Alex Maggos

March 13, 2019

What the F@rm B!ll Happened to CRP?

Without a doubt, the Conservation Reserve Program is a favorite for sportsmen and farmers—here’s a look at the sweeping changes the 2018 Farm Bill made to this important program

The Conservation Reserve Program helps America’s farmers, ranchers, and forest owners to voluntarily conserve environmentally sensitive land. Thanks to the wildlife habitat benefits of the program, CRP is a household name with landowners and sportsmen in some parts of the country. (At least as much as any of the Farm Bill conservation program acronyms can be.)

Introduced in the 1985 Farm Bill, CRP once supported 37 million acres devoted to conserving soil, water, and wildlife habitat. But Congress reduced the size of the program to just 24 million acres in the 2014 Farm Bill, which forced the U.S. Department of Agriculture to turn down thousands of CRP applications with millions of potential acres for conservation.

The hunting and fishing community pushed long and hard for a major increase to CRP acres in the new Farm Bill. Here’s what happened.

Photo by USDA NRCS Montana.
Some Good News, Some Bad News

Fortunately, the 2018 Farm Bill added 3 million acres back into the program, increasing the size to 27 million acres and helping meet landowner demand. But the additional cost of growing the program was paid for by placing a cap on rental rate payments. For general CRP, which typically includes larger tracts of acreage, lawmakers capped rental rates at 85 percent of the county average, while rental rates for continuous CRP on environmentally sensitive lands were capped at 90 percent.

This means CRP will be less likely to outbid beginning farmers who often lease their land from landowners. The downside being that the lower rental rates could lead to a decrease in landowner demand for the program. We remain optimistic that these changes will help keep CRP viable, and the TRCP is working to ensure the program continues to benefit water quality, wildlife, and landowners as the 2018 Farm Bill is implemented.

Photo by Dusan Smetana.
Other Wins for CRP

The new Farm Bill also calls on the Secretary of Agriculture to target the CRP toward a handful of priorities. This includes enrollment of 30 percent of all CRP acres within continuous CRP, which promotes practices that benefit water and wildlife, such as riparian buffers, filter strips, wetland restoration, and more.

Additionally, the bill directs the Secretary to enroll up to 2 million acres into CRP grasslands, making the program a little more flexible for livestock and grazing operations. The 2018 bill also authorizes the Clean Lakes, Estuaries, and Rivers (CLEAR) initiative and directs the Secretary to maintain at least 40 percent of continuous acres in CLEAR practices focused on improving water quality by reducing farm runoff.

For general CRP, the bill now mandates that the USDA hold annual sign-ups. Considering the last general sign-up was held more than three years ago and had the lowest acceptance rate—about 20 percent—in the program’s history, a mandated sign-up is a critical step toward meeting landowner demand. The legislation also directs the agency to meet acreage quotas based upon historical state enrollments. This mandate will lead to the annual addition of larger tracts of land that are a favorite of upland bird hunters.

Combined, we achieved some meaningful legislative changes in the 2018 Farm Bill that help connect landowners with CRP’s conservation tools and extend the program’s benefits to water and wildlife. But future Farm Bills could do even more for CRP—the demand is there.

For a look at the other improvements the 2018 Farm Bill made for conservation, click here.

13 Responses to “What the F@rm B!ll Happened to CRP?”

  1. som sai

    I’ve never liked the CRP program. It funnels taxpayer money to the hands of the already rich. Private landowners charge thousands per day for other wealthy people to hunt. It’s one big welfare program for the wealthy. It violates the NA Model. It’s time to take the profit out of hunting.

    • I’m an avid hunter, but I really do not believe the CRP is for hunters. It seems directed at preserving land for wildlife that would otherwise be farmed. I look at it more as a program to provide habitat for wildlife. It provides incentive for landowners to sustain wildlife habitat.

    • Russell

      I think your perception of the landowners that enroll cropland into CRP is a bit off. There is an Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) limit that ensures that corporations are not allowed to enroll and there’s an annual payment limit of $50,000/landowner so they can’t enroll all of their acreage.

