Sen. Cochran: farm bill, NAWCA critical to safeguarding habitats 

As the ranking member on the Senate Agriculture Committee, Sen. Thad Cochran (MS) has significant influence on DU policy priorities. He is also a member of the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission and Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus.

DU: The Senate-passed 2013 Farm Bill included a strong conservation title. As the ranking member on the Senate Agriculture Committee, talk about its significance.

Sen. Cochran: There is broad bipartisan support for the conservation programs in the [Senate’s] five-year farm bill because it gives landowners the tools to protect their land and water resources.

The conservation title consolidates 23 programs into 13 programs and reduces mandatory spending by an estimated $5.6 billion over the next 10 years. We created a new conservation program by merging and simplifying the Wetlands Reserve, Grassland Reserve and [Farm and Ranch Lands Protection] programs. 

The public increasingly understands our nation’s farmers and ranchers are conservationists and our conservation programs are worthwhile investments. 

DU: What is the future of the farm bill? 

Sen. Cochran: I am optimistic that the Senate and House will reach an agreement on a farm bill that can be enacted into law. A new five-year farm bill law would give farmers, ranchers, conservationists, and others the certainty they need to plan and invest in American agriculture. Short-term extensions of existing programs are unacceptable. The broad coalition of agricultural organizations and conservation groups that are working to find common ground have helped move the farm bill through Congress. 

DU: In April, you co-sponsored the reauthorization of the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (S. 741). Tell us why you support NAWCA.

Sen. Cochran: The North American Wetlands Conservation Act illustrates the importance of public-private partnerships to safeguard natural habitats. Landowners in Mississippi and other states choose to work with land management agencies and groups like Ducks Unlimited to help conserve wetlands. The voluntary nature of this program is important and a key factor in the successful investment of private funds to help protect millions of acres of wetlands and wildlife habitat.

DU: You are also a member of the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission (MBCC), which approves project funding for NAWCA projects. Why is it important to conserve migratory bird habitat? 

Sen. Cochran: It really is remarkable to think there are some bird species that travel such large areas of the Western Hemisphere as part of the migratory process. That illustrates the need to ensure that habitats are conserved. I think it’s important that opportunities are available in Mississippi and elsewhere to protect the scenic beauty and natural resources that make each state unique. It is also important to consider the conservation activities that are so economically important to many rural areas that rely on hunting, recreation, and tourism.

DU: The majority of the funds the MBCC have to work with come from the sale of duck stamps, which has been priced at $15 since 1991. Most hunters support a price increase for the duck stamp as long as the funds continue to be dedicated to wetlands conservation. Do you support increasing the price of the duck stamp? Why or why not?

Sen. Cochran: This is a question that is worthy of debate as we consider increasingly difficult budget choices in the federal budget and, by relation, the role of the federal government in land acquisition and conservation activities. The [federal] duck stamp user fee system has proven to be a successful conservation model, and Congress should periodically review the program to ensure it is both effective and affordable. I look forward to Congress engaging the hunting and conservation community in such a review.

DU: As a member of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus, what are your sportsmen’s priorities for the 113th Congress?

Sen. Cochran: The caucus does very good work on a number of fronts, and I appreciate its focus on promoting voluntary, incentive-based conservation programs. Budget pressures, public lands access, and guarding against burdensome rules and regulations are also important. I also think it’s essential that Second Amendment rights are protected.