Additional Farm Bill Programs
In addition to habitat conservation programs, the new Farm Bill extended a much needed tax provision to help private landowners protect their land. This provision provides enhanced tax incentives to landowners who voluntarily protect their property in perpetuity through donated conservation easements. These conservation easement tax incentives originally expired in December 2007, but will now be available for another two years.
Congress also included a new program to encourage public hunting and fishing on private lands by paying landowners for access. Called Open Fields, the program is designed to support voluntary, state-run programs that provide incentives to private landowners who allow public hunting and fishing access on their land. The program will further benefit rural economies, which are the primary beneficiaries of the $76 billion that sportsmen pump into the nation’s economy every year.
Efforts to restore Chesapeake Bay also received a boost in the Farm Bill. The Chesapeake Bay Watershed Program was authorized $372 million over the next five years to supplement ongoing conservation efforts in the region. This money will help farmers and ranchers implement conservation practices on agricultural lands that improve water quality and benefit waterfowl, fish, and other wildlife.
Taken as a whole, the 2008 Farm Bill did not meet Ducks Unlimited’s hopes for promoting sustainable land use and providing waterfowl habitat. The overriding concerns for lawmakers in crafting this bill were food shortages in some parts of the world and high domestic prices of groceries and gasoline, all occurring during an election year. While the Farm Bill will continue to provide some quality waterfowl habitat, it will not be as strong a contributor as in the past.
Although the Farm Bill was less than waterfowlers hoped for, thanks to the help of Ducks Unlimited members and volunteers, the legislation includes some benefits for waterfowl and wetlands. More than 14,000 DU supporters visited Capitol Hill or made phone calls, wrote letters, and sent e-mails to their representatives and senators to stress the importance of conservation in the Farm Bill. Without this help, the Farm Bill could have been a much less friendly bill for conservation.