America’s farmers are among our first and finest conservationists. At USDA, we support their work to protect natural landscapes, improve water and air quality, and preserve wildlife habitat, forests and soil.
In addition to environmental benefits, this work helps drive economic growth and creates good, middle class jobs – particularly in rural communities. Farmers who help the environment improve their bottom line. Fishing, hunting, hiking, boating and other outdoor recreation adds $730 billion to our nation’s economy each year and supports millions of jobs.
That is why President Barack Obama launched his America’s Great Outdoors initiative to help re-connect Americans with the outdoors and create local partnerships focused on the long-term health of our nation’s landscapes. In the past months, as part of that effort, USDA took steps to work with landowners, farmers and ranchers conserving these lands while promoting outdoor recreation opportunities that create jobs and drive economic growth.
First, along with the Department of the Interior, USDA recently announced a new $33 million plan to use innovative approaches to restore and protect habitats for wildlife, including seven at-risk species and other vulnerable game species.
Working with sportsmen, this Working Lands for Wildlife partnership will help the economy by promoting abundant wildlife habitat that offers great opportunities for hunting, fishing, wildlife viewing and other types of outdoor recreation. To help raise a generation of Americans who are excited about spending time outdoors, USDA’s Forest Service provided funding to enhance outdoor children’s programs in 18 states.
Second, we are improving and strengthening the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), which currently enrolls 30 million acres of idled farmland to support farmer income, clean our water and preserve soil.
In the past months, USDA announced the opportunity for producers to enroll a total of 1.75 million acres of land in new CRP initiatives to preserve grasslands, wetlands and wildlife habitat. As crop prices remain strong and an estimated 6.5 million CRP acres expire later this year, this effort will help us target our resources to the most environmentally sensitive lands. It will improve farm income and job-creating recreation opportunities, encouraging producers to enroll in practices benefitting pollinators, ducks, upland birds and critical ecosystems, with an increased signing incentive. With this effort – alongside a broader ‘general’ sign-up for the program – we’ll continue to add to CRP’s 25-year legacy of addressing our nation’s most critical resource issues.
In the years to come, USDA will continue to build partnerships and strengthen our conservation programs to promote good farmer incomes, as well as opportunities for sportsman and outdoor recreation. Our nation’s lands provide us with abundant food, fiber and fuel. They are an essential piece of vibrant and diverse rural economies. Best of all, conserving farms, ranches, and forests also means a healthier environment for the next generation and a stronger economy in the decades to come.
You can find the audio version of the Secretary’s Column here.