Overview of the issue
National policies that affect private and agricultural lands are a critical part of our country’s conservation equation: More than 70 percent of America’s land is in private hands, and more than 50 percent is in agricultural use, much of it providing critical habitat for resident game species or contributing to terrestrial, avian, and aquatic migration corridors. Unfortunately, these private wetlands, grasslands, and forest lands are being converted to cropland and altered for other uses at an alarming rate. And lands with a long agricultural history haven’t always been properly managed to help conserve our nation’s soil, water, and wildlife habitat. The result is the loss of 95 percent of our native prairies and more than 50 percent of the nation’s wetlands, plus waterways polluted by farm runoff and choked by toxic algae.
The TRCP and our partners seek to better balance the needs of production agriculture and private landowners with the needs of fish, wildlife, and sportsmen. For decades the sportsmen’s community has helped to direct billions of dollars to landowners to boost sustainable practices on working lands. Much of this support is delivered through the Farm Bill, the single-largest source of federal funding for conservation on private lands.
The current five-year Farm Bill was signed by President Obama in February 2014, and the U.S. Congress is currently in discussions about the next one, which is scheduled to be reauthorized by September 2018. The TRCP and our 20-member Agriculture and Wildlife Working Group are hard at work making sure the Farm Bill incentivizes productive lands and healthy wildlife, while helping American producers to feed, fuel, and clothe the world.
Why does TRCP care?
In order to ensure quality days afield for the American sportsman, we support and promote Farm Bill policies that balance the needs of production agriculture with the needs of fish and wildlife, while sustaining and enhancing economically important recreational access to private lands. Just a few of the Farm Bill programs that are important to sportsmen are:
- Agricultural Conservation Easement Program – Long-term easement agreements support the voluntary restoration, protection, and enhancement of wetlands and forests, while protecting agricultural lands from subdivision and development.
- Conservation Compliance – Compliance is the backbone of a longstanding conservation compact between farmers and taxpayers, where farmers agree not to drain wetlands or plant crops on highly erodible soil, which often ends up in our waterways, in order to remain eligible for other USDA programs.
- Conservation Reserve Program – CRP provides annual rental payments to producers to grow conservation on former cropland and to keep ranchlands profitable. Learn more about how CRP works for agriculture, sportsmen, wildlife, and clean water at CRPworks.org.
- Conservation Stewardship Program and Environmental Quality Incentives Program – These working lands programs provide financial assistance to landowners to improve habitat, reduce erosion and runoff, and address other conservation concerns on lands that are in active crop production, grazing, and forestry. One major success story out of this section of the Farm Bill is the conservation of greater sage grouse, an iconic gamebird of the American West, on private lands.
- Regional Conservation Partnership Program – Farm Bill partnerships encourage effective and innovative conservation projects across landscapes. Projects created through this program have had a tremendous impact on wildlife habitat, but also on water quality and quantity in places like the Colorado River basin.
- Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentives Program – The Farm Bill is the greatest catalyst for opening public recreational access on private lands nationwide. Learn more about public access on private lands here.