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posted in: Farm Bill

May 14, 2024

Farm Bill Proposals Gain Momentum

Ag Committee leaders continue spelling out their plans for the next Farm Bill 

We’re now over halfway through a one-year extension of the 2018 Farm Bill, and several years of work have already gone into making sure the next Farm Bill is a good one for fish and wildlife, as well as hunters and anglers. Behind the scenes, this work has never stopped, whether we’re talking about Ag Committee Members, Congressional staff, or the conservation community. But from the outside, deadlock, gridlock, and election year politics have made getting a bill done this year look increasingly unlikely. But optimism persists and perseverance endures. 

In the past two weeks, for the first time in a long time, we’ve seen tangible progress. Last Friday in the House, Chairman G.T. Thompson (R-Pa) put forward a summary of the bill he has scheduled for a committee markup on May 23rd. The week prior, Senate Ag Chairwoman Stabenow (D-Mich) released a detailed section-by-section breakdown of her own proposal.  

Before we get into the substance of each proposal, there are a few things to remember: 

Farm Bills must be bipartisan to become law. With Democrats controlling the Senate and a Republican majority in the House, bipartisanship will be essential. Both frameworks were produced by the Ag Committee Chair of their respective chamber, and it is not entirely clear where disagreements exist between parties or among constituencies at this point. However, we can be certain that a final farm bill will look different and contain more points of compromise than these frameworks. Thankfully, Ag Committee leadership from both parties has a long history of navigating the challenges that come with bipartisanship. 

Farm Bills are huge. All twelve titles (topic-based sections) of the Farm Bill impact hunters and anglers in one way or another, but Title II – Conservation and Title VIII – Forestry get most of our attention, and for good reason. Our review of proposals will focus on those two titles.  

More and better details will emerge with time. The information currently available is in a summary form, rather than actual bill text. As expected, we are receiving more details with time. It will be important for the TRCP and our partners to review bill text before fully forming a position. This will help ensure that any changes made will accomplish what they are intended to do. 

Negotiations will continue. Nothing in either of these publicly available proposals is set in stone. The first formal action, barring a quick schedule change in the Senate Ag Committee, will be the House Ag Committee’s markup on May 23rd. In this markup, committee members will have the opportunity to offer amendments to the Chairman’s bill, speak for or against individual provisions, and vote on whether to advance the bill to a Floor vote. Changes can also happen through Floor amendments and during a Conference Committee between the House and Senate. All of this to say, what we’re seeing in these proposals is not necessarily what will become law. 

A lot must be done in a short time. We are in an election year, and a presidential election year at that. While this will motivate some Members of Congress to show efficacy in getting a Farm Bill done, party conferences and campaigning also compress the legislative calendar. The months of May and June will be critical if we’re going to get a bill done. 

Farm Bill programs have a huge impact on hunters and anglers. Engaging in this bill is crucial, as policy and funding changes in this Farm Bill will impact fish and wildlife habitat and hunting and fishing access for the next five years and beyond. You can find explanations about how Farm Bill programs support hunters and anglers here. 

Keeping these dynamics in mind, let’s dig in. What exactly is in the proposals? How might they impact habitat, fish, wildlife, and our sporting traditions? Below, we run through a few of the key elements of the proposals from Chairman Thompson and Chairwoman Stabenow.


Chairman Thompson’s Overview 

Following the release of a broad overview on May 1, Chairman Thompson released a more detailed title by title summary of his bill on Friday, May 10. This summary includes multiple references to marker bills, or bills filed with the intent of later inclusion in the Farm Bill base text, which gives us a glimpse at what base text might look like, although we still can’t make assumptions. There are several items’ hunters and anglers will want to follow in Chairman Thompson’s proposal including:    

Reallocates Inflation Reduction Act funding for conservation programs into the Farm Bill Conservation baseline.

This is a major investment in conservation. Making this funding permanent will increase the Title II-Conservation baseline by close to 25%, the first such increase in decades. The TRCP and our partners have been calling for this throughout the Farm Bill process, and Chairman Thompson and his staff should be commended for resisting calls to repurpose these funds for non-conservation purposes. 

Creates a new Forest Conservation Easement Program. 

Depending on how it’s structured, the Forest Conservation Easement Program would streamline the process by which willing landowners can permanently protect working forests, creating and enhancing wildlife habitat while supporting sustainable timber harvest. We look forward to seeing bill text on this program and are encouraged to see it included in the Chairman’s summary. 

“Modernizes” the Conservation Reserve Program. 

