REFRESH Act Strains Wildlife Habitat and Farming Conservation Programs
Farm Bill Marker could impact wildlife, wetlands and grasslands
Mekell Mikell, Ph.D.
The National Wildlife Federation expressed disappointment in a proposal for reauthorization of the farm bill introduced jointly by Senator Dick Lugar and Rep. Marlin Stutzman, both of Indiana.
“While we appreciate the need to find savings in this difficult fiscal climate, the Rural Economic Farm and Ranch Sustainability and Hunger (REFRESH) Act of 2011 leaves far too much wildlife habitat on the cutting room floor,” said Julie Sibbing, director of agriculture programs for the National Wildlife Federation. “If enacted into law, the impact to wildlife populations across the agricultural landscape will be significant.”
The REFRESH Act would cut 8 million acres from the 32 million acre Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) in addition to millions of acres that have already been stripped away in the last three years. The Act also allows landowners whose property is currently enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program to terminate their contracts with the federal government on eight million acres, even though they may have just restored the land at taxpayer expense. While the bill wisely seeks to move some short-term CRP acres into a long term easement program, there is not sufficient funding in this program to make up for the huge loss to the Conservation Reserve Program.
This farm bill marker also allows landowners who only use conventional crop insurance to destroy wetlands and endanger grasslands without penalties. Another troubling proposal that could heavily impact wildlife habitat is the removal of a provision in the Biomass Crop Assistance Program that prohibits planting biomass plant species or varieties that have the potential to become invasive.
Because of a combination of poor weather conditions and loss of habitat, this year is already shaping up to be one of the worst pheasant hunting seasons on record in the Northern Plains. CRP takes the most marginal lands out of production, stops soil erosion and water pollution from these lands, and provides habitat for wildlife species. By reducing funding for the Conservation Reserve Program, the REFRESH Act could make hunting in the Northern Plains and other regions even more difficult for the sportsmen community. “You can’t have wildlife without setting aside sufficient areas for habitat,” Sibbing said
There are a few bright spots for wildlife in the REFRESH Act, like continued funding for wetlands, grassland and forest conservation. However, the National Wildlife Federation found the overall effect of the legislation’s conservation provisions to ultimately be a net loss for wildlife.
Wildlife and the Farm Bill
The Farm Bill
is among the largest sources of conservation funding in the federal government.