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Farm Bill

The importance of Farm Bill policy to Ducks Unlimited
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  • photo by Scott Stephens
  • A wetland in the Prairie Pothole Region, 2010
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Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP)

The continental United States has already lost more than 50 percent of its wetlands and continues to lose these habitats at an alarming rate. One of the most successful federal conservation programs is the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP), which provides a voluntary, non-regulatory, incentive-based way for private landowners, farmers, and ranchers to protect and restore wetlands on their property. WRP is administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and is the federal government's largest wetlands restoration program. WRP is designed to provide technical and financial assistance to private landowners and Native American tribes to restore, protect, and enhance wetlands that have been degraded or converted for agricultural use. WRP has also provided an avenue for farmers and ranchers to remove marginal croplands from production. WRP also provides societal benefits such as improved water quality and quantity, reduced flood damage, and enhanced wildlife habitat. Producer demand for WRP currently outstrips available funding by at least a 3:1 margin. In fact, in November 2010, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced that the nation's farmers, ranchers, and Native American tribes enrolled more than 272,000 acres in the WRP during fiscal year 2010, which is the highest enrollment since the program began in 1990. There are currently more than 2.3 million acres enrolled in WRP nationwide; however, at the current rate of enrollment, WRP will exhaust its funding unless it's reauthorized and the acreage cap is increased in 2012.

Conservation Reserve Program (CRP)

North Dakota lost more than 420,000 acres of CRP land in 2007.
North Dakota lost more than 420,000 acres of CRP land in 2007.

Administered by the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA), CRP provides annual rental payments and cost-share assistance to producers who take marginal cropland out of production and restore it to wildlife habitat. CRP is a voluntary program available to agricultural producers, which helps them safeguard environmentally sensitive land. The 2008 Farm Bill lowered the maximum number of acres that could be enrolled in CRP by approximately 7 million acres, from 39 million to 32 million acres. More than 1.5 million acres have expired since 2007 in the Prairie Pothole Region, one of the most important breeding areas for waterfowl in North America. Most of the land enrolled in CRP on the prairies consists of large contiguous blocks of grassland interspersed with numerous wetlands. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) estimates that in recent years CRP land in the Prairie Pothole Region has annually added more than 2 million ducks to the fall flight of waterfowl. Though it is apparent that CRP is a critical component of the landscape in the Prairie Pothole Region, this program is currently under threat. Therefore, it's vital that acres lost through recent CRP contract expirations are replaced and the current level of CRP acres in the Prairie Pothole Region is maintained or expanded in the future.

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