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