      And I’ve yet to meet a “rich” farmer. Some of them are “dirt rich, cash poor” and their income/revenue might look relatively high (maybe $500K/yr), but they also carry a tremendous amount amount of debt for land, equipment, seed, chemicals, etc so at the of the day their margins are tight and they barely make enough to support their family.

      And I’ve not seen any CRP landowners charging thousands of dollars to hunt those acres. Typically, those high $/ac leases are on native rangeland, not cropland that was planted to a conservation cover.

  2. CRP is a win-win-win for farmers, business owners, wildlife, the environment, and especially hunters. CRP provides land critical to wildlife, particularly for pheasant brood rearing.
    Abundant pheasant numbers draw abundant numbers of pheasant hunters. Large numbers of non resident hunters bring an influx of dollars for local economies. Farmers have a financial incentive to not farm marginal farmland. CRP provides waterway buffers to absorb chemicals from farm fields. The list goes on. CRP is not farmer welfare. In fact, I believe the many returns more than offset the investment.

  3. Joe Tieger

    The goals of the CRP are great but the enrolled lands are frequently the least productive that a land owner has. When commodity prices rise the farmers take the land out of CRP and wipe out the habitat improvements that were paid for by CRP and other USDA programs. If the goal is long term habitat, erosion control, water quality and flood reduction it would be less expensive to buy these lands outright and turn them over to a federal, state or local conservation agency. Like other USDA programs CRP is a conduit for federal money to the agricultural community first with long-term fiscal and conservation goals a distant second.

  4. Monte Wooden

    We dont have CRP in California. We also have gone from a top Wild pheasant state to one of the worst. Protect your heritage or they will steal it. CRP is good. Clean farming is bad news.

  5. Greg Lian

    CRP is the best wildlife habitat program this country has ever established. In my 35 years of hunting upland, waterfowl, and big game in ND, MN, SD, IA, NE and WY…the most abundant quantity of game was directly correlated to CRP average. Wildlife numbers recovery after severe, area killing weather events was remarkably quick in locations with high CRP density. That being said, som sai’s comment above is on the mark as over the last 20 years the wealthy hunter, outfitter model has largely dominated the opportunities provided by CRP enrollment. Without mandated public access to the acreage increasing the game numbers, provided by the taxpayers, there really is only about a 5-10% increase in the common man’s (me and hundreds of thousands of others) opportunity to benefit/chase that game. Thus, without access, there is little to no benefit, except the rich get richer, literally and figuratively.
    One more note: The argument or observation that mostly marginal land gets put in the program doesn’t hold water…habitat, especially CRP habitats, are a boon to wildlife reproduction and sustainability no matter the quality of acerage enrolled because with today’s shoulder to shoulder farming practices the game has no where else to survive.

  6. Ralph Rogers

    The 15% reduction killed any thoughts of re-enrolling by all my farmer neighbors. Loss of CRP has been critical to populations of grouse and other sporting birds. Thanks TRCP for being an advocate for this important conservation program. R

  7. Scott Schaeffer

    First of all, a covey of quail or a nesting hen ring-necked pheasant doesn’t know or care who owns the land-they just need upland habitat that’s well managed. Like or not, species who range(s) must include cropland and rangelands have to compete against crop (over?) production interests. If we’re gonna ask producers to be good stewards and divert cropland from production, they must be compensated fairly. We all benefit from the impacts of CRP; therefore, we should all share in the cost, hunters and non-hunters alike.

  8. Gary Hainrihar

    Details regarding sign-up have yet to be made available to FSIS as of this date ( May 1, 2019). Thus no opportunity for farmers to make timely decisions regarding 2019 cropping. I called my Senator’s office ( Debbie Stabenow – immediate past president of the senate ag committee and current ranking member) to inquire about the schedule to unveiling the CRP details. Her staffer told me to call the department of agriculture…that’s what I call doing the minimum for your constituents. We’re on our own boys!

