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With our launch of CRPworks.org, we’re asking sportsmen to help us call for a better Conservation Reserve Program well ahead of the next Farm Bill
At an outdoor show like the Deer & Turkey Expo in Bloomington, Ill., it’s tough to be the conservation group with a couple of clipboards, a petition, and a handful of stickers to seal the deal. We’d much rather be handing out free samples of wild-game sausage or demonstrating how to hand-knap arrowheads, but it’s just not who we are. Still, last weekend we were delighted to speak to so many sportsmen and landowners who were just as enthusiastic about conservation on private lands as they were about testing bows and tasting venison.
On the whole, these folks agreed that CRP—the Conserve Reserve Program, which incentivizes landowners to put a portion of their acreage into conservation—works for wildlife, sportsmen, and farmers. And they were more than willing to ask their lawmakers for a better CRP.
Now, with the help of some of our partners, we’ve made this easy to do. With the launch of CRPworks.org, a coalition of sportsmen’s groups—including the National Deer Alliance, Pheasants Forever, Quail Forever, and the TRCP—is rallying conservation advocates who support enhancing the program in the next Farm Bill.
“During the latest CRP sign-up, landowners who demonstrated an overwhelming demand for voluntary conservation practices under CRP were met with the lowest acceptance rates in the program’s 30-year history,” says Dave Nomsen, vice president of governmental affairs for Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever. “That’s why we’re calling for sportsmen and women to support strong conservation provisions in the Farm Bill, including a larger and more robust CRP authorization that meets the demand from farmers, ranchers, and other landowners, who improve wildlife habitat and provide us with better recreational and access opportunities.”
Introduced in the 1985 Farm Bill, CRP once supported 37 million acres devoted to conserving soil, water, and wildlife habitat. But Congress has reduced the size of the program to just 24 million acres in the most recent Farm Bill. Today the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is turning down thousands of CRP applications from those who want to enroll millions of private acres in conservation.
The user-friendly website and advocacy app at CRPworks.org allows supporters to add their names to a petition asking lawmakers to reverse this trend, explaining that “without a strong CRP, the northern plains states would lose much of their duck breeding habitat, greater sage grouse in the West would be at greater risk of population decline, and brook trout would disappear from Eastern headwaters. Without CRP, 40 million sportsmen and women would lose access to private hunting and fishing grounds across rural America.”
Nick Pinizzotto, president and CEO of the National Deer Alliance, says, “Deer hunters know that CRP works for wildlife and habitat—we’ve got the big buck stories to prove it—so it’s important that sportsmen and women call for better investments in CRP and become a part of the solution, well ahead of the next Farm Bill. This website makes that process very easy.”
CRPworks.org will also house educational resources on the benefits of the program and the latest news about private land conservation. “CRP acres are often enrolled in access programs to provide public hunting and fishing opportunities on private lands, and where they’re not, CRP acres might provide critical wildlife habitat adjacent to the public lands that receive a lot of hunting pressure,” says Ariel Wiegard, agriculture and private lands policy director for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “This program has served as an important piece of landowners’ business plans and a vital part of working and wild landscapes for 30 years, so it deserves the attention of our lawmakers.”
Many groups are willing to check politics at the door to focus on the best possible management of our public lands
Amidst a historic and unprecedented election season, it seems that our country is more divided—politically and ideologically—than ever. Unfortunately, the conservation and management of our public lands fall prey to this division, and the resulting log jams in Congress, as well. It makes the work we do at the TRCP difficult at times, yet ultimately very rewarding.
In my career—and while I’ve been hunting, fishing, and exploring every nook and cranny of Colorado—I’ve learned a valuable lesson about how much common ground we actually share when it comes to the conservation of our public lands. I’ve spent much of my time at TRCP sitting down with every kind of public land stakeholder: gun shop owners in Cortez, big game guides in Collbran, wildlife biologists in Meeker, politicians in Denver, environmental activists in Salida, and oil and gas operators visiting from Texas. Early on, it was easy to make some assumptions about these different groups and their views on land management, but the reality is different.
What I find when I’m actually face-to-face with these folks is that nearly all of us want the same thing: public lands that we can enjoy in perpetuity; public lands that continue to provide opportunities for outdoor experiences with our families and friends. Even oil and gas developers—whose primary goal is to generate revenue that supports their business—see the value in responsibly managing lands for all the ways American citizens have come to enjoy them.
I’ve realized that no one actually wants this planet to become a barren wasteland, devoid of wildlife and natural places.
Here’s a perfect example. Recently, I joined representatives from the Colorado Wildlife Federation, National Wildlife Federation, and Trout Unlimited to meet with officials from the Colorado State Land Board about the 3,500-acre James Mark Jones State Wildlife Area. These are state-owned lands surrounded by 13,000 acres of backcountry BLM lands that hold crucial migration, stopover, and winter habitat for elk. I explained that we’ve been working closely with the BLM on the Royal Gorge Resource Management Plan, which will dictate management of 6.8 million acres of subsurface lands and 670,000 acres of surface lands that surround the state wildlife area.
Unfortunately, the state lands were on the auction block for private oil and gas leasing, and this was contrary to ongoing collaborative efforts to create a Master Leasing Plan (MLP) for the greater South Park area. As many sportsmen know, the main goal of the State Land Board is to maximize revenue from state lands, which is why 82 percent of state lands in Colorado are closed to hunting and fishing. So, I was sure we were in for an uphill battle in asking the board to defer these leases until after the MLP process had been completed. But, after we stated our case, bolstered by a letter of support from Colorado Parks and Wildlife, we were surprisingly successful.
Contrary to their stated mission, the state board voted 4 to 1 to defer the leases. This is a case where sound judgment and collaboration led to a positive outcome for the management of our public lands. Common sense won out over dogma. In the end, it may be that these lands are the most appropriate place to responsibly develop our energy resources, but at least we’ll know that, through the MLP, the proper time, effort, and consideration have been put into ensuring that this is the case.
Of course, many of us will continue to disagree on the specifics of how our public lands should be conserved, used, and managed. Yet it’s only the most extreme ideologues, driven politically or by their bottom line, who aren’t willing to roll up their sleeves and collaborate on reasonable solutions. It’s time that the rest of us stand up and force these snags to the side. The conservation and management of our public lands should not be a politically driven issue. It should be the commitment we make to future generations. And I believe we’re less divided than we think.
In the last two years, policymakers have committed to significant investments in conservation, infrastructure, and reversing climate change. Hunters and anglers continue to be vocal about the opportunity to create conservation jobs, restore habitat, and boost fish and wildlife populations. Support solutions now.Learn More