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Wildlife Management Institute

WMI Outdoor News Bulletin House Votes to Slash Spending on Ag Conservation Programs
House Votes to Slash Spending on Ag Conservation Programs PDF Print E-mail

Image of Illinois Farmland, Credit: Chicago Man, FlickrOn May 31, the Committee on Appropriations in the U.S. House of Representatives passed the fiscal year 2012 (FY12) agriculture spending bill, which included more than $1 billion in cuts for farm conservation programs with “mandatory” funding levels, reports the Wildlife Management Institute. The cuts in the 2012 Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and Related Agencies Appropriations Act come on top of a $500-million cut to these programs that was included in the final fiscal year 2011 continuing resolution last month. Overall, the bill proposes to cut U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and FDA discretionary programs by 13.4 percent.  This is in addition to a reduction of nearly the same amount that was passed in the FY11 bill.

At press time, the FY12 bill was being considered on the House floor; the Senate has yet to release their version of the bill.

“The proposed reductions will hamstring the USDA’s ability to responsibly manage priority fish and wildlife habitats and help landowners reduce potential threats to their operations associated with priority wildlife concerns, such as lesser prairie chickens, sage grouse and New England cottontail, all of which are candidate species for listing under the ESA,” said Jennifer Mock Schaeffer, Farm Bill coordinator for the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.

Within the House bill, there are steep funding cuts for many programs that have had positive impacts for fish and wildlife habitat conservation.

  • The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) program is slated for a $350 million reduction. 
  • The Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) program would be cut $210 million relative to its FY12 farm bill-mandated level, which, if passed as currently written, would require the government to renege on contracts it has already signed. 
  • The Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (WHIP) program would drop $35 million, and the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program would be cut $50 million.
  • Funding for the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program, also known as Open Fields, was completely eliminated.
  • The acreage caps for the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP)and Grasslands Reserve Program were cut by 64,200 acres (effectively a $200-million cut from mandatory spending levels) and 96,000 acres, respectively.
  • The operating budget for the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s conservation programs would fall nearly $100 million from the FY11 continuing resolution.

“Every year, hunters spend billions of dollars pursuing their favorite quarry, which, in return creates thousands of jobs and generates millions in tax revenue," said Dan Wrinn, Director of Public Policy for Ducks Unlimited, Inc. "Cutting conservation programs such as the Wetlands Reserve Program to the tune of $200 million not only jeopardizes the gains we have made restoring and protecting wetlands on agricultural landscapes, but it also will hurt rural economies throughout the country, many of which are struggling now more than ever.”

The potential implications to private lands conservation efforts are extensive.  Beyond current year funding, the cuts could impact the base funding with which Congress has to work for reauthorization of the Farm Bill that is expected next year, making conservation program funding even more tenuous in future years.  In addition, the depth of the cuts to conservation programs in the agriculture appropriations bill is likely indicative of dramatic cuts conservation could face in this year’s budget cycle.  As the appropriations cycle gets into full swing over the summer, conservationists are braced for even bigger cuts not only just to the agriculture programs but also to other bedrock federal conservation programs, such as the Land and Water Conservation Fund and the North American Wetlands Conservation Act fund.

“As in all our appropriations bills this year, this legislation reflects hard decisions to cut lower priority programs, reduce spending in programs that can be scaled back, and target funds where they are needed most so that our nation can continue on the path to fiscal recovery,” House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers said.  “While these cuts are significant, this bill also provides the funding needed to encourage the economic development of our rural communities, sustain the food and nutrition programs that assist our low-income families, and keep our nation’s food supply safe.”  (jas)