The Union Sportsmen’s Alliance (USA) hails passage of the 2018 Farm Bill as a major victory for conservation, wildlife and public access.
The $867 billion legislation, which passed the House and Senate last week with strong bipartisan support and veto-proof majorities, provides more than $5 billion for conservation efforts on private land and offers a number of provisions that bode well for the future of the nation’s fish and wildlife.
The good news includes a 3-million-acre increase for the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), bringing the total to 27 million acres. The voluntary program offers landowners incentives to remove highly erodible and environmentally sensitive lands from production, benefiting upland wildlife habitat and water quality improvement.
Added CRP gains include language directing the secretary of Agriculture to conduct routinely scheduled signups with targeted state-to-state allocations—a critical step toward adding new acres into the program each year—while enrolling 30 percent of all CRP acreage for continuous protection. Plus, a new program called CLEAR 30 creates a pilot program for a 30-year contract option on the most highly sensitive lands such as buffers, wetlands and riparian areas.
Other conservation highlights include added funding for the Regional Conservation Partnership Program and Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), more Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) funds for wildlife, stronger “Sodsaver” grasslands protection and the retention of “Swampbuster” safeguards.
The Farm Bill also includes an expansion of the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program (VPA-HIP), which supports access to nearly 1 million acres of private land for hunting, fishing and other outdoor pursuits.
USA conservation allies including Pheasants Forever and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership praised the new legislation, calling it a win for sportsmen, landowners, wildlife, water quality, and the nation’s economy. U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue also commended Congress for bringing the Farm Bill “across the finish line” and has encouraged President Trump to sign it into law.
USA CEO and Executive Director Scott Vance was likewise supportive of the legislation and optimistic about its implications. “The new Farm Bill’s funding and provisions are critical to preserving and enhancing our shared natural resources and treasured outdoor heritage,” he said. “They also offer landowners, agencies, non-profits and other partners expanded opportunities to join forces with the USA’s Work Boots on the Ground (WBG) program, which connects union volunteers with local, hands-on conservation projects that would otherwise go undone.”
To date, the USA has organized and executed more than 150 conservation, public access, outreach, education and mentoring projects across the nation through WBG, including more than 50 projects in 2018.