
Conservation Reserve Program. The farm bill retains the highly successful Conservation Reserve Program which allows for annual payments for 10-15 year contracts to participants who establish grass, shrub and tree cover on environmentally sensitive lands. While the cap on eligible lands has been lowered from 39.2 million acres to 32 million acres, the projection reflects expected attrition, and the cost savings are being used to fund other conservation programs in the farm bill.
Wetlands Reserve Program. The bill also retains this voluntary program that assists landowners with restoring and protecting wetlands through conservation easements and cost-share agreements.
Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). Through EQIP, farmers and ranchers may receive financial and technical help to install and maintain conservation practices that enhance soil, water, and related natural resources, including wetlands. Under the new agreement, the program receives an additional $2.4 billion to help producers plan and implement conservation practices including renewable fuels such as wind and solar power.
Other key provisions enhance funding for the Conservation Stewardship Program by an additional $1.1 billion while promoting better practices, a doubling of funding to $500 million for the Farmland Protection Program, and the addition of 300,000 new acres eligible for the Grasslands Reserve Program.