Driftwood Outdoors: Farm bill good for conservation

On Feb. 7, President Obama signed into law the Agriculture Act of 2014, also know as the 2014 Farm Bill.

Much of the farm Bill deals with feeding Americans in the short and long terms, but key components of this legislation benefit conservation across our country.

“Despite it’s name, the Farm Bill is not just about helping farmers. (USDA) Secretary Volstead calls it a jobs bill, an innovation bill, an infrastructure bill, a research bill, a conservation bill; it’s like a Swiss Army knife,” Obama said.

The bill includes a number of measures that help to conserve land and wildlife. A key component is tying crop insurance to conservation compliance. “Sodsaver” limits crop insurance subsidies on land recently converted to cropland. The goal is to discourage farmers from tilling native grasslands that are critical for nesting birds.

“We are extremely pleased with the Conservation Title in this Farm Bill,” said Becky Humphries, executive vice president of conservation for the National Wild Turkey Federation. “We applaud the work of Chairwoman (Debbie) Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Chairman (Frank) Lucas (R-Okla) to write and pass a farm bill that is simpler, more streamlined, but provides key provisions for good conservation.”

This bill also helps to open private lands to hunting, fishing and bird watching enthusiasts. The Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentives Program receives $40 million in mandatory funding in the bill.

“With the help of Farm Bill tools, Trout Unlimited is partnering with ranchers and farmers to replace hundreds of old culverts to allow fish passage and revitalize watersheds. We’re planting willows and other vegetation to heal eroded stream banks and reduce runoff. We’re upgrading aging irrigation systems in the West to use water more efficiently. In short, Farm Bill conservation programs are having a huge impact where it counts-on the ground, in the health of our rivers and streams. This work is good for fisheries and supports rural sustainability,” said Chris Wood, CEO of Trout Unlimited.

Although passage of the bill took significant bipartisan support, neither side of the aisle believes the bill is perfect. Part of the bill results in a reduction of Food Stamps. About 1 percent, or $800 million, was cut from the program. Some believe that is inexcusable.

“This bill will result in less food on the table for children, seniors and veterans who deserve better from this Congress, while corporations continue to receive guaranteed federal handouts,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said, explaining her vote against the bill.

Others don’t believe the bill goes far enough in cutting government spending.

“It’s mind-boggling, the sum of money that’s spent on farm subsidies, duplicative nutrition and development assistance programs, and special interest pet projects,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said last week.

Gaining 100 percent agreement on any bill coming out of Washington D.C. is virtually impossible. In the case of this bill, conservationists should be pleased both political parties took part in passing legislation to protect our nation’s natural resources.

“It was the worth the wait to get a farm bll that will help protect our nation’s land, water and wildlife,” said Julie Sibbing, senior director of Agriculture and Forestry Programs for National Wildlife Federation. “We are particularly pleased that the final bill includes a critical provision to prevent soil erosion and conserve our nation’s priceless wetlands, both of which will protect water quality for people and wildlife.”

See you down the trail …


Brandon Butler is an outdoors columnist for the News Tribune. Contact him at outdoors@newstribune.com.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Please review our Policies and Procedures before registering or commenting

News Tribune - comments