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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.
You guys are amazing. We just wrapped up the final segment of our #PublicLandsProud photo contest and have been floored by the amazing photos you’ve captured of big game on public lands.
Our guest judge Bryan Huskey on the submissions:
First off, thanks to all the folks who have shown their support for the efforts of TRCP by sharing the #PublicLandsProud message in their photos. As I scrolled through pages and pages of public-land images I had the chance to see adventures of all kinds that we as sportsmen and -women experience and share with others. It’s inspiring to see all the different ways that we value public lands, and important to let others see why. Thanks to all of you, and to TRCP for this opportunity to guest judge!
Here are the three shots that Huskey chose from weeks’ worth of fantastic big-game moments:
First Place: Twitter @RMOTV
— RockyMountainOutdoor (@RMOTV) November 21, 2015
“With all the great photos found under the tag #PublicLandsProud, no matter how objective I try to be the kiddo’s in this image just make me laugh and smile each time I see it,” says Huskey. “That is a quality in any image that is impossible to fake and simply priceless. It’s tough to compete with a scene like this and the great vibe it shares!”
First Runner-Up: Instagrammer @chasing_epic
“‘The closer you look the more you see’ is a phrase I keep in mind when out in the field,” says Huskey. “It requires slowing down and taking a moment to pause, inspect and admire finer details of an object and the same for the entire experience as a whole.” Second Runner-Up: Twitter user @wyosage10
— Nick Dobric (@wyosage10) November 16, 2015
“An elk hind quarter in each hand? My hands and forearms feel pumped and numb just looking at this! With a stunning backdrop to boot,” says Huskey, “this is the kind of experience that I’m sure he’ll never forget and the photo captures for all of us to share with him.”
Thanks everyone for participating in the photo contest. We’ll have a grand prize winner next week. But in the meantime, keep showing us what makes you #PublicLandsProud, and we’ll continue to protect your access to quality fish and wildlife habitat.
The TRCP’s scouting report on sportsmen’s issues in Congress
Both the House and Senate have action scheduled for Monday through Thursday of this week.
Coming back to work after a long weekend is never easy. Upon their return from Thanksgiving break, members of Congress are facing a December 11 deadline for addressing a lot of legislative business. That list includes avoiding a government shutdown—again. Passage of an omnibus spending deal is becoming more and more tenuous, due to disagreements over policy riders dealing with Syrian refugee resettlement, healthcare funding extensions for 9/11 first-responders and victims, and the Obama administration’s Clean Water Rule and Clean Power Plan.
These policy rider debates are threatening to undo very good bipartisan work from late October, when Congress passed a bipartisan budget that would allow for reinvestment in discretionary programs (ahem, like conservation.) If Republicans and Democrats fail to reach an agreement, fiscal year 2016 spending may be forced onto a full-year continuing resolution (CR). This extended use of what was created to be a stopgap funding measure is viewed by many as just plain bad government. Either way, an omnibus or CR would likely fund the government through September 30, 2016.
A two-week stopgap highway bill extension also expires this Friday. Since the temporary measure was passed, House and Senate transportation leaders have been negotiating a long-term reauthorization, and the relevant Committee chairs have stated that no additional short-term extensions will be needed, implying that a final long-term Highway Bill will be on the House and Senate floor this week. Need a refresher on how this impacts hunting and fishing? The Highway Bill includes funding for Department of Interior and U.S. Forest Service roads, which impact your access to public lands, as well as funding for transportation projects that improve fish and wildlife habitat.
Congress will also concentrate this month on renewing tax extenders before a January 1deadline. The proposed tax-break legislation would continue to benefit multinational banks, corporation research, and development programs and to subsidize wind energy production for two years. While the Senate continues consideration of healthcare legislation, the House will debate and vote on Representative Upton’s (R-MI) North American Energy Security and Infrastructure Act, and two joint resolutions (S.J.Res. 23 and S.J.Res. 24) of congressional disapproval of the Environmental Protection Agency’s emission rules. These votes on energy and climate will occur while President Obama attends the international climate summit in Paris.
