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Senate committee votes to cut funding for farm conservation programs

Cuts by Senate Appropriations Committee will inhibit ability to preserve nation's waterfowl habitat and grasslands
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As Congress returned from recess last week, the Senate Appropriations Committee promptly resumed working on the FY 2012 budget. During a recent hearing, the committee voted to cut farm conservation programs by $726 million for the 2012 fiscal year, which represents a 12 percent reduction from the FY 2011 funding level. While these cuts are slightly less than the $1 billion in cuts proposed by the House Agricultural Committee, funding reductions of this magnitude will greatly inhibit our nation's ability to preserve native grasslands and other prime waterfowl habitat

"It is important to understand that these cuts not only affect conservation efforts but also limit farmers and ranchers' options when it comes to how they choose to manage their operations," DU Director of Public Policy Dan Wrinn said. "Many of these programs provide a way for farmers and ranchers to conserve marginally productive farmland in an economically viable manner." 

The proposed FY 2012 funding cuts by the Senate Agricultural Committee include: 

Conservation Stewardship Program: $35 million funding cut

The Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) is a voluntary conservation program that encourages landowners to improve their conservation practices by adding, improving or maintaining conservation activities on their agricultural and forest land. 

Environmental Quality Incentives Program: $350 million funding cut 

The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) provides financial assistance to farmers who agree to plan and implement conservation practices that improve natural resources, including water quality and wildlife habitat. Participants in this voluntary program are provided financial and technical assistance to help execute conservation practices. 

Grasslands Reserve Program: $46 million funding cut 

The Grasslands Reserve Program (GRP), which is administered by the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service, helps landowners protect grazing uses and related conservation values by conserving grassland. Participating landowners voluntarily limit future development and cropping uses of the land while retaining the right to conduct common grazing practices and operations related to the production of forage and seeding, subject to certain restrictions during nesting seasons. 

Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program: $35 million funding cut 

The Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (WHIP) consists of a voluntary agreement between the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service and landowners who want to protect and conserve wildlife habitat on their land. Under the agreement, NRCS provides technical assistance and up to 75 percent cost-share assistance toward fostering and improving wildlife habitat. 

Wetlands Reserve Program: allotted acreage reduced by 64,200 acres 

WRP is the federal government's largest wetlands restoration program. It provides a voluntary, non-regulatory, incentive-based way for private landowners, farmers and ranchers to protect and restore wetlands on their property that have been degraded or converted for agricultural use. WRP also provides an avenue for farmers and ranchers to remove marginal croplands from production. WRP not only provides a financially feasible way for farmers and ranchers to remove marginal croplands for production, but also provides other benefits, such as improved water quality, reduced flood damage and enhanced wildlife habitat.

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