  9. Robert Murray

    My brother has had part of his farm in the Ohio CRP program for years. He works a second job and farms his average small family farm. This year though has been a nightmare for him with bad weather and repeated flooding and replanting and even more flooding. He couldn’t even plant corn because of the late rains. He depends on CRP for part of his income and things were fine until this year. His CRP renewal has been held up because of bureaucrats and now, unless something really drastic happens, it looks like he won’t be renewed for next year even though he jumped through all of the hoops to maintain the grassland which protects the river and the drinking water supply for the cities downstream. He did everything he was supposed and is getting passed over because of government officials messing around. He wonders how he is supposed to go back to farming ground that has been in switch grass for years. He is older and can’t just buy new farming equipment. He is so upset and worried about this mess and uncertainty that he his pondered out loud about ending his life. Yes, he said it front of me in a fit of frustration. I think other farmers are probably in an equally troubling situation. How do these government bureaucrats sleep at night when they just recklessly destroy a farmer’s means of making a living after all of the work he did to belong to this CRP plan? Is this how conservation works? What about the farmers who are getting screwed over. Isn’t the suicide rate among farmers already way higher than average without government bureaucrats making their lives worse?

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Marnee Banks

March 12, 2019

TRCP’s Chief Conservation Officer Testifies Before Congress on Ways to Support Fish and Wildlife

We took advantage of this exclusive opportunity to advocate for investments in conservation that support hunters, anglers, and the outdoor recreation economy

Christy Plumer, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership’s chief conservation officer, told House lawmakers today that America’s conservation legacy is under attack, and Congress must take action to conserve the nation’s fish and wildlife.

Testifying before the House Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife, Plumer noted that in the 1970s, conservation spending made up more than 2 percent of the federal budget, and today it accounts for only about one percent.

“For more than three decades, budgets for agencies that manage our public lands have been squeezed and shrunk,” said Plumer. “Recreation facilities across the country are being closed or lie in disrepair. The expansion of human development across the landscape— including our cities and towns but also our highway infrastructure and energy development are leading to significant challenges in fish and wildlife management.”

She described these challenges being exacerbated by climate change.

“Sportsmen and women are on the frontlines and seeing the changes in fish and wildlife populations and our natural systems due to climate change,” said Plumer. “This includes shifting migratory patterns and mating seasons. We recognize something needs to be done and want to be part of the solution.”

Plumer noted that generations of conservation-minded leaders have created a public-lands network that is unparalleled supporting the ability of all Americans to hunt and fish, regardless of class or economic status.

“It is a system that benefits everyone, from the sportsman and woman to the hiker and those who simply want to drink clean water or experience wide open spaces,” said Plumer.

She relayed the following recommendations to Congress:

  • Pass the Modernizing the Pittman-Robertson Fund for Tomorrow’s Needs Act to clarify that this important sportsmen-sourced conservation fund can be used by state fish and wildlife agencies for outreach, communication, and education related to the recruitment, retention, and reactivation of hunters and recreational shooters.
  • Reauthorize the North American Wetlands Conservation Act to provide grants that protect, restore, and manage wetlands and associated habitats for migratory birds and other wildlife.
  • Pass the National Fish Habitat Conservation Through Partnerships Act to support a voluntary fish habitat conservation program driven by federal, state, and local agencies as well as conservation and sportsmen’s organizations, private landowners, and businesses. These partnerships have created more than 700 successful conservation projects in 50 states, benefitting fish habitat and anglers throughout the country.
  • Pass the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act to invest in high-priority habitat, stronger fish and wildlife populations, and a more robust outdoor recreation economy. Right now, 12,000 species in America need conservation action. If these species become threatened or endangered, sportsmen and women will lose out. This bill empowers on-the-ground wildlife experts to implement science-based conservation plans that will preserve these species into the future.
  • Protect migration corridors from development.
  • Use the Highway Bill to advance conservation efforts related to America’s roads and highway infrastructure. This could include securing new funding for migration crossings and aquatic connectivity and bringing funding for the Natural Wildlife Refuge System, BLM public lands, and U.S. Forest System up to levels on par with the National Park System. There is potential in the Highway Bill to strengthen coastal resilience by investing in natural and nature-based barriers to flooding and storm surge and streamline permitting as outlined in the FAST Act.
  • Address the spread of chronic wasting disease by investing more in research, testing, and state wildlife agency resources through the appropriations process.
Watch Plumer’s testimony on our Facebook page HERE.

