Mark Tercek is the president and CEO of The Nature Conservancy. You can follow Mark on Twitter @MarkTercek.
The U.S. Farm Bill is now being debated on the floor of the U.S. Senate. The Nature Conservancy is a strong supporter of the Conservation, Forestry, and Energy Titles of this bill.
The Conservation Title programs are popular, highly effective and have long received bi-partisan support. They recognize that the health of America’s soil, water, wildlife and other natural resources is essential to the long term productivity and economic viability of agriculture and forestry, that protecting and managing our natural resources are critical to the future of American communities, and that most of our nation’s opportunities for hunting, fishing and observing nature depend upon privately owned habitat on working farms, ranches and forest land.
The Conservation Title programs help to protect these resources in a uniquely successful way — by funding a variety of voluntary partnerships and cooperative conservation efforts between the U.S. Department of Agriculture and private landowners.
Cost share programs, such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), provide funding to landowners to improve agricultural practices that reduce runoff and soil erosion and improve water quality and wildlife habitat. Easement programs purchase temporary and permanent easements from agricultural landowners to allow lands unsuitable for long term agriculture to be restored to a more natural condition and kept that way. A good example is the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) which pays farmers to restore wetlands and floodplains to forests and marshes thus reducing flood hazards, removing harmful nutrients from runoff, providing wildlife habitat and saving money over the long run by reducing the impact of damaging floods and water pollution.
In recent years these programs have been made even more effective by the USDA focusing some of the funding on areas with the most serious environmental problems such as the Mississippi River and the Chesapeake Bay. All of these programs leverage private money to accomplish their public benefits. These conservation programs are, in effect, recognizing the natural values agricultural landowners can provide to the larger society, are essential to the sustainability of U.S. agriculture and forestry and to meeting the growing demand for food and fiber at home and abroad.
But the Conservation Title and the Farm Bill as a whole, as they have been proposed, with bi-partisan support, by the Senate Agriculture Committee, are now besieged by amendments that would eliminate or cut drastically programs that have served American farmers, ranchers and forest land owners well and that provide lasting benefits to all Americans.
Earlier this week The Nature Conservancy joined with more than 520 other conservation and agricultural organizations from across America to urge the Senate and the House to move forward to passage of a Farm Bill with a strong conservation title that has sufficient funding to continue its record of conservation success.
The Conservation Title proposal being advanced by the Senate has already contributed more than its fair share to budget reduction. We urge both the Senate and the House to hold the line on further cuts to this critical conservation legislation. It is simply time to stand up for conservation of America’s remarkable natural resources, time to move ahead with a Farm Bill and, particularly, Farm Bill conservation programs that serve not only this but future generations of Americans.
If you want to weigh in with your Senator, please visit Use Your Outside Voice.