50 Groups Urge Congress to Reject $1 Billion in Cuts to USDA Conservation Programs

A coalition of more than 50 agriculture and conservation groups representing millions of Americans today are urging lawmakers to reject nearly $1 billion in proposed cuts to farm bill conservation programs.  The organizations are asking the House Appropriations Committee to “ensure that reasonable funding levels are continued”; $500 million already has been slashed from farm bill conservation programs in the FY2011 spending bill.

“These conservation programs are crucial to the health and viability of agriculture and rural America,” said a letter sent to committee members from the agriculture and conservation groups, including National Wildlife Federation, Environmental Defense Fund and National Young Farmers’ Coalition. “The demand for enrollment in these programs routinely exceeds the funds available, even without any cuts.  Failure to support our farmers, ranchers, foresters, and natural resource base today will jeopardize our agricultural industry, drive up long term costs for environmental mitigation, and threaten our nation’s food security.”

The proposed FY2012 appropriations bill includes large cuts to two extremely popular working lands programs, the Conservation Stewardship Program ($210 million cut) and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program ($350 million cut).  These programs have improved soil, air, and water quality on farms and ranches across the country.  There often are more applications for the Conservation Stewardship Program and Environmental Quality Incentives Program than funds available for the program.

The appropriations bill also targets programs that protect and restore critical habitat for wildlife, promote wildlife-based recreational opportunities, and protect farmland from development, including the Grassland Reserve Program, Wetlands Reserve Program, Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program, Voluntary Public Access Program, and Farm and Ranchland Protection Program.  Farmers are waiting to enroll more than one million acres in the Wetlands Reserve Program and Grasslands Reserve Program.

“They [conservation programs] deliver demonstrated environmental benefits including clean air, clean water, and abundant habitat for wildlife,” the groups added.  “They protect soil and farmland to provide lasting food security.  And they bring important money and jobs to rural areas, including increased revenues from hunting, fishing, and other recreational activities.”

Additionally, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, which assists farmers and ranchers in identifying and addressing natural resource concerns on their land, is facing cuts of nearly $100 million in the bill, depriving our farmers and ranchers of the technical assistance they need for effective conservation.

“With increased pressures on working lands to produce food, fuel, and fiber for our nation and the world, both farm bill conservation programs and discretionary funding for technical assistance are needed now more than ever,” concluded the groups.  “They help farmers, ranchers and foresters to voluntarily address their key resource concerns and assist them in complying with local, state, and federal regulations.  We ask the House Appropriations Committee to recognize the importance of agricultural conservation programs and ensure that reasonable funding levels are continued.”

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