Senate Needs to Restore Focus on Conservation in Farm Bill Debate

Uncertain funding future for several key programs; coming agriculture committee mark-up assumes extreme importance WASHINGTON - While turning its eyes

  • By: Ted Williams
Uncertain funding future for several key programs; coming agriculture committee mark-up assumes extreme importance

WASHINGTON - While turning its eyes to a coming mark-up of Farm Bill legislation in the Senate Committee on Agriculture, a broad coalition of hunters, anglers and conservationists today expressed serious concerns about spending levels for conservation programs on the heels of passage of a agriculture spending package in the Senate Finance Committee yesterday.

"There are growing pressures in the Senate to cut conservation programs. The Senate Agriculture Committee now has a funding framework but total conservation spending remains woefully inadequate," said Pheasant Forever's Dave Nomsen, a co-chair of the Agriculture and Wildlife Working Group, a coalition including 16 national organizations that has met for two years to analyze Farm Bill conservation programs and make specific consensus recommendations to policymakers.

The Finance Committee's plan employs a new strategy to generate funding for conservation programs, one that expands the availability of tax credits as an option in lieu of direct payments for those who enroll their lands in conservation programs.

"The Finance Committee was faced with the unenviable task of trying to find innovative ways to fund Farm Bill programs in a tight budget climate," said Jen Mock Schaeffer of the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. "As action shifts back to the Agriculture Committee, we want to work with members and their staffs to make sure funding is allocated in a manner that insures adequate support for the proven, effective conservation programs that so many Americans have benefited from."

"Right now we don't have the long-term funding guarantees that these programs need in order to continue to succeed," said Bart James of Ducks Unlimited. "Future funding for our lands and waters must be assured to retain the benefits of wildlife habitat restoration projects."

When it meets on Oct. 22, the scheduled date of its mark-up, the Agriculture Committee will have great latitude in scoping and funding programs, along with the ability to give conservation advocates the guarantees they're seeking to adequately fund the Farm Bill's conservation title.

"Our sincere hope is that the Agriculture Committee fully recognizes the importance of a robust national investment in conservation," said George Cooper, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. "These programs have kept millions of acres of topsoil out of our waters and have helped trigger booms in wildlife populations like pheasants and ducks. We must continue this progress."

Inspired by the legacy of Theodore Roosevelt, the TRCP is a coalition of organizations and grassroots partners working together to preserve the traditions of hunting and fishing.