 

Chris Macaluso

March 4, 2019

Ghost Forests Are a Haunting Reminder of Louisiana’s Lost Wetlands

How an ambitious plan for Gulf coast restoration will allow cypress forests to rebound, support wildlife, and defend communities from deadly storms

The bald cypress tree is an icon in Louisiana, like a Mardi Gras mask or the fleur de lis on the side of a New Orleans Saints helmet. Millions of acres of winding bayous, overflow swamps, lakeshores, and seasonal crevasses are lined with our majestic state tree, along with tupelo gums, swamp maples, and the occasional stately oak.

Wading birds, wood ducks, bald eagles and many others take rest and often make their nests in the cypresses. Fishermen pitch plastic worms, spinnerbaits, and tube jigs at a maze of cypress roots to catch bass, bluegills, and sac a lait—those are crappies to you east coasters.

But cypress forests do more than define our landscape and support our wildlife—they also store flood waters during the spring, help hold the loose soils of South Louisiana together, and provide natural protection to coastal communities by curbing ravaging hurricane winds and storm surge.

Unfortunately, large swaths of coastal cypress forests have been wiped out across South Louisiana. Initially, the trees were overharvested to build houses, railroads, and anything else that needed wood. Later, levees built on the Mississippi River to facilitate navigation and oil and gas extraction pushed salt water from the Gulf inland as much as 50 miles. And navigation canals were carved into the swamps, causing even more destruction.

Healthy bald cypress wetlands (left) versus a ghost forest (right).

Dead expanses of trees, often called “ghost forests” by locals, are scattered throughout the coast in impounded swamps and among the saltwater-tolerant cord grasses that took hold where no other plants could live. The Cajun old timers speak of when they used to duck and deer hunt and catch bass and crawfish in these same cypress breaks decades ago.

Now, preserving the existing coastal forests and replacing some that were lost in the last century is a top priority in Louisiana. The state’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority has spent $15.8 million since 2011 to buy coastal forest lands from willing sellers, preserve the habitat, and ensure the trees aren’t harvested. About $2 million of this funding, plus another $6.5 million in settlements from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, were used to help expand the Maurepas Swamp Wildlife Management Area—a more than 100,000-acre public tract of cypress-tupelo swamp between Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

Non-profit organizations, like the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, America’s Wetland Foundation, and Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars and utilized countless volunteer man-hours to plant cypress trees in areas where over-harvest and saltwater intrusion has made it impossible for the trees to regrow on their own.

These noble efforts would be fruitless, however, without additional work to limit the saltwater intrusion that initially caused the trees’ demise. Rebuilding coastal barrier islands, replenishing marshes and natural ridges with dredged sediment, and building diversions to allow the Mississippi River to again spill into its deltaic swamps will keep the Gulf of Mexico at bay and allow coastal forests to grow back into vital fish and wildlife habitat and hurricane protection.

Volunteers help replant a historic cypress forest in Pointe-aux-Chenes Wildlife Management Area. Photo by America’s Wetland Foundation.

Louisiana has an aggressive coastal restoration and hurricane protection master plan that aims to build a host of projects needed to reconnect the Mississippi River to its historic delta, restore coastal marshes, and keep salt water in the Gulf. This is just another example of how the state’s nearly $8-billion share of the Deepwater Horizon settlement is rebuilding a better coastline in the next two decades.

The TRCP and its partners have worked closely with Louisiana and federal lawmakers and agencies to expedite permitting and construction on these projects while educating sportsmen and women about the benefits to fish, wildlife, and the outdoor recreation economy.  