What We’re Tracking
Tuesday, December 1, 2015
Offshore oil and gas production, as discussed in a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on the Well Control Rule and other energy policies
Thursday, December 3, 2015
Impacts of 35-year-old legislation to create and expand public lands in Alaska, to be reviewed by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in a hearing on the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980
Thanks to everyone that keeps showing us why you’re #PublicLandsProud!
A big congratulations to Pat Fitzpatrick of Texas who is taking home a new pair of Costa Sunglasses and a copy of Steven Rinella’s new book for this winning shot of his son on his first quail hunt.
Sean and K on a youth hunt at @texasparkswildlife Chaparral WMA. WMA staff and Game Wardens couldn't have been nicer. Thanks @texasparkswildlife for the youth hunting opportunity. #settersdoitbetter #englishsetter #quailhunting #takeakidhunting #orvishunting #huntgarmin #uplandlowlife #uplandtradition #publiclandsproud
TRCP: You’ve shown us a favorite #publiclandsproud moment, now tell us the story behind the picture.
Pat Fitzpatrick: The photo was taken at Chaparral Wildlife Management Area on a youth hunt two weeks prior to the opening of the general quail season. We usually don’t start hunting quail until Thanksgiving when temperatures have cooled enough for the dogs and rattlesnake encounters are unlikely but this season is shaping up to be one of the best in recent years and we couldn’t pass on the chance to see for ourselves. As we geared up and prepped the dogs in the predawn light, we could hear covey calls in every direction from the truck. Within minutes we had found our first covey and a few coveys later I snapped the photo of my son Sean walking in on a covey pointed by my setter Khaki. We only hunted a few hours that morning, by lunch time the temperature had reached 90 degrees. We moved several coveys that morning and fortunately no snakes, to top it off Sean and I had the chance to fire the opening shots on what should be a stellar quail season.
TRCP: How often do you visit public lands and why are they so special to you?
PF: Nearly all of my upland hunting takes place on public land and living in Texas, a place that is well known for its lack of public hunting opportunities, it can be a challenge. Quail hunting on private land here is too expensive and it is cheaper to load up the truck and travel to public lands elsewhere. Most of our hunts take place over the holidays when Sean is out of school. Some of our favorite holiday memories are centered around quail camp and Thanksgiving or Christmas dinners cooked on a Coleman two burner stove resting on an open tailgate. Looking forward to future seasons, Sean and I have talked about attempting to take each of the six quail species starting with the three we have here on public lands in Texas and working our way out west, hitting western public land for the remaining three species.
TRCP: If these public lands are lost, what do you and your fellow sportsmen stand to lose?
PF: We tend to think of the public land seizure issue as a Western states issue because most of these lands are located out West. This is not a Western states issue, this is a National issue, these federal public lands belong to all of us as citizens of the United States. My home state of Texas has a unique history among states that left Texas full control over its public domain. Between the outright sale of state land or the sale of natural resources on state lands, Texas has evolved into what it is today, a vast amount of land with very little accessible to the public. The transfer of federal lands to the states would result in the same thing, locked gates and pay to play access for hunters and other land users.
TRCP: When not out on public lands, where can we find you?
PF: When not chasing after bird dogs and quail, I live in The Woodlands, Texas and work in commercial construction. I am married to my beautiful wife, Sharon, and have three kids Patrick, Madison and Sean. Weekends during the off season consist of many youth baseball tournaments, football games and a little fly fishing in the Texas hill country or gulf coast.
Have a proud public lands picture to share? Tag with #PublicLandsProud and join the community!
Theodore Roosevelt’s experiences hunting and fishing certainly fueled his passion for conservation, but it seems that a passion for coffee may have powered his mornings. In fact, Roosevelt’s son once said that his father’s coffee cup was “more in the nature of a bathtub.” TRCP has partnered with Afuera Coffee Co. to bring together his two loves: a strong morning brew and a dedication to conservation. With your purchase, you’ll not only enjoy waking up to the rich aroma of this bolder roast—you’ll be supporting the important work of preserving hunting and fishing opportunities for all.Learn More