On Thursday, December 9, House of Representatives Agriculture Committee Chairman and Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus member Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN) introduced a bill that would expand the Conservation Reserve Program’s (CRP) maximum enrollment cap to 50 million acres by the year 2026. Currently set at 25 million acres for Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 and reaching a new enrollment cap of 27 million acres by FY 2023, CRP continues to be one of the United States’ most successful voluntary private land conservation programs. Chairman Peterson’s bill would change the acreage caps last passed as part of the 2018 Farm Bill, thus, significantly increasing the availability of CRP for America’s landowners.
Administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Farm Services Agency (FSA), CRP provides annual rental payments for landowners who agree to willingly transition land away from agricultural production towards incorporating land-use practices designed to benefit conservation objectives for the duration of the CRP contract period (typically 10-15 years). Though originally designed to promote soil conservation, the objectives of CRP have since expanded to include conservation priorities of particular importance for hunters and anglers, including wildlife habitat and water quality. Lately, CRP has also been cited as a potential tool to aid in carbon sequestration efforts given the priority placed on planting deep rooted perennial plants.
As the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation continues to work on its final priorities for the 116th Congress and begins looking forward to working with the 117th, we are also working with our partners in the conservation community to identify opportunities to improve CRP and similar conservation programs when the Farm Bill is considered for reauthorization in 2023. Among the top priorities for the sportsmen’s and conservation communities is continued support for the Conservation Reserve Program, pointing out that CRP is a working lands program. As such, it can be effectively incorporated into a property’s management plan to satisfy important conservation needs, including critical habitat for important game and non-game species, while providing a consistent source of income and adding a sense of resiliency for farmers.
Studies conducted at both the state and federal level have found that the number of hunters and trappers have been on a generally declining trend over the past several decades. To increase recruitment, retention, and reactivation (R3) of hunters and trappers, which initiative do you think would have the greatest impact?