The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership said it urged House lawmakers to reject reductions to Farm Bill programs that are “critical to American private-lands conservation and hunting and fishing opportunities.”
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack defended the potential cuts in a hearing this morning before the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, which for the first time is reviewing the Obama administration’s fiscal year 2011 budget for the Agriculture Department.
The budget proposes funding decreases for programs such as the Conservation Reserve Program, Wetlands Reserve Program, Grasslands Reserve Program and Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program. The TRCP said the TRCP and other sportsmen-conservation groups have fought for federal support of these and other Farm Bill programs, which include compensating farmers and other landowners for undertaking measures to conserve wetlands and farmland at risk from development.
“While we appreciate the administration’s desire to reduce unnecessary federal spending, the fact remains that these programs are crucial to our country’s ability to sustain private-lands fish and wildlife habitat – habitat that forms the bedrock of outdoor sporting traditions for millions of Americans,” said Tom Franklin, TRCP director of policy and government relations.
The TRCP expressed concern about the delay by the USDA’s Farm Service Agency in releasing regulations and funding for the Voluntary Access and Habitat Incentive Program, or “Open Fields,” which was authorized by Congress for the first time in the 2008 Farm Bill. Open Fields provides states $50 million in federal funds to create or enhance hunter-access programs on private lands and has been a flagship issue for the TRCP since the group’s inception.
“Open Fields was developed in part by the TRCP and our partner organizations, and sportsmen have an enormous stake in seeing it come to fruition,” said Franklin. “Congress can assure expanded public access to hunting, fishing and other outdoor recreation activities by taking an active role in ensuring the speedy implementation of this important program.
“In the spirit in which our outdoor traditions were forged,” Franklin concluded, “we urge Congress to maintain funding levels agreed upon at the time of the current Farm Bill’s passage in 2008. In doing so, our leaders will assure that conservation activities by individual landowners and citizens remain a priority for our nation and our people.”