Trout Unlimited congratulated the House today for voting to reauthorize the Farm Bill and helping to keep trout and salmon resource conservation efforts in place across the nation. The House voted 251-166, in a strongly bipartisan vote, to approve bill produced by a House-Senate conference committee last week.
“We commend the House for its vote today, and we especially laud the remarkable work of the House-Senate Conference Committee which produced the new bill last week,” said Steve Moyer, TU’s vice president for Government Affairs. “The Conference Committee faced a number of major challenges with the bill. But House Agriculture Committee Chair, Frank Lucas (R-OK), Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Ranking Members Representative Colin Peterson (D-MN) and Senator Thad Cochran (R-MI), and all of the Committee members, have done outstanding work. The House approved bill is a masterpiece of effective compromise.”
“Despite the challenges facing the Conference Committee and the House, members recognized the tremendous opportunities for producers and conservationists to solve watershed problems through partnerships and programs authorized by provisions of the Farm Bill,” said Russ Schnitzer, agriculture policy advisor for TU. “Across the nation, private landowners and conservation interests are investing time and funding on infrastructure projects that benefit farm and ranch operations while protecting and restoring fish and game habitat and sporting opportunity. Provisions of this bill will help TU more effectively partner with agricultural producers, and help us get more work done together,” said Schnitzer.
What’s more, Schnitzer said, there’s strong support for Farm Bill reauthorization from anglers and hunters who understand that quality habitat on private lands offers excellent hunting and fishing, either through granted access or on nearby public lands and waters.
The Conference Report includes several programs of great value to fish habitat, watershed conservation and hunting and fishing opportunity:
* Establishes a new Regional Conservation Partnership program, which will harness the useful tools of several of the bill’s working lands and easement programs to benefit watershed and landscape-scale projects across the nation. Such projects will save water, restore streamflows, improve water quality, and restore trout and salmon habitat. Large-scale projects, such as the Great Lakes, Chesapeake Bay, the Driftless Area in the Midwest, and the Colorado River basin in the West are examples of areas that should benefit from this program.
* Reauthorizes the vital EQIP program, and helps fish and wildlife habitat efforts by folding the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP) into EQIP. This will provide fish and wildlife habitat work with more stable funding and eliminate a key funding limitation that hindered use of WHIP funds in the 2008 Farm Bill. EQIP funding is especially useful for helping farmers and ranchers manage the impacts of grazing by providing funding for fences to protect streams, and helping improve irrigation efficiency while saving water for fish.
* Reauthorizes the voluntary access and habitat incentive program that will continue to allow states and Tribes to receive grants to encourage farmers and ranchers to make their lands available to hunting and angling.
* Reauthorizes the stewardship contracting program, which allows the Forest Service to save funds accrued from forest management activities and reinvest those funds in watershed restoration projects, such as culvert replacement projects to increase fish passage in streams and rivers.
* Authorizes a Sodsaver program to curtail use of Farm Bill dollars for breaking out new farm land in highly erodible parts of watersheds. The six states covered in the bill’s Sodsaver provision represent a significant first step of progress on this issue. We also support re-linking conservation compliance to crop insurance premium assistance. Recoupling will ensure that decades of conservation gains are not lost.
Over the past decade, aided by our hard-working volunteer members, TU has worked throughout the country with ranchers and farmers in rural communities to develop projects that upgrade irrigation systems and restore habitat on ranch and farm lands. These partnerships yield results that improve ranch and farm operations, restore watersheds, and improve fishing opportunities.
The demand for this work is great. Drought conditions threaten a wide swath of producers for whom water supplies are already under intense pressure. Aging irrigation infrastructure has reached epidemic levels throughout the West, and the cost of retrofitting this infrastructure often exceeds the capacity of individual operators or even organized irrigation districts. In the Midwest and East, farmers are grappling with ways to keep sediment and nutrients out of streams in order to improve water quality and fisheries in downstream bays, lakes and rivers.
“The House-passed Farm Bill is a worthy measure to address the many conservation challenges farmers and ranchers face each day. We urge the Senate to quickly follow the House’s leadership today, pass this bill, and send it to President Obama for his signature,” said Moyer.