FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
May 15, 2008
Contact: Steve Moyer: 703-284-9406
Trout Unlimited Applauds Passage of Key Conservation Provisions in Farm Bill
WASHINGTON, D.C.—The national conservation organization Trout Unlimited commends Congress for approving a Conservation Title of the Farm Bill that will help trout and salmon resource conservation efforts across the nation. A House and Senate Conference Committee unveiled the new bill early this week, and on Wednesday, May 14 the House approved the bill by a margin of 318-106, and today the Senate approved it by 81-15.
The Conservation Title of H.R. 2419, the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 includes the following provisions:
- A new Water Savings provision which gives priority to irrigation funding through the Environmental Quality Improvement Program (EQIP) for projects that will save water, restore streamflows, and not exacerbate water scarcity conflicts. Conferees dropped a more proactive House provision that would have prohibited increased consumption of water.
- A new $65 million Agricultural Water Enhancement Program that will catalyze growing community restoration efforts across the nation to improve water quality, quantity, and fish habitat in key watersheds.
- Reauthorized EQIP and Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP) programs, including increased funding for EQIP and stable funding for WHIP, perhaps the Farm Bill’s most flexible and valued program for fisheries habitat projects. However, Conferees added ill-conceived limitations on the WHIP program at the eleventh hour – measures not found in either House or Senate versions of the bill – which will reduce the effectiveness of the WHIP program. Also, the WHIP funding level of $85 million per year is far less than what is needed on the ground to enable landowners to fully utilize the program.
- A new and helpful $438 million Chesapeake Bay Program that should greatly increase efforts to help landowners in the Bay region to reduce sediment and nutrient pollution. Within the Bay program, special priority is given to several drainages, including the Susquehanna, Potomac, and Shenandoah where TU is actively working with landowners to reduce pollution.
- A new, $50 million voluntary access program that will allow states and Tribes to receive grants to be used to encourage farmers and ranchers to make their lands available to hunting and angling.
- A reconfigured Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative, a program that was authorized in the last Farm Bill but never got off the ground because of inadequate implementation by the USDA. Through this program, eligible partners – including conservation non-profits – can propose initiatives working cooperatively with producers in a given area that will enhance conservation outcomes. It largely taps into existing conservation program funding (6% is set aside in each program), and promises to reward the kind of cooperative-watershed work done by TU.
- The tax title of the Farm Bill also included two-year renewal of a tax incentive for conservation easement donations from private landowners. An extremely useful tool for conserving private lands and protecting fish habitat, the provision expired at the end of 2007, so the Farm Bill is rescuing it from the grave.
“With the new Water Savings Provision, Congress has taken a small but positive step toward preventing battles over dwindling water supplies while providing opportunity to restore streams and rivers,” said Laura Ziemer, Director of TU’s Montana Water Project. “We hope that in the future Congress will do even more to direct federal dollars to irrigation efficiency projects that are good investments for both agricultural producers and the water resources on which we all depend.”
“We commend Congress for its good work on the Conservation Title,” said Steve Moyer, Vice President for Government Affairs. “Inexplicable changes made to the WHIP program, and other late decisions that weaken the bill were vexing, but in boosting conservation funding and in creating new and useful programs such as those highlighted above, we believe that the Congress did a good job under the severe financial and political constraints which it worked,” said Moyer.
The bill now goes to the President, who is likely to veto it in coming days. It will then return to the Congress who will attempt to override the President’s veto and enact the bill into law.
Trout Unlimited is the nation’s oldest and largest coldwater fisheries conservation group and has more than 140,000 volunteer members.