WASHINGTON, D.C. — The 2018 Farm Bill, which was signed into law today, delivers significant, bipartisan wins for wildlife, farmers and ranchers, hunters and anglers, and the public heading into the New Year. The legislation included strong levels of funding for wildlife and conservation programs and key policy improvements, including strengthened protections for grasslands, improvements to the federal crop insurance program and watershed protections on forest lands.
“This bipartisan Farm Bill delivers resounding wins for wildlife, farmers, and ranchers — and provides significant investments in wildlife habitat on working lands,” said Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. “The Farm Bill will help make progress confronting America’s wildlife crisis going into the New Year. We look forward to working with Congress to move forward with other bipartisan solutions to invest in proactive collaborative wildlife conservation and stewardship of our natural heritage.”
The Farm Bill made a series of commonsense investments in conservation, including:
- Full conservation funding: At a time when there is huge demand from farmers and ranchers to enroll in conservation programs, this bill holds the line in maintaining strong funding for conservation programs that will help farmers and ranchers protect soil, water and wildlife.
- Increased wildlife funding: The bill increases the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) funds dedicated to wildlife habitat practices from a minimum of 5 percent to a minimum of 10 percent of total EQIP funds. This will dramatically increase the amount of money available for farmers and ranchers to create wildlife habitat for species such as the greater sage grouse and monarch butterfly on working lands.
- Clean bill: The bill is free from attacks on the Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act and other bedrock environmental laws.
- Wetland conservation provisions intact: The bill maintains the integrity of the wetland conservation compliance provisions, known as Swampbuster, that require protection of wetlands as a condition of retaining eligibility for federal subsidies and benefits.
- Cover crops: This Farm Bill provides vital improvements in the federal crop insurance program regarding the management of cover crops, providing clarity to farmers using cover crops to reduce risk while protecting water quality.
- Ag data use: This bill takes some important first steps for collecting and putting USDA data to use in improving conservation practices and helping farmers make important land management decisions.
- Grasslands and grazing management: The bill includes numerous provisions to help provide ranchers with the tools needed to advance sustainable grazing management. And while the “Sodsaver” provision to protect native grasslands through discouraging conversion to cropland was unfortunately not expanded beyond the current six-state region, the bill does close a damaging loophole in current law.
- Regional Conservation Partnership Program: Mandatory funding for the Regional Conservation Partnership Program is increased and administration of the program is streamlined and improved to better enable partner and landowner participation.
- Conservation Easements: The Agriculture Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) is funded at strong levels and important provisions are added to ensure greater flexibility in participation. Unfortunately however, the bill makes a change to no longer require conservation plans for agricultural conservation easements, potentially undermining the conservation value of this program.
- Conservation Reserve Program: The bill increases the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) to 27 million acres, achieved through lowering the rental rates paid to landowners while maintaining some incentive payments. Expanded use of CRP for haying and grazing is allowed, but key safeguards are added to help protect vegetation and wildlife. However, it will be critical to ensure that these changes are implemented in a way that does not reduce demand for the program or threaten the habitat value of the land.
- Watershed Protection on Forest Service Land: With nearly half of the watersheds on national forests classified by the Forest Service as “functioning at risk” or “impaired,” targeted watershed restoration with diverse partners will be essential to ensure clean, abundant water for fish, wildlife and people. The Farm Bill includes important measures to support such efforts: the Water Source Protection Program and the Watershed Condition Framework.
- Addressing pressing wildlife threats: The bill provides funding to deal with several pressing threats to wildlife, including funding for feral swine eradication and for making research around chronic wasting disease a high priority.