The National Wildlife Federation today announced its opposition to final passage of the farm bill. The House-Senate Conference Committee completed their work on reauthorization of the farm bill last Thursday and indicated a vote on final passage is likely in the House this Wednesday.
“This farm bill is a recipe for disaster for wildlife,” said Larry Schweiger, President and CEO of
the National Wildlife Federation. “Our Congressional leaders have put forth a bill that
jeopardizes wildlife, slashes investments to key conservation programs, and fans the flames of
The final bill includes drastic cuts in funding for the Conservation Reserve Program and
Wetlands Reserve Programs and includes a permanent disaster fund for farmers that would
encourage the destruction of native grasslands. Combined with last year’s ethanol mandate that would more than double corn ethanol production, this bill establishes unprecedented opportunity for habitat destruction in the United States.
“The farm bill creates a perfect storm for the destruction of habitat and the aggravation of global warming,” said Schweiger. “We have no choice but to call on Congress to reject this farm bill and demand changes that keep this bill from becoming a conservation nightmare.”
The combination of a new permanent disaster program in the final bill and a greatly weakened
“Sodsaver” provision are especially problematic for waterfowl, pheasants and other game birds
that rely on healthy grassland and wetland habitat.
These provisions in the bill also undermine efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This is a change from both the House and Senate versions of the bill passed last year, which included a stronger “Sodsaver” provision to deny eligibility for crop insurance and disaster bailouts to newly broken native grasslands.
“Congress is essentially giving farmers an iron clad guarantee that no matter how dry or
marginal the land they break to farm, they will be bailed out if they plant crops that fail,” said
Schweiger. “At a time when the Senate is considering legislation to reduce our greenhouse gas
emissions, it is foolish to promote such nearsighted practices at taxpayer expense.”
The General Accountability Office cited the availability of crop insurance and disaster payments
as a key factor in decisions by farmers to bust up and plant native grassland areas, even before the new permanent disaster program was available. Every acre of native grassland that is put into cropping releases between 45 and 54 tons of carbon dioxide.
Native grasslands are one of the most endangered ecosystems in the United States. Less than one percent of the country’s pre-settlement prairies remain and grassland birds are the fastest
declining species group. Once broken out for agriculture, these systems can never be fully restored. The financial incentives in the bill to plough native grasslands will also destroy important habitat for species that are being considered for listing under the Endangered SpeciesAct.
“Sage-grouse populations have already been severely impacted by energy development in the
West,” said Ben Deeble, National Wildlife Federation sage grouse biologist. “Without sodsaver,
thousands of acres of sage-grouse habitat in Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon and other
western states will be put to the plow and destroyed. Listing sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act will likely be unavoidable.”
The Farm Bill also includes a 7 million acre cut in the Conservation Reserve Program cap (from
39.2 million to 32 million acres). This means approximately 3 million more acres would have to
be taken out of the program before any additional marginal land can be enrolled. Already, more
than 2.6 million acres have come out of the program in recent years as commodity prices
escalated and USDA-offered rental rates were kept low to convince farmers to re-enroll when
their contracts expired.
“Loss of 5 million acres of Conservation Reserve Program lands back to the plow would release
of around 225 million tons of carbon dioxide,” said Schweiger.
Another key conservation program, the Wetlands Reserve Program, will be cut by 25 percent,
despite an enormous backlog of frequently flooded lands that farmers would like to restore to
beneficial use as wetlands.
“The Wetlands Reserve Program is the most successful wetlands program in our country,” said
Julie Sibbing, NWF’s Senior Program Manager for Agriculture and Wetlands Policy. “Cutting
back the acres available for this program will mean thousands of lost opportunities for restoring
wetlands for wildlife and continued crop insurance and disaster bailouts for those whose land
frequently floods but cannot get into the program.”
“We recognize there are some positive aspects of the bill including new tax credits for farmers,
and ranchers to help conserve endangered species and a new voluntary public access program
that enhances hunting opportunities on private lands,” said Schweiger. “We also know that the
farm bill is an essential vehicle for meeting the needs of the poor and providing a safety net for
farmers. But America cannot afford a farm bill that increases global warming pollution,
decimates wildlife habitat and undermines decades of conservation progress.”
The National Wildlife Federation is America’s conservation organization protecting wildlife for
our children’s future. www.nwf.org.