WRP gets Senate backing
Subcommittee backs full funding in 2007
Friday, July 7, 2006 2:25 PM EDT
By Tim Spielman Associate Editor, MN Outdoor News
Washington — The full U.S. Senate has yet to vote on the matter, but supporters of the federal Wetlands Reserve Program are celebrating a subcommittee victory for WRP, an agricultural set-aside program.
The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee for Agriculture, Rural Development, and Related Agencies voted recently to provide full funding in 2007 for the program. That would allow full enrollment of up to 250,000 acres in the farm bill program.
“I feel confident it will be sustained out of committee,” said Lynn Tjeerdsma, policy initiatives manager for TRCP. He said there was a “90 percent chance” it would be passed out of the full Senate.
From there, the measure would head to conference committee, where program funding would be challenged by House members who recently voted to cut the program to about 145,000 acres next year as a means to trim the federal budget.
Tjeerdsma said it’s impossible to predict an outcome there, but he hopes the Bush administration’s backing of full funding has a bearing on how much is funded.
Full funding would allow about 250,000 acres to be enrolled in the WRP, which now has contracts totalling about 1.6 million acres enrolled across the nation. However, the program has of late enrolled about 200,000 acres, or less, each year.
In Minnesota, about 57,000 acres are enrolled in WRP, which provides for either permanent or 30-year conservation easements. There’s also a cost-share agreement option that’s utilized to a lesser degree by landowners.
“It was a big victory to get 250,000 (acres) in the (Senate) subcommittee,” Tjeerdsma said.
Ducks Unlimited also weighed in on the Senate subcommittee’s action.
“The subcommittee’s recommendation to fully fund 250,000 acres in the Wetlands Reserve Program is good for farmers and ranchers and for hunters and anglers,” DU executive vice president Don Young said in a press statement. “Now more than ever we need strong wetlands restoration programs in light of (the recent) Supreme Court decision that questions how far the Clean Water Act goes in protecting already existing wetlands. Society is quickly learning the many benefits wetlands provide, and the Wetlands Reserve Program is one of the best ways to bring them back.”
According to DU, scientific studies have shown the importance of preserving wetlands. They act as filters, cleaning water and recharging groundwater supplies. Wetlands also trap and hold flood waters, lessening damage from floods and hurricanes. Further, they provide homes for more than 900 species of wildlife at some time in their lives, making wetlands the most prolific ecosystems in the world, the press statement says.
Tjeerdsma said a grass-roots effort to contact Congress helped secure support from members of the Senate subcommittee.
“All members of Congress received a strong message from across the country,” he said.
Tjeerdsma said there’s great demand for WRP enrollment. For every contract accepted, he said, three others are not.
The Natural Resources Conservation Service - part of the USDA - administers the program in states. Tim Koehler, Minnesota’s assistant state conservationist for the NRCS, says the state usually receives between $15 million and $20 million annually for WRP signup. The state already has about $50 million in applications received. The vast majority of WRP enrolled in Minnesota is in permanent easement contracts.
The 2007 fiscal year for federal programs begins Oct. 1 of this year, but Tjeerdsma said that doesn’t necessarily mean the funding level for WRP will be established by then.
PF testifies in support of NAWCA reauthorization
Dave Nomsen, vice president of governmental affairs for Pheasants Forever, recently testified before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Fisheries, Conservation, Wildlife and Oceans in support of reauthorizing the North American Wetlands Conservation Act.
The bill calls for a five-year reauthorization totalling $375 million and reauthorizes the program through 2011, at a rate of $75 million annually. Officials say only about $40 million has been spent in recent years. Other sources bring NAWCA spending to about $60 million. NAWCA dollars require a 1-1 non-federal match, but non-federal sources have kicked in about $3 to each federal dollar for conservation projects.
There are 43 projects under way in Minnesota. NAWCA funding in the state has totalled about $18.8 million, with non-federal matches of about $69.3 million. The program first was enacted in 1990. Projects are undertaken in the United States, Canada, and Mexico.
Rocky Mountain Front protection scrutinized
According to the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, language has been introduced in the U.S. Senate’s 2007 Interior Appropriations bill that would prevent any new oil and gas leases from being approved within the confines of federal land along the Rocky Mountain Front.
The move would protect an area inhabited by rich and diverse fish and wildlife populations and cherished by hunters and anglers throughout the country, according to TRCP.
The language was introduced by Sen. Conrad Burns, chairman of the Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee.
In a press statement, TRCP said the Coalition to Protect the Rocky Mountain Front, including groups such as Trout Unlimited and the Montana Wildlife Federation, was instrumental in working the action through with Sen. Burns.
The fiscal year 2007 Appropriations bill was expected to be approved by the full Senate Appropriations Committee.