Bobolinks and other grassland species, plus many other birds will benefit from the new Farm Bill, just passed by Congress recently. Submitted photo
Bobolinks and other grassland species, plus many other birds will benefit from the new Farm Bill, just passed by Congress recently. Submitted photo

From The Birding Wire

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The new Farm Bill passed by Congress two weeks ago is getting a favorable first look from conservation leaders. “This Farm Bill is a huge win for birds and it gives us real tools to work together on clean water and places birds need while increasing productivity for farmers and ranchers across the country,” said David O’Neill, Chief Conservation Officer for Audubon. “We are still reading the fine print, but it looks like this bill gives birds a lot to celebrate. It elevates support for water conservation for the benefit of birds and people, and it keeps promises to American families by preserving nutrition programs.”

O’Neill was commenting on the 2018 Farm Bill, which was passed by Congress and is on the President’s desk. The Farm Bill will shape what happens on 914 million acres of farms and ranches and 300 million acres of private woodlands; plus, the Farm Bill is the largest source of conservation funding for these lands. The bill, the Agriculture Improvement Act Of 2018 (H.R. 2), passed the U.S. Senate on December 11 by a bipartisan vote of 87 to 13, and the House passed it the following day by a decisive vote of 369 to 47.

The 2018 Farm Bill expands funding for, and improves access to, several key programs that will benefit birds and other wildlife through Audubon partnerships across its Working Lands Programs, including:

* Doubling mandated wildlife funding from 5 percent to 10 percent of overall Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) spending. It also brings total EQIP spending to just over $2 billion by 2023. EQIP contracts help ranchers partnering on Audubon’s Conservation Ranching Program to pay for the necessary environmental improvements on their ranches that benefit cattle and wildlife; Audubon has won Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) to help develop its Conservation Ranching work.

* The Farm Bill triples dedicated funding for the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) to $300 million and streamlines administrative processes and partner barriers overall. This program, which supports locally innovated partnerships, has allowed Audubon to partner with dairy farmers and industry organizations to implement practices that protect Tricolored Blackbirds, listed as a threatened species by the state of California, and give the species the time they need to nest and fledge young.

* The Farm Bill mandates $50 million annually for the Watershed Act, which will allow for landscape-level conservation planning and implementation through new partnerships because wildlife doesn’t recognize property ownership or jurisdictional boundaries. Along with changes in EQIP, the bill makes improvements to address drought conditions and other climate-related impacts to farmers and birds.

* The Farm Bill increases the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) from 24 million acres to 27 million acres, which pays farmers to temporarily remove some acres from production and create wildlife habitat. The CRP has been responsible for many local and regional wildlife recovery programs, including projects that benefit nesting Henslow’s Sparrows in Illinois and other breadbasket states.

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