January 25, 2021

NRCS Proposal Causes Uncertainty for Forest Landowners, Sportsmen

On January 19, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) submitted formal comments in response to Farm Bill conservation program changes proposed by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Following revisions to the agency’s definition of nonindustrial private forest lands (NIPFs) as they relate to Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) and other Farm Bill conservation program eligibility (first reported here), NRCS has proposed amending the current definition of NIPFs to limit eligibility to NIPF landowners who own fewer than 45,000 acres.

In support of this proposal, NRCS cited a recent report from the U.S. Forest Service that “identified that holdings greater than 45,000 acres are associated with large corporate forest owners and that this acreage threshold provides a quantitative measure that assists with identification of industrial landowners in the FIA [Forest Inventory and Analysis] database.” However, this justification offers insufficient evidence to support changing the longstanding definition that has been used for decades for the administration of Farm Bill conservation programs. Furthermore, excluding landowners based on the amount of forest land that they own risks missing opportunities to partner with landowners whose properties represent some of the greatest potential to implement conservation programs on a large scale.

In addition to the conservation benefits associated with RCPP projects, CSF pointed out the indirect impact that removing these properties from program eligibility could have on sportsmen and women. These conservation projects, often implemented to improve wildlife habitat, can result in valuable recreational opportunities for sportsmen and women, whether through recreational public access programs, hunting leases, or simply recreational use by the property owner.

Given these factors and more, CSF encouraged NRCS to continue using the historic definition of NIPFs as it relates to program eligibility. Doing so not only remains true to the congressional intent of RCPP and other Farm Bill conservation programs but also provides the greatest opportunities to implement important conservation practices for the benefit of our water, soil, and wildlife resources.

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?

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