The Obama Administration’s decision last week to hold open enrollment for the Conservation Reserve Program, which pays landowners not to farm marginal croplands, has earned cheers from sportsmen’s groups.
The impact of the program’s 30 million acres over several decades on everything from waterfowl to upland birds, deer, fish and water quality has earned it the title as the most successful conservation program in U.S. history.
However the program has been stressed in recent years. The sky-rocketing value of corn and other farm commodities has many farmers opting out when their 10- to 15-year contracts expired, while some others have campaigned the legislators to give them early exits. Meanwhile, some in Congress have proposed cutting funding for CRP.
But even with those forces at work, many states had backlogs of landowners wanting to join the program–but enrollment was closed. The open enrollment will help prevent those waiting acres from going to crops as well as address the need to hold on to more than two million acres in contracts set to expire this year.
The importance of the open enrollment could be seen in headlines from Minnesota a few weeks ago, which highlighted the steady drift of farm acres out of CRP.
Sportsmen still need to lobby by their congressional delegations to keep hands off CRP in budget fights that continue to target this program which pays for itself. You can find out how to contact your reps at www.contactingthecongress.org.
National Forests Get Some Relief
The new rule replaces one pushed through by the Bush Administration that drew protests from conservationists. Those concerns ultimately led to court rulings forcing the policy to be re-written to pay more attention to impacts of management decisions on plants and wildlife–an important consideration for sportsmen, especially backcountry hunters and anglers.