By Jim Inglis and Bethany Erb
Congress reconvened after the Easter recess and members of the Pheasants Forever / Quail Forever field team flew in to Washington D.C. to help promote our mission.
Tim Caughran, Chis McLeland, Dave Nomsen, Jim Inglis, Kent Adams, Ron Leathers, Matt Holland, Al Eiden and Bethany Erb spent a week meeting with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the US Forest Service, and at the Department of Interior’s (DOI) Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). We also spent time with national partners and on the Hill, meeting with new Congressional members and staff.
At the top the PF/QF agenda for all the agencies we visited was how to leverage our local chapter dollars and volunteer efforts to enhance and expand partnerships while creating the most habitat and public access possible.
Farm Bill Review
While at USDA we reviewed the status of the Farm Bill implementation process and discussed the URGENT
need for open enrollment. We pressed hard for a timeline.
During our visits with DOI, we talked about priorities including wild horse and burro impacts to quail habitat, as well as public access issues in the west. We also discussed public access with USFS, along with ways to increase early successional habitat on National Forests. On Capitol Hill we advocated for funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (RAWA).
Last week Congress hosted two hearings impactful to PF/QF priorities.
During a House Agriculture subcommittee hearing, both NRCS and FSA testified on 2018 Farm Bill implementation progress. FSA announced that there will be a continuous CRP sign-up, with applications accepted starting June 3, 2019.
CRP Updates and Concerns
Chairman of House Ag committee Collin Peterson expressed concerns about how CRP was being implemented. He pressed agency officials as to why a general sign-up won’t be open until December. PF and QF agree with Chairman Peterson’s concerns, and have expressed those concerns to USDA. A delay in general sign-up puts over 7 million acres of expiring CRP in jeopardy between now and Oct 2020.
In addition, even though the Continuous CRP is set to open soon, we have concerns that only some practices are opening. For example, quail and upland wildlife borders, State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement (SAFE) and pollinator practices will not open.
FSA also made the decision to remove incentive payments to current practices that provide high water-quality benefits. Recall that last year these same decisions were made and we had the lowest continuous CRP sign-up in nearly 20 years. By removing incentives, choosing to alter how soil rental rates are calculated, and adding a reduction to the rental rates (that Congress implemented in the 2018 Farm Bill), we fear that interest in CRP programs will diminish.
The Natural Resources Subcommittee hosted a hearing “examining the impacts of climate change on public lands recreation." We heard testimony from several witnesses about the conservation benefits hunter and anglers and the programs we cherish are contributing to the solution. A big thank you to witness Fred Ferguson, as well as our partners at Vista Outdoors, who pointed out CRP's carbon capture benefits.
Congress will remain in session until Memorial weekend. During that timeframe we anticipate the House’s introduction of the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (RAWA).
As always, check back here for updates.