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The Farm Bill, Ducks, and the Economy

Agricultural conservation programs are good for farmers, hunters, and business
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Supporting Outdoor Recreation and Jobs

Outdoor recreation, particularly hunting, fishing, and wildlife watching, often provide a much-needed economic boost for rural communities. Landscape-level Farm Bill conservation programs like CRP and WRP contribute significantly to the economy by providing an abundance of habitat for wildlife and places for people to participate in outdoor recreation. The USFWS reports that in 2006 approximately 87 million U.S. residents—38 percent of the population age 16 or older—participated in recreational activities related to fish and wildlife.

Outdoor recreationists are passionate about their hobbies. Each year they spend billions of dollars on hunting and fishing licenses, firearms, ammunition, archery equipment, binoculars, scopes, assorted outdoor apparel, lodging, fuel, meals, and groceries. These purchases help support thousands of businesses, including motels, restaurants, gas stations, supermarkets, sporting goods stores and manufacturers, bait shops, and many others. According to the Congressional Sportsmen's Foundation, expenditures by the 34 million sportsmen and -women who hunted and fished in 2006 directly supported 1.6 million jobs; provided $25 billion in federal, state, and local tax revenue; and generated $192 billion for the nation's economy.

As you may have guessed, waterfowl hunters have plenty of economic clout. In 2006 the nation's 1.3 million waterfowl hunters age 16 or older directly spent more than $900 million on their sport. These expenditures helped support 27,618 jobs and generated $884.5 million in employment income, $153.8 million in state tax revenue, $192 million in federal tax revenue, and more than $2.3 billion in total economic output. The impact of waterfowl hunting is especially significant in southern states, where a large proportion of migratory waterfowl pursued by hunters are raised on the prairies. In Texas, for example, waterfowl-hunting-related expenditures in 2006 supported 2,948 jobs and generated more than $204.8 million in total economic output. In neighboring Arkansas, waterfowl hunting supported 2,505 jobs and generated more than $124 million in total economic output.

Overcoming Myths and Misconceptions

Given the immense environmental and economic benefits that Farm Bill conservation programs provide to people and wildlife, one would assume these programs would face little opposition among the public and in Congress. But surprisingly, the conservation provisions in the Farm Bill have many powerful enemies, who will be working in concert to weaken or eliminate CRP, WRP, and other conservation programs in upcoming legislation. A rallying cry for these opponents of Farm Bill conservation programs, particularly CRP, is that they contribute to declining rural populations and economies in some parts of the nation. In both cases this is simply untrue, and the evidence lies in a wealth of scientifically credible information.

Across much of the United States, agriculture is the backbone of rural communities, and in general, population size is a good barometer for the vitality of these communities. According to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, the number of farms across the United States has been declining for decades, beginning well before CRP was authorized in the Food Security Act of 1985. North Dakota and South Dakota, two especially important states for U.S. waterfowl production, have followed the same trend. Rural areas in Canada's prairie provinces have experienced similar population declines, even in the absence of CRP or a CRP-like program.

The USDA's Economic Research Service (ERS) has also studied CRP's economic and social impacts on rural communities. Not surprisingly, the ERS also found that high CRP enrollment did not significantly affect rural population trends. Much like the trend in declining farm numbers, counties with high CRP enrollment and declining rural populations had local economies that were suffering before CRP was implemented.

Two other things that are vital to supporting healthy rural communities and economies are local government services and tax revenue. The ERS found no significant evidence that high CRP enrollment affected either. The fact is, rural population declines have been a long-term problem in many parts of the country. There are many causes of these declines, but clearly, Farm Bill conservation programs are not one of them.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack seems to agree. This past fall, while attending an agriculture show in North Dakota, he was asked why the USDA continues to support CRP when it reduces business activity and hurts rural economies. "CRP is a strategy in many parts of the country for growing the economy for this reason: habitat is also tied to an expansion of outdoor recreation and it is an enormous economic opportunity for rural America," Secretary Vilsack said. "Outdoor recreation is a $730 billion industry, and to the extent that we increase hunting, fishing, hiking, camping, and canoeing opportunities in many parts of the country, it will help us create economic opportunities. It will actually help us repopulate some of these communities."

What You Can Do to Help

The next time you hear someone lamenting the cost of Farm Bill conservation programs like CRP, take the time to remind him or her of all the public benefits that these programs provide for the environment, wildlife populations, and the economy. This is precisely why Ducks Unlimited and our partners have strongly supported conservation provisions in Farm Bill legislation dating back to 1985, when key conservation programs, including CRP and Swampbuster, were established. And that's why DU will be working hard to ensure that these programs are included and well funded in the upcoming 2012 Farm Bill. Nowhere can DU's public-policy efforts provide greater landscape-level benefits for ducks and other wildlife more cost effectively. And by voicing your support for these Farm Bill conservation programs to your elected representatives in Washington, D.C., you can play a key role in ensuring that DU's Farm Bill policy goals are met.

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

For more information on how you can support CRP, WRP, and other Farm Bill conservation programs, go to www.ducks.org/FarmBill.

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