Chris Wood: Why the Farm Bill matters

 

by Chris Wood

It’s appropriate that President Obama is signing the Farm Bill today in Michigan, a state that is not only a leader in agriculture innovation but also is the birthplace, more than 50 years ago, of Trout Unlimited, on the banks of the Au Sable River near Grayling. Agriculture and fisheries conservation go together, because thousands of miles of our best rivers and streams run through agricultural lands. Today, TU is the nation’s premiere trout and salmon conservation organization—and a lot of the good work we do is made possible by the Farm Bill and its hard-working conservation programs.

Over the past decade, aided by our dedicated volunteer members, TU has worked alongside ranchers and farmers on scores of win-win projects that promote agricultural innovation while restoring streams and habitat on ranch and farm lands. Much of this work wouldn’t be possible without Farm Bill conservation programs, which bring resources and people together to get things done.

With the help of Farm Bill tools, TU is partnering with ranchers and farmers to replace hundreds of old culverts to allow fish passage and revitalize watersheds. We’re planting willows and other vegetation to heal eroded stream banks and reduce runoff. We’re upgrading aging irrigation systems in the West to use water more efficiently. In short, Farm Bill conservation programs are having a huge impact where it counts—on the ground, in the health of our rivers and streams. This work is good for fisheries and supports rural sustainability.

The Farm Bill signed today includes a long list of programs that help preserve habitat and hunting and fishing opportunities. To name just a few:

• The EQIP program helps 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.

• The voluntary access program provides grants that encourage farmers and ranchers to make their lands available to hunting and angling.

• A stewardship contracting program encourages the Forest Service to invest in watershed restoration projects, such as culvert replacement projects to increase fish passage in streams and rivers.

• A Sodsaver program curtails use of Farm Bill dollars for breaking out new farm land in highly erodible parts of watersheds.

The Farm Bill is a vital tool for Trout Unlimited and other conservation groups working with agricultural producers to protect our rivers and streams, and the hunting and fishing heritage that goes with them.

We applaud House and Senate leaders who, after several years of impasse and frustration, found a way to come together and get this bill passed, providing an encouraging example of pragmatic compromise and cooperation. A special kudos to Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, the Senate Agriculture Committee Chair, for her leadership and determination to get this bill passed. Our nation’s farms and rivers will be healthier for it.

We’re happy that our nation’s leaders have recognized the importance of keeping the Farm Bill working for the health of our land and waters.

 

Chris Wood is president and CEO of Trout Unlimited.

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