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Driftwood outdoors: Farm bill will benefit conservation

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On Feb. 7, President Barack Obama signed into law the Agriculture Act of 2014, also known, as the 2014 Farm Bill.

Much of the Farm Bill deals with feeding Americans in the short and long terms, but key components of this legislation benefit conservation across our country.

A key component ties crop insurance to conservation compliance. “Sodsaver” limits crop insurance subsidies on land recently converted to cropland. The goal is to discourage farmers from tilling native grasslands that are critical for nesting birds.

“We are extremely pleased with the conservation title in this Farm Bill,” said Becky Humphries, executive vice president of conservation for the National Wild Turkey Federation.

The Farm Bill also helps to open up private lands to hunting, fishing and bird watching enthusiasts. The Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentives Program receives $40 million in mandatory funding in the bill.

Chris Wood, CEO of Trout Unlimited, said, “With the help of Farm Bill tools, Trout Unlimited is partnering with ranchers and farmers to replace hundreds of old culverts to allow fish passage and revitalize watersheds. We’re planting willows and other vegetation to heal eroded stream banks and reduce runoff. We’re upgrading aging irrigation systems in the West to use water more efficiently.

“In short, Farm Bill conservation programs are having a huge impact where it counts — on the ground, in the health of our rivers and streams. This work is good for fisheries and supports rural sustainability.”

Although passage of the Farm Bill took significant bipartisan support, neither side of the aisle believes the bill is perfect. Part of the Farm Bill results in a reduction of Food Stamps. About 1 percent, or $800 million, was cut from the Food Stamp program. Some believe that is inexcusable.

“This bill will result in less food on the table for children, seniors and veterans who deserve better from this Congress, while corporations continue to receive guaranteed federal handouts,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., said, explaining her vote against the bill.

Others don’t believe the Farm Bill goes far enough in cutting government spending.

“It’s mind-boggling, the sum of money that’s spent on farm subsidies, duplicative nutrition and development assistance programs, and special interest pet projects,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

Gaining 100 percent agreement on any bill coming out of Washington is virtually impossible. In the case of the 2014 Farm Bill, conservationists should be pleased both political parties took part in passing legislation to protect our nation’s natural resources.

“It was the worth the wait to get a Farm Bill that will help protect our nation’s land, water and wildlife,” said Julie Sibbing, senior director of agriculture and forestry programs for National Wildlife Federation. “We are particularly pleased that the final bill includes a critical provision to prevent soil erosion and conserve our nation’s priceless wetlands, both of which will protect water quality for people and wildlife.”

See you down the trail.

Brandon Butler’s outdoors column appears Saturdays in the Daily Journal. Send comments to letters@dailyjournal.net.

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