To the editor:
Attention Kansas voters: Recently, farmers and ranchers have been calling on Congress to pass the Farm Bill, which comes as no surprise since this legislation authorizes programs that ensure drought funding as well as agricultural and food safety policies. However, many Americans may be surprised to learn that hunters and conservationists have also been rallying for a vote. The Farm Bill contains provisions affecting important wildlife conservation programs.
These programs have allowed conservation groups like Ducks Unlimited to work hand-in-hand with farmers and ranchers to restore and conserve millions of acres of wetlands, grasslands and other vital wildlife habitats across America. The Farm Bill's Conservation Reserve Program and Wetlands Reserve Program not only have a positive impact on wildlife populations but also help conserve soil and keep our streams, rivers and lakes clean.
One conservation priority is the Prairie Pothole Region of the Northern Plains, which is the most productive – and most threatened – breeding habitat for North American ducks. The PPR has already lost half of its wetlands, and more than 3.2 million acres of grassland were converted to cropland in between 1982- 2003.
Ducks nesting in the PPR need both grasslands and shallow wetlands to be successful. Grasslands provide nesting cover, and nearby wetlands provide food for hens and their broods. That's where the Farm Bill's conservation programs come into play. These programs help prevent wetland drainage and keep native grasslands intact. However, Congressional inaction on the Farm Bill jeopardizes these programs and, in turn, millions of acres of habitat and millions of ducks that rely on it.
Maintaining and strengthening effective wetland protections. For more than 25 years, incentive programs have been in place to deter wetland drainage. These protections work because they've been linked to commodity support and other incentive programs. Congress wants to eliminate many commodity support programs and shift these supports to crop insurance, which is not currently linked to any wetlands protection provisions.
More than 70 percent of the nation's original grasslands have been lost, and today's growing trend to convert grasslands for farming threatens the future of waterfowl populations and our hunting heritage. The accelerated loss of native prairie has been fueled by technological advancements and unintended consequences of federal farm policy. A provision that gives farmers incentive to conserve grassland is needed to protect America's native prairie.
Preserving conservation programs. We support holding the line on no more than $6 billion in cuts to conservation programs and providing strong baseline funding for CRP, WRP, the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program and the Voluntary Public Access Program. These programs are vital to conservation and help provide hunting opportunities, which is an economic driver in many states.
Ducks Unlimited members are actively engaged in trying to protect conservation programs in the Farm Bill, and we encourage everyone who enjoys hunting and wildlife to do the same. Contact your member of Congress and let him or her know that conservation of grasslands and wetlands in the 2012 Farm Bill is important to you, and that Congress needs to pass a comprehensive five-year Farm Bill this year.
Page 2 of 2 - Editor's note: Congress recently recessed without taking action on the Farm Bill, but it could come up again later this year.