The details will be very important here. The marker bill referenced in this section (H.R.8270) makes multiple positive changes to the Conservation Reserve Program, including increasing rental rates on marginal cropland, providing cost share for mid contract management, and increasing the CRP’s payment limitation. On the negative side, the bill would reduce rental payments for CRP reenrolling at the end of a contract, which could lead to lower enrollment in the long run. We still don’t know what parts of the marker will be included in the Farm Bill’s base text. 

Reauthorizes the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program. 

The Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Improvement Program is the only federal program designed to incentivize landowners to allow public hunting and fishing. The TRCP and our partners have been leading the charge to reauthorize and plus-up VPA-HIP, as was proposed in the Voluntary Public Access Improvement Act, and we are thrilled to see that Chairman Thompson’s proposal does just that. Beyond that, Chairman Thompson’s proposal states that they will “create continuous funding” for programs like VPA-HIP, which would put us in a much stronger position in future Farm Bills  

Incentivizes active forest management through public-private partnerships.

Expanding existing authorities like the Good Neighbor Authority and Stewardship End Result Contracting enhances flexibility for our partners to increase the pace and scale of forest and watershed health restoration and wildfire risk reduction efforts. These updates are commonsense, widely supported, and will provide benefits to fish and wildlife.    


Chairwoman Stabenow’s Summary

On May 1, Chairwoman Stabenow released a section-by-section summary of her own proposal. There is currently no scheduled markup in the Senate Ag Committee, and it is likely that many of these proposals will not go into bill text exactly as they are written now. Even so, there are many provisions in this summary that hunters and anglers will be glad to see. Key provisions to watch include:  

Reallocates Inflation Reduction Act funding for conservation programs into the Farm Bill Conservation baseline and permanently authorizes those programs.

Chairwoman Stabenow was instrumental in passing the Inflation Reduction Act and making that investment permanent would be another major achievement. Permanently authorizing conservation programs puts us in a stronger position in the next Farm Bill and lessens the impact of any future Farm Bill expiration. 

Provides substantive updates to the Conservation Reserve Program.

The proposal includes multiple positive changes to the CRP, including several components of the bipartisan CRP Improvement Act, which the TRCP and partners have supported for years. The Chairwoman is also proposing to raise the acreage cap by 2 million acres and increase rental rates, improve cost-share, and provide opportunities for longer term conservation in the CRP. 

Codifies key provisions of the USDA Wyoming Big Game Initiative.

This initiative, recently expanded to Montana and Idaho, combines USDA conservation programs to ensure that working lands and public lands provide a seamless route for migrating big game like elk, mule deer, and pronghorn. Codifying these authorities ensures that this model can be applied long term and in new areas. 

Improves and funds the Water Source Protection Program.

The Water Source Protection Program provides the U.S. Forest Service with resources to work with water users to increase the pace and scale of watershed restoration efforts, including the restoration of streams and wetlands, which in turn enhances resilience to drought and wildfire and benefits fish and wildlife that depend on healthy headwaters.      

Furthers investment in nature-based solutions and better on-farm decision making.  

Most of the provisions we’ve noted also serve as nature-based climate solutions, furthering agriculture’s role in sequestering and storing carbon while delivering wildlife habitat and food security. The proposal also enhances agricultural data protection and access to help farmers and researchers know how adopting conservation practices will impact their farm’s resilience and profitability. Additionally, it provides loan guarantees to help rural private forest landowners earn and sell carbon credits on working forests.

Reauthorizes the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program at $50 million over five years.

As discussed above, VPA-HIP reauthorization is a top TRCP priority, and we appreciate the challenge of finding funding for a program without baseline in a Farm Bill. However, given the importance of VPA-HIP to hunters and anglers and bipartisan support in both chambers for increased funding, we were disappointed to see this program held flat. 


There is a long way to go before we see the impact of these proposals on the ground. The TRCP thanks House and Senate Ag Committee leadership for their work toward a bipartisan Farm Bill that supports habitat and access.

You can help. Conservation is, and should be, a shared priority regardless of party affiliation or ideology. Congress needs to hear that this is important to you. Take action here.

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posted in: Farm Bill

May 8, 2024

New Legislation Would Support Wildlife Habitat on Private Lands 

The Habitat Connectivity on Working Lands Act is aimed at expanding voluntary efforts to enhance wildlife habitat connectivity on private and working lands. 

