posted in: Farm Bill

December 3, 2015

Celebrating the Greatest Private Lands Conservation Initiative in Modern History

The USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program has benefitted landowners and habitat for 30 years

Image courtesy of Pheasants Forever.

As D.C. kicks off the holiday season with the lighting of the national Christmas tree this week, a different kind of celebration is taking place on Capitol Hill and across the country to honor the national Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), a Farm Bill initiative that has allowed agriculture producers to voluntarily conserve environmentally sensitive land—including prime wildlife habitat—for 30 years. More than 400,000 farmers and ranchers are currently participating in the program and making conservation a part of their business success. And you may recall Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announcing in May that an additional 800,000 acres would be eligible for enrollment in the CRP, with a good portion devoted to lands with duck-nesting habitat.

It’s clear that this valuable habitat conservation tool, first signed into law by President Reagan as part of the Farm Bill in 1985, has a lot to boast about.

That’s why the TRCP and our partners will be celebrating the CRP throughout the month of December and into 2016, by highlighting the successes of this popular bipartisan program—regarded by many as the greatest private lands conservation initiative in modern U.S. history. Here on our blog, we’ll devote a series of posts to the critters that have seen tremendous habitat benefits: upland birds, waterfowl, forest dwellers, sage grouse, and freshwater fish. CRP works for wildlife, and it works for sportsmen.

Sen. Pat Roberts and TRCP President & CEO Whit Fosburgh. Image courtesy of Cyrus Baird.

We also gathered more than 250 CRP champions on Capitol Hill for a special event last night. Our guests included lawmakers from at least 47 Congressional offices covering 25 states, conservationists from 45 advocacy groups, staff from five federal agencies, and landowners from at least 13 states.

One particular landowner, Senator Jon Tester of Montana, who uses CRP at home, gave some heartfelt remarks at the beginning of the evening. “This is an incredibly good program for production agriculture and for wildlife,” he said. “I entered CRP to stop wind and water erosion, but I didn’t realize all the benefits to sharptail grouse, whitetail deer, and mule deer on my property.”

Senator Pat Roberts also spoke to the legacy of the program. “CRP has provided a valuable safety net to producers during some of their most trying times, but it has also improved water quality, reduced erosion, and increased habitat for endangered and protected species.” Michael Scuse, undersecretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services at the USDA, went into detail about these benefits: “More than 170,000 stream miles and 2.7 million acres of wetlands have been protected. Pheasants have returned to many Midwestern counties. And when so many of our rural communities were at a crossroads in 2008 and 2009, sportsmen’s spending carried them through.”

Image courtesy of TRCP.

Tester acknowledged that some of the guests in the room were instrumental in creating this program in the 80s and offered his profound appreciation for their efforts, which have had multigenerational benefits. “Thanks for looking out for my kids,” he said.

The event was made possible thanks to a remarkably diverse group of sponsors, which truly speaks to the broad support for private lands conservation programs like CRP. Everyone who values healthy lands, waters, fish, and wildlife should be grateful to the unique community of farmers, lawmakers, conservationists, and sportsmen who created CRP in 1985 and continue to support it in its thirtieth year.

If you are a landowner interested in participating in CRP, a general sign up period launched on December 1 and will run through February 26. Visit USDA for more info. And for more CRP success stories check back here or follow #CRPis30 and #CRPworks on Facebook and Twitter.

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Guest Author James L. Cummins

June 23, 2015

The Teddy Bear Delisting and ‘That Hunt’

You may know the tale of Theodore Roosevelt’s Mississippi black bear hunt in the fall of 1902, his second year in office. After all, it’s one of the most famous hunts to have taken place on American soil, and it inspired the most famous toy in the world—the Teddy Bear.

Image courtesy of Creative Commons. Above image courtesy of USDA/Flickr.

But shortly after Roosevelt came to Mississippi in the early 1900s, over-hunting and agricultural development in the Delta’s swamps practically eliminated the Louisiana black bear from its native range in the Mississippi Alluvial Valley. It was eventually listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) as a threatened species by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1992, bringing about much concern from landowners, the timber industry, and wildlife professionals. This forward-thinking group hoped that the downward trend could be reversed and suitable black bear habitat within the region could be restored.

That same year, the Wetlands Reserve Program was instituted, building upon the successes of the Conservation Reserve Program, launched in 1985. Together, these programs resulted in the restoration of more than one million acres of black bear habitat, and black bear populations slowly began to rise across the bear’s historic range.

