With more than 3 million acres still available for enrollment, the Biden Administration has an opportunity to make a significant commitment to soil, water, and wildlife by addressing management of the Conservation Reserve Program
(Washington, D.C.) — With just 21.9 million acres enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program—the lowest enrollment since 1987—hunting and fishing groups are calling on the incoming administration to restore the health of this popular Farm Bill program and its benefits to wildlife and landowners.
“There’s a chance to once again make the CRP a success story for pheasants, quail, big game, waterfowl, and pollinators, rather than a story of wasted potential for our lands, waters, and rural communities,” says Andrew Earl, director of private lands conservation at the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Besides the habitat benefits, the economic support this program can provide to farmers, ranchers, and forest owners couldn’t be more critical right now, but program managers need to rethink recent changes to make CRP an attractive option.”
Since the 2018 Farm Bill raised the total CRP acreage cap from 24 million to 27 million acres, in part to accommodate growing landowner interest, the Farm Service Agency has changed how rental rates are calculated, reduced incentives, eliminated management cost-shares, and failed to roll out forest conservation practices. This has led landowners to look elsewhere when evaluating how best to manage their lands, leaving millions of potential CRP acres on the table.
“Congress sent a clear message in the 2018 Farm Bill that USDA should boost enrollment of CRP acres, but instead we saw the 13th straight year of declining CRP acreage,” says Duane Hovorka, agriculture program director at the Izaak Walton League of America. “The soil, water, and wildlife benefits of the program are too valuable to put at risk by shortchanging farmers on CRP payments.”
A coalition of hunting, fishing, landowner, and conservation organizations suggests that the Biden-Harris Administration could boost enrollment in the CRP by:
- Immediately restoring soil productivity as an adjusting factor in rental-rate calculations
- Increasing practicing incentives that were greatly reduced in recent years
- Once again providing a cost-share for the mid-contract management of practices
- Accelerating the delayed rollout of forest management incentives
These recommendations are supported by the Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies, Delta Waterfowl, Ducks Unlimited, Izaak Walton League of America, National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative, National Deer Association, National Wildlife Federation, North American Grouse Partnership, Pheasants Forever, Quail Forever, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, and Western Landowners Alliance.
“The Conservation Reserve Program is one of the largest private-lands conservation programs in the United States and a cornerstone to American agriculture and wildlife conservation,” says Sara Parker Pauley, director of the Missouri Department of Conservation and president of the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. “With CRP enrollment at its lowest point in decades, the Association urges the U.S. Department of Agriculture to boost incentives and increase enrollment in this crucial program.”
Over the last 35 years, the Conservation Reserve Program has proven to be among our nation’s most valuable tools in providing landowners the assistance necessary to conserve marginal or ecologically sensitive acreage on their lands. Beyond benefits to soil and water quality, the program has helped to keep vulnerable species off the endangered species list and support hunter spending in rural communities across the country.
“The Conservation Reserve Program is essential for recovering wildlife species, improving water quality, strengthening soil health, and supporting farmers, ranchers, and foresters,” says Aviva Glaser, director of agriculture policy at the National Wildlife Federation. “We need bold action to drive enrollment up.”
Here’s what other partners are saying about this low point for program enrollment and the opportunity for the next administration to boost the CRP:
“A key ingredient to a sustainable economic and environmental approach to rural America is the Conservation Reserve Program. There is room for CRP on many farms and ranches to help protect soil health, improve water quality, sequester carbon, AND create habitat for wildlife. The habitat that CRP creates across America can be the answer for so many of our country’s environmental concerns, while also being a fundamental building block to public walk-in programs that hunters are cherishing more than ever this autumn during a pandemic.” — Jim Inglis, director of governmental affairs, Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever
“Increasing enrollment in CRP represents one of the greatest conservation opportunities for the next administration, so it’s critical that we strengthen the demand and maximize enrollment in one of our most effective conservation tools for private landowners. The Conservation Reserve Program can be a tremendous success for farmers and conservationists alike by providing a return to more robust cost-sharing coupled with greater incentives for producers to protect high-quality wetlands and other habitat. The groundwork is already in place, and the next Administration has an opportunity to strengthen our commitment to producers, wildlife, water and soil quality by maximizing the great potential of CRP.” — Kellis Moss, director of public policy, Ducks Unlimited
“The NBCI’s work with FSA clearly demonstrated that CRP is a cornerstone of the northern bobwhite restoration puzzle across the country. Our analysis of CRP provided evidence that arrangement is important and actively managed landscapes produced more birds than unmanaged landscapes. Managed CRP is vitally important to maximize public benefits. Balancing agricultural production and natural resource management is at the core of the public’s investment in the conservation title of the Farm Bill.” — John Morgan, executive director, National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative
“We believe a properly functioning CRP is essential to conserving prairie grouse in America.”—Ted Koch, executive director, North American Grouse Partnership
“A robust Conservation Reserve Program is a win for ag producers, wildlife habitat, and water quality. While CRP benefits many species, it provides great fawning and edge habitat for deer, which are pursued by seven out of every 10 people who buy a hunting license. These license purchases in turn help to fund a variety of wildlife conservation programs.”— Nick Pinizzotto, president & CEO, National Deer Association
“Changes to CRP and, for western producers, specifically grasslands CRP, in the 2018 Farm Bill recognized the pivotal role western landowners, ranchers, and producers play in conserving wildlife, improving soil health, and enhancing watershed function while providing food and fiber. Working lands are the future of conservation, providing benefit to the human communities and ecosystems we all depend on. An investment in CRP is an investment in the continued viability of working landscapes.” — Lesli Allison, executive director, Western Landowners Alliance
Founded in 2002, the TRCP is the largest coalition of conservation organizations in the country, uniting and amplifying the voices of sportsmen and women by convening hunting and fishing groups, conservation organizations, and outdoor businesses to a common purpose.