Today, Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Congressmen Ryan Zinke (R-Mont) and Gabe Vasquez (D-N.M.) introduced the Habitat Connectivity on Working Lands Act. This bill would support and expand voluntary efforts to improve wildlife habitat, including big game habitat, on private and working lands.  

Building on the success of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Migratory Big Game Initiative in Wyoming, the bill would allow the USDA to leverage unique cost-share, technical assistance, and payments provided under the Grassland Conservation Reserve Program (GCRP) and Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) for the benefit of wildlife and agricultural producers. These common-sense improvements remove administrative barriers that limit both the conservation outcomes and relevance to producers working to conserve important fish and wildlife habitat on private land.  

“Working lands provide key habitat for migratory fish and wildlife, including big game like elk and mule deer. USDA’s voluntary conservation programs need to work together to support farmers and ranchers who create and enhance this habitat, and the next Farm Bill is our opportunity to make that happen.” said Becky Humphries, CEO at the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “The Habitat Connectivity on Working Lands Act removes unnecessary barriers to working lands stewardship. The TRCP thanks Senator Heinrich and Congressmen Zinke and Vasquez for their leadership on this bill and urges its inclusion in the Farm Bill.” 

The bill also spurs UDSA research on virtual fencing technologies, which allow for greater wildlife movement and animal safety on livestock operations and provides greater incentive through EQIP for the adoption of conservation practices that conserve or restore wildlife habitat connectivity.   


Learn more about Farm Bill conservation programs here

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posted in: Farm Bill

April 17, 2024

In the Arena: Ward Burton

TRCP’s “In the Arena” series highlights the individual voices of hunters and anglers who, as Theodore Roosevelt so famously said, strive valiantly in the worthy cause of conservation.

Ward Burton

Hometown: Halifax, Virginia
Occupation: Former NASCAR driver.
Conservation credentials: Founder of the Ward Burton Wildlife Foundation.

Ward Burton’s NASCAR driving career stretched across most of two decades. He won five Cup Series races, including the 2002 Daytona 500, 2001 Southern 500, and four Xfinity races before retiring in 2007. 

As an avid sportsman and conservationist, he founded the Ward Burton Wildlife Foundation in 1996. A quarter century later, the organization oversees more than 10,000 acres in Virginia and Pennsylvania and has helped landowners in Virginia and Pennsylvania conserve over 45,000 acres of land by developing conservation models aimed at sustainable habitat management, wise forestry management, stream water mitigation practices, and other tools to focus on preserving the integrity of the land and its wildlife.

Here is his story.

Ward Burton, a former NASCAR driver turned conservationist, has a deep-rooted connection to the outdoors that stems from his upbringing in Halifax, Virginia. Introduced to hunting, fishing, and nature by his grandfather, Burton’s childhood experiences instilled a lifelong passion for wildlife and land stewardship. Burton’s work ethic and unwavering persistence in spending time outdoors paved the way for his profound appreciation of nature’s wonders and ultimately led to the founding of the Ward Burton Wildlife Foundation in 1996.

The Ward Burton Wildlife Foundation has helped landowners in Virginia and Pennsylvania conserve over 45,000 acres of land and owns and manages over 10,000 acres.

“I’ve never felt it was a choice,” said Burton, “I believe strongly that conservation is an inherent responsibility and I hope that my, and my foundation’s, efforts to share that message have helped impart that to our future generations.”

But his passion for the outdoors extends far beyond his home state.

“Being from the east coast, I am enthusiastic about learning what different habitats support different types of wildlife and hunting and fishing opportunities. I’ve spent time in a lot of cool places, British Columbia, Wyoming, Montana, the Florida Everglades, all for fishing and hunting. Hoping to get back to all of those areas soon.

Burton’s journey as a conservationist began amidst his racing career, inspired by conversations with influential figures in wildlife management. In collaboration with like-minded individuals, he founded the Ward Burton Wildlife Foundation, driven by a shared commitment to conservation.

The mission of the WBWF is to promote the sustainability of our nation’s natural resources through conservation, land management, outdoor outreach, and educational practices.  Since their inception, the foundation has helped landowners in Virginia and Pennsylvania conserve over 45,000 acres of land and owns and manages over 10,000 acres.

The foundation develops and sustains their conservation models by managing habitat for endangered species, practicing wise forestry management, stream water mitigation, and prescribed burns to control non-native growth, and other tools to preserve the integrity of the land. Through partnerships with local, state, and federal organizations, and by working directly with landowners, the WBWF shares and advocates for conservation and land management best practices nationwide. 

