Policy: National Issues

2008 Farm Bill

On May 26, 2008, the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008, commonly referred to as the Farm Bill, passed into law. Ducks Unlimited scientists estimate that the net effect of the 2008 Farm Bill over the next five years could be the loss of substantial native grassland, which is our most important duck-nesting habitat in the prairie pothole states, due to the reduction in CRP acres and the loss of the Sodsaver provision championed by DU and others. This habitat loss will impact the reproductive success and survival of many breeding ducks. Although the WRP was reauthorized, reductions will limit farmer opportunities to enroll in this highly successful and popular program.

Conservation Reserve Program (CRP)
The Conservation Reserve Program is a voluntary program that provides technical and financial assistance to farmers and ranchers to address soil, water and other natural-resource concerns on their land that would not only benefit the environment but be cost effective too. The 2008 Farm Bill has allowed the program to continue through 2012, but with a reduced acre cap of 32 million acres, substantially reducing the amount of habitat that has benefited waterfowl-breeding and nesting grounds significantly. Congress also required an annual survey for rental rates, but does not require the USDA to use them for setting prices for CRP. The CRP has definitely seen better days, but Ducks Unlimited will continue to strive for excellence in maintaining and protecting waterfowl habitat through the existing CRP. Learn more about what you can do to support DU's efforts to permanently protect viable waterfowl habitat in America's Prairie Pothole Region: Help DU Rescue the Duck Factory!

Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP)
The Wetlands Reserve Program is a voluntary program that offers landowners the opportunity to protect, restore and enhance wetlands on their property. A goal of the WRP is to achieve the greatest wetland functions and values, along with optimum wildlife habitat on every acre enrolled in the program. The program was continued through 2012 with $1.3 billion in new funds. WRP will be reduced by 25% to just 185,000 acres per year, and limits eligibility to land that has not changed ownership within the past 7 years. As for restoration payments, WRP is under a cost-share agreement limiting landowners to no more than $50,000 a year. DU will continue to work to ensure WRP is a viable and desirable choice for landowners who have wetlands on their farms.

Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (WHIP)
The Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program is a voluntary program for people who want to develop and improve wildlife habitat primarily on private land. Funding for this program is secured at $85 million; however, the program also has been limited to agricultural, non-industrial forest and tribal land. USDA also can prioritize projects based on implementing state/regional/national conservation plans. There have been limits put on cost-share payments - no more the $50,000 per landowner per year.

NEW: "Open Fields Program" - Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program
The intent of this new program is to begin to generate a relationship between private landowners and public-land hunters to gain access to private farms, ranches and forested land that have been federally funded. This program received $50 million in total funding over four years. More land will be open for recreational hunting, improving access for many.

The Sodsaver provision did not make it into the 2008 Farm Bill as proposed by DU. This provision would have removed incentives for landowners to convert native prairie to cropland. Sodsaver would have saved taxpayers $120 million while protecting our most fragile and threatened ecosystem: native grasslands, where millions of ducks are raised every year. Ducks Unlimited is very disappointed in the lack of final support for Sodsaver, but will work with governors in the affected states to encourage voluntary acceptance into the program and allow farmers and ranchers to farm the best and conserve the rest.

The 2008 Farm Bill has some benefits to farmers and ranchers, as well as for waterfowl. But waterfowl, wetlands and grasslands did not fare as well as in past farm bills. If we continue to lose wetlands and grasslands at the current rate, we can expect to see declines in the waterfowl population, as well as the potential for hunting seasons to become shorter and bag limits more restrictive. Ducks Unlimited will continue to thrive for excellence in maintaining and protecting critical waterfowl habitat for future generations.

DU Action
Ducks Unlimited is working with the USDA in Washington, D.C., and with NRCS/FSA offices in the states to promote favorable rules governing implementation of conservation programs. DU will continue to work with conservation partners to aid in the delivery of Farm Bill conservation programs, meeting the needs of farmers and ranchers who continue to volunteer their land for the sake of clean water, soil and air, and wildlife benefits.

North American Wetlands Conservation Act

The North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) was enacted in 1989. NAWCA provides federal matching funds for wetland habitat conservation projects in North America. This is a non-regulatory, incentive-based, voluntary wetland conservation program. NAWCA protects, restores and manages wetland habitats for a diversity of migratory birds. Through NAWCA, participants are able to receive matching grants for wetland conservation projects in the United States, Canada and Mexico. Every $1 of federal money allotted to NAWCA must be matched by $1 or more from a non-federal source like Ducks Unlimited or state fish and wildlife agencies. As of March 2007, more then $790 million of federal funds had been invested through NAWCA, and partners have contributed more than $2.5 billion. Approximately 50 percent of the money has gone to projects in the United States, while 45 percent has gone to Canada and the remaining 5 percent has funded projects in Mexico. The most extensive impact has been throughout North Dakota, where more than 900,000 acres had been conserved as of January 2007.

Ducks Unlimited is a world leader in wetland conservation, and our mission is to conserve North America's wetlands and associated habitats for waterfowl and other wildlife. DU has been able to help NAWCA be successful in many ways. DU has been able to stimulate many of the partnerships that have been most critical to the past and continuing success of NAWCA in restoring, conserving and managing these habitats for waterfowl and other wildlife across North America. In addition, DU has been responsible for designing and carrying out many of the wetland conservation projects funded by NAWCA. Perhaps most important, and thanks to our tens of thousands of volunteers and hundreds of thousands of members, DU has played an active role in helping to secure ongoing appropriations for NAWCA.

Clean Water Restoration Act

The Clean Water Restoration Act (CWRA) is a vital piece of legislation that will protect millions of acres of wetlands from degradation. The intent of this legislation is to restore the original Clean Water Act after it was altered by the SWANCC and Rapanos/Carabell decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court. With the passing of this bill the original intent of the Clean Water Act will be restored, which was to "protect and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation's waters."

Congressman Oberstar (MN) introduced this piece of legislation (HR 2421)to the House and Senator Feingold (WI) introduced it to the Senate (S1870) to show their support for conservation of our nation's waterways. Forty states also have shown their support for the Clean Water Restoration Act. This act will remove the confusing term "navigable waters" to "waters of the United States," described as all waters subject to the ebb and flow of tide, the territorial seas and all interstate and intrastate waters and their tributaries, including lakes, rivers, streams (including intermittent streams), mudflats, sandflats, wetlands, sloughs, prairie potholes, wet meadows, playa lakes, natural ponds and all impoundments of the foregoing, to the fullest extent of these waters, or activities affecting them.

Ducks Unlimited supports this effort to seek legislative protection for significant wetland areas. Potentially millions of acres of vital wetlands, playa lakes and streams are at risk of being lost, which includes 40 to 60 million acres of prairie potholes in North Dakota and South Dakota alone. Lack of protection of these vital wetlands in North America's "Duck Factory" ensures serious repercussions for the future of waterfowl hunting in North America. The Clean Water Restoration Act will not impose any additional restrictions on farmers and ranchers, allowing them to manage their land for agricultural production. The intent of this bill is to guarantee protection of prairie potholes, other "isolated" wetlands, intermittent streams and playa lakes that are valuable resources to waterfowl, wildlife and people.

DU Action:

  • DU is working with Congress on both sides of the aisle to generate support for this bill to protect isolated wetlands such as the prairie potholes, including presenting testimony before Congress on the importance of protecting isolated wetlands.
  • DU is working with the conservation community, as well as the agricultural and development sectors, to develop legislation acceptable to all parties.

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