Friday, August 1, 2008

some (temporarily) good news for a change

From the Birding Community E-Bulletin; mixed news (temporarily good, anyway):

CRP: ONE BULLET DODGED The Farm Bill’s $1.8-billion-a-year Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) has evolved over the years into a major gain for conservation and a boon to birdlife. Much of the CRP-enrolled acreage has traditionally been planted – under 10- and 15-year contracts - with perennial grasses or been restored to wetlands. Over the past month there was much speculation that the Department of Agriculture (USDA) would actually allow penalty-free, early-withdrawal of CRP lands from the conservation roster. Both hunter-conservationists and "green-oriented" environmentalists resisted the concept. See, for example, organizational letters to Agriculture Secretary Ed Shafer from these two parallel communities: and Toward the end of July, and despite several weeks of speculation to the contrary, the USDA announced that penalties would not be lifted for farmers who wish to pull their conservation lands from the CRP program. This is good for the birds, wildlife, and water and soil conservation that has benefited from CRP. It’s also good for the American taxpayers who have paid farmers for these conservation actions. Still, agricultural interests point to the corn-based ethanol boom, record-high prices for many other agricultural commodities, international food shortages, widespread regional flooding, regional drought, and high prices for feed crops as having seriously altered the agricultural economic landscape. Farming interests are looking for assistance, and release from CRP presents just such an opportunity. Currently 34.7 million acres across the country are enrolled in CRP; approximately 32 million acres will be the limit allowed under the new Farm Bill. Moreover, about 2.2 million acres of farmland conservation "rentals" under CRP expire this year, to be followed by an estimated 4.5 million in 2009, 4.7 million in 2010, 4.4 million in 2011, and 5.6 million in 2012. All astute conservationists expect CRP renewals to drop substantially over the next few years. Thankfully, one bullet has been dodged (a penalty-free withdrawal incentive), but another awaits (a drop in CRP renewals). Birds and habitat will clearly suffer.

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Wayne R. Petersen, Director
Massachusetts Important Bird Areas (IBA) Program
Mass Audubon
718/259-2178 at OR
Paul J. Baicich

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