Over two-thirds of America’s land—including some of the most important fish and wildlife habitat—is in private hands. But these private wetland, grassland, and forest habitats are being converted to cropland at an alarming rate. One recent study showed that from 2008-2012, 7.3 million native acres were converted to cropland. That’s a total loss greater than the combined acreage of Acadia, Badlands, Everglades, Grand Canyon, Great Smoky, Rocky Mountain, Yellowstone, and Yosemite National Parks…in just four years.
Thankfully, sound conservation programs do exist which provide farmers, ranchers, and forest owners with viable, voluntary alternatives to boosting production on marginal and fragile lands. Many of these programs are found in the federal Farm Bill, the single largest source of funding for habitat conservation and access on private lands . The Conservation Reserve Program, Regional Conservation Partnership Program, Sodsaver policy, and Voluntary Public Access program are just a few examples of Farm Bill initiatives that are extremely important to sportsmen and wildlife.
Incentives for voluntary private lands conservation also exist outside of the Farm Bill, for example through enhanced tax deductions for the donation of conservation easements, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, and Partners for Fish and Wildlife program. In order to ensure quality days afield for the American sportsman, the TRCP supports and promotes all policies that balance the needs of production agriculture with the needs of fish and wildlife, and that sustain and enhance economically important recreational access to private lands.
The TRCP hosts the Agriculture and Wildlife Working Group (AWWG), a coalition of representatives from the TRCP and the nation’s leading conservation and sportsmen organizations. The AWWG successfully advocated for priority programs in the 2014 Farm Bill; policymakers and journalists have recognized that hunting and fishing groups did more to pass the 2014 Farm Bill than many traditional farm groups.
President Obama signed the Farm Bill in February 2014, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture is now implementing the 450+ provisions included in the law. Throughout the implementation process, the AWWG will continue to advocate for issues important to sportsmen: the link between conservation practices and federal crop insurance; on-the-ground, technical processes governing wetlands and other wildlife habitat; and full funding of priority conservation programs.
We are committed to ensuring that federal policy does not provide misguided incentives that lead to the conversion of wetlands, grasslands, and other essential private lands habitats.
Hunters and anglers must take the lead advocating for healthy habitat on private lands, and that includes helping to develop recommendations for the next Farm Bill in 2019. That’s why we want to know what private lands mean to you.
Email Ariel Wiegard with your thoughts and pictures—we may feature you on the TRCP blog to help us tell the story of this essential part of America’s sporting heritage. You can also sign up with TRCP to stay informed on the latest private lands conservation news and opportunities to take action.
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