Conservation leaders offer Farm Bill suggestions

By Sarah Gonzalez

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WASHINGTON, Nov. 1- Conservation leaders gathered at the National Press Club yesterday to protect conservation, recreation and historic preservation investments in federal programs. These programs generate more than one trillion dollars of economic activity per year, according to a Southwick Associates economic study released in October. 

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation commissioned the report, “The Economics Associated with Outdoor Recreation, Natural Resources Conservation and Historic Preservation in the United States,” which documents the jobs and economic value created by these programs. In addition to one trillion dollars in economic activity and $107 billion in tax revenue generated from $23 billion in federal investment, the report states that more than nine million American jobs are maintained by outdoor recreation, conservation and historic preservation. 

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“Conservation spending only accounts for 1.26 percent of the federal budget,” said Nature Conservancy CEO Mark Tercek.  “Spending on nature and conservation didn't cause the deficit and cuts to nature and conservation can't solve the deficit.”

However, he also recognized that the federal budget for these programs can be adjusted by redesigning their implementation. For example, he said some overlapping conservation programs in the existing Farm Bill can provide opportunities for streamlining conservation spending.

In the Nature Conservancy's Farm Bill platform summary, the organization supports program consolidation and recommends that Farm Bill programs be targeted toward high-priority geographic areas and include micro-targeting and precision conservation efforts to target practices that are most effective in certain areas. 

“Funding for the Conservation Title of the Farm Bill has increased in each of the last five Farm Bills,” according to the summary. “While it is certainly reasonable that conservation programs share some of the burden of cutting spending to address the federal deficit, it is critical that Farm Bill conservation programs are not cut disproportionately relative to overall spending reductions.”

The Conservancy recommends that Congress link conservation compliance to crop insurance, maintain the freeze on “base acres” so that newly converted lands are not eligible for commodity program payments, institute a nation-wide Sodsaver program, and direct the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to increase its spot check rate for conservation compliance.

The Conservancy's plan also suggests increasing the funding levels for the Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative (CCPI) from 6 to 10 percent and administering it as a separate program instead of through existing contracts. Improving and maintaining management practices and easement programs is outlined as a priority for the Conservancy, especially the Wetland Reserve, Grasslands Reserve, Farm and Ranchland Protection, Healthy Forest Reserve, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP) and CCPI.

During Monday's event, Theodore Roosevelt IV joined the CEOs of The Nature Conservancy, Ducks Unlimited, The Wilderness Society and the National Trust for Historic Preservation to represent “America's Voice for Conservation, Recreation and Preservation” (AVCRP).

A coalition of almost 1,000 organizations and businesses make up AVCRP, which sent a letter to Congress in support of conservation funding. The group formed in response to Congress's budget negotiations this summer, which did not consider conservation, recreation and preservation voices at all, said The Wilderness Society president Bill Meadows.

“That voice needs to be heard,” he said.  “It's too bad that these issues have become political, because the economic value of these investments is real.”

“I'm delighted that Southwick was able to do the type of study that documents much of that. I think it adds more power to the story, but ultimately it's going to be a story that is decided by the Congress,” Meadows said. 


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