Wildlife officials take CRP concerns to Washington

Representatives of Ducks Unlimited (DU), a leading international wildlife group, recently met with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Mike Johanns, Deputy Secretary Chuck Conner and later with officials at the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality to discuss challenges faced by agricultural conservation programs.

At the top of the list of concerns was the uncertain future of the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). CRP is a useful tool for farmers and ranchers to temporarily rest land that is only somewhat productive for crops. CRP has also proven extremely valuable for waterfowl and wildlife production, particularly in the Prairie Pothole Region — the best waterfowl breeding landscape in the world.

Following the meetings, Don Young, DU’s executive vice-president remarked, “We wanted to be sure the Secretary and the White House knew of the science proving the effectiveness of CRP for wildlife and the risks to wildlife involved with the consequences of biofuels driving up rural land prices. We urged the Administration to ensure a level playing field by keeping the funds offered to farmers for CRP participation competitive with other market factors.”

Secretary Johanns; Deputy Secretary Conner; Farm Service Agency Deputy Administrator, John Johnson and Natural Resources Conservation Service Chief, Arlen Lancaster acknowledged the critical value of CRP.

After hearing the facts about current CRP economics, Johanns directed the Farm Service Agency to ensure that rental rates for CRP applicants are on a level playing field, and reflect the land rental market.

“We applaud the Secretary for this directive, which should ensure landowners are not forced by on-the-farm economics to plow lands that are not suited for row crop production, and that those lands are kept in a more appropriate use benefiting their operation, wildlife and taxpayers,” said Young. “We look forward to working with Secretary Johanns and his team to find a way to ensure a general sign-up for CRP is scheduled in the very near future to provide landowners this much needed option for their operations.”

Scott Sutherland, director of DU’s efforts in Washington added, “We’re pleased with the pledge to address this problem with CRP. Wildlife conservationists are not anti-biofuel, but ways must be found to maintain protection of wildlife and their habitat in collaboration with the federal government’s efforts to foster farming on additional lands to produce biofuel.”

The potential losses of CRP in the Prairie Pothole Region would have severe consequences for wildlife, with a projected annual reduction of 2.2 million ducks and 13.5 million fewer pheasants if that habitat is lost. This potential loss of duck production equals the total waterfowl harvest of the entire Atlantic Flyway. This habitat is also vitally important to a variety of other wildlife.

From the Congressional standpoint, DU is very pleased that the Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, Collin Peterson of Minnesota, announced he is paying close attention to the proposal by Ducks Unlimited and others to keep CRP strong and require the Agriculture Department to hold additional signups for the program in the future.

In a press conference, Chairman Peterson praised the Agriculture and Wildlife Working Group’s proposal for the conservation provisions of the 2007 farm bill and remarked “these are the folks that are on the ground, that make things happen out there.” The report is entitled “Growing Conservation in the Farm Bill” and was developed by DU and a coalition of 16 conservation organizations.

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