FAQ: I recently heard USDA is designating additional conservation acres to support wildlife habitat restoration. As a farmer who hunts pheasants, I'm glad to see that happening. Tell me more about this program.
Answer: Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on October 8 announced USDA would make eligible up to 92,150 additional acres of conservation land for game bird cover in Iowa. USDA allocated 400,000 acres nationwide to support conservation and restoration of wildlife and their habitats as part of the Conservation Reserve Program, or CRP.
During the past four years USDA has enrolled more than 12 million acres in CRP, a voluntary program available to farmers and landowners to help them use marginal and environmentally sensitive land to bring in conservation and economic benefits for their land and communities. The October 8 announcement of 400,000 state acres for wildlife enhancement (known as SAFE acres), fulfills Vilsack's commitment made last spring to commit 1 million acres for special initiatives to restore grasslands, wetlands and wildlife habitat.
Putting environmentally sensitive acres into conservation purposes
"Since 2009, USDA has worked with producers and private landowners to enroll a record number of acres in conservation programs," said Vilsack. "These efforts have not only conserved our natural resources, but bolstered rural economies for current and future generations. 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."
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 aids wildlife habitat
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, Section 1231(a), as amended, 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.
Highlights of accomplishments of USDA's CRP program for the United States include the following:
* CRP prevents the erosion of 325 million tons of soil each year, or enough soil to fill 19.5 million dump trucks;
* CRP has restored more than two million acres of wetlands and two million acres of riparian buffers;
* Each year, CRP keeps more than 600 million pounds of nitrogen and more than 100 million pounds of phosphorous from flowing into our nation's streams, rivers, and lakes;
* CRP provides $1.8 billion annually to landowners—dollars that make their way into local economies, supporting small businesses and creating jobs; and
* CRP is the largest private lands carbon sequestration program in the country. By placing vulnerable cropland into conservation, CRP sequesters carbon in plants and soil, and reduces both fuel and fertilizer usage. In 2010, CRP resulted in carbon sequestration equal to taking almost 10 million cars off the road.