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Keeping Conservation in the New Farm Bill

PHOTO: Almost 300 groups nationwide, including several in the Northwest, want to be sure conservation components of the 2013 Farm Bill aren't left behind. Photo credit: Ryan Stockwell
PHOTO: Almost 300 groups nationwide, including several in the Northwest, want to be sure conservation components of the 2013 Farm Bill aren't left behind. Photo credit: Ryan Stockwell
November 20, 2013

VANCOUVER, Wash. - Northwest sportsmen and conservation groups are among nearly 300 across the nation pushing to keep funding for conservation programs in the 2013 Farm Bill.

They've signed a letter to House and Senate conferees asking that the conservation requirement for crop insurance subsidies and the "sodsaver" program aren't left behind.

Ryan Stockwell, agriculture program manager for the National Wildlife Federation, said basic conservation compliance is critical and has been part of the agreement for farmers receiving subsidies for years.

"Working lands represent over 400 million acres across the United States," he said, "and it's important to maximize the wildlife benefit, the water quality and the healthy soils of those working lands."

The "sodsaver" program has been focused on the middle of the country, but it could be expanded nationwide in the new Farm Bill. It protects native grasslands, which Stockwell said have been disappearing at a faster pace because of government incentives to plant row crops. The bottom line, he said, is that taxpayer money should not subsidize practices that will cause expense to taxpayers later.

In the Northwest, protecting and restoring wetlands is a priority, and programs to do that also are part of the Farm Bill. Mark Petrie, director of conservation planning for Ducks Unlimited in Vancouver, said federal money is needed because wetlands projects are expensive and helping farmers and ranchers achieve them pays off.

"The Puget Sound area, they have a historic wetland loss rate of about 80 percent, compared to about 50 percent nationally," he said. "So, there’s a real need to put some wetlands back on the landscape. And the reality is, most of the restoration opportunities occur on private lands, not on public lands."

Conferees need to finish the Farm Bill for final votes before the end of the year.

The letter and list of groups is online at blog.nwf.org.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA