The 2018 Farm Bill became law in December 2018 after being signed by President Donald Trump. This bill contains a strong Conservation Title that benefits fish and wildlife conservation as well as sportsmen’s access.
Every five years, Congress passes a bundle of legislation that sets national agriculture, nutrition, forestry, and conservation policy, commonly referred to as the “Farm Bill.” A long-standing priority of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) and Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus (CSC), the bipartisan Farm Bill enhances and strengthens vital policies important to hunters and anglers across the United States.
Some of the key conservation provisions within the Conservation Title typically include:
Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP)
A voluntary, incentive-based conversation program, ACEP provides financial and technical assistance to protect, restore, and enhance agricultural lands and wetlands through the purchase of easements.Wetland easements provide critical habitat for fish and wildlife, improve water quality by filtering sediment and chemicals, reduce flooding, and recharge groundwater. Agricultural easements also provide important conservation protections on working lands, including grasslands and forests that provide habitat for fish and wildlife.
This program requires producers to have a conservation plan approved by and on file with USDA if they plant annually tilled crops on highly erodible soil and prohibits producers from planting on converted wetlands or converting wetlands for crop production. The 2018 Farm Bill requires producers, and any affiliated individuals or entities to comply with these provisions that participate in most programs administered by the Farm Service Agency (FSA), the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Risk Management Agency (RMA).
Conservation Reserve Program (CRP)
The CRP is a voluntary, incentive-based program for agricultural landowners. CRP pays eligible farmers and ranchers a yearly rental rate and cost-share assistance through 10 to 15-year contracts to restore cropland to grass cover, trees, or wetlands. These contracts reduce soil erosion and sedimentation in streams and lakes, improve water quality, establish wildlife habitat, and enhance forest and wetland resources. In addition these lands provide hunting opportunities throughout the country.
The Farm Bill contains programs that help private forest owners conduct conservation practices to improve wildlife habitat, protect water quality, and preserve the health of forests. One of these programs, the Healthy Forest Reserve Program, helps landowners restore, enhance, and protect forest resources on their lands through easements and financial assistance.
Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP)
RCPP encourages partner organizations to leverage their own funds, along with RCPP grant funds, to collaborate with producers and landowners to increase the restoration and sustainable use of soil, water, wildlife and related natural resources on regional or watershed scales. The Natural Resources Conservation Service and its partners assist producers in installing and maintaining conservation activities in selected project areas.
Implemented in the 2014 Farm Bill, the Sodsaver provision reduces crop insurance support by 50% on native prairie converted to cropland for the first four years within Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota. Native prairies provide critically important habitat for wildlife and compose much of the breeding range for many migratory bird species.
Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentives Program (VPA-HIP)
A competitive grant program, VPA-HIP provides state and tribal governments with funds to increase public access to private lands for hunting and fishing, as well as other wildlife-dependent forms of recreation. Grants provide incentives to participating landowners to strengthen wildlife habitat improvement efforts on their land and to enroll in new or expanded programs that enhance public access to private lands for hunting and fishing, and other outdoor recreation activities.
Working Lands Programs
The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) provides agricultural producers with financial and technical assistance to implement conservation practices on active production lands to provide cleaner water and air, healthier soil, better wildlife habitat, and improve agricultural operations.
The Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) provides assistance to agricultural producers to maintain and improve existing conservation practices and adopt additional activities to address priority resource concerns on working lands.
Due to efforts of CSF and conservation partners working with Members of Congress and Farm Bill Conferees, a robust Conservation Title was included in the 2018 Farm Bill. Specifically included was:
- CRP will provide contracts for 27 million acres of private land by 2023, allocating around $2 billion annually for farmers to remove environmentally sensitive land from their agricultural production in order to improve the land quality.
- ACEP will provide $450 million per year (totaling $2.25 billion over five years) for financial assistance to help conserve agricultural lands and wetlands.
- VPA-HIP will include $50 million total to enable state/tribal governments to increase public access to private lands for recreational opportunities and enhance fish/wildlife habitats.
- EQIP will allocate $9.2 billion over five years to allow agricultural producers to plan and implement conservation practices to improve soil, water, and fish and wildlife habitat.
- Through RCPP, which will provide $300 million annually ($1.5 billion total), the Natural Resources Conservation Service will help producers increase restoration and sustainable use of natural resources by implementing and maintaining conservation projects on select areas.
- CSP will allocate $3.9 billion over five years to help agricultural producers maintain and improve existing conservation systems; with payments increased based on conservation project performance.
- Significant investment to address feral hog populations in the U.S.
- A provision to reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfires by renewing the insect and disease categorical exclusion and expanding its purpose to allow for expedited reduction of hazardous fuels.