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USDA Takes Steps to Help Preserve the Environment, Wildlife Habitat

There are new developments in two popular USDA programs that will support conservation of working lands for the benefit of wildlife, water quality, and recreation. The Farm Service Agency (FSA) is expanding its efforts to encourage owners of privately held farm, ranch and forest land in eight additional states and one Tribal area to voluntarily open the land for public recreational use. It also announced the enrollment of acreage under the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP).

The Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program (VPA-HIP) is a grant program open to state and tribal governments that provides a financial incentive to encourage landowners to open their land to the public for wildlife-dependent recreation such as fishing or hunting.

A native prairie in a CRP field in Madison County, Iowa. Photo courtesy of NRCS.

A native prairie in a CRP field in Madison County, Iowa. Photo courtesy of NRCS.

According to Secretary Vilsack, VPA-HIP not only helps achieve conservation goals, but also increases opportunities for hunting, fishing and other compatible outdoor activities by providing additional access to privately held lands for wildlife-dependent recreation.

California, Georgia, Hawaii, Montana, New Hampshire, Texas, Virginia and Wyoming will join 17 other states and the Yakama Nation as participants in the program.

The FSA also took another step toward improving the environment by enrolling more than 2.8 million acres during the Conservation Reserve Program’s 41st sign-up period.

This is the second consecutive year that USDA has offered a general sign-up, and with more than 38,000 offers received, the agency is close to the 32 million acre cap set for the program.

Since its inception 25 years ago, CRP has helped reduce soil erosion by 400 million tons per year, provided natural habitats for wildlife, restored more than 2 million acres of wetlands and removed millions of tons of carbon dioxide from the air. Under CRP, farmers and ranchers plant grasses and trees in crop fields and along streams or rivers to help reduce soil erosion that may otherwise contribute to poor air and water quality, and provide valuable habitat for wildlife.

Offers for enrollment were accepted based on the Environmental Benefits Index, which is comprised of five environmental factors — wildlife enhancement, water quality, soil erosion, enduring benefits and air quality — plus cost. Proposed acreage was rated on these factors in order to qualify for the program.

Currently, there more than 748,000 CRP contracts with 31 million acres enrolled. These 10-to 15-year contracts provide long-term, enduring conservation benefits in return for an annual rental payment.

To learn more about FSA conservation programs click here.

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