Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Monday announced the allocation of 400,000 acres to support conservation and restoration of wildlife and their habitats as part of the Conservation Reserve Program.
The announcement fulfills Vilsack's commitment made last spring to pledge 1 million acres for special initiatives to restore grasslands, wetlands and wildlife habitat.
"Since 2009, USDA has worked with producers and private landowners to enroll a record number of acres in conservation programs," Vilsack said. "These efforts have not only conserved our natural resources, but bolstered rural economies for current and future generations."
With 400,000 SAFE acres available, USDA will work with producers and landowners to target habitat for high-priority species like the lesser prairie chicken and sage grouse, as well as game species like pheasants and quail that providing hunting opportunities and support rural jobs. Existing projects in 20 states will be able to add up to 280,000 combined acres for all projects, including prairie, wetlands, forest and savanna habitat restoration. In addition, more than 100,000 acres were added to target species as diverse as northern scarlet snakes, ferruginous hawks and the American woodcock.
SAFE is a voluntary continuous CRP practice that conserves and restores habitat for wildlife species that are threatened or endangered, have suffered significant population declines or are important environmentally, economically or socially. SAFE is currently capped at 1.25 million acres nationally. Acres are now allocated across 97 SAFE projects located in 36 states and Puerto Rico.
Under SAFE, state fish and wildlife agencies, non-profit organizations and other conservation partners work collaboratively to target CRP delivery to specific conservation practices and geographic areas where enrollment of eligible farm land in continuous CRP will provide significant wildlife value. USDA's Farm Service Agency monitors SAFE and other continuous CRP activity and manages available acres to ensure that CRP goals and objectives are being met.
The Food Security Act of 1985 provides authority to enroll land in CRP through September 30, 2012. However, no legislation has been enacted to reauthorize or extend this authority; therefore, CRP currently is unable to enroll new acres.
Vilsack said conservation efforts, including the CRP program, are needed to preserve natural resources.
"That's why it's important for Congress to pass comprehensive, multi-year food, farm and jobs legislation—so that America's rural communities have certainty that millions of acres of conservation lands will be there tomorrow to sustain and create jobs in the small businesses that reinforce our tourism and recreation industry," he said.
In March, Secretary Vilsack announced USDA's intent to enroll up to 1 million acres in a new CRP grasslands and wetlands initiative meant to target environmentally sensitive land through continuous signups. FSA has set aside acres within CRP for specific enrollments that benefit duck nesting habitat, upland birds, wetlands, pollinators and wildlife. In addition, USDA announced a continuous sign-up of highly erodible cropland, which seeks to protect the nation's most environmentally sensitive lands. The Highly Erodible Cropland initiative permits landowners to enroll up to 750,000 acres of land with an Erodibility Index of 20 or greater.
View full SAFE allocations on the FSA website at www.fsa.usda.gov/crp.