Now, Teddy’s bear is having a moment. After more than two decades of conservation efforts, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell has proposed removing the Louisiana black bear from the list of threatened and endangered species under the ESA. “The Louisiana black bear symbolizes how the Endangered Species Act can be a remarkably effective tool to protect and recover threatened and endangered species when we work in close partnership with states and other stakeholders,” Jewell said. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, state agencies, non-profit organizations, and private landowners are all to thank for the Louisiana black bear’s success.

Image courtesy of USFWS.

According to Hunter Fordice, a landowner and son of Mississippi’s former governor, Kirk Fordice, “The first documented black bear cubs born in the Mississippi Delta in some 30 years were born in the middle of a 12-year-old Wetlands Reserve Program tract on my property in Issaquena County in 2007. The Wetlands Reserve Program and the Conservation Reserve Program have restored hundreds of thousands of acres of bottomland hardwoods across the Lower Mississippi Valley, which in turn has provided habitat suitable for the Louisiana black bear to once again thrive in its historical home range. As a landowner, it is very gratifying to see these conservation programs working so well.”

We think Roosevelt would be proud to see the population’s rebound and to know that the next generation of outdoorsmen will share the woods with the bear that “bears” his nickname. To celebrate, let’s hear the story of this famous hunt.

A Famous Hunt and Hunter

Almost every aspect of Roosevelt’s 1902 hunt at Smede’s farm was the responsibility of the uneducated, but extremely intelligent, 56-year-old Holt Collier, who was born into slavery and served as a Confederate scout before becoming a legend for his hunting skills. Roosevelt (who announced that he was to be addressed only as “Colonel” throughout the hunt) expressed his desire to participate in the chase. However his demands for a shot on the very first day, and the timidity of his hosts, condemned him to a stationary blind. He was placed to have a clear shot when the bear, driven by Collier’s pack of nearly 40 dogs, would emerge from one of the dense cane thickets on the farm.

Roosevelt and his hunting partner, Huger Foote, waited on the stand all morning. Around mid-afternoon they broke for lunch, annoying Collier, who’d worked extremely hard to bring a bear to that exact spot only to find the stand abandoned.  As Collier recalled,

“That was eight o’clock in the mornin’ when I hit the woods an’ roused my bear where I knowed I’d fin him. Den me an’ dat bear had a time, fightin’ an’ chargin’ an’ tryin’ to make him take a tree. Big ole bear but he wouldn’t climb nary tree. I could have killed him a thousand times… I sweated myself to death in that canebrake. So did the bear. By keeping between the bear and the river, I knew he’d sholy make for the water hole where I left the Cunnel [sic]. After a while the bear started that way and popped out of the gap where I said he’d go. But I didn’t hear a shot, and that pestered me… It sholy pervoked me because I’d promised the President to bring him a bear to that log, and there he was.”

Holt Collier: His Life, His Roosevelt Hunts, and the Origin of the Teddy Bear by Minor Ferris Buchanan 

It was at this time that the bear turned on the dogs. This put Collier in quite the quandary. He had been given specific orders to save the bear for Roosevelt, who was not to be found, and yet he had to protect the dogs from the deadly bear.

Image courtesy of Dale Divers.

Collier dismounted, shouting at the bear. He approached the bear and tried to distract it as someone rode to camp to get the President. In the meantime, the bear and the dogs fought viciously, and at one point his prize dog was caught in the bear’s grip. Collier swung the stock of his gun and landed a blow to the base of the bear’s skull. Stunned, the bear dropped the dog and Collier seized the opportunity to place a lariat around the bear’s neck so that, when Roosevelt and Foote arrived several minutes later, the animal was tied to a tree.

President Roosevelt refused to claim the bear, citing a “true sportsmen’s code” which holds that the taking of any animal that does not have a sporting chance is forbidden. This famous hunting event inspired the first widespread discussion of the modern code of “fair chase,” a tenet of the Boone and Crockett Club which Roosevelt founded. It is the oldest conservation organization in North America and the second oldest in the world.

Although Roosevelt did not count the hunt as “successful,” the press thought it a most delightful story and spread word of it across the country. Roosevelt’s refusal to kill a defenseless animal was far more newsworthy than the taking of a trophy bear, and as the news spread, Brooklyn toy store owners Rose and Morris Michtom wrote to ask his permission to name their stuffed toy bears after him. The President approved, and “Teddy’s Bears” were born.

James L. Cummins is executive director of Wildlife Mississippi, a Regular Member of the Boone and Crockett Club, and a member of the TRCP Policy Council.



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