Ducks Unlimited announced its support and appreciation to the Senate Agricultural Committee today as it passed the 2012 Farm Bill out of committee. The bill now heads to the Senate floor for a full vote, although the timing is unclear. The bipartisan Farm Bill maintains a strong conservation title, including the Conservation Reserve Program, a conservation easement program with a strong wetland component, a regional partnership program aimed at improving water quality, and a Sodsaver provision.

“DU is very pleased with the cooperation and bipartisanship from Chairwoman Stabenow (MI) and Ranking Member Roberts (KS) in crafting a Farm Bill that maintains a strong conservation title,” said Ducks Unlimited CEO Dale Hall. “The Committee has done an impressive job of putting forth a bill that ensures a strong agricultural economy and conserves soil, water and wildlife.”

DU is especially pleased that Chairwoman Stabenow and Ranking Member Roberts included a Sodsaver provision, authored by Senators Thune (SD) and Bennet (CO). The Sodsaver provision is aimed at protecting native grassland from being converted in high-risk landscapes by reducing federal support on any new cropland acres that are put into production as a result of breaking grassland that had no previous cropping history.

“What Senators Thune and Bennet have proposed is more critical today than ever,” said Ducks Unlimited Chief Conservation Officer Paul Schmidt. “The rate at which native grassland, particularly in our nation’s prairies, is being converted rivals any in recent history. The results could be disastrous for this continent’s waterfowl and wildlife. The bipartisan support for Sodsaver is encouraging, and we hope it becomes a permanent feature of the bill as it moves through the legislative process.”

Agriculture is only part of the far-reaching bill. The Farm Bill sets policies that dictate a wide array of programs including forestry, food assistance and conservation.

“The Farm Bill is 2 percent of the federal budget,” Schmidt said. “And the conservation title is only 7 percent of that. As small as that portion of the budget is, it makes up some of our most important conservation programs, including easement programs as well as programs that support conscientious farming practices. The Conservation Reserve Program, for instance, allows farmers to take land out of production in order to plant grass or other erosion control. The impact on water quality is astounding, and the zones provide nesting habitat for an abundance of waterfowl and other species.”

Conservation and restoration of grasslands and associated wetland habitats will continue to be critical to ensuring a variety of benefits to both people and wildlife alike.

“Sodsaver discourages taxpayer-incentivized conversion of marginal lands not well suited for crop production,” added Schmidt. “It’s vital to maintain native grasslands for wildlife and ranchers, and it’s important for sportsmen across the continent who depend on North American grasslands to supply waterfowl coast to coast.”

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