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Conservation Reserve Program (CRP)

Hunters Receive Good News about CRP Going into Pheasant Hunting Season

Announcement includes updated soil rental rates and added incentives for allowing hunting access to CRP lands

Pheasant Hunter in CRPSaint Paul, Minn. - October 14 - Pheasants Forever was pleased by three recent major announcements related to the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) announced by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). First, the USDA launched new incentive payments for landowners who open up their CRP to public access. Second, the USDA announced it has updated CRP soil rental rates. Both announcements came in a week when the USDA also released a study highlighting the immense benefits of CRP.

USDA Launches Public Access Incentive for CRP At the White House Conference on Wildlife Policy in Reno, Nevada, Vice President Dick Cheney announced a new incentive payment through the CRP to landowners who allow public hunting access on their property. Landowners who are enrolled in CRP will now be eligible for a $3 per acre incentive if they sign on to their state's hunting access program; the incentive is expected to open an additional 7 million acres of quality wildlife habitat for hunting. USDA's Farm Service Agency (FSA) will announce signup for the public assess incentive in the near future.

"Without access to places to hunt, there will be an erosion of people who go hunting - this is one of the most fundamental issues we face today," commented David Nomsen, Vice President for Government Affairs with Pheasants Forever/Quail Forever. "Enhancing a program like CRP that has been so successful at protecting critical wildlife habitat by encouraging landowners to open that land for hunting is a major victory for sportsmen and women."

The goal of this incentive is to double public access by providing up to 7 million acres of CRP land for public access in the next 5 years in participating states. The CRP public access incentive permits partnerships with existing state public access programs to identify and mark tracts of land as publicly accessible and publish maps for hunters and recreation enthusiasts. The incentive is consistent with current state public access incentives and will enhance the ability of state game departments to use hunting seasons as a wildlife management tool. The CRP public access incentive will be limited to CRP participants in the 21 states that already have public access programs. These 21 states are: Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Washington and Wyoming. For more information on the public access incentive for CRP, click here.

Updates to Soil Rental Rates for CRP Since the new Farm Bill was signed in May, Pheasants Forever's top priority has been to push for updates to CRP soil rental rates. This year marks the third year in a row that FSA has updated soil rental rates nationwide in an effort to stay current with the market. These new rates will be used for any new CRP contracts approved going forward, and will make practices like CRP's continuous State Acres for Wildlife (SAFE) practice more attractive to landowners as they consider their options. Updated rental rates are now available for new CRP contracts. The increased average CRP rental rates have made them much more competitive with local cash rent.

"CRP has worked for more than two decades, because it has made good financial sense for our farmer friends," explained Nomsen. "These updated soil rental rates will help CRP continue to be a viable option for landowners, and consequently is a critical move by the USDA in support of CRP's wildlife legacy."

Immense Benefits of CRP A recently completed study concludes that two USDA conservation programs provide benefits on more than 5 million acres of wetland and adjacent grassland habitat in the Prairie Pothole Region. The study quantified how the establishment and management of prairie wetlands and associated grasslands through the CRP and the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) have positively influenced ecosystem services in a number of ways. For details on the study, click here.

"This has been the biggest year of ups and downs I've ever experienced in the conservation world. We have fought diligently to prevent CRP from heading the way of the Soil Bank, and while we are certainly still in murky waters, last week provided a good deal of hope for the future," Nomsen said.

Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever are non-profit conservation organizations dedicated to the protection and enhancement of pheasant, quail, and other wildlife populations in North America through habitat improvement, land management, public awareness, and education. PF/QF has more than 129,000 members in 700 local chapters across the continent.

CRP is CPR for Wildlife

CRP is CPR for Wildlife Mention the CRP program to folks not familiar with it and visions of emergency cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) probably come to mind. The confusion with the acronyms is understandable. Interestingly though, CRP, which is short for the Farm Service Agency’s Conservation Reserve Program, has had a major resuscitating effect on habitat for grouse and other wildlife in many parts of the country.

The Conservation Reserve Program began as a way to reduce soil erosion, and by extension, reduce sedimentation and improve air and water quality, by encouraging producers farming fragile, highly erodible soils to take some of those lands out of production and return them to a permanent, stable vegetative cover. Participating farmers enter into a multi-year contract with the Farm Service Agency (FSA) and receive an annual rental payment for the acreage involved as well as cost-share assistance for establishing the vegetative cover.

CRP has been very successful in achieving its original goals of erosion prevention. But the improved cover on these large acreages has had the added benefit of creating habitat for a variety of wildlife, including prairie grouse. The habitat benefits have been so substantial, in fact, that many now view habitat creation equally with erosion prevention as valuable attributes of CRP.

Despite all the positive benefits of CRP, high current commodity prices, driven by biofuels speculation and our current national energy situation, are tempting some to call for the return of these acres to crop production. While the secretary of agriculture recently denied calls to excuse up to 15 million acres from their CRP contracts without penalty, those acres can be plowed again once the CRP contract expires.

It is important to remember, however, that acres enrolled in CRP typically have marginal agricultural crop value in the first place. The loss of habitat and other environmental benefits if these highly erodible, marginally productive acres were plowed again would likely outweigh significantly any contribution to the national interest the crops would return.

With many of their CRP contracts expiring in 2010, the New Mexico Office of the Natural Resources Conservation Service has created the innovative New Mexico Grass Banking Program to try to keep some of these acres in grass.

Briefly, they have devised a program to allow landowners with expiring CRP acres to contract with ranchers to graze these lands. Ranchers benefit by gaining the opportunity to rest their own grasslands, and the landowner receives a continued, though reduced, incentive payment. From a conservation standpoint, this program provides rest for native grazing lands while providing invigorating disturbance to long unused
CRP grass stands. This controlled disturbance should result in better grass, more forbs, and improved insect populations for the wildlife that use these stands. For more complete details on this program and how you might apply its innovative thinking to your area CRP acres, contact Ken Walker, area conservationist for New Mexico NRCS at 575-763-7412, ext. 119.

As outdoor enthusiasts concerned about habitat for the well-being of the birds you love to watch and hunt, we encourage all to stay abreast of issues relating to CRP. Encourage your elected representatives to support CRP at every opportunity. Contact your local FSA and NRCS offices for information on the CRP program. While the differences between CRP and CPR might be confusing at first, remember that CRP is CPR for the landscapes that support our grouse and other wildlife!

About the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP)

USDA Farm Service Agency's (FSA) Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) is a voluntary program available to agricultural producers to help them safeguard environmentally sensitive land. Producers enrolled in CRP establish long-term, resource-conserving covers to improve the quality of water, control soil erosion, and enhance wildlife habitat. In return, FSA provides participants with rental payments and cost-share assistance. Contract duration is between 10 and 15 years.

The Food Security Act of 1985, as amended, authorized CRP. The program is also governed by regulations published in 7 CFR part 1410. The program is implemented by FSA on behalf of USDA's Commodity Credit Corporation.

More Information on CRP