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Banding Together for Waterfowl

America's 2014 Farm Bill

Conservation provisions in this new legislation will help protect and restore vital waterfowl habitat across the United States
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Other Major Reforms

In an effort to achieve budget savings and streamline existing programs, the 2014 Farm Bill consolidates several former conservation programs. The new law will merge the Grassland Reserve Program, Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program, and Wetlands Reserve Program into the new Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP). Through ACEP, producers can enroll land in either agricultural or wetland easement programs, which will receive more than $2 billion in federal funding over the next five years. Wetland easements are highly popular with private landowners and an effective tool for conserving key waterfowl habitats in the Mississippi Alluvial Valley; Gulf Coast; Chesapeake Bay watershed; Pacific Northwest; Great Lakes; PPR; Central Valley of California; the confluence of the Mississippi, Illinois, and Missouri Rivers; and many other areas of the United States. The law also created a new Regional Conservation Partnership Program, which merges several existing programs and provides funding incentives for state, federal, private, and nongovernmental organizations to form conservation partnerships to improve the health of iconic watersheds such as Chesapeake and Delaware Bays. 

Most of the conservation program cost savings in the new Farm Bill will come from reductions in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). CRP pays landowners an annual rental payment for 10 to 15 years to restore marginal cropland back to perennial cover. This program has been a huge success in many parts of the country, but particularly so on the prairies, where CRP grasslands have been a boon to populations of waterfowl, pheasants, and many other wildlife species. During the program's peak enrollment, CRP land in the PPR was credited with adding an estimated 2 million ducks to the fall flight each year. The 2008 Farm Bill authorized a national CRP enrollment cap of 32 million acres, although current enrollment is around 25.6 million acres. The 2014 Farm Bill will step down the national enrollment cap from 27.5 million acres in 2014 to 24 million acres by 2017. 

While funding cuts to conservation programs such as CRP present challenges, DU and its partners must also explore and develop new ways to make these programs more economically competitive and attractive to producers in an era of high commodity prices. This paradigm shift will require habitat managers to think outside the box when developing new incentive options to promote conservation on private lands. 

Clearly, federal agricultural policies can have a huge impact, either positive or negative, on wetlands, waterfowl, and our hunting traditions. As the new Farm Bill's rule-making and implementation process proceeds over the next several months, DU and our partners will be working together to ensure that the law's hard-fought conservation provisions will result in more habitat on the ground and more waterfowl in the sky over the next five years and beyond. 

Eric Lindstrom is a government affairs representative at DU's Great Plains office in Bismarck, North Dakota.

DU SUPPORTERS HELPED PUSH FARM BILL OVER THE GOAL LINE Ducks Unlimited members, volunteers, and staff played a key role in passing a new Farm Bill in 2014 with sportsmen's top priorities intact. They scheduled meetings and on-the-ground tours with members of Congress, and used social media to ensure that their elected representatives in Washington heard what waterfowl and other wildlife needed in this legislation. During four scheduled "social media days," DU supporters sent messages to members of Congress in every state, generating more than 10 million impressions. DU supporters pushed hard for two main proposals in the new five-year Farm Bill: recoupling conservation compliance to crop insurance and creating a stronger Sodsaver program. The messages got through, and after a three-year struggle, Congress passed the 2014 Farm Bill, which included both of DU's top priorities. Many thanks to everyone who joined DU in telling their legislators how important Farm Bill conservation programs are to waterfowl, other wildlife, and people. Your efforts truly made a difference!

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