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National Wildlife Federation: Farm bill proposal bad for wildlife

The National Wildlife Federation said last week that the farm bill proposal announced by Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., and Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind., to cut the authorized size of the Conservation Reserve Program by 8 million acres to 24 million acres would reduce the wildlife population significantly.

Julie Sibbing
Julie Sibbing, National Wildlife Federation
"While we appreciate the need to find savings in this difficult fiscal climate, the Rural Economic Farm and Ranch Sustainability and Hunger (REFRESH) Act of 2011 leaves far too much wildlife habitat on the cutting room floor," said Julie Sibbing, director of agriculture programs for the National Wildlife Federation. "If enacted into law, the impact to wildlife populations across the agricultural landscape will be significant."

The statement came as the Agriculture Department announced that it is making $1.7 billion in Conservation Reserve Program payments to 417,000 farms. See related story.

The CRP, established in 1985, pays landowners to idle marginal land to stop soil erosion and water pollution and provide habitat for wildlife species. Under the 2008 farm bill, the CRP is authorized at a level of 32 million acres, but as commodity prices and land rents have risen landowners have taken land out of production and only 29.5 million acres are enrolled now.

The National Wildlife Federation also criticized the Lugar-Stutzman bill for proposing to allow landowners who only use conventional crop insurance to destroy wetlands and endanger grasslands without penalties, and for proposing to remove a provision in the Biomass Crop Assistance Program that prohibits planting biomass plant species or varieties that have the potential to become invasive.

The federation praised the Lugar-Stutzman bill for proposing to move some short-term CRP acres into a long-term easement program and continued funding for wetlands, grassland and forest conservation, but said "the overall effect of the legislation's conservation provisions to ultimately be a net loss for wildlife."