The money is available. The projects have been designed to help reverse the factors that have led to the loss of nearly 2,000 square miles of coastal swamps and wetlands in the last 100 years. But it will continue to take strong political will to make sure these projects, especially those designed to reconnect the Mississippi River, get built quickly.

That political will must come, in large part, from the hunters and anglers who live in or visit Sportsman’s Paradise. To see what coastal restoration projects can do for fishing, watch this video.

 

Top photo by Kent Kanouse via flickr

Kristyn Brady

March 1, 2019

Sportsmen Warn Against Weakening Conservation in Roadless Areas

Sportsmen and women band together to conserve Utah’s backcountry lands

Today, the state of Utah petitioned the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Forest Service to develop a state-based rule managing 4 million acres of roadless areas on national forest lands within the state.

In Utah, backcountry areas that are not fragmented by roads are currently conserved under the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule, which was created through years of stakeholder engagement.

“For nearly two decades, the roadless rule has successfully conserved some of the finest hunting and fishing destinations in Utah and across the nation,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “It is unnecessary and counterproductive to abandon this tried-and-true policy and go back to the drawing board. Doing so will only drain the time and resources of public agencies already stretched thin.”

Prime habitats and hunting and fishing country from the Wasatch and Uinta Mountains to the La Sals could be affected by this rulemaking process.

 

Top photo by Brandan Rasmussen via flickr.

Guest Blogger Patrick Curran

February 25, 2019

EPA’s New Rule Will Muddy the Waters in Georgia

A hunter, angler, and public land advocate details how a revised Clean Water Act rule would affect his backyard, and yours too

Take action now and urge the EPA not to overlook critical fish and waterfowl habitat. 

On December 11, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed a policy that would eliminate Clean Water Act protections for streams that only flow after rainfall. The EPA claims that this change will simplify the construction of homes or buildings, as projects that could affect a protected waterway require a federal permit. But there can be little doubt that this new rule will only muddy the waters in my home state of Georgia.

That’s because we simply don’t know which of our streams flow only after rainfall and which ones can be counted on to flow predictably year after year. By the federal government’s own admission, they don’t have a good understanding of this either. Federal agencies know which streams meet those criteria in much of the western portion of the United States, but they haven’t conducted the same studies in much of the rest of the country.

The EPA’s new rule also complicates the applications of the Clean Water Act for wetlands, marshes, swamps, and flood plains. Those without a surface connection to a larger waterway would no longer be protected and could therefore be vulnerable to pollution and destruction. It has been estimated that more than half our wetlands nationwide would be affected.

But again, this might not be the full picture. These estimates are based on data that does not include any wetlands smaller than one acre. And wetlands in forested areas, which are plentiful in Georgia, can be difficult to identify.

In short, we all should rightly wonder what the true impact of this policy change will be in our backyards.

The Clean Water Act holds polluters accountable for damage to waterways covered by the act, but how can it do so when officials no longer know which streams those are? And why would companies be eager to build when it becomes dramatically more difficult to determine whether they are impacting a protected area?

What’s clear is this: This change would cause untold confusion in our state. If the EPA only wanted to simplify things while maintaining the Clean Water Act’s effectiveness, the new rule has completely missed the mark. The only way forward is to abandon this shortsighted proposal and conduct the research needed to create a science-based policy. Georgians deserve nothing less.

Read the rule as published in the federal register here

The TRCP is asking hunters and anglers to take action here

A resident of Atlanta, Patrick is the Director of Finance at Keep It Public, a 100% volunteer run 501(c)3 non-profit organization that works to build coalitions between different public land user groups from hunters to birdwatchers. In addition to his work with Keep It Public, Patrick works in marketing and advertising. From backcountry skiing to hunting in the Rockies, Patrick is an enthusiastic public land user.

 

Photo courtesy: Wayne Hsieh

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The precipitous drop in hunter participation should be a call to action for all sportsmen and women, because it will have a significant ripple effect on key conservation funding models.

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