Recognizing the critical role of conservation in preserving outdoor pursuits for future generations, Burton emphasizes the importance of habitat protection and wildlife management. He advocates for finding a balance between rural preservation and sustainable development, ensuring the longevity of natural resources.

“Giving land a voice and weaving conservation best practices into my day to day has become second nature,” said Burton, “Being conservation-minded has enhanced my love and appreciation for the outdoors – it’s our responsibility to sustain our natural resources and be stewards of our land and wildlife.”

Through his foundation, Burton actively engages in habitat restoration projects, leveraging programs like the Farm Bill to support his foundation projects as well as fellow landowners in enhancing and restoring wildlife habitats. His hands-on approach, from wetland restoration to prescribed burns, exemplifies his dedication to leaving a positive impact on the land.

Without good conservation practices, the activities we all enjoy outdoors are at risk. Without habitat protection and efforts to maintain and grow healthy wildlife populations, the hunting and fishing opportunities we hope to share with the next generation may not be there.”

Ward Burton

Burton stridently believes that hunters and anglers are the original conservationists, emphasizing the ethical responsibility of stewardship for future generations. He underscores the interconnectedness of habitat conservation, wildlife populations, and outdoor recreation, emphasizing the need for collective action in safeguarding natural resources.

Today, he finds the most joy in sharing these experiences with his children and grandchildren, passing down cherished traditions and values.

With this focus on education and outreach, Burton strives to inspire the next generation of conservationists, urging sportsmen and women to serve as role models and foster a love for the outdoors. He believes that by sharing the joys of nature and instilling a sense of responsibility, future generations will carry forward the legacy of conservation.

“You really need to let them experience the joys, the adventures, and the challenges. It’s through those experiences that they’ll develop a passion for nature and wildlife. I had the great benefit of my grandfather as a very, very strong role model in my life. My mom and dad gave me a lot of freedom as a child. Maybe too much! Once they got used to me not coming in right after dark, they knew I was okay and that I was out in the forest or in the woods. It’s from this that I developed my passion for conservation.”

Looking ahead, Burton remains committed to expanding his conservation efforts, advocating for policy changes, and fostering partnerships to protect natural habitats. His unwavering dedication to conservation serves as a beacon of hope for the future of wildlife and outdoor enthusiasts alike.

Do you know someone “In the Arena” who should be featured here? Email us at info@trcp.org


The TRCP is your no-B.S. resource for all things conservation. In our weekly Roosevelt Report, you’ll receive the latest news on emerging habitat threats, legislation and proposals on the move, public land access solutions we’re spearheading, and opportunities for hunters and anglers to take action. Sign up now.

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posted in: Farm Bill

February 29, 2024

What is the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program? 

The Agricultural Conservation Easement Program is a Farm Bill conservation program that protects wildlife habitat and maintains open spaces.  But what exactly is ACEP and how does it benefit hunters and anglers? 

In this short video, we demystify a crucial Farm Bill conservation program, the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), and shed light on its benefits to hunters and anglers. 

This program helps to protect wetlands, grasslands, and working farms and ranches through conservation easements. 

ACEP easements keep working lands working, ensuring farms and ranches in key areas are not developed or subdivided and maintaining their value for wildlife. By protecting and enhancing wetlands, ACEP easements not only provide prime habitat for waterfowl and other important species, but also sequester carbon, improve water quality, mitigates impacts of flooding, and maintain surface water during dry spells. 

The Farm Bill is the largest piece of conservation legislation that will come before the 118th Congress.  You can help ensure that habitat and wildlife remain central to sensible farm policy in the United States here

Learn more about Farm Bill Conservation Programs here

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posted in: Farm Bill

February 23, 2024

What is the Environmental Quality Incentives Program?

The Environmental Quality Incentives Program is a crucial Farm Bill program focused on helping farmers, ranchers and forest landowners integrate conservation into their working lands.  But what exactly is EQIP and how does it benefit hunters and anglers? 

In this short video, we demystify a crucial Farm Bill conservation program, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), and shed light on its benefits to hunters and anglers.

EQIP is a voluntary conservation program that allows farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners to enhance water quality, strengthen wildlife habitat, and reduce soil erosion and sedimentation.  

The benefits of EQIP for fish, wildlife and agriculture are significant.

The Farm Bill is the largest piece of conservation legislation that will come before the 118th Congress.  You can help ensure that habitat and wildlife remain central to sensible farm policy in the United States here

Learn more about Farm Bill Conservation Programs here

HOW YOU CAN HELP

CHEERS TO CONSERVATION

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.

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