About every five years Congress debates a new 5-year Farm Bill, and the potential impact on Nebraska wildlife can be huge.
Over 95% of Nebraska’s land base is privately owned farms and ranches — split roughly evenly between cropland and ranch land. Less than 2% of Nebraska’s land base is publicly owned parks, recreation areas, national grasslands and forests, wildlife management areas, and wildlife refuges.
We cannot have healthy fish and wildlife populations in Nebraska without addressing wildlife on farms and ranches.
Farm Bill conservation programs provide more than $150 million a year to help landowners protect wetlands and prairies, change farming practices, better manage grasslands, reduce their pesticide use, and plant buffer strips along streams. This is by far the largest single source of money available for fish and wildlife habitat and conservation in our state.
Between them, the Conservation Reserve Program, Wetlands Reserve Program, and Grassland Reserve Program have provided over 1 million acres of wildlife habitat in Nebraska – more than all of the land in federal, state and local parks, wildlife areas, grasslands, forests and refuges put together!
The 2002 and 2008 Farm Bills promised substantial increases in conservation program funding, but Congress failed to fully deliver on those promises when annual funding decisions were made. The 2014 Farm Bill is the first one in several decades to actually reduce the level of funding for USDA conservation programs, and that will impact Nebraska wildlife.
Over the next five years, Nebraska is likely to lose more than 500 square miles of wildlife habitat due to the cuts in the Conservation Reserve Program alone.
Farmers and ranchers face a host of financial and other challenges — high property taxes, wide swings in crop and livestock prices, and high prices for fertilizer and fuel. The increasing concentration in both suppliers and commodity buyers pinch family farmers and ranchers in the middle.
Important as they are, the problems in our rural areas cannot be cured through better farm conservation programs alone. The future health of Nebraska farmers and ranchers, rural communities, and rural resources will require more basic, structural change.
Nebraska Wildlife Federation is working alongside the National Wildlife Federation and other NWF state affiliates to improve Farm Bill conservation programs.
We belong to the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, which develops Farm Bill policy options that benefit wildlife, family farmers, and rural communities and works to make more basic change in the structure of agriculture.
We provide advice to the US Department of Agriculture NRCS State Technical Committee, helping USDA implement Farm Bill conservation programs in ways that provide the most benefit for fish and wildlife in our state.